Tuesday, March 31, 2009


The essay I wrote regarding the church's call to remain in community with one another is something I believe I'll always be able to look back on and be proud of. The idea of community and the struggle and joy integral to the pursuit of bringing diverse people together is something that over that last three or four years has continued to grow in importance to my personal philosophy and theology. Beginning in my sophomore year as a Resident Assistant, and through my roles as a Peer Minister, pastoral intern, and now Young Adult Volunteer, I have continued to learn how difficult, yet rewarding this struggle can be.

But the struggle is so much bigger than simply looking at faith communities. It extends from churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues to neighborhoods, towns, cities, and eventually our society as a whole. Because it is easier, we often shy away from genuine, diverse community as it often asks something of us: critical reflection of our beliefs. As a result of the privilege of choice that wealth offers, we are able to move through our lives carefully controlling whom we interact with. Simply put, Americans are talented escapists.

We move into neighborhoods, dine at restaurants, go to events, join churches, sleep in hotels, and shop at stores all in places that are frequented by those like us. This is often based on class and/or race. But no matter what factors influence these choices, it is those that we see as the "other," those that make us feel uncomfortable, that we subconsciously weed out of our lives. And once they have been successfully weeded out of our lives, we look around to find only those most like us.

All of this works to affirm our position, ideology, theology, and politics in life. We surround ourselves with our "Yes!" men and women because we are afraid that we may be challenged in our notions, and God-forbid, proven wrong. How can we grow if we weren't challenged? The status quo would simply remain. No Reformation, no Emancipation Proclamation, etc. Growth and critical reflection can only come to true fruition through placing ourselves in communities that are diverse in their views and challenge us to take a critical look at our own.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hopes and Concerns

When I was applying to seminary a couple months ago and came across this prompt: "Austin Seminary understands itself to be a seminary of the church of Jesus Christ. In a brief essay (1 page, double-spaced) please state your hopes and concerns for the church," this is what I wrote:

Though the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is only a small piece of the mosaic that is the “church of Jesus Christ,” I have chosen to address a hope and concern through the lens of my own faith tradition while understanding that it is a challenge for all traditions. My hope is that as the PC(USA) continues to struggle with discerning God’s call concerning difficult questions (e.g. the ordination of homosexuals), above all, its members remember the importance of their own call to remain in community with one another. My resulting concern is that if we fail to work for God’s will as a diverse, loving community, we will splinter into smaller groups that simply affirm what we already believe and cease to challenge one another to grow.

To use the aforementioned example, the arguments for and against ordaining homosexuals tend to be both passionate and personal. This results in people’s fears keeping them from genuinely listening to each other, and particularly to those who they disagree with. Listening to one another and scripture is one of the most important aspects of being in a faith community; the humbling act of listening affirms our respect for one other, challenges our own beliefs, and empowers all. This process of listening and evaluating our own theological beliefs offers an exciting opportunity for spiritual growth as a community. If faith communities abandon the call to actively listen to all voices and divide into the seductive comfort of sectarian groups, they lose the opportunity to have their faith challenged and reformed by varied perspectives.

So as the PC(USA) and other faith traditions passionately discern where God is calling them, I pray everyone realizes the importance and beauty in listening to each other out of love and continues to wrestle with the questions that seem daunting, but in the end, strengthen all. Otherwise, I fear this gift will be lost and the opportunity for spiritual growth will be limited as people simply surround themselves with their personal “Yes!” men and women.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Money and Forms, Horse and Carriage

You wouldn't know it from the amount of attention that this blog receives, but I am indeed alive, still in India, and functioning fairly well (according my own standards). As I discussed in a previous newsletter, I've found myself a little burned out on reflecting on my time here. To some degree this bothers me as I want to continue to be critical about what's going on with me, those around me, and God in this place and time. But I also feel it's fairly reasonable at this point for me to be a little tired of my attempts to reflect, chronicle, and distribute my musings. Now that I got that out, we can move on...

Being accepted to seminary was a milestone in my life. It felt kind of like getting a stamp on a form that had been sent through a long bureaucratic process over the last three years. Not because the journey was particularly difficult or stressful, more because there was a lot at stake and I didn't feel "secure" until the final approval was certain. I couldn't imagine myself coming back to the States to do anything other than study theology. And I couldn't imagine myself doing that anywhere other than Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Having that stamp of approval allows me to slump into my chair and let out a deep breath. Or, so I thought...

I had personally felt relatively unaffected by the "financial crisis" (said in a booming, pessimistic voice) until it hit me about seven minutes after getting the news that I was accepted: graduate school is what we would call expensive. It seems I have my own little financial crisis. Indeed, there are plenty of sources other than my own volunteer-stipend-stretched bank account to pull from. So that is what I've spent plenty of time over the last few weeks doing: searching for and filling out scholarship applications and - here's the kicker - attempting to coordinate references, transcripts, and sending my own forms from India.

Third parties have definitely made the process as painless as possible, but I had felt so relieved after dealing with all of this when applying for seminary that it never occurred to me that it was only the preliminary round of printing forms, scanning the same forms updated with my answers, and pelting emails at people. All the while having my mom do plenty of work State-side (thank you!). After this week, when I hope to have them all turned in, it seems that I'll have a bit of a respite from form-hugging until I hear back and get a sense of my financial situation.

And that respite will be nice as I've got quite a bit coming up in the next couple months. Next week (March 17-21) will be spent at Achen and Kochamma's home in Aluva for a retreat and to meet his daughter and her family as they are flying from Bahrain. I will then return to CMS College for what I predict will be a frantic week and a half as I prepare to tie up lose ends before leaving April 1 for a month-long tour North India, which I'm am absolutely ecstatic about. Upon returning we'll have another retreat in Aluva, visit a festival in Thrissur, and then go back to our sites around the end of the first week of May before we hop around doing summer camp style children's programs as a team at each other's sites (April-May is the summer holiday here).

I'm just praying for some stamina!