One Year Down…15 Things I Learned From Seminary

21 09 2013

It’s official. I have now completed my first year of seminary. And what a year it has been…I think this past quarter has been the most formative for me since I’ve been here at Fuller for so many reasons. And I am so thankful for it all. Here are some things I’ve learned both about myself, about my life, about Christianity, during the last year:

  1. It’s interesting how many people assume that since I am in seminary, I want to be a pastor or minister. Trends are changing, and more and more people are choosing to take their seminary education into the marketplace instead of the pulpit. The majority of my friends in seminary don’t want to be pastors–which has its pros and cons–but that’s for another post. There are some seminarians who want to be teachers, so people should consider that as well. While I don’t feel called to pastor in the traditional sense, I am starting to see how teaching is a form of ministry itself. It’s amazing to start to see how what I am learning in seminary is related to what/how I teach my students in the classroom.
  2. Seminary is draining. Good though, but draining…
  3. I remember writing a paper during my first quarter at Fuller that I want to help the church to “see”. I think I’m just now starting to understand what I meant by that…
  4. I’m realizing that our American definition of Christianity is totally skewed. After taking Christian Ethics, I realize that I think we have the wrong idea of what it means to be a disciple. We consume and assume a heckuvalot for people who are supposed to be standing up for justice for the oppressed. There are people right in our community who are suffering, but yet we still want more. And then I see commercials for shows like Preachers of LA and it sickens me. What are we doing?? Don’t believe me? Go read the Sermon on the Mount.
  5. There’s no such thing as a perfect church. So why should I deem one church’s imperfection better than another church’s imperfection? I realize that I don’t want to throw away all my church traditions because of imperfections, instead I want to figure out how I can help. That said, I wonder sometimes if my generations’ abandonment of our church traditions was a mistake. This theory hasn’t been proven yet, I just wonder.
  6. It’s really hard explaining my program of study to people (“Oh, you’re in seminary?” “Yes, I’m studying theology and film.” *blank stare*)
  7. Theology is best when it’s lived out with real people in community.
  8. I’m getting old and stuck in my ways. And I’m ok with this.
  9. I’m slowly beginning to understand what my platform is in regards to film, the arts, and the church. Stay tuned for more info/posts about that…
  10. I learned that I don’t study well in groups, or in the library. Which kinda sucks because people seem to be having so much fun in the library.
  11. The past year has taught me how much I value quality time with people. Spending an evening with room full of people is not really my idea of a good time, even less so if I don’t know the people. Coffee or dinner with a few close friends–whether old or new–now that’s what gives me life…
  12. I realized how thankful I am to have great friends in several different states and countries that I can seek counsel from or just process things with, and that they can tell me when I’m crazy. I’m also thankful for those friends who have walked with me through some major decisions in my life.
  13. I realized that teaching is very important to me. I spin my wheels every day thinking of ways to make my students “get it” and sometimes I just feel like I don’t have enough tools to do that.
  14. I keep flip flopping back and forth about whether or not I want to stay on this track and still get a PhD. I feel like I’m starting to get some understanding of what I might like to study, but I don’t know of any program that has what I am looking for, even on an interdisciplinary level. I could use some advice in this area. So if anybody has any, please share.
  15. I am really glad that I came to Fuller. It had its flaws, but overall I think it’s the best seminary ever. (I might be just a tad bit biased 😉

I know there’s more but I leave you with those for now. Here’s to year #2! At this point, I have no idea where this journey is going to end, but its quite an adventure!

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Me, AME & My Church Dilemma Continued…

10 06 2013

shieldSo I figured I should give you all an update on my church situation since many of you have been praying and checking up on me regarding this issue, and for that I say thank you.

One day after I re-read my last post about trying to find a church, I had an epiphany that a lot of the qualities that I was looking for are already in the AME church, the denomination I grew up in and left 13 years ago for what I thought at the time were “greener pastures”. AME churches have a great way of blending what’s old and what’s new, and as of late, I’ve been craving some good, old-fashioned gospel music and hymns mixed with some contemporary gospel. I also miss seeing the mothers of the church and the teenagers all worshiping in one church together. I miss seeing the stewardess ladies in their matching white suits and hats serving on communion Sunday. I miss a good choir, I miss the “bounce” of the sway when rocking to your favorite song, I miss the sound of an organ–I miss SOUL.

So with that, the past few weeks I’ve been visiting First AME Church here in Pasadena, and what a blessing it has been. These weeks have reminded me of the rich tradition that is in this denomination, as well as the strong sense of community and faith that I experienced growing up. I am reminded of the AME church’s strong commitment to scholarship and to reaching out and serving its community. I am reminded of its sense of dignity and pride that it tries to instill for every Christian, but especially for those of African descent. Now grant it, the theology there is not deep, but at least it’s not false. I disagree with some of its doctrines on things like baptism, they don’t sing any Hillsongs, and they get a #fail on the “turn to your neighbor and tell ’em” stuff. But the gospel is being preached. I guess when I thought about it, I realized that I never left the AME church out of hurt, anger, or because they were preaching absolutely false and damaging doctrine. That was the case with some of the other churches I attended, and I think that has affected my aversion to the black church for all these years since.

I haven’t joined First AME or anything just yet. Truth be told, I’m not even 100% sure yet that I actually want to officially join there. I’m still very cautious about it all. What’s difficult about attending there is that as much as I love its self-awareness, I am also aware of the fact that there is no more diversity in the AME church than there is at any of the white churches I’ve been attending. I may not be the minority in this context, but many of my friends would be. So much for trying to be part of multicultural church. And part of me wishes that more non-black people would come there just so they can experience what I have been feeling for the past 8 years of my church life. One thing is for sure, this experience is giving me new insights into my feelings about multicultural churches and how they could best serve the various cultures that walk through their doors.

But I am enjoying myself. I feel like I am home. Who knows, maybe AME is in my blood and I was bound to come back at some point anyway. Or maybe it’s just that in all my efforts the past few years to be an advocate for the multi-cultural church, I’ve forgotten what my own cultural tradition brings to that conversation, therefore making my contribution less fruitful. Or maybe I just miss my mama ‘nem on the east coast and this is just my way of feeling close to family. Either way, for now, I’m just enjoying the experience…and the little old ladies on the front pew with their hats…





Random Thoughts on a Saturday Night

28 04 2013

So I know I’ve been quiet on here lately. School has had me super busy the past few months, and in order to preserve my sanity, I had to slow down on the blog posts. But I have been writing! I recently became a contributor for Reel Spiritualityone of Fuller’s many initiatives in the ongoing conversation on theology and film. That has been a real blessing to me, and I encourage you to check out the link and see some of the articles and podcasts I’ve done. I also  became one of the writers for the “Sabbath Reflections” portion of the Windrider Forumanother website that focuses on theology and film discussion. I also wrote an article for the SEMI, our campus newsmagazine last quarter, and I’m getting ready to launch a new blog with my friend, Angela Harvey, where we discuss all things black entertainment. So I haven’t completely lost it writing-wise, I’ve just been writing through alternative venues.

I’ll try my best to do better about posting links to my other writings onto this blog so that you all can keep up. This blog will become more of a spot for me to just keep you all posted on what’s going on in life, so that you can keep up and so that you’ll know what to pray for, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’ll think of this blog as my living room, the place where I can kick back and relax and be a little more informal after writing all those more formal blogs for other sites. 

One thing you all can continue to pray for is that I find a church home. Finding a church home can be hard period but it just seems extra hard right now. I want a church that’s ethnically diverse and casual and doesn’t make you turn to your neighbor and say awkward things during the service. I want a church that accepts women in ministry, because I really still don’t get this whole complimentarian thing. I don’t have any plans to be a preacher but I would like to know that the church I attend is not discriminatory in terms of who can lead people and who cannot. I will save my rant on that for another time, but that is something that has really been bothering me as of late. I want a church that has old people in it. Old people have such great wisdom and insight on things, and they’re just cute. I want a church that’s friendly and not weird. I want a church that understands and accepts its call to be good neighbors and to reach out to its surrounding community. I want a church that knows how to strike a balance between tradition and innovation. There have to be ways to respect the history of our faith and not be afraid to pioneer new ways of doing things and new ways of reaching out to people. I want a church that has good preaching, but also knows the value of good, soul-stirring worship as well, whether it’s traditional or contemporary. And for the record, call me crazy, but I believe that hymns and Hillsong can co-exist, they really can!

I guess what I am looking for doesn’t exist this side of heaven. It’s the same story, I’ve blogged about this before so blah blah blah. I just hate always having to pick and choose what out of that list I’m willing to give up for a season, just in order to have some place to go on Sunday mornings. As I sit here tonight trying to figure out where I will go tomorrow morning, I’m getting a headache because I feel like it just shouldn’t be this hard. 





Dear Lord, Help Me to Love Christians

11 02 2013

Dear Lord, please help me to love Christians.

The ones that have become too smart for their own good.

The ones who know nothing but You.

The ones who baptize babies.

The ones who don’t.

The ones who still like worship music.

The ones who scoff at it.

The ones who believe the Flood was literal.

The ones who sing hymns.

The ones who dance.

The ones who clap their hands.

The ones who think it’s ok to swing from the rafters.

The ones who don’t.

The Calvinists.

The Arminians.

The Reformers.

The Lutherans.

The Methodists.

The Baptists.

The Pentacostals.

The ones who speak in tongues.

The ones who don’t.

The ones who are embarrassed by the cross.

The ones who tell stories when they preach.

The ones who read their prayers.

The ones who shout them.

The ones who preach sin.

The ones who preach love.

They all are my brothers and my sisters. I have been with them all. Lord, help me to walk in love with the Christians that disagree with my point of view on things. The world would love for us to choose sides and pit us against one another because of the different ways we worship. I give up. I’m tired of it. My church is not better than your church. I just want us all to walk with Jesus–together. Is that so much to ask?

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23

 





#60Movies – Day 14: Sundance “Blood Brother”

7 02 2013
Overall, this film probably affected me the most out of everything I saw at Sundance. It was about a man named Rocky Bratt, who wants to find meaning in his life so he moved to India to serve children at an HIV/AIDS orphanage. This film raises issues about what it really means to be the hands and feet of Christ.

I think this film was quite unique in its use of documentary technique and storytelling. First of all, the film was told from the perspective of Rocky’s best friend, Steve Hoover, who is also the filmmaker. I found it interesting that at the outset of the film, Steve stated that he did not want his friend to go to India and that he was hoping he would fail. His skepticism set up an excellent tension between him and his friend that gets resolved through the course of the film as viewers go on a journey with Steve to see and understand India and the orphanage the way that Rocky sees it: as a place of love. As the film progresses we see that Rocky has found a place where he feels accepted into a family, which is really what he was searching for all along.

This film challenged me as a Christian but also as a Christian filmmaker. It wasn’t preachy, it simply told a story about one man’s journey to find meaning and love. That is a universal concept. When the filmmakers came to Windrider, their commitment to faith was evident. However, they did a great job creating a story that would actually speak to the masses about the truth of God’s love, more clearly than any sermon from a pulpit. The filmmakers preached a message and the people listened, and I think this is evident by the fact that it won both the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary and the Audience Award.





Sundance Lives On…#60Movies–Day #13: There Will Come a Day

4 02 2013

So Sundance happened faster than I could blink…We saw at least 3-4 films per day, plus had forums, plus we had to eat and sleep. It was awesome but I don’t see how journalists kept up with it all! So I know I said a film a day for 60 days, but I didn’t say they would be consecutive. :-/ I’m still not giving up, but full-time seminary and working are slowing me down…

I’m going to continue to give you a little taste of Sundance by posting some of the write-ups I did for my Sundance class on the films I saw during the week. Hope you enjoy this little taste of Sundance.

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There Will Come a Day – dir. Giorgio Diritti

What do you do when everything you have believed in is challenged? This was one of the major questions induced by this film, which is why I loved it so much. The film focuses on Augusta, a young Italian woman who loses a child while still in the womb, which sends her into a spiral of questioning the meaning of life. Initially she lives on a boat with her Aunt Franka, a nun who serves her community through bible studies and prayer. Augusta stays by her aunt’s aide and eventually decides that this life is not for her and leaves to go immerse herself in a small slum community in Brazil where she finds life again.

The sound design in this film spoke volumes, ironic because of the film’s subtle quietness. The scenes in which Augusta could be found drifting on the boat were so silent, which allowed the audience to revel in Augusta’s mourning, to focus on the suffering that had occurred in her life and to question along with her. One of my favorite moments in the film is the opening where we see a close-up shot of Augusta crying, and all we hear are her subtle cries. At this point we don’t fully understand why she is crying, but the deafening silence immediately makes us feel some sense of loss.

What was interesting to me about this film was the fact that Augusta found a certain amount of vibrancy and life once she left her Aunt Franka and the church, which left me to ponder, Is there room for “life” in the Christian faith? Jesus came to bring us abundant life but often our faith communities are lifeless and they lack authenticity. How do we as Christians process doubt? How do we process pain? What is God’s role in our lives? Is it to make us happy? For the Brazilian community in this movie, they process these emotions together in a context of community as we see them dance together, work together, and mourn together. I believe it was this sense of belonging that Augusta was looking for all along.





Random Thoughts: Video Messages, Ethnic Messages and Marvin Gaye

8 11 2012

So the problem with going to a school like Fuller is that I’m literally being challenged with so many new ideas every single day that it’s hard to keep up and blog about them because I just don’t have time amidst all the papers and reading that I have to do each week. Which leaves me with a dilemma because not only do I want to write about my experiences with you all, but I want to engage in dialogue. So…that means I’m probably going to start posting a lot more “Random Thoughts” posts, because it’s a lot easier for me to just type my thoughts as a stream of consciousness, rather than trying to come up with full thesis arguments complete with cool, catchy titles. Besides, I do enough of that in school. I think I’m even going to go so far as to create a new category for Random Thoughts, so if you ever want to read some of my old Random Thought, you can now find them in one place. So here you go. My random thoughts for today, well actually they’re more like things I’ve been thinking about the past few days…At any rate, you’re welcome! 🙂

  • This past weekend Fuller hosted a conference called “Preaching in a Visual Age.” It was all about how to approach preaching within a generation that finds value and meaning in technology as well as moving images. It was a great conference for me as a filmmaker, but I’m not sure what preachers or anyone who is not an artist got out of it. Hopefully they picked up some valuable nuggets to help them lead their flocks. After attending that conference, if I could share one thing with pastors everywhere it is this: We don’t need your Powerpoints! What I mean by that is that Powerpoint presentations are not what makes you “relevant” or “cool” and neither is showing a movie clip. What people need is the life-giving message of God’s love. If Powerpoint or movie clips help you do that then fine. But if you’re just doing it to say that you’re hip, I’d rather you just stand there and preach. I would also like to tell pastors that there are people around you in your congregations who are creative artists who can help you plan services with intentionality and to help make sure that if you are going to use media as part of your preaching, you do it well and not insulting to your congregation and to artists everywhere. You don’t have to do this alone. These artists are just as passionate about their art as they are about their faith, and they can help you see things from a different light if you’re willing to give up a little control.
  • A dream came true for me this morning at chapel in the sense that I was finally able to sing the song “Lord You Are Good” with a truly diverse crowd. Every since I was introduced to that song way back in my Abundant Life days, I’ve looked forward to the day when we could sing the words “People from every nation and tongue, from generation to generation, We Worship You!” as a reality. I looked around the room and saw my brothers and sisters from Liberia, Korea, India, black, white, old, young (at least in a seminary context anyway) worshipping together. It was a sight to see. My prayer is that that diversity as well as understanding would continue to grow here. Dr. Soong Chan Rah, author of “The New Evangelicalism” gave the sermon. It was a very painfully truthful challenge about what it really means to be a multi-ethnic church. Many times in our efforts to build multi-ethnic churches, we have diverse faces in the crowd but still end up with mono-ethnic churches because the dominant culture is still dictating what worship should look like. It’s something to think about, especially here in America where every congregation thinks that their way of doing church is the “right” way.
  • Tonight we had the Missiology Lectures, also led by Dr. Rah. My biggest question after the lecture is: Where is the black church within the conversation of being missional? I have been to two conferences within the past month about the missional church here in California, and have been to several conferences and groups that talked about it on the East Coast and there are never any black pastors on the panel. Out of all the missional churches I could name, I can only name one that has a black pastor. So my question is, are we absent from the conversation because we want to be, because we have our own community that we’re serving in our black context and therefore don’t wish to engage? Or are we absent from the conversation because we’re oblivious that these conversations are even going on? Or, have we (intentionally or non-intentionally) been excluded from the conversation? I know some of my brothers and sisters in the black church would say we’ve been missional for years, before it became a “thing”. But I would argue, in today’s culture which is becoming less and less homogenized, are we really being missional if our churches don’t reflect the diversity that we encounter on a daily basis? The church at large needs our voices too! Just some of my thoughts…I have my own reasons for asking this which I can get into in the comments section or one-on-one if anyone is interested in engaging.
  • In my Worship, Theology and Arts class we’re reading about Marvin Gaye and the making of What’s Going On? (Um yeah, can I just say I love my seminary. Where else will I get to read Michael Eric Dyson, a biography on Marvin Gaye, and the Calvin Institutes all as part of class readings?) Anyways, we’re looking at the theological implications of this ground-breaking album and I must say, I am amazed at all that went into the making of this album. I’ve always loved Marvin Gaye as an artist. But now I have even more respect for him for the risks he took to get that album made, and his dedication to creating something that would send a strong message to a world that was crumbling.

No wonder that song and that album still resonate today…

Also, I promise, future Random Thoughts will not be this lengthy…:-)