Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


First Day of Class–Chapel Service, History of Christianity in the Pacific Region, Coffee and Collegiality at Brewed Awakenings

I parked at the Pacific School of Religion parking lot even before the attendant was on duty to take my voucher.  Walked to the Graduate Theological Library–not open yet.

The Copy Central store was open, with a young man working there.  I had to buy the bound “course reader” for each of my classes–articles, excerpts from books, all put together and in the professor’s preferred order, with copyright and royalty matters taken care of (and covered in the cost).  “I’m a new student and it’s the first day of school!  What do I do?”  He said, “I’m new here and this is my first day on the job!”  He smiled and said he was just teasing me, as he showed me which bound volumes to buy.  I said I hadn’t expected him to know so fast what I needed, given that PSR is so tiny compared to the University across the street.  “That was all last week,” he said, noting that Cal had started earlier than the GTU.

(I don’t know why, but since Copy Central has a monopoly on this gig, I expected a tired, jaded clerk mumbling to me and taking my money.  This guy was easy going and cheerful.) I stood at a register with my credit card out.  He said, “I”ll take you over there, this one is just for show.”  $60 for two readers.

I went back up the hill for fair-traded and strong coffee and a Bagel at Brewed Awakenings, said hi to a PSR professor I had seen at the faculty forum; he was reading on an e-reader.  Every time a table by the window came open, someone moved to it.  It took me an hour before my chance came.  Meanwhile, in comes my pal, colleague, coach and a great teacher from Starr King School for the Ministry, Rev. Michelle.  She told me about her practical and reflective course on liturgy and worship.

I stopped by the PSR Registrar’s office and then went to Tuesday chapel.  I thought it was at 11 and arrived at 10:55.  There were two rows of students standing in a processional line at the door. They began singing and marching in a simple dance step as the music director led them with tambourine.  I figured this was the front of the line for chapel, so I should join in.  I quickly got the tune and words to a praise song from Cameroon.  Halfway in, I realized that this was the choir, rehearsing.  Chapel was not until 11:10!  So I sat in a pew and read while waiting.  Then they sent us back out, as they wanted all worshippers to process in together at the start.  I went out, leaving my heavy backpack in the pew.  As I stood in the lobby, through the doors I could see the faculty all in their academic robes and hoods.  More cute and colorful than stern and serious.

We sang a number of hymns (“Far Too Long, By Fear Divided” is from  the UUA Singing the Living Tradition (SLT) hymnal, and “This Is My Song, O God of All the Nations,” which is in our hymnal, among others.)  The unison call to worship was “Now is the accepted time…” by W. E. B. DuBois, also from SLT.  Students read the Old and New Testament readings: In Genesis, Joseph’s brothers asking him to forgive them for their deceit and harm of him, and his granting it; in the Gospel of Matthew, the passage about the need to forgive “not 7 times, but 7 times 70 times,” and the story of the ungrateful and ungenerous employee.  We had the Prayers of the People, calling out names and concerns.  I didn’t name any names, but held the names and faces of a few people in my heart who are struggling with mental, physical or economic challenges.

PSR President Riess Potterveld preached.  His sermon was straightforward, with a scholarly start and some clever wit here and there. A number of people audibly responded to some of his points.  He explore the two texts about forgiveness between individuals of unequal power and then reflected on forgiveness in a community, not just between individuals.  He talked about the “real life” of being in community, and its challenges, as we all begin a year together as theological school community.  He asked for us to forgive him and one another and ourselves from time to time.

He said that the U. S. government had finally, in the 1990s, apologized for the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II, and sent a check for $20,000 to every person as reparation.  In one family of four grown brothers, one of them had been a PSR graduate.  He spoke to his brothers about putting their checks to use for something good and lasting, rather than a personal possession or vacation.  They pooled their money and invested it, and recently the school received a gift of nearly $200,000.

There are two campus chaplains who coordinate worship at PSR.  Jim Mitulski, who used to lead the MCC church in San Francisco, invited the offering.  The preacher for chapel is allowed to designate the recipient organization, and the president had chosen a new PSR scholarship fund “for emerging leaders.”  There was no apology for taking an offering, no verbalized excuses for some of us who might not have the money, and no rationalizing that over half the crowd was already on financial aid and paying tuition.   He merely said, “We ask for your support and generosity.  You can give of your money to this purpose, or you can give your prayers.”   I found it refreshing that the communal practice of giving was given such care, and made so accessible to us.  The final part of the service was a responsive prayer in memory of the events of 9/11/2001 and in petition for peace, understanding, and respect.  The prayer had been compiled by a council of Christian churches in Kentucky.

A D. Min. classmate and I zipped to another building for the Doctor of Ministry lunch with the professors who lead the program (one at PSR and one at the Episcopal seminary).  I had enough time to say hello and snarf down some hummus and falafel (which is why I thought I should stop in) before heading off to a conflicting class.

The Rev. Professor Randi Reed’s class, History of Christianity in the Pacific Region, will be taught like a seminar.  Around the table were nine of us, maybe 10:  teacher and her teaching assistant (a Korean man in the Ph.D. program at the GTU), a young white man specializing in Mormonism for his Ph. D. work at the GTU, a Korean Wesleyan man, a Korean Franciscan priest, a Samoan man from the United Church of Christ, a Pagan woman student from Starr King School for the Ministry, a Presbyterian woman of from the NE Indian state of Mizzoram, near Burma and Bangladesh and right next to Meghalaya, the state where the Khasi Hills Unitarians are located.  Also with us was a woman from Hawaiii–literally from there, watching us as she sat in front of her computer and appearing to us on a computer screen that sat on the table.  Maybe it was through Skype.  (She’s doing an internship in Hawaii.)  Advertisements scrolled across the screen.  I said, “Hi, Terry.  Did you know that your presence with us is sponsored by Heineken?”  (She didn’t.)

The class grade will come 50% from a term paper and 50% from class participation:  discussion of the many readings, reporting on our research pursuits and our final paper, giving a response and facilitating discussion of others’ class presentation, and one interesting role: each week a different student will be the “class listener,” not speaking during class but at the end giving a summary of the main themes of the discussions of the class, and then providing a written summary on the online site for the class.

I enjoyed hearing others’ research interests and, though I had felt my own research area of the UU Church of the Philippines is still vague and uninspired, in conversation a number of possible pursuits did occur to me.  But now what hangs over my head is the professor’s advice that “for a doctoral student, an appropriate paper length could be as much as 40 pages.”  I shuddered and began cogitating on which of my three classes I need to drop.

I got in the car by 4 PM to join rush-hour commuters on I-80 so I could get to the Lay Ministry Team’s meeting at church in time.   I’d had an uneasy feeling about the shifting of my 1997 Honda’s automatic transmission for a few days.  This was confirmed by the yellow “Check Engine” light, which came on after I got on the road and seemed to grow brighter the longer I drove.   Early the next day my mechanic plugged his computer into my car and said it looked like a transmission problem, and referred me to a transmission shop.  He also turned off the yellow light, so I can see if it goes off again.  An overhauled transmission can cost nearly as much as what the car is worth, so I’m now procrastinating.  And I have to wait until next Tuesday’s chapel before I can pour out my worry during the Prayers of the People.

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