Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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Duke Article

One of the things that I have tried to do while being here is to remain connected to Duke and the community I built there. For my first post of reflection, I wanted to share with you an article I co-wrote with the other American student who is here with me Kayla for the Divinity School’s student newsletter. A version of it is due to be published in a few weeks by the WSC in their newsletter as well. I have made a few edits to it for the sake of clarity and because I can and also added links to explain some of the terms.

Greetings from England!

In case you have been wondering where we have been, or who we are, some background is probably helpful. In September we began a one year exchange program with the Wesley Study Centre (WSC) in St. John’s College at Durham University in England. As we begin our new term, we wanted to let our Duke community know how things were going. Having been here for several months, things that initially seemed strange have become normal. Durham Cathedral (a place of prayer for over 1,000 years!) that towers over our college no longer gets called the “chapel,” having tea (with a bit of milk) has become a mainstay of any social interaction, and the words, “circuit,” “mission” and “”The Doctor” have become part of the normal vocabulary.

While these may seem like incidental changes, taken together they hint at a much more foundational change in who we are as students, ministers, and Christians. One of the most significant changes has been that by studying and worshipping with the British Methodist Church and the Church of England, we have begun to see ourselves as part of Christ’s world-wide Church. We are studying with students from South Africa, Germany, China, and Brazil, however, the whole ethos of this place seems to look outward. The two central concepts which shape the majority of conversations in the classroom and common room are mission and practical theology. How does the Church discern and participate in what God is doing in the world? How is what we are learning going to shape how we do ministry in our churches parishes?

While neither of these are new questions to us coming from Duke, the ways in which they are asked and the answers they are giving have a unique and powerful particularity. As part of our studies we have both been given the chance to be placed in a Methodist Church (similar to a Field Ed) where we are able to put some of these questions and answers to the test. After adjusting to British worship styles and hymnody, we have found that there is a great freedom in ordering the worship service. Many services are done in “café style” or are particularly shaped by the needs of children (called “Messy Church”). There was a service over the summer at a Christian conference which was called a “Goth Eucharist.” Such creativity and intentionality is a lot of fun and has given both of us permission to be creative as well. Last term, for example, we both led the daily morning prayer according to the United Methodist Book of Worship.  While some people said it “felt like a holiday,” for us it felt like a little bit of home.

It is certainly difficult in a lot of ways to be away from you all. There is no place like Goodson Chapel, of W0016, however, as you begin this semester know that as we gather to pray in a small chapel in Durham, England that you are in our hearts and prayers. We look forward to sharing many more stories and experiences next year when we return!

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

Kayla, LJW, and I in front of Duke Chapel.

[Note: Kayla has also been blogging her trip and often includes video blogs. Some of which I feature in. If you are interested check it out: http://kbharward.wordpress.com/]

The Adventures Begin in Durham (NC)

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Before heading out on the trip, I needed to head up to Durham (NC) for one final visit to say goodbye to my friends and get my Duke fix for a while. The semester has just gotten underway and so I have had to negotiate visits around people’s studying. Seeing as our classes do not begin for another month, I have tried not to rub my freedom in their faces. Come May, June and July while I am still in school and they are resting easy, I hope they return the favor :).

Being away from this place and the community of the Divinity school is most definitely going to be the hardest part of this whole experience. For the past two years this has been my home. As a class we have laughed together, cried together, argued and debated one another, and through it all grown closer to each other and to the God who has called us to this place. When I get back many of those who I am closest with will have graduated and begun their ministry, but fortunately many others will still be here and I am looking forward to getting to know them even better. For now, however, I am grateful to be able to see everyone here and enjoy these precious last days with them.

While I was with friends, Little Wesley began his trip by seeing the sights around the Divinity school. With some of the best Methodism scholars in the world, there were a lot of people to see. He went to a Div School pot-luck and had his picture taken by a few fans, but in the midst of it all he made time for some Bible study as well. Little Wesley has his priorities straight after all :).

Let the travels begin!

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In Memory of Susan Keefe.

This is not the first blog post that I had expected to write after an unexpected five month hiatus, but as I sat in Goodson Chapel yesterday listening to people tell their own stories, I felt that I needed to write my own. I did not know Susan Keefe. I had seen her in the hallways with her measured pace and the frail features of the ascetic she was. However, like many of my fellow students, I was in awe of this mysterious professor. She was respected and loved my the whole school, not because she was a brilliant lecturer (which I am sure she was), or for her gregarious personality (which she certainly was not), but because she exuded such an unworldly holiness that one knew the Divinity School was all the more so because of her place in it.

Like many, I participated in rumors of her ascetic practices, but looking back I see even those as being marks of the sense of awe in which she was seen. When selecting classes for this semester, hers was the one I was most excited about, even though because of my year in England, I knew that I was not going to take it. Just having her class on my fake schedule was an honor. And so, when we received the news that she had died, there was a collective sense of loss.

I wanted to write this post because her service reminded me of what funerals and memorial services in the Church need to be. Absent were trite words of comfort and vague phrases of an afterlife. Instead there was a clear confession of the resurrection and a celebration of the grace filled life she had led. Her specialty was Medieval commentaries by obscure theologians, preparing them for other scholars later to come and analyze to use in their own research. Dean Hays called it a “thankless task,” and I am sure it was not one which sold millions of copies because a simple Google image search fails to bring up any pictures of her.

While I will never be able to take her class, her memorial service will be the only lecture I will be able to have, which seems in a way fitting. It reminded me that a life lived in constant love of Christ and seeking to follow His way is one which does separate us from this world, but still keeps us intimately connected to it through our ministry and our relationships. That is the true mark of an ascetic. Not how much they are separated from the world, but how much they bring the world closer to the Kingdom through their place in it. Dr. Keefe did that.

The final lesson I have from her is one which Dean Hays and her family found propped on her desk when they were cleaning it out. Handwritten on a simple sheet of notebook paper it said:  “What if you were to say to your congregation: Your baptism was the beginning of your preparation for death.”  At our baptism we die to Sin and are reborn to new life through Jesus Christ. It marks us and makes us children of God and when lived out fully prepares us both for our eventual death, but also for the everlasting life which comes afterwards. I do not know the answer to Dr. Keefe’s question, but I intend to find out by sharing those words and with each congregation I have.

Thank you Dr. Keefe, for a life well lived. Amen.


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Reflections on an Ash Wednesday

““Beware of practicing your pie before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1–6 NRSV)

One of the most frustrating days for me is Ash Wednesday. Lent is my favorite season of the Church calendar, so it always frustrates me when people make the practices all about them. “I will give up chocolate so that I will lose weight” or  “I will give up Facebook so that I look like I am truly sacrificing when really I just want to be more productive.” Of course these decisions are not made in secret, but instead are the result of a large scale, trumpet worthy, deliberation (More on that later).  For this reason, I usually do not give up anything and instead add something to my daily routine avoiding the many questions.

Today I was particularly attuned to the trappings of Ash Wednesday. When I went to class this morning my eyes were peeled for black smudges. Everyone I met got searched for their mark. Had they been to the early morning service?  Did they have that holier-than-thou look? Still being undecided on my precise Lenten practice, I formulated my answer for the inevitable questions. This continued during the Divinity school’s Ash Wednesday/Eucharist service as I watched as everyone went up to the station, pious heads bowed, and heard that they were worthless—dust.

When it was my turn, I went, bowed my head in reverence and preparation, and while being marked with ash, heard the words: “You are dust, and to dust you will return.” As I walked back to my seat I saw on the foreheads of everyone around me the same black mark I had just received. In that moment, instead of judgment I felt a connection with those around me. They were all marked as well-fellow sinners!  We were all repenting and preparing together.  As I sat down I realized how in my righteous judgment of so many people’s piety I had individualized this day just like everyone else. It seemed a so obvious, yet so easily forgotten fact. Nothing we do in life is done alone. Fasting, prayer, supplication need to be done in your “prayer closet,” but also in community. If anyone is going to stay on the wagon of repentance, we are going to need each other for accountability and support.

For the rest of the day, as I spotted more and more people’s ashen foreheads I thanked God that they were there with me. We bore our crosses together. And I hoped that they, and all of you will help me keep my Lenten (and life) attempt to give up judgment and self-righteousness.