Posts Tagged hope

A Chaplain’s Hope for Furman University* – Rev. Maria Swearingen

IMG_3487 (4) - CopyThis summer, two days after nine African-American men and women were slaughtered by a white supremacist in Charleston, Furman-Lake-autumn600thousands of people gathered all over the state to hold hands, process outrage, and acknowledge communal sins. As I watched 350+ people from all races, creeds, and religious traditions pour into the Chapel that afternoon, I was hopeful about what a collective response to racism and xenophobia would look like for our country, for the state of South Carolina and for this campus.

I was hopeful then. I am hopeful now.

Even so, I must be clear. That hope is not borne out of ignorance. As a chaplain and as co-chair of Furman’s presidential committee on diversity and inclusion, I carry a host of stories that pain me to my core. I know Catholic students who have been told they are going to hell, Muslim community members who have been told that their tradition is inherently violent, gay and lesbian students who have suffered slurs and blatant disrespect, international students told to go back to where they came from, and the painful list goes on. Perhaps we like to think these things do not happen here, but unfortunately, they do.

We have much to be proud of. We have a long way to go.

Amidst my awareness, exhaustion, and outrage over moments like the ones I just described, I hold to the seemingly outlandish conviction that it is within spaces of great difference, personal, religious, social, and ideological, that the real project of the university comes to life. Homes for higher education were never meant to merely conceptualize democracy for textbook consumption. The real project has always been to facilitate space, learning, and opportunities for the enactment of democracy. This enlivens and enfleshes discourse, calling us into one another’s lives and stories. Here, we sit at tables and live in residence halls and actively listen in classrooms with people who help us grapple with our bias, re-imagine community beyond our well-worn contexts, and embrace the complexity of difference we all pose for one another.

My hope for “what’s next” at Furman is that we will intentionally and joyfully choose to be a place that presses into this grand experiment with equal doses of fervor and care. We must believe that the project is worth our time, and even at the cost of overdramatizing, the grounding force for civilization.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR  Reverend Maria Swearingen is in her sixth year as associate university chaplain at Furman University. Originally from Texas, she graduated from Baylor University and received her master of divinity from Duke University. She offers pastoral care and interreligious engagement to Furman’s faculty, staff, and students, along with alumni and friends of the university.

*This article first appeared in the Spring issue, Vol.59 issue of The Furman Magazine and is used here with permission.


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Fifty-two Keys for Living, Loving and Working

The Centrality of Faith

Faith is the foundation of all relationships, with God, with our self, and with others. We establish and develop relationships through faith. We decide whether or not we want to establish or maintain a relationship based on a mutual understanding that states, I believe that this will be good for each of us. We also decide whether or not to enter into a faith relationship with God and at what level. According to the Holy Bible only a minute measure of faith is required – our faith only needs to be as great as a mustard seed which is the smallest seed known. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We must also have some measure of faith toward ourselves. This requires that we know who we are and what we are about – not an easy task. Establishing relationships demonstrates a basic faith that there is a tomorrow – a reason to live, love and hope.



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Journey of Encouragement* – Thomas R. McKibbens

Mark 13: 32-37, November 27, 2011 

            The day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday, considered the busiest shopping day of the year and traditionally the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  Its name, Black Friday, indicates the point at which retailers begin to turn a profit, as in being “in the black.”

Now there is a new significance to the day after Thanksgiving.  The National Day of Listening is a day when Americans are asked to set aside time to listen to the stories of families and friends.  It originated in 2008 by the national oral history project called StoryCorps.  Few things are more encouraging than to have someone really listen to you.

We all have our stories to tell, and many of us can remember times of sitting on the porch listening to family stories, or hearing stories told by family members after Thanksgiving dinner, or discovering stories about a family member at a funeral.  From the time we were children and begged our parents to “Tell me a story,” to adulthood when we love good storytellers like Garrison Keiller, we are filled with stories.

Mitch Carnell, a communications specialist and teacher of speech, reminds us that the Bible is basically a storybook and that Jesus was remembered as a storyteller.  We still tell the stories of Jesus after all these years, and we still argue about what they mean.  Mitch Carnell speaks of multiple interpretations of the Prodigal Son story to illustrate his point![2]

One way of thinking about the experience of being the church is that it is a merging of stories.  You have a story and I have a story.  They were once separate stories, but in being church together, our stories begin to merge.  Soon our private life stories begin to be OUR life story—not just MY story and YOUR story.  I can always tell when the merger takes place in church:  it is when someone stops using the term “your church” and begins to use the term “our church.” 

I can say to the newcomers to this church community that this congregation is an alliance of faithful friends and colleagues seriously trying to follow the way of Christ.  That does not mean that we are all in agreement over every issue.  It simply means that we have concluded that following the way of Christ is more important than any other issue. 

If you are looking for a church home, a place that will gather you in and accept you as you are, a place that will nurture you along your own spiritual journey and call out your best gifts, then you are in the right place!  There is no such thing as a perfect church, just as there is no perfect job or perfect person.  I think it was Charles Spurgeon who quipped that “the day we find a perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it!”

            Now what about this gospel text for this first Sunday of Advent?  Keep awake! it urges.  Has it ever seemed odd to you that on the first Sunday of Advent each year, when we begin looking toward the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the lectionary text used all over the Christian world is about the Second Coming of Jesus?  Just when we are beginning to focus on the first coming, we get a text focused on the Second Coming!

            Most of us aren’t even sure what we believe or want to believe about such things, especially since we have heard so many wild-eyed abuses of such texts.  But here it is nevertheless, and the church all over the world is reading this text urging us to stay alert.

            Just a few reminders in reading a text like this:  apocalyptic language is always picture-talk.  We don’t have to turn this text over to the literalists.  Sometimes Jesus used picture-talk, metaphorical language.  We have to use picture-talk when we speak of ultimate things.  We have no other language for it.  Here we are talking about the end of time as we know it.  We certainly can’t be confined to rational logic when we speak of such things.

            Another reminder about apocalyptic language:  it always arises during times of crisis.  No wonder we hear more of it these days!  The text we read today comes out of the first great crisis in the life of the early church.  When the gospel of Mark was compiled, the first great wave of persecution of Christians had begun, and the little congregations that had been meeting in relative safety suddenly had to flee to the hills to survive.  Out of that despair and crisis of faith came this gospel.

            The author of the gospel of Mark gathered together all the authentic sayings of Jesus he or she could find, and placed them in some coherent order to compile what we believe to be the first of the four gospels to be written.  (Please do not be thrown when I say “he or she.”  The gospel of Mark is anonymous.  We really don’t know who wrote it.)  In the midst of a crisis of faith, this gospel stood as a witness to a faithful God whose presence is made known even in the midst of crisis.

            So this unique, sometimes even strange apocalyptic language, is always a language of hope.  The gospel of Mark was reminding those Christians who had almost lost hope, that in spite of all, God was, God is, and God will be.  That is to say, apocalyptic language is a language of encouragement.


            An editorial in one paper this week described Americans as “glum and gloomy.”[3]  Apocalyptic language is written to those who are tempted to be glum and gloomy.  It is written as a work of encouragement, not fear.  It has reminded readers from the 1st century to the 21st century that our ultimate hope does not lie in the Dow index; it does not lie in the military; it does not rest on the results of political elections; it does not rely on housing prices or budgets or the economic crisis in Greece or Italy.  All of these measures reflect daily levels of hopefulness at times, but are not the ultimate source of hope.

            Our ultimate hope does not come from these things.  In the most difficult of times, Jesus said not only to watch for signs of hope, but to be especially watchful when it is the darkest of times.  Here is how he put it:  Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.  Surely his language was deliberately chosen.  The Roman military divided the night into four watches.  The evening watch was 6:00 – 9:00 PM; the midnight watch was 9:00 – midnight.  The cockcrow watch was from midnight to 3:00 AM.  And the morning or “dawn” watch was from 3:00 – 6:00 AM.  Those were the darkest times, times when there is no sign of a bright future.  That is when we are warned to keep alert.

            Jesus was saying that there is a future even in the darkest of times, and at the conclusion of that future, there is God—the same God who was with us in the past and is with us now.  Christian faith is realistic; it sees the world situation as clearly as anyone else.   But we do not and we will not participate in the “glum and gloomy” atmosphere described in the editorial.  We are a people of hope, even in the most challenging times, because our ultimate hope is not dependent on that list of issues that normally comprises the content of the evening news. 


            It is quite a journey we are taking together as a church.  We are at the dawn of a third century, and the future is encouraging.  Some of us will stumble and fall along the way.  Some of us may lag behind or bolt ahead, but we are taking this journey together because we need each other, and because we are a people of hope.  It is a journey toward hope and with hope.

            At the entrance to Dante’s Inferno was the sign, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here!”  At the entrance to this church is a more encouraging word:  “All hope claim and celebrate, ye who enter here!”  We journey under the banner of faith, hope, and love.  Here we sing “O God, Our Help in Ages Past, our hope for years to come.”  Here we declare a word of encouragement for the present and a word of hope that will never die.

*Dr. Thomas R. McKibbens is pastor of First Baptist Church of Worcester, Massachusetts.

[1] ©Thomas R. McKibbens, November 27, 2011.

[2] Mitch Carnell, “Listening—a Gift We Don’t Use Often Enough,” at

[3] Roger Cohen, “Decline and Fall,” New York Times, November 21, 2011.

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Thankful Thursday – Ben Guerry

            On this Thankful Thursday I am thankful for my young friend, Ben Guerry. I have known Ben all of his life and have watched him grow into an intelligent, thoughtful, talented and creative young man. He is now a student at Clemson, too bad not Furman, but everyone is allowed one bad choice. This past summer he served an internship at the First Baptist Church of Clemson. I listened to the recording and was impressed with his ease and comfort with the text and with speaking. I have no idea what his final vocational choice will be, but the church would be greatly served by someone of his ability, honesty and intellectual curiosity. Ben has enjoyed growing up in a home filled with love for him, love of God and a heart for all of humanity. Ben gives me hope for the future of our nation, for our young people and for the church. Thank you, Ben.

            Thankful Thursday is a special day to choose someone that you are thankful for and let her or him know what she or he means to your life. Send a note, make a telephone call or send an E-mail. You will be glad that you did.

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