Racial Justice Resources

The language of aspiration and inspiration

 

College Conference at Montreat closes with thoughtful worship

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana preaches during closing worship Sunday at the College Conference at Montreat. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

MONTREAT, North Carolina — Preaching from Deut. 6:4-9, a text she described as both aspirational and inspirational, the Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana sent about 900 people attending the College Conference at Montreat home Sunday morning with a closing worship message focused on Sabbath and remembering.

Moses’ message to the people about to enter the Promised Land (“You shall love the Lord your God” and “Keep these words that I am commanding you today” and “Fix them as an emblem on your forehead” and “Write them on the doorposts of your house”) is “the language of New Year’s resolutions,” she said. It’s chock-full of the words “all” and “shall” and “it’s a little over the top.”

“Nothing we do will ever be enough,” she said. “Otherwise, why would we need God’s grace?”

Moses uses the words he does “not because we are expected to do it perfectly,” she said, “but to show us there is no area of life exempt from God’s concern.”

A distance runner, McKibben Dana said she follows the 10-percent rule: to avoid injury or discouragement, she never adds more than 10 percent to her weekly workout than she’s done the week before.

“What’s the 10-percent rule for you?” she asked the collegiate congregation. “Taking an entire (Sabbath) day off might be impossible. Take a 10-percent shift and see where that takes you.”

She said she takes issue with Sam Altman’s “Life is not a dress rehearsal” quote.

“I think life is rehearsal. The habits of rehearsing are everything we do,” she said. “Most of our life is preparation for crucial moments, so we can act decisively” at those moments.

“We pass the peace with a handshake or a hug so we can remember to see the face of Christ in the people we meet,” she said. “We practice Sabbath so we know what it means to live ‘Sabbath-ly.’”

She closed by relaying a portion of a podcast by Kate Bowler, who teaches at the Duke Divinity School. Bowler, the author of “Everything Happens (And Other Lies I’ve Loved),” was joined by Dr. Ari Johnson, co-founder of Muso, which works to change the infant and mother mortality rates in Mali. At the end of the podcast, Bowler had this to say about Johnson and the work of his organization:

“Sometimes everything is possible and sometimes nothing is possible. But when do you know the difference? We’re not always in control of what happens to us, but we can be aware of our power to harm and our power to heal.

“Ari and the work of Muso reminds me that agency rests on a sliding scale. ‘Yes, you can help and now is a good time,’ or ‘No, you’re tired and fragile and you need a nap.’

Johnson “has gotten insanely good at loving people,” Bowler concluded, “but it really started when he told himself that he had to start today — because if you’ve ever been in love, you know it just can’t wait.”

“I wish we were all driving and flying home to a safer world,” McKibben Dana told the congregation. “It is not as it should be. But maybe in a thousand small ways through you and me, it can be a little more ‘It is well with my soul … on Earth as it is in heaven.’”


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