An Update from Episcopal Service Corps

Eli Gemora in Episcopal Service Corps 2017-09Emmanuel “Eli” Gemora (front row, second from left) graduated from WWU in 2016 and is spending this year with Episcopal Service Corps.

Hello, everyone! I can be pretty bad about keeping in touch, so I figured I would update everyone in one go on how my time in North Carolina is going. But first, here is a summary of what exactly it is I’m doing out here.

Along with nine other people, I am doing a year of living in an intentional community in North Carolina’s Johnson Service Corps. We will be working for local nonprofits, exploring our spiritual lives, nurturing our emotional well-being, and learning how to be effective servant leaders. We are split between two cities (Chapel Hill and Durham) that are about 30 minutes apart from each other, and we are housed to live in or near the communities we will be serving. We are also encouraged to develop a spiritual practice. I entered the program with the intention to try journaling and meditating each day.

I am living in Carrboro (a small town right next to Chapel Hill) with four other people in a fully furnished duplex. I will be working at Compass Center. My work will entail connecting people to domestic violence- and crisis-related resources.

As for what I’ve been up to so far, well, the first two weeks were packed enough as it is, so this email will just cover that (tune in next time for an update on JSC in general).
On Friday, August 18th, I arrived in North Carolina. We housemates met, picked bedrooms, and began unpacking. We also met some administrators and mentors of JSC, as well as our program director, at a potluck lunch. Afterwards, we headed out for opening retreat. At the retreat both houses stayed in one cabin, meditated frequently, talked about the upcoming year, had excellent meals made from locally sourced food, and learned about listening from the heart.

On Sunday, August 20th, we returned to our houses and began settling into our lives together. Over the past month we’ve settled into a routine of planning meals, cooking and eating together each night, working out on the weekdays, playing games, and watching The Office. With the help of the two members this year who have lived in Chapel Hill before, we have also begun to explore Carrboro/Chapel Hill and Durham, attending festivals and going to local restaurants.

We have also learned more about the area by going on formal, historical tours. We toured Durham by way of the Pauli Murray Project. There we learned about the Murray family, the rise of Durham as an important town and black community, and the impact race relations have had on Durham. We toured Chapel Hill by way of the historic, black neighborhood, Northside. There we learned about the tight-knit community that lives there, the ways gentrification has changed the neighborhood, and what the civil rights movement looked like in Chapel Hill. We also toured Stagville Plantation, where we learned about the impacts of slavery and plantations on the development of the surrounding area. We also learned about how the descendants of slaves are working to reclaim their families’ stories.

Over a three-day period, we also toured all of the programs where JSC members had been placed. This was not only to show us where we would be interning, but also to help us understand what our fellow JSC members would be doing at their jobs. Understanding the other programs also has the added benefit of helping different nonprofit organizations connect to each other through JSC interns. (We were also given the option to volunteer at most of the other placements in our free time if we were interested.)

Lastly, we spent two Fridays working on our community covenants and training for the challenges of the upcoming year. We learned about non-violent communication, conflict resolution, and how to recognize and voice our needs.

A Community Covenant is a document written by the members of a house in which we lay out our intentions and rules. They include things like how we will handle conflict, when we will have weekly business meeting, etc. It can help us preemptively to handle the smaller details and stressors of living with a bunch of strangers away from home.

Deciding to do a year of service in an unfamiliar place immediately after graduating was a pretty wild choice, but I’ve been incredibly pleased with that choice and already feel that I’ve become a stronger, more informed person.

Feel free to call, text, or email me if you want to know more or have any questions!

Much love,

Emmanuel

EPIC’s Fall Discussion Topics

I love fall quarter. I love the smell of crispy leaves (wherever they can be found in the Pacific Northwest) and the smell of new books. And I especially love meeting new people.

We’ve met a few new folks this quarter already, and they have helped us plot out EPIC’s fall discussion topics, as follows:

October 15. The Nature of God: How can we know what God is really like?

October 29. Church and State: What are the origins of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.? How should church and state be in relation to each other? Discussion hosted by students Emilie Han and Josh Shepherd.

November 5. Sexual Ethics: We have some. What are they? We talked about this a couple years ago, and you can read about that discussion here.

November 19. “Hate the sin, love the sinner”: Why is this a problematic phrase?

December 3. Topic TBD.

December 10. A very silly Christmas pageant, plus end-of-quarter wrap-up and party.

You can download a current calendar of all our upcoming events here.

The Great Divorce, Chapter 14

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Ruthie Ewald

This summer, EPIC students read The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis and have blogged about it together. This final post in the series comes from Ruthie Ewald.

“And suddenly all was changed.” This is the way chapter 14 starts. In earlier chapters, the narrator explored the Grey Town and the shadow of life, guided by a heavenly being who used to be a trusted writer. The narrator learns more about the way heaven and hell and, in this chapter, the truth work in this story. This chapter is very different from the others. Instead of focusing on the nature of heaven and hell, it focuses on time and has considerable plot.

In The Great Divorce, the truth is presented, and we are all large, emotionless beings, playing a game with little human tokens that interact. What a truth—a truth that leaves me with more questions than answers. I’m still left wondering why the narrator is allowed to explore the Grey Town and the shadow of life, why the narrator gets to learn all these things, and whether or not some people just arrive in the shadow of life.

Overall, I think it was a good book because it left me wondering and thinking, which I enjoy doing. Even though the book didn’t explain everything, the end is not a cliff-hanger. It is a completed story that feels finished even without explaining everything.

 

I Had No Idea There Were Christians Like You Guys

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The Rev. Josh Hosler, EPIC Chaplain

“I had no idea there were Christians like you guys.”

As an Episcopal priest who hangs out on the campus of WWU, I’ve heard this a lot.

Mostly I’ve heard it from people who grew up in some form of Christianity but found they couldn’t continue to accept it. They outgrew a childish understanding of God but were never given an adult understanding that made any sense to them.

I’ve also heard it from people who have been hurt by Christians, either through abuse, manipulation, or betrayal. Sometimes I find myself apologizing on behalf of the Church at large, even if that pain had no origin in the Episcopal Church.

And then, sometimes I hear this from people who grew up with no religion at all, who were taught from a young age that all religious belief is infantile or abusive.

If any of these descriptions fits you, know this: we honor your pain or disconnection. You’ve come by it honestly. And we would love to meet you. The Episcopal Church is not out to “fix you” or change you into something you’re not. We love the great variety of people who explore faith among us. It’s not that we don’t have solid beliefs. It’s just that one of those beliefs is that everybody already has a relationship with God, but some people call it something else. “Spiritual but not religious” comes to mind. Also “in love with nature and science.” Also “secular humanism.”

All these schools of thought are about people asking the big questions. We love the big questions, and we don’t demand unyielding answers. Many people take comfort in a solid faith, and good for them. But our faith is more like liquid. We expect it to change. We expect not to be in control all the time. We expect to have to leave some questions unanswered all our lives. We expect that God, the creator and originator of all things, is Love, and Love does not force or coerce.

In the Episcopal Church, we are spiritual and religious. We also are in love with nature and science. Yes, evolution probably happens pretty much that way. Yes, women can serve as priests, bishops … any leadership position at all. No, LGBTQ people are not any more inherently flawed than the rest of us; they simply have other, beautiful ways of being and of loving, and yes, we welcome them into membership and leadership on all levels. Yes, the Bible is our book. No, we don’t believe it dropped out of the sky in complete form; people wrote it by the inspiration of God, and people always work within a context. Yes, God is very, very patient with us!

We’re not secular, and we don’t expect to achieve a utopia of human origin. But we do believe that humans are created good and have the power to do good in the world. And we believe that all the good things we do happen with God’s help, because God holds our very souls in life.

We are followers of Jesus. We know that most people who are leery of Christians still love the teachings of Jesus: “Love your neighbor as yourself” in particular. The Bible introduces us to this unique strand of belief, of a people who came to understand that it was their job to show the world what God is really like, and of Jesus of Nazareth who stood solidly in that Jewish tradition and yet demonstrated himself to be the very incarnation of God.

I’ve never heard an Episcopalian say, “Our church is the only right church.” We just don’t think that way. Try, instead, “We all have an incomplete understanding of the wonders of God’s world. Awe and humility are the best responses to these wonders. And inspired by those feelings of awe and humility, we believe that our mission in the church is to reconcile the world to God and all people to each other.”

That’s the long-range goal of Christianity, which has done so much good and so much harm. We are people, and we succeed, and we fail. As Christians, we are part of this project. As Episcopalians, we take on this project with love, joy, and a deep appreciation for beauty. As EPIC, we gather college students to find our own ways to take on this mission.

If any of this resonates with you, will you take a chance and come hang out with us? No strings attached. We don’t set out to change you—though we are all changing all the time anyway! We expect to be changed by you, to discover, in our relationships with you, yet another way that God is at work in the world.

Download our current calendar.

The Great Divorce, Chapter 12

This summer, EPIC students are reading The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis and blogging about it together. This week’s post comes from Becky Gregg.

Becky Gregg
Becky Gregg

The twelfth chapter of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce opens with the narrator and George MacDonald witnessing mass numbers of Solid People singing, the combined brightness almost too much to look at directly. Looking closer, they see that the singing is to celebrate a woman who is at the center. She is radiating extreme light and happiness. Several children and animals are on either side of her. She is glorified and celebrated by everyone around her. At first it seems she is looking in the direction of the narrator and his Teacher, but in fact she is looking past them, at another Ghost.

This Ghost is seemingly not one being, but two: a tall, lanky Tragedian with a collar and chain led by a dwarf. The Ghosts and this woman know each other. The woman Spirit, named Sarah Smith, addresses the dwarf, not the Tragedian. She kisses the dwarf, who is named Frank, and apologizes to him. She asks Frank for a pardon in regards to any wrong she did him and for all the things she did not do. Instead of Frank responding, the Tragedian does, saying “We’ll speak no more about it, we all make mistakes.” The Tragedian goes on to explain that he was not even worried about any wrongdoing, but that Sarah was spending her time in the afterlife worrying about him. He is devastated to learn that she has not worried or pitied him, because there is no need for that in Heaven.

He asks her if she missed him, and again, she says there’s no need for that in the country of Heaven. They continue to go back and forth where through the mouth of the Tragedian Frank tries to get Sarah to pity him. She tells him she would not be miserable just for misery’s sake, that there was no need for guilt or pity, and that she was able to fully love.

Frank asks then if she did not love him on Earth. She explains that her love for him in the old days was fostered from her need to be loved. She loved Frank for her own sake when they were alive. Now, in Heaven, Sarah has no needs. She can love Frank fully now and is no longer loving for her own needs. Frank interprets this as Sarah no longer needing him, and he tries to make Sarah pity him. Sarah just laughs, because all of it is so unnecessary. The laugher makes Frank the dwarf more solid and less pity-seeking. Yet in the end his “unselfishness” and pity-seeking behavior conquer his desire for true happiness.

I think this spirit woman’s name even represents maybe how ordinary she was on Earth. Her being a glorious Solid Person is a symbol of how her devotion and faithfulness as an ordinary human made her a glorious celebrated spirit in Heaven. It is almost like Lewis is saying that those who are devoted in their faith during their life will be rewarded in the afterlife with celebration, like an incentive.

Later when she is telling Frank that she did not totally love him, I believe Sarah is talking about how we, as humans, have needs. Human nature calls for relationships and also the feeling of being needed and loved. I looked a little into this and found Lewis’ The Four Loves. In this he talks about Gift Love vs. Need Love. Gift Love is giving love to someone or something without personal benefit, whereas Need Love is giving love out of personal need. Humans can’t solely give Gift Love, because we have needs. There was no way Sarah could solely feel Gift Love toward Frank on Earth, because her mortal nature got in the way.

The persona of Frank being split into two beings confuses me almost. Why are both beings not optimal? It is not like one version is amazing and the other hideous. They both are odd-looking creatures. Also, why is the Tragedian being pulled by a collar and chain? There are several different paths I could go down. Could the tragedy-fueled characters symbolize the need for Frank to be pitied? Frank’s persona has become the actual man. His unselfishness – Frank giving Sarah the last stamp even though he wanted to send a letter – needed to be noticed. This leads to the self-pity that follows Frank to the afterlife.

Another reasoning for the two people representing one is the divided nature of Frank. His desire for true happiness and his desire to be pitied and recognized for his selflessness combine into one being.

This chapter gave me a lot to think on. I suppose it widened my perspective about how the way we live our lives on Earth can carry on into the afterlife, and also how “worldly thinking” (selfishness, those seven deadly sins, etc.) can honestly make us different people than who we were “meant” to be.

 

The Great Divorce, Chapter 11

This summer, EPIC students are reading The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis and blogging about it together. This week’s post comes from Richard Hill.

Richard Hill
Richard Hill

In the eleventh chapter of The Great Divorce, the narrator continues following the teacher and comes upon two more “ghosts” from the bus. The first is a mother who has just arrived talking to her brother, a “spirit,” about how she wants to meet her son Michael, who died years ago and is already in heaven. All this time her brother is trying to explain to her that she cannot see him because she is no longer loving God in her relationship with her son, and is hardly loving Michael either.

This relationship is a good example of a problem that I’ve encountered. In this situation, this woman was so focused on getting access to her son that she lost sight of loving him and God. I’ve found that in many situations it’s not very hard to do things without remembering why I’m doing them, and I’ve then lost some of the significance of why I was doing them in the first place. This situation was particularly bad, as the woman had not only lost sight of loving God and her son, but had also been so focused on the memory of her son that she lost sight of other things and neglected the other members of her family in the process.

The narrator leaves that scene before we learn whether she ever comes to understanding and is able to stay in heaven. The narrator seems hopeful of her stay, but the teacher he is following seems to suggest otherwise.

The next pair they come upon is a man talking to what we figure out to be an angel. The man is accompanied by a lizard, which seems to loosely represent the man’s bad ideas and negative thoughts. The angel is repeatedly asking if the man wants it to kill the lizard, and the man is hesitant to let it happen. This situation seems to point out that even though the man knows that the lizard is a problem, he’s gotten so used to it, that he isn’t sure if it’s a good idea to get rid of.

Eventually the angel eventually kills the lizard, which turns into a stallion, and the man rides off on it into the mountains. This seems to be showing that even though this ghost is particularly nasty, he is able to go into the mountains after what seems like a pretty simple acknowledgment of his lizard and letting the angel kill it.

 

The Great Divorce, Chapter 10

This summer, EPIC students are reading The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis and blogging about it together. This week’s post comes from Jon Fedele.

I just finished reading Chapter 10 of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, and I feel thankful. I appreciate all those people in my life who help make me better.

Jon in CamasThe tenth chapter consists entirely of a conversation that the protagonist overhears, and this conversation is almost all one-sided. It involves a dutiful (to a fault) wife, recounting her life for her husband and all she did for him. “‘Robert’s idea was that he’d just slink off by himself every now and then to see what he called his old friends … and leave me to amuse myself! But I knew from the first that those friends were doing him no good. ‘No, Robert,’ said I, ‘your friends are now mine. It is my duty to have them here, however tired I am and however little we can afford it.’” The wife-ghost clearly believes she has gone to great lengths to civilize her husband.

She apparently brought her husband along pretty far in life too. “Well, I got him into the new house at last. … It was a little more than we could really afford at the moment, but all sorts of things were opening out before him. … I began to entertain properly. No more of his sort of friends, thank you. I was doing it all for his sake.” The wife-ghost brought her husband further than he wanted to go, it seems.

I think we’re lucky to have people in our lives who want to grow with us, who see our benefit as in their interests or even appreciate it as an end unto itself. I imagine that the wife-ghost deeply wished to be such a person to her husband, and I feel a bit sorry, even though it’s fiction, that it didn’t work out that way for them. We ought to try to feel happy that others wish for our benefit, even if we don’t all agree on what a good life is.

But when we try to make others improve while not growing ourselves, trouble is afoot. In the case of the tenth chapter, the ambitious wife and the self-contented husband did not go well together. In the wife-ghost’s words, “‘Instead of realizing that we now had a chance to spread out a bit, all he said was, ‘Well now, for God’s sake let’s have some peace.’ That nearly finished me.’” It seems like the husband was satisfied with modest earthly gains, while the wife’s vicarious ambition for getting things done was boundless, undirected—progress for the sake of progress. So, knocking on heaven’s door, she was unable to let go of the grudge that her husband, who was already inside, hadn’t properly appreciated her attempts to improve him in life.

The chapter ends when the wife-ghost decides she wants the opportunity to rule over her husband in heaven and improve him more. In the grey town, she’s been without anything to do things to, and others were unwilling to accept her tutelage. She then throws a fit, snaps, and is no more. Without things to manipulate, there is nothing more of the wife-ghost left and she becomes nothingness. That’s a pretty grim consequence for being a control freak.

I began this post by expressing my gratitude for people like the wife-ghost because I think that’s something that a lot of people need: gratitude, especially if these people think, truly or otherwise, that they are acting for our benefit. Now of course, I don’t think that the husband in the story should have done whatever his wife wanted and been glad about it, but I’d like to think that there was some way that they could have compromised concerning their choice of lifestyle, and such compromise would start with a spirit of generosity. And if such a compromise couldn’t be reached, why spend your life with someone? Scenarios like this are why I think divorce is a good invention on balance.

Vicarious ambition can lead to being consumed by a need to modify others, a need to have someone to ‘do things to,’ at least in C. S. Lewis’s estimation. I think chapter 10 teaches us a few important things. First, ambition should have an end in mind and not be merely for its own sake. Second, be nice to people, and if you can’t be nice to them, don’t marry them. Third, if you’re spending too much time doing things to others, find something else to do.