Saturday, March 19, 2016

Palm and Passion Sunday Meditations

A Palm Sunday Meditation on Personal Sin

Sin is utterly personal.  This we understand.  The covenantal commands of the Decalogue have a personal consequence (Exodus 20).  For we confess a personal dimension to the apocalyptic sway of sin.  The angels in heaven—and perhaps a few others—may “need no repentance”.  As grace touches ground in Jesus Christ, sin touches sand in personal confessions.  We get lost.  It is our nature, east of Eden.  We get lost in sex without love:  lust.  We get lost in consumption without nourishment:  gluttony.  We get lost in accumulation without investment:  avarice.  We get lost in rest without weariness, in happiness without struggle:  sloth.  We get lost in righteousness without restraint:  anger.  We get lost in desire without ration or respect:  envy.  And most regularly, we get lost in integrity without humility:  pride.  If you have never known lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, anger, envy or pride you are not a sinner, you are outside the cloud of sin, and you need no repentance.  (You also may not be quite human). Robert Allan Hill, On Meeting Sin Again for the First Time, 2001.

A Passion Sunday Meditation on Spiritual Disappointment

Now that we have come to the Passion Narrative, we need to name and regret a biblical disappointment. If we are going to read the Bible at all, and hear the gospel together, then we need to be honest about a scriptural disappointment. As with all of our lives, the Bible itself, the very Word of God, does nonetheless harbor disappointments. Hear the good news: there is even freedom following religious disappointment.
Sometimes our great strengths occasion our most glaring weaknesses. If for example John is the Bible’s great strength, it would then be possible that here too we might find great weakness. And we do.
Oh, I give no ground with regard to the truth of Scripture. The Bible is freedom’s book, the pulpit is freedom’s voice, the church is freedom’s defense. It is also occasionally true that the Bible is a holy disappointment. Nowhere in Scripture is the height of Christian freedom more powerfully depicted than in John, and yet, at the same time, nowhere is the Bible more of a disappointment.
(This year we hear from Luke, a passion narrative of milder sort.  Other years we hear from John.)
John’s gospel is anti-Semitic, at least to our ears after 1940. It was composed in the white heat of one small group leaving a synagogue in order freely to worship what the synagogue could only understand as a second God. It was the charge of ditheism, though denied and controverted, which moved John’s little church out into a free and frightening future. So the Gospel of John speaks roughly of its Semitic mother religion, of its own tradition. The living water is meant to surpass the dead water of Jacob, of Jacob’s well. Notice the way the writer refers with oral scare quotes to “the Jews,” like Robert E. Lee calling Yankees “those people.” Notice the dismissive explication, here and elsewhere, of Jewish rites. Notice that even though salvation is from the Jews, his own people “received him not.” Notice Jesus saying, “All who came before me are thieves and robbers.” We have an obligation to notice. And to regret, to express contrition and compunction. These words from this gospel have done immeasurable harm, from Augustine to Luther to the Third Reich to today, and that is a grave spiritual disappointment. As Christianity puts its best foot forward, it is really the other one that needs attention. We have two biographies ourselves. That of persecuted, and that of persecutor. Of all religious bodies, we have the most work to do with regard to anti-Semitism.
How are we to find freedom following such spiritual disappointment? By facing facts, by learning from our experience of success and failure, by moving ahead: The fact is that Christianity has been pervasively guilty of latent and patent anti-Semitism and the Gospel of John has been one of its sources. We have and can learn from this failure, by carefully monitoring our use of religious language. And we can move ahead. John is guiding us toward a global vision, an ecumenical spirituality, a universal Truth, a global village green, space for grace and time for freedom. And our Jewish brothers and sisters can teach us to continue, with Jacob, to wrestle with God.  Robert Allan Hill, The Courageous Gospel, 2013

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Robert Allan Hill Annual Report 2015

Annual Statistical Report
Robert Allan Hill
Boston University
Dean of Marsh Chapel, Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Theology, and Chaplain to the University
January 1, 2015—December 31, 2015

TEN  2015 Highlights: 12th RAH Book, Charles River, 3/15; 1000 in 4 Easter services; 1185 in 6 Christmas week\Lessons and Carols services; New University Chaplain for International Students, Ms. Jessica Chicka (1/1/16); Total 143 young women and men either entering or continuing in ministry, through Marsh Chapel, 2008-2015; 220 BU students active weekly in Marsh Chapel programs, worship, and groups; New Marsh Development Group, 11/15; further deliberation about $2.5M accessibility project (12/2/15); 27 national and regional guest speaking and preaching moments, in annual conferences, churches, colleges and other; Sadly,  9/1/15 Desecration of Chapel Sacristy by BU undergraduate student (damage est. $9K); read A Gawande, Being Mortal and T Piketty, Capital  (‘death and taxes’(J))
A.   Dean of Marsh Chapel: Preacher
1.Sunday Sermons and Services, both Marsh and elsewhere: 52  (\chapel;; Marsh Chapel Sunday worship services are broadcast in New England on NPR to 50K-80K; in addition, 25K (up from 4K three years ago) listen by podcast, Sunday or midweek; the services are streamed on the BU website, for all 300K living BU alumni and others around the globe (weekly listeners in, for example, Paris, Beijing, Sao Paulo, Juno); the service is provided for the 40K resident BU faculty\students\administration and staff; 1,000 in attendance for Protestant Easter services; 215 weekly average school year attendance.
2. Special Services: 21
ML King Observance, BU Baccalaureate\Commencement, BU Matriculation, BU Alumni Weekend, This I Believe, Marsh Matriculation Service, Lessons & Carols (2x), Blue Christmas, Annual Spring Term Ten (10) Prayers\Invocations)
3. Guest Speaking Events 2015: 27
University of Massachusetts Boston, Rhode Island District UMC Ministers, UMFNE,  Asbury First UMC Rochester (2x), Osterville UMC Cape Cod, Union Chapel NH, BU Summer Session, Lemoyne College, Fayetteville NY UMC, STH Library, BU Academy(2x), Jay Halfond MET class (2x), Ohio West UMC Annual Conference, McGee Dorchester School, STH Liturgy, BUA Berkman Retirement (2x), STH Romero Event, UNYACUMC Syracuse, Ithaca Forest Home Chapel UMC, Student RA’s on Race\Ferguson, Veteran’s Day Observance, Humphrey Scholars
4. Meetings, Weekly, Monthly, other: 16:
Marsh Staff, Marsh Advisory Board, Faculty BUSTH, Faculty Area A and Area D BUSTH, Worship BUSTH, Dean’s Council, University Council, University Leadership Group, BU Faculty, Religious Life Council, BU Chaplains, New England Annual Conference Foundation Board and Marketing Committee, New England AC Development Committee, Harvard Epworth Wesley Foundation Board, Harvard Memorial Church Board of Visitors, Learning Project Board of Visitors
5. Visits:  (office, home, hospital, other): 943
6. 2015 New Chapter Members Received 5:
Lloyd Sheldon Johnson, Bin Song, Terry Baurley, Deborah Hamilton, Juliet Greshom-Moran.  
7. Program Initiatives: 24; a. Marsh semester program expansion (see term book on website,\chapel; b. Sunday Groups: Morning Study, International Study, Thurman Choir (non-audition), Advent\Lent Lectionary Sunday Study, Coffee Group, Monthly Lunch, Yoon Bible Study; c. Marsh Staff Hire (International Chaplain Ms. Jessica Chicka); d. Ministry\L Whitney Initiatives (goal 200 students in weekly worship, in process); e. Music\S Jarrett Initiatives (8 ensembles:  Chapel Choir, Chapel Collegium, Inner Strength, Summer Choir, CFA Choir, Mustard Seed, Thurman Choir, Lorelei); Bach Experience (4x\year); f. R Bouchard\Hospitality Initiatives (goal 250 worship attendance September to May in process (all but four Fall Term 2015 Sundays over 200, with additional December 2015 activities (Usher Breakfast (12/20, Christmas Tree Lightings 12/7&12/20, Additional Advertising, 1pm Christmas Eve, other); g. Continued Reliance on Strategic Plan; h. Motives Magazine (Marsh Annual Theological Journal) in process; i. 9 Hill Receptions and Open Houses at ‘Deanery’ (96 Bay State Road #10, including Jan’s first Sunday of the month 9:45am student brunch, plus Christmas Open House at Castle); j. Subgroup Foci:  Friends of Music, Newlyweds, Radio Congregation, Weekly Visitors, Religious Life Council, 200 Students; k. Weekly ‘Dean’s Choice’ (one BU event chosen for announcement in worship and in bulletin) ; m. Expanded Parents’ Weekend and Alumni Weekend offerings; n. Work on Deanship endowment (total now close to $1M of $5M needed, 2 small gifts this year, the first since 1962); o. Significant building enhancement (Robinson Chapel, Dean’s Office, Windows) and other in process (elevator—one December meeting with Provost); p. Spring Term rugged week by week special needs and events q. 3rd year for added 9am Easter Service (total 1,000K in attendance at 4 Easter Services); r. Christmas Eve grows to 2 services and to 75+275 (350) attendance; s. Consistent Fall Theme Sundays, every Sunday from 8/30 to 11/22 (Summer Series, Matriculation, Labor Sunday, International Sunday, Alumni Sunday, Bach Sunday, World Communion Sunday, Columbus Sunday, Parents Weekend Sunday, Reformation Sunday, All Saints Sunday, Stewardship Sunday, Bach Sunday 2, Thanksgiving Sunday (then into Advent\Christmas); t. Marsh Ecumenical daily worship:  11am Sunday, 6pm Sunday, 8pm Sunday; 12 noon Monday; 11am and 5:15pm Wednesday; 12:20 Thursday.
8. 2015 Baptisms:  6
Jacob Harrison Ryan (grandson of Sharon and Robert Ryan), Laila Michelle Miller (granddaughter of Sharon and Robert Ryan), Caleb Black Hall, Joshua Michael Hall, Kuei-Chen, Bin Song
9. 2015 Weddings  RAH officiant (by bride’s name):  11
Farr, Dordea, Wang, Adams, Martinez, Kinney, Ding, Stone, Charlton, Hutter, Kenny
10. 2015 Funerals, Vigils and Memorials:  7
Daryl Carr (BU student), Erin Bohanan (BU student), Diedra O’Halloran (BU SED, David Carr (BU COM), Julie Coppola (BU SED), Joan Patricia Scanelli, Abner Eliezer Shimony (BU Philosophy AND Physics)
  1. Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Theology: Tenured Full Professor
  1. Worship Service Wednesdays 11:10am
  2. STH monthly faculty meeting
  3. Annual STH Faculty Retreat
  4. 2015 RAH Publications:  1. Sunday Sermons, BU website; 2/3. One Book:  The Charles River (3/15) (print and electronic) 4. Autumn Sermon Series on Prayer; 5. Summer Sermon Series: The Beloved Community 6. Dean Hill’s Blog (; 7. Weekly 2K communication (eg Huffington Post, GBHEM, Guaranteed Appointment Sermon, Book Reviews, Boston Globe, other) 8. Weekly sermons: At 2500 words a sermon, the collection for 2015 would be 125,000 words, or two 300 page books.
  5. Courses 2015: Integration of Theology and Practice and The Gospel of John: BU; John: Lemoyne College
  6. Doctoral Defense Committees (4)
  7. STH Methodism Committee
  8. Areas A and D Monthly meetings
  9. One Ph.D. student:  Kathleen Troost-Cramer, writing on the Gospel of John (due to finish spring 2016)
C. Chaplain to the University and Dean of Religious Life: Pastor
1. Daily conversations, noon-time walks, informal discussions (about 12-15 personal interactions, of some substance, every day:  not counted in ‘visits’ above). The daily mid-day 40 minute walk is central to pastoral presence and conversation on campus.
2. BU Today Articles, other Religious Life Articles and Interviews (several):  (see Marsh Website, ‘In the News’):
3. BU Matriculation, Alumni Awards, Senior Breakfast, Commencement, Multi-faith Dinner, and Baccalaureate prayers, other: 10 every spring
4. 43 (mostly part-time) paid staff at Marsh Chapel
5. Marsh Board of Advisors (29 persons), May and September (new member 2015, James Berkman)
6. Pastoral Counseling: 112 (sacramental and personal moments, part of total visits above).
8. Open Houses\Receptions\Dinners in 96 Bay State Residence: 9
(Staff, Parent’s Weekend, Appetizer Group November, Christmas Sunday Open House, October BSR 96, Christmas Party, Valentines, Patriot’s Day Brunch, Book Club, other)
9. Student Deaths 2015: 2
10. Administration:  Oversight of 6 University Chaplains and 25 Campus Ministers, 43 internal Marsh Staff (see sign boards and web site).  Most Difficult 2012-2014 : Hillel Transition Hours (about 200 hours). (As of 2013 all BU chaplains are new since my arrival). Annual Marsh income target set at 1/14 of expenses. 9/1/15 desecration of Marsh Sacristy (cost estimate, $9,000)
11.  Sampling of books read:  T Piketty, Capital;  P Miller, Jonathan Edwards; J Edwards, Religious Affections; Essays; J Silber, Seeking the North Star;  C S Lewis, A Grief Observed; G Marsden, Jonathan Edwards; D Reeves, Grading; A Gawande, Being Mortal; G McNerny, Curmudgeon’s Guide;   
12. December Christmas\Holiday events attended BU: 34 (fascinating community pattern)
13. Travel, person and\or work:  Tampa, San Diego, Rochester, Syracuse, Cleveland, Barcelona, New York City, Chicago
14. Tithe (details available on request)
15. Christmas Pastoral Phone Calls:  61
17.10 Continuing Education Events\Retreats Annually: 2 UMC Annual Conferences (UNYAC, NEAC), 2 AAR\SBL (national, regional), 2 NHTDG (spring, fall), 2 BU (Provost, other), 2 Marsh (August, February).

18. 2016 Goals:  2x books (‘Pastoral Preaching’ and Sermons); weekly pastoral targets:  250 worship attendance, 25 personal visits, audience of 2K publication each week; engage UMC coming to April, 2016; continue to rejuvenate Marsh Chapel Development regular meeting; continue to encourage elevator addition to chapel; respond to transitions in student ministry.