08 December 2015

on seminary and tunnels

I came to Seattle Pacific University because of a direct call from God. I entered seminary because of a call. Yet what I’m learning is that a call is not a guarantee. You have to cultivate a call. You have to nurture it, pluck away the weeds from around it, water it, and protect it. But it’s worth it.

I thought that because I was called that I would love every second of it. But that hasn’t been the case. It’s been hard. There have been so many times where I wanted to quit, where I thought that I wasn’t going to make it. And to a certain extent, I still do. However, what I know to be true is that I’m not doing this alone. I have a crowd of witnesses around me, encouraging me and supporting me, cheering me on.

At SPU, one of the undergraduate traditions during graduation weekend is a ceremony called Ivy Cutting. It takes place in Tiffany Loop, one of the central locations on campus. Tiffany Loop is like a town’s “Main Street”, it’s an identifying marker of the school. All the graduating seniors gather in the middle of campus—far enough away from Tiffany Loop that it is not visible. The graduates then enter the ceremony along a sidewalk that leads into the Loop. But this walk is not the solitary walk of the formal graduation ceremony. No, this walk is crowded and noisy and wonderful. You see, the sidewalk leading into the Loop is lined with every professor and staff person. As the graduates walk, the professors and staff cheer and hoot and holler. This is a moment of celebration!

Tonight I was reminded of that ceremony in a conversation with one of my professors at the end of the class. We were talking about some of my struggles in seminary. He said, “You’re too valuable. We’re not giving up on you; and we’re not letting you give up on you.” Seminary is like that entrance into Tiffany Loop at Ivy Cutting. Yeah, it might be more like crawling than walking and the path may seem more like a climb up Mt Everest than a paved path, but it is lined with professors, staff, colleagues, classmates, friends, and family.

Often we use the language of tunnels to describe the timeline of a journey. The person who just finished the last quarter of classes is at the end of the tunnel. The person in the last year of classes can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I've gotten into the habit of joking that I'm in the middle of the tunnel with no end in sight, that there doesn't even seem to be an end. But my metaphor is missing a crucial piece. My tunnel is not a lonely tunnel. I have a crowd of witnesses attesting to the fact that there is an end and that I'm not alone. I am the one who has to walk the journey, I am the active participant in my story. But I am not alone.

21 November 2015

advent and the importance of the incarnation

In light of the Advent season nearly upon us, I've been thinking a lot about the importance of the incarnation. Advent is the time of waiting and preparing for Christ's second coming while also preparing to celebrate his first coming. So why does it matter if the Word became flesh, if God became God-with-us? Because it tells us something about who Jesus is, about who we believe in, and who we follow. I am reminded of this in my studies this quarter as we discuss how to approach youth ministry. Andrew Root wrote about the connection of youth ministry and the incarnation in his book, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation.

"When the incarnation is discussed in connection to relational forms of youth ministry, it is often discussed as God's strategy or plan, making it possible for us to cut off the incarnation from the incarnate One. We often assume that being incarnate means being present in such a manner that we earn the leverage to influence others, as though God in heaven decided that incarnation was the best way to influence humanity. This position holds that God used God's humanity to convince people to accept God's message; it denies that the message itself is God's humanity. To think of the incarnation as a tool of influence is to deny the necessity of Jesus' humanity...It would have been just as well if Jesus only appeared human--he only needed to be human enough to influence. But Bonhoeffer has revealed that the incarnation is much more; it is not simply the strategy of God but the very heart of God for creation that opens the very being of God to humanity. If our humanity is to be transformed, we need a fully human God. We need a God who bears our reality and takes it fully into Godself. We need someone to accompany us (share our place) all the way to hell. Speaking of the incarnation as only of strategy for influence cuts free Jesus' humanity, making it possible for him to be only an idea, a logo, and not the who that encounters us within our human situation." (Chapter 4)

Jesus is the one who encounters us within our human situation. He is the one who encounters us in the middle of our relationship turmoil, our miscarriages, our academic studies, our oppression from systemic racism, our racialized society, our fears, and our comings and goings. This is who we are preparing to celebrate in Advent.

29 October 2015

when loving Jesus is not enough

An excerpt from The Adolescent Journey: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Practical Youth Ministry by Amy E. Jacober

"Most of my years as a student were spent being told, then reminded, then encouraged to ponder that God loved me and Jesus died for me. Discipleship and doctrines beyond salvation were mentioned but were not the focus. Spiritual formation and my responsibility toward this world and other people as a Christian were clearly not priorities. 
College didn't move me any closer to knowing the bigger picture of what it meant to be a Christian. I faltered around and did the best I could talking about Jesus while folding clothes at the Gap or praying with someone who just got dumped at an after-hours dance party.while I am sure my experience wasn't the case for everyone, I do not think it was as unique as I wish it was. 
Then I went to seminary, where I realized that while I could find Scriptures with a concordance, I lacked context or doctrinal understanding and the ability to think Christianly. I was embarrassed more often than not, but I finally decided it was better to be embarrassed and ask lots of questions than to keep playing the good Christian hoping I wouldn't get caught for how little I knew." (Chapter 1)

Practical theology is the intersection between human experience and theological reflection. We need to be practical theologians. We need to recognize that joining God in God's work of reconciliation in the world means living in that intersection. We need to acknowledge that "just love Jesus" is not enough.

18 April 2015

The Swamp

Not on my game
Thoughts floating
Mental swamp
Every thought takes twice the energy
Slow going.

How does one trek through a swamp?
Where does one learn how to swamp-hike?
It’s exhausting.
An energy drain.

It would be so much easier to just sit down in the swamp
To wait until the swamp dries out
To wait for the dry soil to return
Yet assignments and responsibilities are calling
Calling from the other side of the swamp
Calling impatiently for me to just finish

Don’t they see that there is a massive swamp between?
Don’t they see that “just doing it” requires more energy than I have?

Don’t they see that the slog is pulling me down with every step I try to take?

19 February 2015

yes please, writing, and spiritual disciplines

Recently, I have added "fun reading" back into my life. I've always been an avid reader but grad school has put a damper on that. However, since my epiphany about introversion, I have made an effort to read not-for-seminary books as a way of relaxing and recharging. Anyway, currently I am reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler. It is fantastic. She is very funny yet she is also refreshingly honest in what she writes. Why do I bring this up? Well, one, because I get to choose what I write about here and two, because something Amy wrote has stuck with me.

"Everyone lies about writing. They lie about how easy it is or how hard it was. They perpetuate a romantic idea that writing is some beautiful experience that takes place in an architectural room filled with leather novels and chai tea. They talk about their "morning ritual" and how they "dress for writing" and the cabin in Big Sur where they go to "be alone"--blah blah blah. No one tells the truth about writing a book. Authors pretend their stories were always shiny and perfect and just waiting to be written. The truth is, writing is this: hard and boring and occasionally great but usually not. Even I have lied about writing. I have told people that writing this book has been like brushing away dirt from a fossil. What a load of shit. It has been like hacking away at a freezer with a screwdriver." (italics added)

One of the hardest aspects of the transition from my undergraduate to grad school is the amount of writing. Undergrad has a mix of objective exams with multiple choice, true/false, or matching questions and essays of varying lengths. While not every class has an equal balance of the two, the overall ratio of objective exams to essays in undergraduate work ends up being about equal (at least in my experience). Grad school, on the other hand, is all about the writing. Nobody cares about objective exams; the bulk of the work is forming opinions about the material we are studying. It is a challenging transition to make when I naturally excel at objective exams and am not the world's quickest writer. It is a whole lot harder to type words out onto a page than quickly remembering details about this or that theory. I think this is why the excerpt above has stuck with me. It's my reminder that this is hard for others too, that I'm not alone in struggling to write at times. 

A recent blogger who I started reading this week wrote a post that compared parenting to spiritual disciplines. She writes, "I think the work of parenting--the often mind-numbing, eyeball gouging work that can somehow wrack me with worry and bore me to tears in a matter of minutes--is like a spiritual discipline because it is what we do, again and again, like it or not, to form us into who we hope to be." It got me thinking. What if I began to look at writing as a type of spiritual discipline? What if I looked at the struggle of writing as the struggle of a discipline? Does that change how I approach writing? I think it does change things. For starters, it gives me freedom to not write the perfect essay for each assignment. I can't seek perfection in my writing, rather I have to look at writing as a practice that I do over and over and over again. And every once in a while, there will be those moments where I write something great but most of it won't be and that's okay.

So now what? How do I get from this new approach of writing as a spiritual discipline to actually writing what needs to be written? I remind myself of another piece from Amy:

"So what do I do? What do we do? How do we move forward when we are tired and afraid? What do we do when the voice in our head is yelling that WE ARE NEVER GONNA MAKE IT? How do we drag ourselves through the muck when our brain is telling us youaredumbandyouwillneverfinishandnoonecaresanditistimeyoustop?
Well, the first thing we do is take our brain out and put it in a drawer. Stick it somewhere and let it tantrum until it wears itself out. You may still hear the brain and all the shitty things it is saying to you, but it will be muffled, and just the fact that it is not in your head anymore will make things seem clearer. And then you just do it. You just dig in and write it. You use your body. You lean over the computer and stretch and pace. You write and then cook something and write some more.You put your hand on your heart and feel it beating and decide if what you wrote feels true. You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing. That is what I know. Writing the book is about writing the book."

It's time to stop thinking and talking and worrying about the thing. It is time to, in the words of the Nike slogan, just do it. 

13 February 2015

personality, epiphanies, and the church

I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for the first time when I was about 10 years old. I’m not sure that researchers have studied the accuracy of the test for children but whatever the case, I remember getting ESFJ.

Fast-forward about ten years, and I took it for the second time. By this time, I knew more about the test itself and had some ideas about my personality; or at least, I knew that the first letter referred to either extraversion or introversion. By this age, I was aware that people were extremely important to me and I figured this meant that I was an extravert. Back to the MBTI, the second time I scored as an ENFP. This time, I read the description and felt it moderately described what I knew of my personality; it was not a perfect fit but it was pretty close.

Then this weekend happened.

It all started with this hobby of mine. You see, I like to understand people. I like to understand what makes people tick: why this person responds in this way and that person responds in that way. I enjoy reading different articles and books about personality psychology because it helps me better understand the people in my context. However, this weekend, my hobby took me to uncharted territory.

I found an article on Huffington Post about introversion. I have a number of friends who identify as introverts so I enjoy reading about introversion to help me understand their experience of life. Well, it was going fine and dandy until I had an epiphany. The person that the article was describing with these classic signs of introversion was uncomfortably similar to myself. 

Could I be an introvert?

So, I did what any good scientist would do and went back to the beginning of the article and read it closely analyzing each trait that was mentioned while frantically wracking my brain for experiences in my life to both prove and disprove each sign. I got to the end of the article and realized the shocking news: I mostly likely was an introvert.

How could I have lived my entire life without knowing this rather large detail about myself? How could I be a self-proclaimed people person and be an introvert? Surely, I was mistaken.

I spent the next 48 hours poring over different articles on introversion and extraversion, tentatively asking my very close friends for their opinions on the idea, and reflecting on past experiences in my life. At some point during that time, I decided to try something with the MBTI: I took it for the third time. This time I got INFP. Again, I read the description; only this time, it was like having someone hold up a mirror to my face. I was reading about myself!

Somewhere between seeing that mirror and having a couple friends exclaim that they had seen me as an introvert already that I accepted the truth: I was and am an introvert. This is both freeing and scary. I’m in uncharted territory. It’s like I’ve been painting the canvas of life with what I thought to be the color fire engine red only to discover that I’ve been painting with robin’s egg blue this whole time.

In one of my classes, Global Christian Heritage II, we have spent a lot of time talking about sacraments, worship style, and spiritual practices throughout our Christian history. We debate various methods of evangelism and the complications of imperial Christianity in other countries.

This week, as I live my life for the first time as a conscious introvert, I am struck by how much extraversion is rewarded in Christianity. We affirm the communal aspects of life so much that the private aspects of our faith are pushed to the margins. We push community groups; we invite people to meet-and-greet during worship services; we play music that is highly stimulating with drums and electric guitars; we honor the friendly, energetic volunteer in front of the congregation. These tasks all reward the extravert.

Where in our faith do we leave space for introverts? Where are the quiet times in our services? How are we supporting the diversity of personalities in our brothers and sisters?

My epiphany this weekend about my own introversion has raised a lot of questions that I hope to explore further as I grow in my understanding of my self. I also see a need for the Church regarding this. Maybe I can help create that space and recognition that introverts matter in the Church.

*This post was originally written for a reflection for a Practicum class. 

02 February 2015

when it becomes too personal

There are times when the material that one is studying becomes personal.

There are times when the scripture passages that one is studying become intensely personal.

There are times when you leave class completely raw because the material hit too close.

There are times when you just want to curl up in a ball and let the tears flow.

There are times when you aren't sure if you can do this because it's too personal.

There are times when all you have is raw pain and too much emotion.

Tonight is one of those times.

I wish I could find some way to neatly resolve the pain. I wish I could not feel the pain or at least find a way to separate it from the rest of my being. I wish I could delete these memories from the memory bank. Why do I have to deal with the gray of ambiguity? Why can't I turn off the memories of shame and helplessness and guilt? Why am I still raw so many years later? Will it ever end? I don't know the answers. And to be completely real, I probably never will.

For tonight, I'm going to be raw, emotional, and let the pain flow over me.