It doesn’t seem like all too long ago that I first walked onto the Nyack College campus during orientation as a boisterous, overconfident freshman ready to conquer anything and everything that college had to offer. In the three years since that day my confidence has not been quelled, but it has been strengthened and matured. As I start getting ready to graduate and enter my last semester as a student of Nyack College, I find that I need that confidence more and more. Just as in my senior year of high school, I can feel “senioritis” lurking in the back of my mind. If you are getting ready to graduate, it can be difficult to stay focused and finish strong, but with determination and attention to detail you can be prepared to graduate when the time comes.
The first thing to do when you are getting ready to graduate is to make sure that you will be able to take all of the classes that you need for your major. Connect with Registrar to verify what classes you still have left to take and to make sure that they are offered in the time you have remaining until graduation. I had an issue with this before the Fall 2013 semester began, but thankfully Registrar contacted me when the issue arose. Because I failed to verify what classes I still needed, I registered for classes that I didn’t need and didn’t register for classes that I did need. For those reading this whom are soon to graduate, it is better to be proactive about what classes you still need to take so that you don’t run into the problems that I did.
You may find that the classes you still need are not being offered when you need them. I ran into this problem as well. There are two ways to remedy this: independent studies and modifications of program. With independent studies, you can take required courses that have been offered previously when they are not being offered currently. If you are considering an independent study, be aware that they entail more self-motivation and a lot more writing than a class taught in the classroom. A modification of program, or MOP, is when one course fulfills your requirement to take a different course. For instance, if you are required to take biology but biology is not being offered again until after your planned date of graduation, you may be able to obtain an MOP to make a different science class fulfill your biology requirement. Keep in mind that you need the approval of both your academic advisor and your department head in order to get an MOP.
Getting ready to graduate requires careful preparation. The most important thing is to be proactive and not let “senioritis” get the best of you. Thankfully, I feel confident and ready to graduate. Be sure that you are ready, too.
If you read my last post, Conducting a Worship Survey across Denominations, you know that I have been asking pastors about their views on Baptism, communion, and worship. While doing the Worship Survey I ended up conducting a phone interview with a Lutheran pastor named Pastor John Havrilla of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. He had a very interesting view of communion. He compared it to a family meal in that it is meant to bring people together to fellowship. He used the Thanksgiving feast as an example of this type of communal meal. In both communion and Thanksgiving there is much more meaning behind the meal than how much food there is or how good it tastes. Communion gives us the opportunity to commune with our fellow believers just as Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to gather together and fellowship with our loved ones. I experienced this firsthand in both the communion service I took part in most recently and the Thanksgiving dinner that my family held at my parents’ house.
I last took part in communion a few weeks ago at my grandparents’ church. One thing that I really like about communion at this church is that a different pair of people serve the bread and wine every time communion is served. The pair that did it when I last attended was my grandmother and grandfather. I have never served communion, but it seems to be an important and rewarding activity. The servers get to greet each person that takes communion, look them in the eyes, and share the love of Christ with them. One of the most essential parts of the communion meal is the fellowship and togetherness that it creates, and the servers get to create brief moments of fellowship with every person in the sanctuary. As a participant in this particular communion Sunday I tried my best to communicate with as many people as I could before and after the meal was served. I think that everyone who participates in communion should try to embody the communal aspect of the meal.
I also did my best to embody the communal aspect of Thanksgiving this year. My grandparents from both sides and my fiancé’s family came over to my parents’ house this year to join my family for Thanksgiving dinner. Being that the meal was being served at my house I had a large part in getting the food and the house ready for our guests. Instead of seeing the preparation as laborious or unpleasant, I viewed it as a blessing and a privilege to be able to create an atmosphere of fellowship and quality time with family. Like the servers for the communion service I was able to serve food to each person, look them in the eye, and share brief moments of fellowship with everyone at the table. I was also able to have good conversations with everyone who came and enjoy my extended family’s company.
Community is a central aspect of Christianity, and communion is a very important activity for Christian community. Pastor John’s comparison of communion and Thanksgiving is very relevant in today’s individualistic society. Many Christians do not value community in the way that they should. Both communion and Thanksgiving bring people together so that they can spend time together and talk over food. This sense of community is lacking in our homes and churches, and activities like communion and Thanksgiving, when done with the right heart and mind, can help to remedy that lack.
This semester I am taking an independent study with Dr. Amy Davis Abdallah called “Worship: Ancient and Future.” It is a class that is normally taught in the classroom, but Dr. Davis and I have followed the classroom-style course schedule in the independent study format. Recently, though, we have taken the course in a completely different direction than it normally goes. We have created a summative paper that is personalized to me. For this paper I sent out a list of survey questions by email to as many pastors from different denominations as I was able to reach in order to find out their views on worship, baptism, and communion. I am also researching the creeds, catechisms, and other theological writings from each denomination to find out what they say about these subjects. I will then compare the statements of the pastors with what I find in their respective denomination’s foundational texts, and I will compare the views of the different denominations with each other. So far this assignment has proven to be very interesting.
There are some denominations that consider baptism to be necessary for salvation, and there are some that consider it to be a public declaration of the salvation that has already taken place. There are some denominations that view the bread and wine used in communion as containing the real presence of Jesus Christ, and there are some that view them as symbols of Christ’s blood and body that are to be used in commemorating Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.I have noticed a distinct trend in each denomination: those denominations that believe that baptism is required for salvation also believe in the real presence of Christ in the communion elements, and those that believe that baptism is a public declaration of faith also believe that communion is solely commemorative. Among the former group are Lutherans, the Reformed Churches of America, Presbyterians, and Episcopals, and among the latter group are Baptists, Pentecostals, and the Evangelical Free Churches of America (this list is representative rather than exhaustive). Churches belonging to the denominations in the former group usually practice infant baptism, and churches belonging to those of the latter group usually baptize only those who are old enough to profess their faith.
I am grateful to be able to see the views and opinions of the different denominations. I was baptized Baptist and I grew up Pentecostal, so until now I never had an opportunity to see and understand what the former group believes. I honestly thought that only Catholics baptized infants, so it came as a surprise to see that other Protestant denominations hold firm to this practice. I had never even heard of the real presence of Christ being in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper until I started taking this class. I never realized how drastically different the doctrines of the different sects of the same Christian faith could be. The encouraging thing, though, is that every denomination placed Jesus at the center of baptism and communion, and every denomination considered these activities to be forms of worship.
Matthew 25:31-46 describes the time when the Son of Man will come in his glory and judge the world. He will separate the righteous from the wicked, and to the righteous he will say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” The righteous, confused by his statement, will ask him what he means; they did not serve him this way, they will posit. The King will respond, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it really means to serve the Lord. This passage has made me think differently about the way I serve others, namely at my job as a medical assistant.
I have been working in a medical office since soon after the end of the 2012-2013 school year. I was originally hired to do paperwork; I had no experience in medicine or patient care when I came on the staff. When some of the summer workers left to go back to college the medical staff became shorthanded. I was asked to be trained as a medical assistant, and I accepted. At first I felt very out of place. I had no idea what I was doing, I was awkward and uncomfortable with my new responsibilities, and I could not seem to pick up the new skills as quickly as I usually would in a different job. Honestly, I wanted to quit. This all changed, though, when I changed my perspective in light of this passage. I realized that by serving other people through my new responsibilities as a medical assistant I am serving the Lord. Jesus said, “I was sick and you visited me.” At my job I constantly interact with people who are sick. I have the precious opportunity to show them the love of Christ by meeting their basic need for medical care. I was being self-centered when I first started I was not thinking about the needs of the patients; I was only thinking about myself. Now that I have started to view serving the patients as serving God, I have been able to do my job more naturally. I am still not the best medical assistant in the world, but I am much better at it than when I first started.
I think that everyone could benefit from viewing their work in this way, especially in fields of work that involve catering to basic human needs. John Calvin writes that when one sees his work as ordained by God, there is no way for it to feel monotonous or pointless. Viewing your work in light of God’s calling makes serving others fulfilling and rewarding. After all, when we serve others, we are serving the Lord.
I had the privilege of presenting in the Nyack Scholars Symposium on Thursday, November 7, 2013. I collaborated with Dr. Stephen Bennett, professor of the Old Testament and Biblical Hebrew at Nyack College, to produce a paper that we presented together at a breakout session at the symposium. The title of our paper is “Conceptions of Space: The Functions of Nehemiah’s Wall.” Joshua Ortiz, a graduate of Nyack College and a student at Alliance Theological Seminary, served as our responder. Our breakout session had a pleasing turnout, nearly filling a classroom in Boon. I greatly enjoyed being a presenter at the symposium, and I had a good time writing the paper, too.
Our paper explored the functions of the wall built by Nehemiah during the post exilic period in the history of Israel. The details of this building project are recorded in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. When I told people the title of the paper I would be presenting, they did not see why this was a significant topic. I expected this type of response because a wall does not seem to be a very significant focus for a book of the Bible. I thought the same thing at first. As Dr. Bennett and I delved further into the subject matter, though, we uncovered much more meaning and significance behind the wall than can be noticed at a glance.
Along with its function in protecting Jerusalem from military threat, Nehemiah’s wall served to separate the people of Israel from foreign people groups in order to prevent religious pluralism. The first wall was destroyed, along with the rest of Jerusalem, by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C., initiating the Babylonian Exile. One of the theological reasons that God allowed Jerusalem to be destroyed was religious pluralism caused by alien influence and foreign marriages. Foreign marriages and worshiping other gods is clearly prohibited in the Torah, and because the Israelites did not obey these commands, God’s favor was removed from them. The return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple under the leadership of Ezra signified the reestablishment of God’s favor on the Israelite nation. The reconstruction of the wall around Jerusalem represented both symbolic and physical separation from the people groups surrounding the city. Our paper focuses on the wall’s function of maintaining proper worship by setting the Israelites apart from other people groups.
Since my freshman year I have enjoyed the Nyack Scholars Symposium. Students and faculty get the opportunity to be educated on subjects and topics outside of their field, and presenters can share their research with a captive audience. Being a presenter at the symposium is an invaluable experience in my academic career, and I appreciate the opportunity to research for something more than a class.
I have been attending my grandparents’ church, the Brick Church in West New Hempstead, during the school year since my second year at Nyack College. My grandparents live somewhat near Nyack, and I enjoy going to church with them while I am away from home. This past Sunday I was invited by their pastor, Reverend Thomas E. Johnston, to preach in his church one Sunday. He wants to give me the opportunity to experience what it is like to deliver a sermon. I have never preached before, so this would be my first time at the pulpit. I was honored by his offer, and I ultimately said yes, but at first I had one major reservation about accepting this opportunity: I am not affiliated with the denomination of the Brick Church.
The Brick Church claims the Reformed Church in America, or the RCA, as its denominational affiliation. I grew up Pentecostal. As far as Protestant Christianity goes, these two denominations are almost polar opposites. Reformed churches and Pentecostal churches disagree on many subjects, such as the miraculous gifts of the Spirit and worship styles. It is very unusual for someone of a charismatic denomination like mine to be a guest preacher at a Reformed church, and vice versa. I don’t think I have ever seen it ever happen at my home church or in any church that I have visited. It made me a little uneasy that I might be breaking the unwritten rule that these two denominations cannot cross.
Very quickly I realized that I felt this way because of what I had seen and heard, not because this denominational segregation was right. I am a big proponent of dialogue and cooperation across denominational lines. Sometimes it seems as though we forget that whether Pentecostal or Reformed, Baptist or Lutheran, Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox, we all serve Jesus Christ. It is alright to disagree on certain issues, but it becomes problematic when these disagreements cause enmity between different Christian groups. I have an incredible opportunity to practice what I preach (no pun intended) by serving a congregation of a different denomination.
I will be preaching for the first time in my life on Sunday, November 17th, at the Brick Church in West New Hempstead. I still don’t know what subject I will be preaching on or what I will say, but I will definitely let the Lord lead and guide me in what I should preach. Even though I don’t plan on making a career out of preaching, I look forward to having the experience. I was reserved about preaching in a church of a different denomination, but after thinking about it more I am actually glad that this is the case. This is a small step toward dialogue and cooperation between different denominations.
Last weekend Dr. Amy Davis took some members of the Bible Department to the Cloisters Museum in Manhattan. The Cloisters is a museum of religious and church-related art from different cultures that is managed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A cloister is an enclosed part of a monastery or nunnery which borders or leads into the courtyard or the garden. The museum is named the Cloisters because it contains structural parts of five different cloisters from around the world. Being that a cloister would normally surround a garden, the museum maintains a garden filled with plants used commonly in the medieval time period. In this picture the group is seated in front of the garden while listening to the guide of the garden tour explain the origins and uses of some of the plants contained within. The tour guide for the garden tour also showed us some of the plants depicted in the museum’s works of art and explained their significance. Some of the dyes used in the paintings and tapestries were growing in the museum’s gardens.
Here the group is enjoying the incredible view of the Hudson river from outside of the Cloisters. The museum sits on a hill at a high elevation above the surrounding area, and from the balconies you can see for miles. This view is also visible from one of the gardens, which is outdoors.
This image is contained within a collection of stained glass windows that depict everything from the Passion to Purgatory. This window depicts the angel of death plunging his arrow into the back of a peasant, a prince, and a pope. While I found this image amusing, I also found it sobering. It was funny to me because of how cliché the depiction of the angel of death is, but it also made me think about how death comes for everyone, no matter what a person’s status is. Art like this makes me appreciate life even more.
This is a painting of the Archangel Michael defeating a demon. In Scripture Michael is a warrior and the defender of heaven. In this depiction he is clad with ornate medieval armor and holds a long spear. He stands triumphant over a disturbing image of a demon. I have never thought of Michael appearing this way, but it is interesting to see how he was thought of by the medieval artists.
The Cloisters is an incredible museum filled with beautiful art. There are paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and other art forms that depict Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Saints, and numerous other religious subjects. Our group spent hours in the museum, but I was not able to view and read about everything I passed by. I would love to get back to the Cloisters one day, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in art.
A week after my visit to St. Anthony’s Eastern Orthodox Church I furthered my exploration of different Christian traditions by attending Catholic Mass. I visited St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which is located in my hometown, Middltown, New York. Growing up, I was told a lot of negative things about Catholicism, so I had a few biases going into this experience. I had heard that their services were dry and boring, and that their beliefs were wrong and silly. I did my best to silence these voices and enter the cathedral with an open mind and an open heart.
St. Joseph’s tall steeple is visible from all over downtown Middletown, and I always wondered what the inside of the building looked like. I was not disappointed. The inside of the cathedral was lavish with stained-glass windows, sculptures, and other beautiful pieces of art. Above the altar there was an enormous figure of Jesus on the cross. I have always been taught that depicting Jesus still on the cross is like sacrificing him again. As I researched the Catholic tradition further I learned that Catholics would agree with that statement, though they would not consider it a negative thing. The central theme of the Catholic Mass is Jesus’ sacrifice, and they believe that they re-sacrifice Christ repeatedly through Communion. This concept is very difficult for me to grasp. I am not sure how I feel about it, but it is interesting all the same.
I really appreciated the sermon preached by the one of the priests. He preached about being shameless about your faith, believing in God for healing, and making your life a sacrifice to God. The priest was passionate, and at times his shouted almost like a Pentecostal preacher! This was the complete opposite of what I had been told about the energy level of Catholic services. It was loud and exciting, and I enjoyed it. I found nothing wrong with the sermon logically or theologically, and it blessed me a lot.
Although there were a few things about Mass that didn’t sit well with me, I was able to appreciate the Catholic way of worshiping God. I can definitely see that Catholics are just as active and intentional about bringing God glory as Protestants are. There are some things about Catholicism that I agree with, there are many things that I am not sure how I feel about, and there are a few things that I simply disagree with. In spite of the differences between Catholics and Protestants, we need to realize that although we disagree on certain things, we are all serving the same God.
I recently attended a service at St. Anthony’s Eastern Orthodox church as a part of an assignment for a class that I’m taking this semester. Stepping into this church was almost like stepping into a new world. The way that these Christians worshiped was unfamiliar to me, but it was very interesting to honor God in a new way.
The appearance of St. Anthony’s is unlike anything I am accustomed to. The walls, ceilings, and windows are covered with beautiful artwork depicting events from the life of Jesus and many of the Orthodox saints. Situated in the front of the sanctuary is the iconostasis, which resembles an embroidered set of doors, decorated with elaborate icons. The iconostasis represents the separation between the holy place and the holy of holies. Behind the iconostasis are the bread and wine for Communion and a jewel-encrusted Bible. At no point does the congregation go through the doors of the iconostasis; only the priests are allowed behind it.
When I entered St. Anthony’s, the church was already filled with song. A worship service in an Eastern Orthodox church is already in progress when the congregation begins to arrive. The priests and singers arrive well before the time the service is scheduled to start. They sing praises to God, and the congregation joins in as it arrives. This is done to reflect the fact that God is being worshipped continually in heaven, and as Christians worship they join an activity that has already been going on. Much of the service consists of singing. The priests sing chants, prayers, and readings from Scripture, and the congregation sings responses in unison.
After the hymns are complete, one of the priests preaches a sermon. During my most recent visit to St. Anthony’s the sermon was preached by a young adult instead of a priest since October is youth month in this church. The young woman’s words were sincere and heartfelt. She preached about her experience volunteering with youth at a camp that many of the youths in St. Anthony’s attended. Next, Communion was served. After the priests blessed the bread and wine, they broke the bread into small pieces, put it into the wine, and used a spoon to flick it into the mouths of those taking communion.
I enjoyed my visit to St. Anthony’s. It showed me ways to worship that I was not familiar with. The different sights, sounds, and smells made me appreciate God in a new way. This visit made me want to explore other Christian traditions as well. I hope to learn more about the Orthodox tradition and other Christian groups.
You’ve probably heard this Jewish toast before, and you probably have no idea what it means. It can be heard said at Jewish celebrations where drinks are served, such as weddings and birthdays. I had no clue what meant either, even though I have been learning the Hebrew language for more than a year. There are two parts to the one-word toast: the prefix l– meaning “to” and the word chayyim, which translates to “life” (literally “lives”). I was aware of the meanings of both of these components, but it was not until Dr. Stephen Bennett, my Hebrew professor, pointed out the connection. It is small but significant realizations like these that make learning the Hebrew language a fun and exciting endeavor.
In my first semester of Hebrew it was interesting to find out how much Hebrew I already knew. Words as common to Christians as amen and hallelujah come from the language of the Old Testament. Hebrew is written from right to left, and in Hebrew script, amen looks like אָמֵן and hallelujah is written הַֽלְלוּ־יָהּ. Amen is a word of affirmation, meaning “truly” or “so be it.” Hallelujah is composed of two words” hallel and Yahweh, translating to “praise” and “the Lord” respectively.
It is also intriguing to note the meaning behind many of the names that originate in the Old Testament. For example, the meanings of names that involve El or Jah usually have something to do with God (El and Jah are derived from names for God). Notice the El in Eli and in Emmanuel. Eli means “my God” and Emmanuel means “God with us.” Notice the Jah in Adonijah and Jahleel. Adonijah means “the Lord is my master” and Jahleel means “waiting on God.” Elijah combines both, meaning “the Lord is my God.”
The most meaningful thing that I am learning from studying the Hebrew language is the thought behind the Old Testament Scriptures. As is true with any culture, a lot of the Hebrew thought process is revealed in its linguistic tendencies. Certain English words have no direct Hebrew translation and vice versa. For example, the Hebrews believed that God held rain and snow in the sky using a solid barrier, called a raqiya in Hebrew. The King James translates this as “firmament,” but this does not convey the full meaning of the Hebrew understanding since English speakers do not usually think of precipitation being held back by a solid structure.
Several connections between the language that modern Christians use and the ancient Hebrew language can be made. There is theological significance to many of the Old Testament names that are still used today. Understanding Hebrew contributes to my understanding of the Old Testament. I look forward to continuing to learn more about the Hebrew language and gaining a better understanding of the Old Testament.
Last Friday I went with the Bible Department to the Imax Theater to see a documentary entitled “Jerusalem.” The film gave a brief overview of Jerusalem’s history and detailed the city’s current situation. For me, it brought back a lot of memories from when I took a trip to Israel with my grandmother’s church when I was in ninth grade. The documentary showed a lot of the sites that I visited while I was there, but my group went to many places other than Jerusalem. The two-week trip was an amazing experience, but I was not nearly as well versed in Bible history then as I am now. I would love to go back and visit again with the knowledge that I now have about the places I visited more than five years ago.
Three of my favorite attractions in Israel are Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Dead Sea, and Masada. Hezekiah’s Tunnel is mentioned in 2 Kings. It was dug under Jerusalem during Hezekiah’s reign in order to provide the city’s inhabitants with water during a siege by Assyria. Water continues to flow through the tunnel to this day. My group had the opportunity to walk through the shin-deep water from one end of the tunnel to the other.
The Dead Sea is the lowest point on land on the earth. Sodom and Gomorrah were located next to this body of water. The water has an immensely concentrated level of salt and minerals, which makes almost anyone whom swims in it buoyant. I am usually completely unable to float, so it was fun to be able to lay back and stay afloat with no problem. The mud surrounding the Dead Sea is said to be good for the skin.
Masada is a site not mentioned in our Bible. It was a fortification on top of a plateau that was used by the Jews in the Jewish-Roman war in the first century. Before it was used for a fortress, Herod the Great constructed a palace on the plateau. Originally, the only way to the top of the plateau was a long, grueling passageway, which remains there today. We had the option of taking a cable car to the top, which almost all of us opted to do. The view from the top of Masada was outstanding.
Since the ninth grade I have learned so much about the people and places of the Bible, and I have also learned significant history about Israel that is not in the Bible. I would really enjoy revisiting the places that I have already seen, but I would also love to see the places that I didn’t get to see. Most of all, I would like to learn more about the current situation of Israel and see more than just the tourist attractions.
I am taking a class with Dr. Orlando Rivera this semester called the Theology of Work and Vocation. In all honesty, I enrolled in this class because I need some theology electives and, and this one fit with my schedule. I am very glad that my schedule worked out this way, though, because so far this class seems like it will teach me things that will change the way I think about the world. I have always viewed work as a duty that needed to be performed in order to have a stable and enjoyable life, but until now I had never stopped to consider how God views work. For my first paper for Dr. Rivera’s class I have done a lot of research that has made me do a lot of thinking about how I view work, vocation, and calling (and how I should be viewing them). I would like to share the main ideas of my research here.
From a modern perspective, work is most commonly viewed by believer and nonbeliever alike as nothing more than a means to support oneself and one’s family financially. From a Christian standpoint, believers often do not view their vocation as a call from God unless they are employed in some area of vocational ministry. This is largely the result of the false dichotomy between the “sacred” and the “secular” in which ministerial employment is considered God’s work and other vocations are viewed as regular work that is not called by God. Scripture does not support this dichotomy. The Bible presents all work as both a gift to humanity and an opportunity to emulate God. The common modern worldview of “secular” work as laborious and arbitrary is a perversion of God’s original intention for honest work of all types to be meaningful and righteous. The Bible also presents “calling” as encompassing more than paid employment, including any duty or responsibility that is deemed by God to be righteous.
Instead of letting the reading I have been doing be nothing more than research for a paper for a class, I am opening up to the truths of God’s Word and letting them alter how I view the world I live in. If work is God’s gift to me, then why should I look at it with contempt? If my part time job is a calling from God, then why should I view it as nothing more than a tiresome means to a monetary end? Having a proper theology of work and vocation means changing your attitude towards your work and viewing it as an opportunity to practice righteousness and be more like God.