Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Knowing God - Judy Anne Williams

The idea of seeking to “love God with our minds” raises a pretty basic question. How can we love what we do not know? And yet, how is it possible to truly know God, the infinite, the Creator, the Source of Life? On the one hand, Jeremiah tells us that God has said,

Do not let the wise boast in their wisdom, do not let the mighty boast in their might, do not let the wealthy boast in their wealth; but let those who boast boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord.  (Jer 9:23-24).

Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek. (Ps 27:8).

But although we are told metaphorically to seek God’s face, it is clear that this isn’t our literal charge. In fact, the Hebrew Scriptures repeatedly and rather graphically assert that God’s holiness is so enormous and unapproachable that it is not meant for our human bodies. Nobody wants to burst into flames, people!
So the question then becomes, what is the nature of this knowledge of God that we are supposed to attain, how are we to do it, and how will it allow us to love God more dearly?
One simple way to know God, of course, is through His works. In the 19th Psalm, the poet says,
1 The heavens speak the glory of God;
   and the firmament
* proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day unto day pours forth speech,
   and night unto night declares knowledge.
  (Ps 19:1-2)
Having been raised without faith, my first inklings of the Divine were in my experiences of the natural world. “Majesty” is not a concept that Americans are very down with, but that was exactly the reaction that I had to encountering the beauty of Creation in its most natural state (often through trips “up” here to New Hampshire from my native land of Boston). I think many people have had that spiritual encounter, and some of them made their way to college up here in the North Country.
I do want to say that my early sense of the Divine in nature was more than just, “This is so pretty, there must be a God who created it!” I don’t personally need a concept of “intelligent design” to see the Divine in the Creation, nor do I have a problem with evolution, or geological time. Creation is the more beautiful to me in the infinitesimal time of its development, the endless turning of the earth’s crust, the cascade of random mutations over millions of years creating the chameleon’s swiveling eye. I don’t need a God with hands to have molded it all out of clay in some specific amount of time. The ancient light of the stars, the descendants of the Big Bang, are no less a testament, in my heart, to the existence of God.
I see the Divine in the Creation when I am pierced by its beauty, but also by seeing its overwhelming power. The primary sport in my family during my childhood was whitewater boating. If you’ve ever tried to pick up even a large bucket of water, you have a visceral sense of how surprisingly much it weighs. River flow is measured in CFS, or cubic feet per second, and whitewater is created when a great weight of water, powered by the undeniable force of gravity, hits the resistance of unmovable rocks. When you are in the midst of a churning mass of thousands of pounds of water, your mortality, and the limits of your human power, are very obvious.  It was humbling in a way that was sometimes terrifying, but also spoke to me, even before I knew what faith might be, about my place in a relationship with a force that was clearly far greater than me. By working in collaboration with that power, I could come safely to the end of a small, but intensely thrilling journey.
Like others before me, I also see God in my fellow human beings. I’m not just talking about the cool stuff that we sometimes create, although it can be impressive. If you’ve never seen the giant arch in St. Louis, it’s incredible, and as magnificent as a mountainside. But to me, the truest testament is our occasional ability to transcend our animal origins and our inherent sinfulness. I think the fact that we manage to love each other at all is miraculous. Look at me. I’m annoying! I talk too much, I’m a know-it-all, I’m impulsive and emotional and I can get really self-righteous. Somehow across the divides of all of our many faults, we manage to connect with each other. And not just connect, but love ,deeply and unconditionally. If there were not a loving Divine, how would this ever be possible? I think we might all have killed each other long ago.
I’ve been talking about a lot of personal experience, but there’s actually a scriptural basis, and Christian theology, behind these assertions, even if I might have come to them initially in a non-intellectual way.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’ (John 17:25-26). I usually use the NRSV, but I like the translation of this passage from Ephesians in the New International Version: ” 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.” (Eph 1:13).
More “conservative” Christians than myself interpret the larger context of these passages as indicating the necessity of a specific belief in Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. The message is that to be a true follower, and to receive the salvation that Christ offers, one has to profess a particular belief in Jesus’ role as the Son of God, the exclusive incarnation of the Father. Without this action of mind and will, access to the grace of the New Covenant is lost. It’s not at all difficult to see the Gospel of John in this manner, and I would never “argue” with those who base their theology in this approach.
However, I have chosen and pursued a different strain of Christianity in my journey, a more “liberal” (or even “radical”) denomination that focuses on opening doors and creating an inclusive community of “Seekers of Truth.” We look to the authority of our communities and of tradition, but we also emphasize a mystical relationship with God over Biblical literalism and scholasticism. Our sense is that our “knowledge” is grounded in the gift of the Holy Spirit, which has resulted from our “inclusion” in Christ’s closeness to and knowledge of the Eternal Father. Christ, the active, loving, Divine principle, which existed before the incarnation, has come to give us a new knowledge of God. He continues with us through the Holy Spirit.
When we embrace that knowledge of God, we are transformed, regardless of our attestations. In my experience, opening one’s heart to the Divine power through the Holy Spirit inspires a new level of clarity and unhappiness about one’s own sinfulness, and an urgent desire to live in the Way of Light and holiness. Every step of the Christian journey then proceeds from that process. Our Way is one of service, humility, and love. Or, as Paul names them in Galatians, the “fruits of the spirit are: “Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22-23).
We will always be aware that our knowledge of God is imperfect, and incomplete. “How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them – they are more than the grains of sand by the sea.” (Ps 139:17-18). We live with our smallness, our inability to fully know the Creator. The day when we may “see face to face” is not yet with us. But, through grace, we may still know and be known by God, in a way that does not require perfection of knowledge, or of ourselves, but only the simple choice to step forward, arms open, into the relationship with the infinite Divine.

Jesus said to us, “I will not leave you comfortless…But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:18, 26-27)
May God make you an instrument of His peace.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Christianity's Unique Claim - Richard R. Crocker

Christianity’s Unique Claim
Richard R. Crocker
First Congregational Church, Lebanon, NH
May 22, 2011
Acts7:55-60 and John 14:1-14

          We have before us today two familiar but still puzzling texts that are important for us, as Christians, to understand. The first is the account, in the books of Acts, of the stoning of Stephen, whom we all know, probably as the first Christian martyr. He was stoned by people who were offended by his preaching. This should be a warning to any preacher that it can be a dangerous occupation. Truly. Now why should this be? Why should proclaiming the love of God be dangerous? Could it be that the love of God is really an unpopular, dangerous idea? – and that many of us prefer to hear about God’s wrath?
          Now, people are killed, more often than we like to notice, for having unpopular beliefs. And unpopular beliefs are more likely to be beliefs that call for change in the way we think and act. Resistance to those who call for change is the default position of the human race, and this is understandable, because not all change is good. It is often seen as safer to stay with the tried and true. But if we had stayed with the tried and true, we would still be driving horse and buggies, as the Amish do.

          It is important for us Christians to understand that many people, in his own day, saw Jesus as an innovator, a progressive, one improperly respectful of tradition, custom, and law. Indeed, his crucifixion occurred because he challenged the status quo. Stephen was stoned because he also challenged the status quo. We must remember that Christianity was basically a challenge to the status quo, until it itself became the status quo. It is probably fair to say that today many people identify the Christian church as a conservative cultural force rather than a progressive one.  Even protestant Christians rarely protest (stand for) anything; they seem to be against more things than they are for.

          With that background, I’d like to move to the gospel lesson, which is at once a passage of great comfort to many Christians, and a passage that is very challenging, even upsetting, to others. I refer, of course, to these wonderful verses from the gospel of John, where Jesus assures his disciples of the reality of eternal life with him. That is the comforting part. But those comforting words are followed by other often quoted words “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” - a verse that has been used to reinforce a view of Christian exclusiveness that many people, in our pluralistic world, find a stumbling block. I’d like to explore this tension in a little more depth to see if we can understand these words more meaningfully.

But first, we will have to begin with a little bible study that many of you will find very elementary, but others will find very helpful. Since the custom or habit of Bible reading has largely evaporated in our culture, I am assuming for this exercise that many of you know really nothing about the Bible. Others may know much more. Please forgive me if I have misjudged where you are.

          Perhaps it would help if you all took out the pew bibles and turn to the front, to page ___, to the table of contents. You will notice that the Bible is divided into two parts – the Old Testament, which is the literature of ancient Israel, and the New Testament, which are the documents of early Christianity. These parts together constitute the Christian Bible, which many of us describe as the word of God. By this most of us mean that it is where we find out about God. It does not mean, for most of us, that every single word in this book is equally holy. Taken as a whole, the Bible has, for many generations, taught people about the most important relationship: the relationship between human beings and their creator.

          Now, look at the New Testament. The first four books are Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These are the four gospels – gospel being a word that means good news. These four books are narratives, or stories, about the life and teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. Each of them tells that story in a different way. They were written by different people, in different places, at different times, and for different churches, and for different purposes.  But when we study these four gospels, we notice that the first three – Matthew Mark, and Luke – are very much alike. Despite differences, they seem to tell the story in pretty much the same order. Mark has no stories about the birth of Jesus, Luke has an extensive story. So there are differences, but these gospels actually use many of the same words. Stories about Jesus that appear in one are likely to appear in at least one of the others. We call these the synoptic gospels – synoptic meaning “read together”. They cover much of the same grounds in much of the same way.  With the gospel of John, however, things are quite different. Not only does it tell the story in a very different way, but it arranges events in a different order. And, most importantly, while the synoptic gospels often tell short stories, with short sayings of Jesus, John’s gospel contains long discourses.  Thus, the passage we read today form John is part of a very long discourse that Jesus gives on the night of his betrayal. We have the impression that the way Jesus talks in John is just very different from the way he talks in the synoptic gospels. In John’s gospel, Jesus often seems to talk more like a Greek philosopher than a Hebrew prophet.

          Now these similarities and differences have been the subject of study for generations. It is not important today that we do much more than acknowledge those differences. It’s important to note that this gospel passage is not in the other gospels. It is part of a way of speaking that Jesus employs only in John. It is beautiful, but also difficult.

          So, these are beautiful words of comfort: “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” I am sure that many of you know these words by heart. You have heard them many times – most often at funerals.

These words are followed by a question from Thomas, always, in John’s gospel, the one who asks questions, the one who doubts: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” This is when Jesus utters the words that have become the hallmark for evangelical Christians: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Now, these words of Jesus have been used by many people as a way of exclusion. If you do not “believe in Jesus”, if you have not had a certain kind of religious experience, if you have not “accepted Jesus as your personal savior” in a prescribed way, then there is no hope for you. So the saying gets turned inside out. The words that Jesus intended, I believe, as words of inclusion become words of exclusion.

How can they be words of inclusion? Well, listen to Philip’s puzzled response to them. Phillip said: “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” This leads Jesus to tell Peter that if he hasn’t seen the father in Jesus, then he has been missing the boat, because “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” In other words, to see Jesus, to live with him, to hear his words, is to know God, the Father. Jesus is God’s revelation in human form. This is the unique claim that stands at the heart of the Christian gospel. We believe that we know God because we know Jesus.

Now these are universal words, but they are not exclusive words. Here is how I think we should understand them. We as human beings cannot know what God is like. We are incapable of it, unless God somehow shows us. All of us yearn for God, but we do not know God except through revelation. Revelation has come to us through the law, which is a gift of God that allows us to live together in peace and respect. But the law itself does not fully show us who God is. Only God incarnate in a human being – and not just any human being, but a human being who dramatically exemplifies sacrificial love, shows us what God is like. And the only way to God is through God’s own sacrificial love, shown to us in Jesus. Does that mean that every person, to know God, must “believe in Jesus”?  In some way, yes. Unless we know that we all were created in and for love, we have no sense of eternal life. To know God is to know that God’s love is unconditional, accepting, and sacrificial. But it does not mean that everyone must recite a certain formula, or agree about every issue, or perform certain rituals.

When I think about this, I think about Gandhi, the great Hindu of our time, who was very interested in the teachings of Jesus. He is reputed to have said the words printed at the top of your bulletin. “I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians.”

          Too often the Christian witness has not been one that draws people to Christ, but drives people away from Christ. That is a challenge to us, isn’t it?

I saw a very disturbing and sobering statistic a two years ago, during the debate about torture. According to the research I read, the best predictor of whether or not a person favored the use of torture was whether or not the person attended church. The more they attended church, especially “evangelical churches”, the more likely they favored torture. (articles.cnn.com/2009-04-30/US/religion.torture)

If this statistic is true, it makes us ask: do we really believe that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life? Do we understand the love of God? Or do we really prefer the wrath of God, directed, we trust, mainly toward other people? How would we really live if we believed the gospel?

          Well, we are all here today. Aren’t we? The end of the world didn’t come yesterday, with the favored few being saved and the many being destroyed. Apparently God’s continuing mercy is a disappointment to many Christians.

Many people today argue that all religions are basically the same. Christians – especially conservative Christians – take offense at this and insist that Christianity has a unique claim – that Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life, and that it is our job to make people believe that. They are partly correct. Christianity does have a unique claim. But it isn’t a claim that God’s love is conditional upon our adopting or repeating a certain creedal formula. Rather, its unique claim is that, in Jesus, God has shown us the way of unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness, and hope. Not just some of us, but all of us.  And what is required of us? After all, Jesus said: “repent and believe the gospel.” What must we believe? Simply that God loves us all. Of what must we repent? Believing that God doesn’t love us all. It’s that simple. Why is that so hard for us to believe?

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Renewing our Minds" - Richard R. Crocker

Richard R. Crocker
“Renewing Our Minds”
Rollins Chapel
October 14, 2012
Romans 12:1-2

            This is the third in my series of sermons exploring the fundamental commandment to “love God with all our minds.” The first explored the commandment itself, as given to Moses and expanded upon by Jesus; the second considered Paul’s admonition that we should “have the mind of Christ”; tonight, we shall explore this wonderfully beautiful passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans instructing us not to be conformed to the world, but to “be transformed, by the renewal of our minds, so that (we) may discern the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

          Long ago,  in the 1830’s, when he was visiting America to describe and interpret the growth of democracy, Alexis DeTocqueville noticed a paradox. He noted that Americans prize their individualism, but that there is also a danger inherent in it. He noted that this individualism may easily lead to “the tyranny of the majority” - that is, that individuals will be tyrannized by public opinion. How can this be? Wouldn’t individualism lead to many, many different opinions? Yes, it should, but it also leads, all too often, to the tyranny of group think, in which conformity is enforced not by external authority but by internal acquiescence.

          There is no more perfect example of this than a typical American high school, where non-conformity is cool, but everyone non-conforms in the same way, so that supposed non-conformity becomes conformity, and the true non-conformists are exiled as nerds or geeks or losers. Most of you have been there; you know what I mean. And most Dartmouth students were exiles, were true non-conformists in high school. You were nerds; you were over-eager students; you were over-achievers; you were not cool.

          But then you came to Dartmouth. And although I said that there is no more perfect example of individualism deteriorating to the tyranny of the majority than the typical American high school, I will have to take it back. There is a more perfect example: it is Dartmouth College, where a group of nerds gather, and in their desperate attempt to overcome social anxiety and become cool, most quickly conform to expected social roles. Although there are of course significant exceptions, I would have to say that, in my opinion,  Dartmouth college represents a strong culture of conformity.

          We should not be surprised. Human beings thrive in a herd. We are not creatures made for individualism. The true dissenter is always an outcast, until she or she finds their own group. Very few of us can stand erect amid the torrents of public opinion.

          Paul was not calling the Romans to be isolated individuals, but he was calling them to be part of a non-conformist community. And, in the Roman Empire of his day, being a non-conformist was even more dangerous than in ours. The Romans were very tolerant and pluralistic in most matters. People could worship as they choose, have the Gods they choose, follow the customs they choose – except for the demand that everyone swear allegiance to the emperor. Failure to make an offering to the emperor was a capital crime because it was deemed a threat to Roman civilization. So Christians in Rome - and Jews, who had a special dispensation - were a group of non-conformists. Paul’s admonition to them that they not be conformed to the world was personal, spiritual, and political. Rather, their whole lives were to be transformed, because they had a new way of seeing things, a new way of thinking; their minds had been changed by the story and the continued presence of the crucified savior, the one who they now called Lord, confessing “Jesus is Lord” and refusing to say, as was required, “Caesar is Lord”, thereby risking, at best, banishment, and, at worst, death.

          Paul knew the cost of such allegiance. That is why he spoke in the language of sacrifice:” I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” – a sacrifice that he himself endured and embodied, by his own execution.

          So what does this mean for us? Whenever I heard this passage preached, referred to, or discussed, as I was growing up, it was taken as an exhortation to sexual purity and abstention from unhealthy substances. I do not think this was really Paul’s his primary focus, but I would say that in a culture where drunkenness and hooking up are common, it is still an interpretation that has value. To refrain from drunkenness and hooking up at Dartmouth is, I think, a healthy kind of non-conformity. But Paul’s real admonition is not toward a specific kind of morality, but toward embracing a different kind of mind. He described that mind in his letter to the Philippians, when he described the mind of Christ – “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)

          The renewal of our mind, according to Paul, means making our minds new by thinking a different way, by forgetting all the false ambitions that drive us, and by cultivating the kind of compassion and humility that we see in Jesus. That’s what we are called to do. That is the mind we seek.

          I have a good friend who is a professor of Buddhism, and, in order to talk to him more intelligently, I have been reading a book by the Dalai Lama that describes the various levels of Buddhist practice. Some of you may know that the aim of Buddhist practice is to cultivate a different kinds of mind – a mind full of compassion. And while I do not agree with the basic Buddhist notion of reincarnation, I find the mind of compassion that the Dalai Lama describes to be something very much akin to the mind of Christ, to which we aspire.

          Buddhism prescribes techniques of meditation as a means for renewing our minds. Many people, including many Christians, testify to the value of meditation. In its simplest form, meditation means uncluttering our minds – renewing them in quietness. Christian meditation has another focus. It is the cross – that point to which all our minds are drawn. In our cluttered lives, we seldom think about death, suffering, and injustice. We just plow ahead in the great scramble of conformity along the road of our own ambitions. Paul urges us not to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our minds by thinking about the will of God. That is why I think worship is so important. It is the time when, amid the clutter of the world, we renew our minds, seeking what is good and acceptable and perfect. My hope is that this worship service, and all the worship services we attend, will help us to do just that. Amen.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Mind of Christ - Richard R. Crocker

Richard R. Crocker
The Mind of Christ
Rollins Chapel
September 30, 2012
Philippians 2:1-8

          We are considering in chapel this term what it means to love God with our minds. Today’s scripture passage encourages us to “let the same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” The passage brings us directly to the mind of Jesus as an example for us, who are to have the same mind as Jesus.

That, of course, is a tall order – that we ourselves should have the mind of Christ. I am using the term mind tonight to refer not strictly to the way we reason, but to the way we think. Reasoning is one form of thinking, no doubt, but it is not the only kind of thinking. Often our thoughts are formed at a level that is more powerful and primitive than our reason. Indeed, we frequently use our reason to provide support for thoughts and positions and ideas that we hold for emotional reasons. This is why the world has never been able to agree on many very important matters. Our emotional reasons are often primary, and our intellect is secondary. So I am interpreting the word mind to mean that part of ourselves by which we make decisions and commitments - the whole part, encompassing both intellect and emotion.

          I am encouraged to take this broad view of mind because of the context in which Paul uses the word. Notice that in the scripture passage the word mind occurs three times. Verse two; “be of the same mind”, “of one mind”; verse 5: “let the same mind be in you….” But it is obvious when Paul uses this word that he is speaking broadly about the basic attitudes that govern our behavior. It is, after all, a highly emotional passage which is intended to offer encouragement to a church, a congregation that was oppressed, written by a man who was himself in prison. Listen to the emotionality of the passage:

“If there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete….” These are all emotional words, which preface Paul’s admonition that his joy will be complete if his hearers have the same mind, the same love, and are of one mind. Then he explains what kind of mind he is advocating: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.” Uh-oh. Here is where we begin to squirm. And it continues: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” And here we see that we are in another world, for what Paul is describing is the mind of Christ, whose mind should also be our own. “Let the (this) same mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

There is so much that comforts us and challenges us in this beautiful passage. But if we take it seriously, as I hope we do, we must confront the immediate fact that the mind that Paul describes as the mind of Christ – a mind that does nothing from selfish ambition or to pursue our own advantage” is not the mind that we have, or that we are encouraged to have, or, indeed, that many of us want to have. Indeed, this passage confronts us with the basic discrepancy between the Christian ambition, which is to have the mind of Christ, and the kind of ambition that most of us have been taught and that we have absorbed throughout our education and that has brought us to Dartmouth.

For if we are honest, we must admit that in our time at Dartmouth, we, most of us, most of the time, are strategizing on how to maximize our advantages in the world. Instead of asking the question, “What must we do to be saved?”, we are much more preoccupied with the question “What must I do to succeed.” Now, don’t get me wrong. All of us want to succeed in the sense of accomplishing a goal. But it makes a great deal of difference what our goal is. If our goal is to distinguish ourselves by our wealth and cleverness, we are hardly seeking the mind of Christ. If, on the other hand, we devote our minds to understanding the minds of others, to understanding what it is like to be needy, to fail, and to love, then our goal is quite different. The fact is that, with our whole being, most of us spurn the mind of Christ. We have a different goal.

But not all of us, and not all the time. There are occasions throughout our lives, and even now, when the fact of vulnerability breaks through the protective shield of privilege, when our failure teaches us much more than our success, when suffering cannot be avoided, when we recognize that needs of others are more important than our own. Those experiences, if Paul is to be believed, bring us closer to the mind of Christ.

          Let me illustrate by telling you two stories. They are hypothetical, composite stories that are not about any particular person – because I do not want to betray any confidences – but they are nonetheless true stories because they reflect many true events. The first begins with a student who comes to my office, often referred to me by a dean or someone else, because they are experiencing a deep disappointment. Let’s say that this is a very ambitious student who, through a mistake like plagiarism, is facing suspension from the college. Not only is the student feeling guilty and ashamed, but she also feels that her chances to be admitted to medical school, or law school, or to work in a hedge fund, have been ruined. Her whole life plan has been shattered.
What words of reassurance can I offer? I can’t say, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. You’ll still get into law school.” Depending upon the offense, that is not likely to happen. What I can say is: This experience is a very valuable part of your life. It can re-orient your ambition. It can help you think differently about what really matters. This time away from Dartmouth is a time to change your ambition. I can speak from my own experiences of loss and disappointment – fully acknowledging the pain, but also the acknowledging the growth. And, if the student is a Christian, I can point to the deep paradox of what it means to have the mind of Christ – a mind not set upon one’s own self-interest, but a mind that knows how frail we are, and knowing that, loves and lives and hopes in a very different way.
          The second story is about a student who decides to take a term off and do an intense service experience in a place he/she has never been before. Whether it is in a poor urban area or a rural reservation or a clinic in Africa, the student is apprehensive, because he has never been there and done this, and doesn’t know if he will fit it. Some of these students return simply relieved to be back in the privileged comfort of Dartmouth. Others, however, return with transformed ambitions. They find that their whole mind has been changed, and they have a vocational direction that they never anticipated. Or even if they continue to go through corporate recruiting, their ambition has been tempered by their realization of the needs of the world.

          What these stories have in common is the discovery of vulnerability in ourselves and in others. Discovering our mutual vulnerability is the first step in having the mind of Christ. Amen.