Posted by: jperez88 | April 27, 2010

Diehard perfectionism

For me school work has always been particularly stressful. I am not, unlike many, a procrastinator who puts off assignments and papers until the last possible moment, only to hand them in moments before they are due. My situation is quite the opposite. I am the type of person who starts a paper weeks before it is due in order to revise it several times and hand in that “perfect” paper. This is my problem – I am a diehard perfectionist.

For years I have been torn between an internal drive that strives for perfection and the rational notion that perfectionism leads to anxiety and a host of unhealthy practices. Knowing that it is okay to get a B+ on an exam is quite different from actually believing it. With reading days beginning in the middle of the week and final exams quickly approaching, I find myself getting into that perfectionist mindset which will inevitably lead me to over-study for exams.

While I recognize that I indeed have a problem reconciling it is okay to get less than an A on an exam, I also wonder if Penn fosters this type of grade-centered and perfectionist mentality. I was once told that Penn is not a regular type of university, but rather its pre-graduate school. At Penn there are basically three types of students – those who are studying to go into the business world, those wishing to enter the medical profession, and those planning to continue their education in graduate school. For those of us who do not fit this paradigm, the need to perform academically is all the more important. Unsure of our future plans and career paths, it is seen as an absolute necessity to maintain a high grade point average. For those who may be perfectionists such as myself, and unsure of our future, it may be very difficult to come to the realization that it may take longer to find our niche in society.

While I personally do not fit into this pre-professional standard that Penn has become renowned for, I recognize that life is not a preplanned path and that every individual must find his or her way. And while doing so, I will try my best to recognize that it is okay not to be perfect. No one is perfect and what you plan for today can quickly change tomorrow.

Posted by: Gary Bronson | April 27, 2010

Outreach: Print or Web?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the comparative advantages of print vs. online media.

Using electronic media to reach out to people about the Christian Association is more effective and less expensive than using print media.  It is certainly more modern.  Each Email and e-newsletter goes for a tiny fraction of the reasonable cost of the server, the website, the blog and internet access (about $2800 per year for the CA).

We publish about 40 e-newsletters per year with many articles by seminarians, staff and students.  We reach over a thousand people on a regular basis and thousands more who visit the blog or website.  Students and seminarians develop their communication skills as they share their ministries with others.

The e-newsletters and the blog are produced by Meredith Aska McBride ’10 (Communications Intern) and Robert Holsapple (Seminary Intern).  Meredith created the blog ( and has done a fantastic job of publicizing and growing it.  Danielle Heitmann ’11 (Website Intern) has done a wonderful job updating and improving the website (  Graphics Interns Dorothy Ahn ’12 and Alexander Lee, M.Arch I ’10 contribute artistically stimulating interest.

On the other hand, an 8-page print newsletter with a return envelope costs about $3,000 to print and mail to 3200 people.  We do two a year (the Christian Advocate and the Annual Report) plus an annual appeal and some targeted mailings at a total cost of about $8,000.  The two newsletters offer seminarians and students another opportunity to communicate with word and graphics.

Gifts to the CA from print mailings produce 20 times the revenue for the Annual Fund when compared to electronic donations.  Of course this probably says we need to do more to make donations easier to do and more natural in our electronic media.  Or, given that most givers are seniors and often not comfortable with electronic media, that explains the relative effectiveness of print media from a development point-of-view.

I like books and magazines.  They seem more permanent.  We just received a 1928 CA brochure from a local Church.  The brochure was a fundraising brochure soliciting donations for the construction of the old Christian Association building at 36th and Locust Walk.  Somehow I doubt website pieces done today will be accessible in 2092, but I do think print media is more likely to survive at some Church, at the CA or in Penn Archives.

The Christian Advocate is going to press and will appear at about 3200 homes and businesses in May.  This issue contains articles by all student interns as well as seminarians and staff.  There’s a piece on supporting education in Zambia by Heather Curl, EdD ’12.  Failing in order to succeed is shared by Alexander Lee, while Lauren Yates ’12 finds her voice in the Excelano Project.

Seminarian Jean-Robert Desulme writes about reproductive justice chaplaincy at Planned Parenthood.  Nick Fennig (Pre-Med) remembers a visit to the CA by Rev. Chris Glaser, the CA’s first openly gay seminary intern from 1975-1976.  Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale and Katherine Primus discuss students developing leadership and doing peace and social justice advocacy.

And there’s more.  If you do not get mailings from the CA, just email me at , and you will.  For now, you can view our recent print publications on our website at .

I guess I just convinced myself we need both print and electronic communications.
PS:   Look for the Annual Report, which goes to press in August.  It’s about annual giving recognition, alumni news, stewardship and program accomplishments and plans.

Posted by: Beverly Dale | April 27, 2010

Media Ponders Unplanned Pregnancies: Church Remains Oblivious

It has been fifty years since the birth control pill first went on the market in the US. In a review of the successes and failures of the variety of contraceptive methods, the Wall Street Journal is pondering why half of all pregnancies in the US are still unplanned. And why, even though the rate “or unplanned pregnancy was the same in 1994,” ..”smaller studies have found that even newer birth control methods haven’t made much of a dent.” Their response is simply that it is “complex” and suggests “cultural, religious, behavioral, educational and economic factors.” So focusing on the religious ones…

It seems pretty obvious to me as I talk with young Penn women, and to a lesser degree the men, on University of Penn’s campus, the guilt,  sexual shame and sex negativity that Christianity teaches permeates our culture. A loud minority of Protestant churches as well as the Catholic Church still promote a double standard for men and women (or a “natural order”) that effectively undermines the growth of positive sexual self-confidence for women and minimizes the male’s sexual responsibility for having protected sex.

The church must take direct responsibility,when not teaching against contraceptive use, that its negativity toward sex creates an ambivalence or shame in young people that inhibits responsible behavior of contraceptive use.  (I’ve heard, “I am going to be sexual and since I am only going so far I won’t need protection.” Or, “I  will look like a slut if I am actually prepared for sex.”)

But Passion Works, our sexuality ministry, is teaching a positive message and grounding it in scripture. After a five week Bible study one woman said, “Women empowerment was a new topic … I enjoyed learning how Jesus changed how women should be viewed in society.”

Posted by: Robert A. Holsapple | April 19, 2010

Paradigm shift

Most of the pastors and other ministers I know, from whom I have drawn my impressions, ideas and conceptions about ministry, have been affiliated with churches.  Whether denominationally-based or independent, church-based or free-standing, the model has for the most part been one in which people made appointments to receive services at a scheduled time at a prescribed location where the pastor or minister worked on a regular basis.

Occasionally services would be provided in an alternate location or on the spur of the moment, but this was by far the exception and not the rule.  It is little wonder therefore that my own pattern of practice in the past has followed a similar model.  People would make appointments and would see me at one of my offices on a regularly scheduled basis.

O.K.  You might be wondering here what is unusual about this as many professionals from diverse disciplines conduct business in this manner.  Whether in their own or their clients’ locations, this is the way business is conducted.  You generally agree to meet at a prearranged time at a prearranged location and the rest as they say is history.

But ministry is not a business, at least not as practiced by Jesus Christ upon whose work and teachings I want to model my own.  Neither did Jesus have an office from which he worked, set hours during which he met with those in need, nor what appear to have been pre-arranged appointments during which he would minister.  Yes, some would suggest that all of his appointments were divine and as such pre-ordained but I believe these were appointments of a different kind.

Jesus met with people where they had the need at the time they were most in need and in direct response to that need.  The New Testament tells us of Jesus’ traveling throughout an entire region during his reported three years of ministry, of his meeting with people from all walks of life, from the poorest to the wealthiest, with people of great power and influence to those who were completely marginalized and powerless.

Jesus ministered and taught in the streets, in the countryside, on hillsides and in synagogues.  But always his work was to spread the message of love of others and service to others.  He was intentional in his advocacy for the social justice issues of his day.  Jesus was a radical and both his message and his style of ministry are no less relevant for today than they were two thousand years ago.

For me this means that if I truly want to be like Jesus then I must live, act and love as Jesus did.  For my ministry paradigm this means I need to be willing to take every moment of every day and be intentional about how I use it for the kingdom purposes about which he spoke.  I need to think about others with whom I come into contact and treat them with love and a level of responsiveness that places them above me; that makes me a servant to them rather than my seeing them in service of my own needs.

In short, I need to forget about offices and hours of operation and the like and simply dedicate my time and my energies to being with others in the moment I encounter them.  I need to be willing and open to experience life as it is lived by others where they live.  I need to be willing to learn from those I serve and not cling to an outmoded idea that I have all the teaching to do and none of the learning.  I need to be willing to do more than learn about and practice ministry and theology; I need to be willing to live them one day at a time in authentic relationship with others whom I meet one moment at a time.

Every moment in this paradigm is a ministry moment in which both I and others can experience the presence of the kingdom here on earth.

Posted by: Katherine Primus | April 19, 2010

Three Blessings

During my tenure as Executive Director I have had the pleasure of working directly with talented, intelligent, caring, articulate University of Pennsylvania students.  These students, and the relationships we have created with one another, will always remain one of the most significant highlights of my tenure here.

This spring we will say goodbye to three of these students – Melinda Angeles, Alex Lee, and Meredith Aska McBride.

Both Melinda and Meredith began their work-study positions at the Christian Association the first fall I served as Executive Director.  Melinda applied for a graphics position and I fondly remember some of our initial conversations.  What a pleasure to see her grow in self-confidence in her designs, which helped to better reflect some of our newest programs.  Melinda had responsibility for all of the graphics design for our Open Mind for Africa program in honor of Dr. Louise Shoemaker.  She skillfully utilized one of Dr. Shoemaker’s favorite pictures of herself and designed sophisticated black and white program materials for our inaugural event.

Then last year, for the event featuring Nikki Giovanni, she again rose to the task incorporating key African images, along with the necessary information, into a cohesive and attractive design.  In addition to incredible graphic design, Melinda’s quiet presence and sweet smile made us all feel special when we talked with her.  Her major of Environmental Studies is not one I knew much about and so I enjoyed being exposed to a whole new field of study.

I am not exactly sure at this point what specifically Meredith applied for when she started here as she has gracefully transitioned into different roles as we have needed.  For the last two years in particular Meredith has taken the lead in preparing our electronic newsletter InProgress, which helped both Gary Bronson and I tremendously.  Her dedication to the task reflects her strong work ethic.  Meredith also has an innovative mind and her impetus helped to propel us to incorporating a blog building on our newsletter.  The blog enables us to respond to timely social justice issues that we feel need to be highlighted.  I have also had the sincere pleasure of learning more about the Penn student culture from Meredith, which has given me insight into the university’s students.  During her time with us Meredith converted to Judaism and she shared along the journey her individual discernment for this decision.

Alex, a graduate student in the Penn School of Design, joined us last year.  From the beginning I appreciated Alex’s ability to explain the vision of his designs.  With his sketchpad close at hand he would show sketches of his vision and I always came away impressed with his ability to translate the words graphically.  Our results from our campus culture surveys when graphically depicted by Alex combined an air of whimsy that added to the content.  In addition to these incredible skills I will always remember fondly the many conversations Alex and I had about movies and books and family.  Alex recommended a variety of movies to me, some of which I liked and some of which I did not so much, but all of which gave us additional content to discuss.   His desire to continue to develop and mature as a person helped him to make the most of his graduate school experience.

Melinda, Meredith and Alex I will miss you.  May God go with you in your journeys and may you always remember fondly your time with us at the Christian Association.  Please keep in touch.

This year’s annual “Take Back the Night rally” sponsored by the Penn Women’s center and a variety of women’s groups concluded, as usual with a candlelight speak out. Dozens of women, and several men, came to the microphone. Many said, “I hadn’t planned to say anything tonight but…” And then, came the painful stories, each one so raw and so real that listeners and the speakers were breathless and in tears together.

“My stepgrandfather molested me from the time I was 6 until 9 and it only stopped because he died in a car crash. When I cried at his funeral they thought it was because he was such a good grandfather to me.”

“I was told silence is the way the strongest survive.”

“He took my virginity at 15…”

“I was 13 and starting high school and then discovered I was pregnant (from a rape.)”

“I hid under a pile of dirty laundry in the basement and held my breath so he wouldn’t find me.”

“My mom still has the scar he gave her next to her eye. I see it every time I look at her.”

“Being here I realize that my ‘rape story’ is not a joke.”

“I didn’t know what to do so I didn’t do anything.”

“I was supposed to be so smart so how could I tell anyone I had been so dumb to get into this mess?”

“Not saying ‘no’ does not mean I said ‘yes.’”

“My sorority sisters blackballed me because they supported the fraternity he (the rapist) was in.”

“At 9 I was raped by my grandfather before I knew what sex meant.”

“I thought I was to blame.”

“I’m still afraid.”

“I’m 21 and I have no feelings. I am emotionally barren.”

“I didn’t want my parents to be sad. So I didn’t tell them.”

“He was the minister of finance and he did it to me every summer when my parents sent me there each year.”

“I was molested 10 years of my life by my cousin but didn’t want to break up my family. When I did tell, my family became outcasts because he was so popular.”

“I’m not a survivor yet, but I’m getting there.”

Following each testimony, each speaker was embraced by friends and given a red carnation for the courage it took to speak out and “take back the night.” I concluded the evening with the following words.

In all the stories that we heard tonight it is important to remember that you are not to blame.  It is not your fault.

But tonight shows us that physical and sexual abuse is all about the pain of betrayal. It is the betrayal of those we trusted but who failed us, those who were supposed to protect us and did not, those we loved and who betrayed us, and how we sometimes betrayed ourselves. And we ask, “What if? Why me? And, Why?”

But tonight is also about the power of community to create healing. It is the community who reminds us we are not alone. In community we learn that others have been there and they have survived and are surviving. At our deepest vulnerability there are always loving friends and even compassionate strangers.

As we have heard these stories rest assured now that each personal story is now our community’s story. We are bound together in community now by having heard the power in truth-telling. We have created a new community here, and now. We are not alone. There is power here. It is the power to heal.

And tonight is about the power of grounding ourselves in our truth, grounding ourselves in our own story. Yes, these painful stories have changed our lives, impacting us in ways we could not have conceived and yet, they are our stories and, speaking our truth makes us strong. Our truth includes suffering and pain but it also includes healing and joy. It includes moving through it to the other side.

Because, on the other side there is healing. There is the ability to love again, and to trust again. And yes, (because some have wondered aloud), on the other side there is good sex as well!

And now go in peace.

Posted by: Bobby Desulme | April 6, 2010

The value of memory

I have always had a great appreciation for the human memory. I think that our memory is one of the greatest intellectual tools that we have as human beings. Even though we are not always fully conscious of it, our memory helps us perform most of our daily actions. This may sound futile to most us every day, because I doubt that most have forgotten one morning how to brush our teeth or again how to talk. We must, however, be grateful for these simple yet important tasks that our memories allow us to do on a daily basis. My Latin teacher in junior high used to remind all of us students the importance of hard studying by telling us; “La mémoire est une faculté qui oublie,” a French proverb that means; “The memory forgets.”

I think my teacher wanted all of us to know the importance of studying hard in order to remember things. The latter is not only valuable for educational purposes, but I would also add that remembering is important in all areas of life and that we should all always strive not to be forget to easily what takes place in our lives.

During the last month, I spent a lot of time thinking of my grandmother who passed away two years ago, during the spring semester of my senior year in college. I spent time remembering the good advice that she gave and also all the funny stories that she told me. During the last few months of her life she was unable to speak because she had to have a tracheotomy to help her breathe better. I remember going to see her at the hospital and not being able to hear her voice anymore. It was  such a painful task to see her using all her strength to speak this long sentences, without ever hearing one sound but the one of air coming in and out her throat. The advice and funny stories were only communicated through tears and smiles. When she passed away, I was so grateful that I was still able to remember her voice.

During the last week some of us were celebrating Easter. I think that I was pleased to remember that Jesus died on a cross because he loved all humanity. I also am thankful that God delivered the Israelites from the slavery the endured while in Egypt and Easter was a great time to remember these things. Remembering Christ at Easter, is remembering that God loves us and was ready to live and die as a human being because of this sacred love for humanity. Remembering the Jewish Passover is remembering that the Holy One cares for us, hears us during our times of struggles and also delivers and frees us from our bondage.

The month of April will be the last one that I will spend as an intern at the Christian Association. There are many people during my internship that have had a great impact on my life. I know that it will not be easy to leave, but I think that it will be even harder to forget. I have appreciated my time here working on the topic of reproductive justice and I know that I will always remember the stories that I heard from the women at the abortion clinic where I was volunteering as a pastoral care giver.

Some things that we remember are not always pleasant and it is often hard to find good in every single memories we recollect. There are some tragedies that take place during life that none of us really want to remember and would even wish to forget at times. I know however that we can all find a few things that we are grateful to remember. The crucifixion of Jesus was not a joyous scene to witness, but I am glad that we can read of his resurrection today. The enslaved Israelites in Egypt suffered a terrible pain, but I thank Heaven that we can remember that they are delivered at the end of the story. Even though I miss my grand-mother, I am grateful to remember her voice today. I know that even as I am writing today, I will surely miss the Christian Association and the great people I met hear but I will never forget the joy and growth that I have experienced due to this internship and that I will always be grateful to God for that.

Posted by: Bobby Desulme | April 5, 2010

LGBT rights march

On October 11, 2009 some members and supporters of the LGBT community marched in front of the White House, Washington. Their purpose was to voice out their concerns about the few actions the Obama administration made to help their cause so far. President Obama, during his campaign for presidency, got a lot of support from the LGBT community because his views on gay rights.

President Obama adressed members of the Human Rights Campaign on Saturday October 10, 2009 in Washington saying;

I appreciate that many of you don’t believe progress has come fast enough. Do not doubt the direction we are heading and the destination we will reach.

Even though not a lot has been done according to many critics of the Obama administration, the President attempted to reassure the gay community that the plan proposed before he became president were still in his agenda. On that Sunday, protesters were able to voice their frustration on issues such as marriage and don’t ask don’t tell” military policy in a peaceful way.

Posted by: Beverly Dale | April 5, 2010

Reflections on Easter 2010

The high priests during the Roman occupation were appointed by Roman authorities and paid to keep the peace. When you know this bit of information, Caiaphus’ statement that it is better for one man to die than for a whole nation begins to make a lot of sense. He was all about keeping the peace. That is why the Roman empire paid him.

However, any time we cut deals to make our lives easier and, in so doing, shift our integrity a bit more to the back burner, we run the risk of numbing our consciences. When this happens we risk losing our souls. At the empty tomb, the unexpected visitors asked the astonished women why they sought the living among the dead. I think Easter is best interpreted when we can see that Holy Week was indeed a clash, a confrontation of the living with the dead. The living were those whose lives had been transformed by the one they knew as Yeshua, whom Christians call the risen Christ. The dead were those for whom Jesus prayed because they knew not what they did! They were people caught up in the power plays, the status games, the injustice and inequality of the systems.

Although by the end of the week, it seemed to be a time of grief and loss, a time to surrender, the post-Easter church knows that God had other plans. Read More…

Posted by: Beverly Dale | March 31, 2010

Walking through the experience of Holy Week

It is so easy for the post-Easter church to want to hurry towards Easter, that great happy ending to a horribly tragic story. And, I confess, I am certainly am one of those folks. In fact, there is a painting by Georgia O’Keefe hanging in Chicago’s Art Institute of a beautiful sunrise on a distant horizon but which depicts a huge black cross smack dab in the middle of the painting! I have always found that painting particularly irritating. She had done such a lovely job creating the beauty, presumably of nature, with its blend of radiant colors in the background, and then had completely spoiled it by adding this huge obstruction! I want to know why in heaven’s name she painted it like that?! Of course, as I examine my response it is that I prefer beauty to, what to me is, an ugly reality. I want the sunrises and not the obstructions, the Easter Sunday and not the torturous death of Good Friday.

But this year I been slowly walking toward Jerusalem, feeling the pain, and dreading each successive step. Walking towards Jerusalem is a metaphor for the death of my dream, the demise of my idealism, and my vision for the future, and yes, the destruction, or the crucifixion, of hope. I am aware that some people try to ameliorate the pain of Holy Week by suggesting that Jesus knew and was somehow prepared for his death thanks to some prearranged rescue package he had worked out with God. I am not one of those Christians. The experience of his traumatic death is not because it was inevitable from the beginning but because when one lives as he did, choosing to confront systematic dysfunction of the status quo, names it as a distorted purpose, and, yet maintains a compassionate, non-violent position focusing on forgiveness and grace, then crucifixion is, unfortunately, too often how humanity will choose to respond. And that is where I feel I am.

However, besides Friday’s crucifixion, there is the betrayal, that is the appearance of friendship which is actually a cover for stab-in-the-back intention. The ones that we count to have our backs instead choose the easier path and then hightail it outta Dodge lest they too get tainted. It makes people uncomfortable to be challenged with truth and they respond in self-preservation without regard to the pain or without looking at the questionable morality of their actions. The ones who are supposed to remember the healing, the transformed lives, the power of the lived gospel stay focused instead in their own corner, eyes averted lest they witness what they do not wish to see, as if in not seeing they can somehow wash their hands clean.

On the anniversary date of war on Iraq and the beginning of the eighth year, I helped to plant on the college green 100 grave markers each labeled with a name, age and cause of death. It is a powerful way to remind ourselves of the incredible suffering that happens in all wars, on all sides, and in all families. Just as the Bible reminds us that “the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons” the suffering brought on by war continues throughout the generations long after the bombs have stopped falling and suicide bombers have ceased their desperate acts. However, as we were setting up this exhibit one man came by and spit on the markers. I have no idea what that symbolized for him, but I do know we have no business ever spitting on suffering, regardless of whose it is. To do so is to lose our own humanity. For suffering people have the attention of a God who will not be mocked, one who commands righteous actions and does not tolerate the hypocrisy of refusing to hear other’s pain as if one has some immunity to it.

When we encounter the Holy Week experience in our own lives, (and we will all have them if we choose to live honestly and authentically) I am learning that the suffering we endure is made sacred just by the experience of the long walk through it. My suffering that is epitomized by the symbolism of this week takes on an added depth that I could not begin to experience if I had the option to cling only to the allusion of an endless number of Easter morning sunrises.

Of course, we should not choose pain or rejoice in any suffering whether our own or others for God does not require suffering nor desire it. If so, Christianity could rightly be charged with being sadistic. In a women’s Bible study focusing on sexuality I specifically challenged the notion that pain is somehow an appropriate way to convey mutual respect or love for one another in an intimate partnership. And, as a child of parents who punished by inflicting physical pain but who contended their motivation was love, I have come to believe it to be dangerous to conflate pain and love. While we, like the Apostle Paul, might find meaning in our suffering we are never called to embrace it as a positive good. We do not need to choose or long for the Holy Week experience.

The pain is that with each step we take throughout this week, we are brought nearer to the end of our visions of what could have been. And, instead, we are stuck with what is. And it is ugly, very ugly, for right there in the middle of it all is a huge black cross of suffering. And this is the week to grapple with what that means.

Older Posts »