Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


Week 3 of classes at Pacific School of Religion (PSR)–hymnal amnesty, library research on D. Min. project, cross-cultural classes

Monday morning (September 19) I got to campus at 7:40, before the GTU Library opened, so I went to PSR’s Chapel of the Great Commission to pray and meditate, then I studied for an hour before class.

The six of us in the Doctor or Ministry seminar class met with Prof. Boyung Lee.  We talked about the difference between academic or systematic theology and practical or contextual theology.  Contextual theology is formed in real life, rather than separate from it in the mind of a genius.  It involves research, so we began talking about the various forms of qualitative (vs. quantitative) research, and how those can be applied to the world of religious communities and applied in varied contexts.

Each one of us turned in an 8-page paper giving a “thick” description of the context or setting of our intended research project (mine is the UU Church of the Philippines), with several questions and interests that arise for us about doing work on that context.  We each summarized this with our classmates and heard questions and feedback.

I LOVE the dining hall at PSR.  Chef Andy runs a great staff and provides a variety of options at every meal.  After lunch and some errands I returned to the hall to do some reading for a few hours.  Monday was quite hot in the East Bay, so I sat near an open door.

Tuesday morning I was back in the library, starting research on my term paper for the history of Christianity in the Pacific Region.   Still trying to figure out what further history research I can do on the UU Church of the Philippines, and haven’t found many new primary sources online in books or periodicals.

I left in time to get to the 11:10 AM chapel service.  (The first week we heard from the school’s president, Riess Potterveld.  Last week we heard from the academic dean and professor of New Testament, Bennie Liew.  He gave a great sermon about Jesus’ parable of the man who held a banquet and whose invitees didn’t show, so he punished them and then had his servants invite regular folks from the street.  But one of the guests wasn’t dressed for a fancy occasion, and the host punished him as well.)

This week’s chapel  was a hymn sing.  Eight students or staffers introduced songs that were important to them from their tradition, and then we sang them.  The range included “Gonna Lay Down My Sword and Shield” (an old African American spiritual), “Don’t Be Afraid” (a chantlike song from the  Iona Community of Scotland), “When In Our Music God Is Glorified” (a newer hymn that appears in the United Methodist and UUA hymnals), “O Holy City, Seen of John” (a 1910 Social Gospel text set to a Protestant tune from 1848), and a rocking contemporary evangelical or Pentecostal hymn about being raised by the power of Jesus’ blood (introduced to us by an African American lesbian ministry student from Detroit).

But our opening hymn was “Enter, Rejoice, and Come In,” #361 from the gray UUA hymnal.  It was accompanied by piano, accordion, and two tambourines.  We’ve gotta try that at church!  The woman who introduced it is an African American UU ministry student who has just transferred to PSR from a Methodist School in Washington, D.C.  She told the group that she had been away from church for an extended time after her husband’s death, and this was the first song she sang on her first Sunday back, and she knew she was home.  I thanked her later that day.  She said she had joined the PSR choir to make sure that some UU songs get included in chapel.  During the service we had a prayer of blessing for a stack of new Bibles donated for the chapel’s use by the last graduating class.  The chaplain also said he hoped these would stay put in the chapel, and that over time a number of hymnals had gone walking, probably by innocent but neglectful borrowers.  He proclaimed a “hymnal amnesty”–no questions asked, just bring them back.

Without fail I fall asleep after lunch, so it’s never good to have a class after lunch, but I do.  I was going to skip lunch Tuesday but just couldn’t resist.  It was freshly made Middle Eastern food and I had more than I should have, so I had extra coffee.

At my table was a young history classmate and her husband.  They are from the Asian tribal group (i.e., non-Hindu) called Mizo, from the northeast Indian state of Mizoram, near Bangladesh and Burma.  He is a Presbyterian minister, here getting a Ph. D., and she is taking special courses and maybe pursuing a D. Min., like me.  Their church does not allow women to be ministers, however.  They like their Presbyterian Mission Home housing and classes, and their two kids like the local school, but California life seems distracting.  They are used to having people just drop in the house back home, whereas here folks need to plan a social occasion.  When they learned that I stay over with friends on Monday night, they invited me to stay with them sometime.  They introduced me to a young woman from Korea, also getting a Ph.D.   She mentioned being in a class about Greek philosophy and needing to read Plato in the original, which was a challenge.  The Korean woman asked the Indian man if he could help with the Greek (given its use in his Biblical studies).  He said, “Maybe, but that’s Classical Greek” (and not Koine Greek).  I grabbed more coffee, and the man’s wife and I headed to our history class.

We started by breaking into pairs to do an exegesis (exegetical analysis) of a 1521 account by a Spaniard of Magellan’s preaching about Christianity to a group of Filipinos and inviting them to convert if he could locate his priest.  Most of us agreed that this was part of a colonialist plot.  However, the professor pointed out that Magellan had stumbled on those Islands by accident, as he had been fleeing the Portuguese ships while on a spice-hunting mission and didn’t really know where he was.  He was killed later that year in the Philippines.

Even with only 9 in the class, it’s a communication challenge to have an inter-cultural group.  We have a Korean priest, a Korean evangelical/Weslyean man, a white Pagan woman, a male Samoan ministry student, my Indian friend, and another white guy.  Plus an Asian American woman with us on a laptop computer, through Skype.

After our pairing up for the analysis of the 1521 account, we took a break, and I heard one of the Korean speakers asking the Indian woman about a word he hadn’t understood from the conversation.  It was “exegesis,” which to the ear can sound as if it has something to do with Jesus.  I tried to help by typing it into my laptop’s dictionary.

So…  The linguistic differences take some time in making sure we are all on the same page, and make lectures and discussions a bit slower than they might be with an all-American crowd.  Yet, given this historical topic, these differences add a dimension I rarely had in college days.   And, I might add, that at the start of class, one of our fellows was missing for 15 minutes.  It turns out it was the other white American guy.  He had been sitting in the room right next door to us, mistakenly thinking that’s where the class met and wondering where we were.

So, it’s safe to say, everybody needs you to cut them some slack now and then.

Work back at church has been crazy since I returned from Berkeley, including the break-in of an office of two staff members, with the theft of two PCs and a flat-screen TV/DVD player (all new, since they had been replacements after a similar theft a year earlier).  But this time the crooks sprayed a fire extinguisher all over the place, to cover their tracks and fingerprints.  Looked like a war zone.  So we’ve been moving staff offices around, and preparing to bring on new custodial help as well as restructure our administrative staffing.   Thank goodness I didn’t have to write a sermon for Sunday!

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