Remember It Always: Reclaiming Humanity Through Memory in Elie Wiesel’s Night

My favorite class this semester has been Spiritual Autobiography with Dr. Yolanda Pierce. Stories are our means of processing our lives and relating to one another; stories make up what it means to be human, and as such I believe that every story, no matter how ‘secular,’ is also deeply sacred. I recently read a quote by Mary Pellauer which I found thought-provoking; she writes, “If there’s anything worth calling theology, it is listening to people’s stories – listening to them and honoring them and cherishing them, and asking them to become even more brightly beautiful than they already are.” Listening to others’ stories may be the best way to broaden our understanding of the Spirit’s work in the world. Stories are never just stories; they are a gift of God to which we should listen with reverent attention.

In this brief paper, written for my Spiritual Autobiography class, I explore the ways in which Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, uses memory to reclaim humanity, specifically in his autobiography Night. Building off the irony of an SS officer’s command to “remember it always,” I argue that Wiesel does this in three ways: first, by telling stories, he validates a crucial part of the identity of the Jewish people. Second, Wiesel makes an effort to memorialize the dead – as he writes, “To forget them would be akin to killing them a second time.” I focus on four specific passages which are a eulogy of sorts. Third and finally, Wiesel uses memory as a form of resistance against God, death, oppression, and trauma.

Writing this paper was a deeply moving experience for me, and I did a lot of sitting in reverent silence before I could even begin to put pen to paper. In the future, if I ever have a spare moment, I would love to expand on this paper, incorporating Dr. Pierce’s questions about the women in Wiesel’s life, and exploring Wiesel’s other works and more secondary sources. Until then, here’s the short version.

Remember it Always- Reclaiming Humanity Through Memory in Elie Wiesel’s Night

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Published in: on April 13, 2015 at 10:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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Foot Washing as Youth Ministry: Trading Success and Self-Image for Selfless Community

In my final paper for Theological Foundations of Youth Ministry with Kenda Creasy Dean (attached below as a PDF file), I explore a theology of foot washing, arising from the John 13 Passover text, and its implications for youth ministry.  I begin by briefly sketching the current landscape of youth ministry before I introduce the concept of foot washing as my theological foundation for youth ministry, its history in my church tradition, and the ways in which a theology of foot washing addresses the cultural and developmental needs of adolescents without sacrificing the counter-cultural nature of the gospel and a God who kneels to serve. Although limited by length constraints, I conclude with practical implications for creating a youth ministry environment rooted in a theology of foot washing.

Thanks to Kenda for an incredible semester of soaking up her wisdom and experience, my mom and JP for their constant help in revising and editing, and my dear friend Samantha Slaubaugh, whose heart for service continually inspires me to live out this ideal.

Foot Washing as Youth Ministry

Beloved Interruptions

Below is the manuscript of a narrative sermon that I delivered for my Expository Preaching class with Dr. Ken Durham last semester.

It had been a rough couple of days for Jesus when the curtain opens on our story, filled with roadblocks and unexpected frustrations. He had just calmed a storm on Lake Galilee that threatened to capsize his boat, driven out a legion of demons, and then been driven out himself by the townspeople. I don’t know what he felt as he crossed the lake once more. But I can imagine that he keenly felt the sting of rejection, the frustration of dismissal, the exhaustion of unceasing demands.  The lake was his only respite, a quiet place in the midst of chaos and people clamoring for his attention.

By the time the boat reached land, the crowd had already begun to gather.  As Jesus steps out of the boat, there falling at his feet is Jairus the synagogue ruler, pleading with him. “My little daughter is dying. Come touch her so she will be healed and live.” So Jesus goes with him.

But as they make their way through the crowd, Jairus turns and sees that Jesus has stopped.  He’s looking around him while a thin woman hangs back at the edge of the crowd. Jairus opens his mouth to speak, to remind Jesus of the urgency of his mission, but Jesus speaks first. “Who touched me?”

She had been sick as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive. Twelve years of diagnoses and attempted remedies.  Twelve years of uncleanness and isolation.  Twelve years of daring to hope, only to be disappointed, penniless, and left alone again, the bleeding growing steadily worse.  Jesus was her last chance, and suddenly the one she knew she’d been waiting for. And so she found herself pushing through the crowd as he passed.  “If I could just touch his cloak…” His back was to her as she pushed her way to the edge of the crowd and reached out.

Her fingers closed around a handful of fabric, and her body’s response was immediate. She felt it, and she knew. One touch had done what no doctor could do. She was healed. There would be no more suffering.  But as she tries to shrink away and disappear into the crowd, she is arrested by Jesus’ question. “Who touched me?”

I can imagine the momentary relief she felt when Jesus’ disciples answered him incredulously. “Who touched you? Like…everyone. You’re in the middle of a huge crowd. What do you mean, who touched you?” Maybe he would agree with them. Maybe he would shrug and be on his way. Maybe he wouldn’t notice her at all.

Yet he ignores the disciples, scanning the crowd. “Who touched me?” He asks again, but there is no accusation or anger in his voice. In fact, it sounds strangely like an invitation.

The noise of the crowd, the puzzlement of the disciples, the impatience of Jairus, all fade away into the background, and all she can hear is her heart thumping in her chest.  The invitation is only for one. Jesus is calling her.

She steps forward – and although all eyes are fixed on her, the only ones she sees are those of her Savior. She falls at his feet. Hopeful. Afraid. Embarrassed. Amazed. And gloriously whole.

And in a torrent of words, she tells the whole story to Jesus. Not just about the touch. Not just about the healing. She tells him everything. All of the pain. All of the brokenness. All of the rejection and loneliness she had experienced over the past twelve years. But it doesn’t matter that everyone is watching. It doesn’t matter what they think.

Because Jesus listens. He waits. It’s like a shaken snowglobe has settled around the central figures, leaving a sense of deep stillness. Time has stopped for Jesus too, and all that matters is this moment. This story. This woman. She finishes her confession and waits for him to speak.

When he does, it’s almost like the sound of rain on a tin roof, or a fire crackling in the hearth, to one who has been away from home for far too long. “Daughter. Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace, and be freed from your suffering.”

But the world’s brokenness always seems to invade our perfect, still moments in the presence of Jesus. And this time, when Jesus had barely finished speaking, the sacred was shattered by the abrupt arrival of Jairus’ messenger and the abrasiveness of his news.  “Your daughter is dead. Stop bothering the Teacher.”

Yet hasn’t Jesus made it clear by now that he isn’t bothered by interruptions? “Don’t be afraid,” he tells Jairus. “Just believe.”

And the woman he called daughter stands and watches as he walks away. But the story doesn’t end here. Jesus has another daughter to save. He enters her house, where mourners are wailing. He enters her room, where her body lies motionless on her bed. And as Jairus watches in amazement, Jesus grasps the cold hand of a little dead girl and says, “Get up.” And when the Lord of the universe commands life, life answers.

Two people came to Jesus that day looking for healing.

And that day, two daughters were given new life.

This story paints an incredible portrait of what happens when God interacts with humanity. It doesn’t always work out perfectly. To us, it may seem like the timing isn’t right. It’s awkward and messy. Stories are supposed to be eloquent. Interruptions are jarring and disconcerting.

Typically, we would put interruptions in the awkward category and brush them aside to get to the main point. But what’s interesting here is that the chiastic structure of this story points us to the middle, actually points us to the interruption. The seeming inconvenience becomes the focal point of this story, just as it became the focal point of Jesus’ attention.

Henri Nouwen writes of a meaningful conversation with a Notre Dame professor in which the professor mused, “My whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.” I would venture to say that perhaps Jesus saw it the same way. That interruptions didn’t distract from his ministry, because they were his ministry. Because we are his ministry.

I remember the night, when I was about six or seven, that it occurred to me that because the world is so full of people, there are bound to be times when there are multiple people praying at once – maybe even in different languages.  I wondered how God was able to hear them all at the same time, and if he got distracted by interruptions.  And to be honest, that question has never truly gone away. When we are in our darkest moments of pain, I think it still surfaces for many of us. Does God see my tears? Can he hear me right now? Does one person’s pain even matter when there is so much suffering in the world? I’ve often felt, as the Tenth Avenue North song says, like “one tear in the driving rain, one voice in a sea of pain.”

But to Jesus, no interruption is an inconvenience. Every time someone reaches out for his cloak, he will look for them until they are found, listen until their story is told, and love them with a love that claims them and declares them valuable. To Jesus, every interruption is a son or a daughter.

He wants you to encounter him. So seek him out.  Whether it’s doubt you’ve been afraid to acknowledge, pain you don’t know how to express, or the childish excitement of a spring day – your faith to reach out is the interruption Jesus is waiting for. So reach out, and interrupt boldly. No matter when you come, no matter what your story, he claims you as his own.

“Son…daughter…your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

Quotes on Preaching

The following is a selection of quotes collected from Ken Durham, Professor of Preaching at Lipscomb University, collected over the past semester.

Ken_Durham_Preaches

“The preacher’s number one job is to love his or her people.”

“Not all sermons call for baptism or membership — they might call you to praise aloud, or to fall on your knees, or to write your Congressman.”

“If the text doesn’t take you there, think long and hard about arriving at a different destination.”

“Preach a sermon as wide and deep and broad as the gospel itself.”

“If you’re boring people with your preaching, you’re not preaching Scripture right. It’s far too vast and deep for us ever to be bored.”

“If we are to be taken seriously in the pulpit, we must be consistent in everything from ‘I’ll meet you for lunch at 12’ to ‘I’ll pray for you.’ Make a commitment now to be a person of honor, a truth-teller, a promise-keeper.”

“We find the greatest clarity in the face of Christ.”

“Are we willing to let our hearts be broken for the sake of the people we serve?”

“Redemption can be invasive and convicting.”

“The best preaching you will ever do comes out of your own struggle with the Word of God.”

“The best communicator is he or she who turns ears into eyes.”

“Passion is expensive. It’s more than an emotion — it’s a sacrifice, a gift of great value.”

“We are not just called to tell the story. We are called to BE the story.”

Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 6:34 pm  Comments (1)  
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Our Present Salvation: A Practical Understanding of the Gospel

“Salvation is God’s Kingdom as it appears to a broken world.”

Most of the time, we tend to think of our salvation in terms of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and its implications for our eternal destiny. But how does this reality impact our lives now? I began to explore this concept in a brief paper I wrote for my Systematic Biblical Doctrine class. Click on the link below to access the PDF.

Our Present Salvation

Published in: on December 1, 2013 at 7:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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Kingdom Vision

For my Restoration movement class, I was required to write a brief paper on a concept that shaped the churches of Christ in America, and I chose to write about the evolution of apocalyptic theology in the church.  Apocalyptic theology is the beautifully radical worldview that chooses to live “in the shadow of the second coming of Christ” — by bringing kingdom values to earth and living as if the kingdom reality is already present here and now.  Throughout the years, this visionary mindset unfortunately fell by the wayside, but there is great beauty in living such a counter-cultural, kingdom-centered way.

Click on the link below to access the PDF:

Kingdom Vision: The Evolution of Apocalyptic Theology in the Churches of Christ

Desperation and Disobedience

For my Old Testament Exegesis course, I was assigned to write an exegetical paper on 1 Samuel 28:3-25, a somewhat bizarre story in which King Saul requests a medium to bring up the spirit of the prophet Samuel.  It’s rather a long paper, and not for the faint of heart or short of attention span.  But if you can hold on through the historical context sections at the beginning, I think there’s some interesting application at the end.  Click on the link below to access the PDF.

Desperation and Disobedience — An Exegesis of 1 Samuel 28:3-25

the cultural church. take 2.

Assignment for class: Write an iconoclasm treatise on something you want to change in the church.

Idea: Steal the title and first sentence of an old blog post and build on that foundation.

Product: See below.

In a culture consumed by consumerism, infiltrated with individualism, and saturated with syncretism, I have to wonder just how well the typical American church measures up to what Jesus intended for His body.  The place where contrite sinners used to come on their knees has become a trendy self-help workshop.  The place where Christians used to surrender all other loyalties is decorated with sentiments of nationalism and materialism.  The place where people used to find community has become a resource for expanding their own self-centered networks.  Gifts have become budgets and shepherds have become CEOs.  The church has become a corporation.

When a heart is replaced by an agenda and the Spirit quenched by “the way we’ve always done it,” when the counter-cultural call of our faith is replaced by a formula that mimics society a little too closely, the church has become nothing more than a lifeless structure.  The structure appears well made and carefully crafted, but it is hollow and in danger of collapsing.  At first glance, everything appears to be in place.  We have the programs, the technology, the board of directors, and a healthy bottom line.  But somewhere in all of this religious programming, one vital component is missing: God.

Throughout history, God has been an advocate for the poor, the needy, the desperate, and the ostracized.  People turn to Him at their lowest point when there is nothing else to depend on.  Yet, conversely, when we feel secure apart from God, we see no need for Him in our lives.  This is why Jesus said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24).  Could it be that in our zeal to do right, we have stored up a sort of legalistic wealth that keeps us from hungering and thirsting for righteousness?  Could it be that in our careful structures and organization, we have come to a point where going through the motions of our religion no longer requires the fuel of the Spirit?

In Revelation, Jesus instructed John to write to the church in Sardis, “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1).  Could that describe many of our modern American churches?  When the religious program is carried out week after week; when tradition, rather than the living, active revelation of God, defines our faith; when people leave unchanged time and time again; is there life in the church?  Or has our heart ceased to beat inside our perfectly-structured ribcage?

In the dawn of the church, it was an underground movement persecuted for its counter-cultural values.  But we American Christians, complacent in our first-world status, have fallen in love with our culture and modeled our faith after it.  We seek power, wealth, and affluence, advertising ourselves and exploiting others to be the best of the best.  Have we not employed this same mindset in our churches?  We advertise our selling points as better suited for the population’s needs than the church down the street.  Needing to keep up our image, we hire dynamic speakers with Ph.D.s and professional worship leaders and showy youth pastors.  Inside this web of key church leaders, we create power structures and assume everything can be solved with a formula.  The pastor is above the worship leader because he has a Ph.D.  The worship leader is above the secretary because he is more visible to the public eye.  This particularly stood out to me when we drew our home church’s structure of authority on the whiteboards in class.  There were carefully drawn little “technical” lines and “realistic” lines and squiggly political maneuvers, but there was little room for God in any of those equations.

The church has failed to distinguish itself from the world.  We have become so consumed by our own businesslike strategies that we hardly know what it means to be a community of people that follows Christ.  As such, we have lost our witness to the world.  We do not model the freedom Christ offers.  Instead, we market ourselves as insurance against hell and invite people to join our legalistic hamster wheel of Christian production and consumerism, keeping up with the latest and greatest evangelistic strategies and architectural styles.  I have to wonder, if Jesus were to come into the typical American church, would He come in with whips and overturn the tables?

Jesus never called anyone to comfortable discipleship.  He called them to radical discipleship.  It is time for us to stop settling for security and go outside our comfort zone to follow Jesus.  There are times when it will be difficult and painful.  There will be times when we are afraid.  True discipleship is not easy, but it is worth every mile you walk, every dollar you spend and tear you shed, every piece of your heart you give away.  True discipleship is the adventure of a lifetime.  Perhaps it is time we rethink the way we “do church.”  What if it were less about the building and the budget and the bottom line, and more about a group of disciples coming together to encourage and challenge one another to make a difference?  What if it were less about the structure and more about the meaning?  What if it were less about business and more about community?  What if…what if it were less about us and more about Christ?

Such a paradigm change would require some drastic and uncomfortable changes in the way we have typically thought of church.  For some of us, maybe the answer would be to abandon the corporation altogether and begin again in homes.  For others, it may be prayer and fasting as we cast a new vision for our trajectory as the church and seek guidance from the Spirit.  We need to take a good hard look at ourselves in a mirror and see if we look like the world, or if we look like Jesus.  If we resemble any structure or ideal other than Jesus – if our identity is found in something other than a simple, undecorated gospel — are we really Christians at all?

As Long as We Both Shall Live: A Wedding Liturgy

Here’s another fun fact about my youth ministry professor Dr. Surdacki: he loves liturgy.  Like, a lot.  Having been raised in the Catholic church and now a member of the church of Christ at the opposite end of the spectrum, he embodies some of the best things from both traditions.  So for my Introduction to Ministry class, we got to do a liturgy project, which included writing a liturgy of our own.  Hopeless romantic that I am, of course I chose to do a wedding liturgy.  Unfortunately, I had to turn it in as kind of a rough draft since I’m going to SCOTLAND in 4 days.  But here it is.

depositphotos_4138729-Love-is-Patient-Bible-Verse-with-RingsBride and groom join hands at the altar before the pastor. Congregation is seated.

 Pastor: Friends, family, and witnesses, we come together today as a community to celebrate the sacrament of marriage as a testament to the unconditional love of God for His church.  In committing to spend the rest of their lives together in love and faithfulness, N and N are pledging their relationship as a living testimony to what Christ has done in their lives.

As we witness their vows, we are called into covenant with them to help them uphold their commitment, to live in community with them, to teach them to love and care for one another, and to learn from what their unique relationship has to offer.

N and N, you are entering into a covenant relationship with one another, but also with these witnesses here and with the larger body of Christ.  As you vow to love one another faithfully, you are taking on the responsibility of representing Christ’s love together as one flesh.

Reading from Ephesians 5:21-33.

 Pastor: Lord, we praise you for the gift of marriage and all that it represents. May you bless N and N as they begin their journey together, and may everyone here be blessed by their example of love and faithfulness.  Bless their lives with joy, their family with love, and their home with your abiding peace as they make you the center of their lives. Amen.

 Pastor: I invite you to join me in the reading of 1st Corinthians 13.

Pastor: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Congregation: Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Pastor: As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,

Congregation: But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

Pastor: When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. For now we see in a mirror dimly;

Congregation: but then face to face.

Pastor: Now I know in part;

Congregation: Then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

Pastor: So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three:

Congregation: But the greatest of these is love.

 Pastor: N, as you take N to be your wife, committing to be faithful to her, will you, to the best of your ability, love N with this kind of submissive and sacrificial love, honoring God first and her above all others?

N: I will.

Pastor: N, as you take N to be your husband, committing to be faithful to him, will you, to the best of your ability, love N with this kind of submissive and sacrificial love, honoring God first and him above all others?

N: I will.

Pastor to Congregation: Will you uphold N and N in their declaration of love and faithfulness, holding them accountable to their vows and encouraging them in their desire to live in holy union together?

Congregation: We will.

To the man:

Pastor: Repeat after me.

Before God and these witnesses

I make a covenant with you

To love you as Christ loved the church

And gave Himself for her

To love you unconditionally

To seek your highest good

To stand by you faithfully

Together or apart

For richer or poorer

In sickness and in health

As long as we both shall live.

To the woman:

Pastor: Repeat after me.

Before God and these witnesses

I make a covenant with you

To submit to you as to the Lord

To love you unconditionally

To seek your highest good

To stand by you faithfully

Together or apart

For richer or poorer

In sickness and in health

As long as we both shall live.

Exchanging of the Rings

Pastor: The wedding ring is an outward sign of an inward commitment to love and honor one another in a marriage covenant. The circle represents endless love; the gold, both the purity of their love and the refinement that will take place in this covenant relationship. N, you may place a ring on the finger of your bride.

N: I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and faithfulness to you.

Pastor: By the same token, N, you may place a ring on the finger of your groom.

N: I give you this ring as a symbol of my love and faithfulness to you.

Pastor: Now that N and N have exchanged these vows and rings and thus made a covenant to one another before God, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.

Pastor: It is my honor to introduce to you for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. N. 

Published in: on March 11, 2013 at 8:50 pm  Comments (1)  
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Faithless Prayer

“In the morning, Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation.” –Psalm 5:3.

This verse evokes a concept of childlike faith that seems so foreign to us realists.  How can we give God our requests and wait in expectation?  Doesn’t that just set us up for disappointment?

So often we think that way, but if we request of God something we believe is too big for Him and continue to worry, what is the purpose of prayer?

In Acts 12, while Peter is in prison and awaiting trial for his faith, his friends are gathered together praying for Him.  God answers their prayers; He sends an angel to miraculously rescue Peter.  The chains fall off his wrists, the iron gates are opened, the guards are struck dumb, and an angel leads Peter out.  Once out of prison, Peter makes his way to where his prayer warriors are gathered in a house.  When he knocks on the door, a servant girls opens it, only to close it promptly in his face, not daring to believe it could possibly be him.  The others in the house show the same level of disbelief, telling the servant girl she is out of her mind, and explaining away this phenomenon by assuming that Peter has been martyred and his angel has come to visit them.

Think about it: they’re trying so hard not to believe their prayer has been answered, that they have to come up with an even more ridiculous theory to explain Peter’s appearance!  Why?  Were they so afraid of hoping, that they had to explain away God’s power when it was staring them in the face?  Had they really spent all that time praying without believing?

Obviously, God can still move in response to faithless prayer, so be careful what you pray, or He just might come through when you least expect it…maybe even if you don’t want it.

But at the same time, how often do we lay our requests before God, only to pick them back up again and carry the weight of our concerns with us because it seems impossible that He would actually move on our behalf?  What kind of prayer is that?

It’s fruitless prayer, that’s what.  It’s faithless prayer.  It’s “heaping up empty phrases” (Matthew 6:7).

If we pray without believing that God is big enough to respond, perhaps we need to reevaluate why we’re praying, or who we’re even praying to.  If it’s the God who parted the Red Sea, who made fire fall from heaven, who made the deaf hear and the blind see and the lame walk, the God who created the universe and raised Jesus Christ from the dead, stop this half-hearted, weak-willed nonsense and believe that He can still move mountains.

Published in: on February 25, 2013 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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