Friday, October 23, 2009

Project update: interview requests sent

Last night, I sent off interview requests to four EMU faculty members, along with the interview guidelines document, which I will re-print here.  This essentially is a schedule for each interview session:
  1. Briefing
    1. Talk about the recording equipment, how recording will be used
    2. Talk about the photography at the end of the session
  2. Interview
    1. Question: Tell me about the earliest experience you can remember where you thought about God.
    2. Question: Tell me about when you started to become interested in theology in the formal, academic sense.
    3. Question: What is theology to you now? How do you think about it? How do you practice it?
  3. Debriefing
    1. Make observations about themes I heard in responses, and ask for clarifications or elaborations
    2. Ask if there's anything else they'd like to share
    3. Promise that transcripts will be delivered and approval asked for
    4. Promise that final product will be made readily available to them
    5. Thank them for the interview, prepare again for the photography
  4. Take Photos

My prof, Howard, also suggested that I be ready with a list of follow-up questions for each listed above, so I still have to get those ready before I do the first interview.  I haven't heard back from any of them yet, but read on if you're interested in who they are...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

In these scant few verses...

This morning, I sat down to write a reflection paper for my biblical interpretation class.  It is the culmination of over a month spent in just six verses of the Gospel of Mark, 14:3-9.  Here is the text, from the NRSV (with verse numbers removed):
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.

But some were there who said to one another in anger, "Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor." And they scolded her.

But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."
What follows is the last of seven papers I wrote for this class, on this text.  It is the final step in the exegetical process: theological reflection.  For the non-seminary crowd, "exegesis" can simply be defined as "close reading."  Seven or eight weeks on six verses of scripture certainly qualifies as that.  Read on to see what conclusions I came to...

A note on integration

While I have been an active participant in an online virtual community for almost ten years, I didn't hop on the blog bandwagon once they came around earlier this decade.  I certainly have followed a ton of blogs over the years, but had never started one of my own until this one came along.

But there's also another blog that I've been contributing to this fall, and that is the one listed on the right in "The Well" section: The Table.  This is the blog for my church, an experimental Mennonite fellowship/congregation that meets on the EMU campus.  While it is not officially affiliated with the university, by virtue of our location we do draw quite a university-centric crowd.

My posts there this academic year are tied to my seminary internship, which is rooted in that congregation.  They have so far dealt mostly with communal reading, study, and discernment of scripture as the foundation for planning worship services from week to week that rarely look alike, although do contain constant elements such as weekly celebration of communion.  So take a peak there if you're interested in seeing some of my other online writings.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Spirituality of the Cocoon

"Elohim Creating Adam" by William Blake
(view larger image)
The Spirituality of the Cocoon - by me
Almost but not quite
Across my face, shafts of light
Fully formed but not created

Encased in glass
Etching my dreams across the pane
Twisted, crimped and dangling

Wings rustle above me
Soft hair brushes my cheek
Gasping, dusty lungs crackle

Gelatinous eyes rolling, sloshing
Then coming to rest, opening
Ensnaring vines crack and fall away
A mighty wind rises with me

Calling out, fading with the rising sun:
"Awake, O sleeper,
and rise from the dead!"

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A (hopefully) modest proposal

This post is mostly of the housekeeping/full-disclosure variety.  It's the note form of my project proposal for my class w/ Howard Zehr & Paulette Moore: "Research as Art and Transformation."  One thing I like about the project described in my previous post is the way in which Paulette and her partner used the blog.  They used it not only for the final form of the project, but also the entire process of creating the project, from concept to realization.  So I'll be aping that paradigm here...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

It's Just Architecture!

In research class this morning, our instructor, Paulette Moore, showed the class this excellent video she and a fellow student worked on last year, while she was completing coursework at the CJP.  It's called "Pillars of Justice" and it explores the psychological impact of architecture in court rooms in West Virginia.  The video is 23 minutes long, but it's very well-done: good music and good transitions, and atmosphere.  Even humor!  There are volume level issues that slipped through editing, but it was for a class project and not national TV, so this isn't a deal-breaker for me in the least.  It's worth the time invested because it looks at something soooo many people take for granted, and challenges assumptions; something I love!

Pillars of Justice from Paulette Moore on Vimeo.

So what hath this to do with theology?  Well, not much, perhaps.  This video speaks to how our institutions and processes are informed by so many different things that we often take for granted.  Architecture, for instance.  There is a marvelous quote in this video from one of their interview subjects that "architecture is in the mind," and he even extends it to not being just physical space, but also process architecture.  The machinery of justice, in this case: courtrooms.

But then there is an implication to theology, perhaps.  Theology is a process with a particular architecture in a certain arena.  I've heard theology in the academic arena described in very exclusivist and competitive terms.  Who's "winning," who's in and who's out.  If this is true, does it reflect the Christian values that we're trying to embody?  Is it a fight for airtime we're after?

If my impressions of academic theology are correct, then it sounds like a game I'm really not interested in playing, despite my academic study at seminary being rooted there.  I'd rather see theology played out in the public square, much like the reflections and learning that seems to come out of this video on architecture and justice.  I'm not a total anarchist, I do believe in the value of wise subject matter experts, but I'd rather see those experts interacting with the public, churched and unchurched, than having them fight it out with each other, essentially, behind closed doors.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Restoring a sense of humor

A friend of mine who grew up in the same church recently wondered "why some people seem to think 'christian' and 'sense of humor' are mutually exclusive terms."  He is a tremendously intelligent, hilarious, and humble Brethren sojourning with Dutch Reformers as a youth minister in Iowa.  And I wonder the same thing from time to time.  Humor has been high on my list of desirable qualities and behaviors my whole life.   When I was in kindergarten, I used to stand outside my classroom after recess, as the fifth graders were just going out to recess.  I would do a spot-on Woody Woodpecker impression for them, and it never failed to get a rise out of the big kids.  Of course, this often got a hyperactive kid like me in trouble a lot, but I eventually learned how to balance appropriately (not until late in high school).

So last year, some friends and classmates in seminary got together for two final projects in our year-long Christian Tradition class and made spoof news shows that cover 2,000 years of church history.  We had a blast collaboratively writing the show, filming it, and editing it.  The last step was often done into the wee hours of the morning just a day or two before the project was due, but we hung together to bang it out, and it was great.  We laughed our asses off through the whole process, but we took seriously the subject matter.

Indeed, in order to do comedy well, you have to be serious in some respects.  You can't parody something you don't know anything about, so we took our studies seriously.  Another thing I find interesting about humor is its referential nature that is often culturally-bound.  How many jokes are funny outside their cultural context?  Not many.

So here are the two episodes of Millennium Update whose slogan is "Church History from a Heavenly Perspective."  Each episode 20-30 minutes long, and each is broken up into a series of shorter YouTube videos strung together in a playlist.  The intended audience is definitely a seminary-educated crowd, but I think there is still some material in there for folks with a modicum of interest in church history to chuckle at.

Episode I - Fall '08

Episode II - Spring '09

Saturday, October 3, 2009

What is "restorative theology," anyway?

Hello friends and strangers, and welcome to my attempt at articulating and bringing clarity (for myself, hopefully others) to a few threads of study that I find myself immersed in as a grad student at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in lovely Harrisonburg, Virginia. Those two threads are theology and peacebuilding, and they represent the two graduate divisions I am studying in at EMU: the Seminary and the Center for Justice & Peacebuilding (CJP). In the process of discerning a call to ministry and learning all this wild and crazy stuff, I'm actively seeking how these threads will converge and shape my vocation after grad school. That won't be until at least 2013, so I have plenty of time to think and write about it here. You're welcome.

So why "restorative theology?" Well, my emphasis in study at the CJP is restorative justice, a field pioneered around 30 years ago by folks like Howard Zehr, who is now my professor and academic adviser (and friend; he's a great guy) at the CJP. Restorative justice saw the criminal justice system in the West as being almost exclusively focused on crimes against the state (violations of law) and punishing the people who violated those laws, while simultaneously leaving the needs of the victims of wrongdoing going unmet. Restorative justice practitioners came along to restore (get it?) balance to the responses to wrongdoing and address the needs of all parties involved: victims, offenders, families, the community, and even society at large. This is my off-the-cuff answer with no citations, but it will do for now. A seminal book in this field was written by Howard in 1990, called Changing Lenses: A New Focus for Crime and Justice. I've linked to his blog above, and it's also listed to the right in "The Well" section.

So that's "restorative"; now for "theology." Without going into excessive detail, I feel comfortable saying that I've loved theology since I was a little kid. I grew up in a rural Church of the Brethren congregation in central Iowa where there were tons of Protestants of many stripes, particularly Dutch Reformed and Methodists. I was best friends with a boy whose family was Catholic and we used to compare notes. I remember getting into a theological discussion with his dad on the way to Des Moines from our hometown of Prairie City, discussing the fine points of saying confession before death. My friend was bored out of his mind, but his dad and I were having a blast. So when I came to the seminary at EMU at the age of 29, I felt right at home.

In "The Well" section at the right, you'll see a link to a site called Peace Theology, which is written by Ted Grimsrud, a professor at EMU's undergraduate division of Bible & Religion. He and my seminary theology professor, Mark Thiessen Nation, are both pacifists in the Anabaptist and Mennonite tradition, which I also place myself in (a Brethren sojourning w/ Mennonites).
[Update: "The Well" is now called "In conversation" and Ted's and Howard's blogs have rotated out of that list which changes quite often. -bg 3/11/2011]

That's a bit of the historical context for this blog, "restorative theology." Now let's look forward. What am I going to do with it?

Well, one of the first things I have in mind is a very specific class project for a research methods class I'm taking this fall at the CJP (taught by Howard): Research as Art and Transformation. I'm planning on interviewing four EMU professors about theology and peacebuilding, taking a few photographs, editing the video, typing some words and posting the finished product here. If it's engaging to the people I interview and anyone I badger into reading it, hopefully, interesting dialog can take place in the comments sections. So that will be coming in the next two months (before the end of the semester!).

In addition to that, I have the hope of honing the craft of theological writing in various ways. My emphasis of study at the seminary is academics, and I will be focusing on theology and ethics. Theology is, among other things, an academic discipline with a loooooooooooooooong history, and one that I have yet to be initiated into (until next spring). But theology is also, more generally, a way (or ways) to think about God and the ultimate purpose for this life of ours, individually and collectively. So as I exercise both the general and formal practices of theology, I will use this blog for that adventure.