Saturday, June 27, 2009

 

ER's seminary essay (draft)

A working paper, to submit, when tweaked, with my application to seminary. Y'all have seen the top part before ... I dunno. It's probably too personal. Not sure what they're looking for. But this is pretty much what they're gonna get.

Comments and criticisms welcome. Just don't be mean. Also, speak now or hold yr peace, 'cause I'll probably take it down after a day or two. ... But I'm not sure why I would, necesarrily. ... Anyhoo ... :-)

--ER



xxx

The preacher’s message was so clear I thought I could draw it. So I did. With a dainty “lady’s” pen and pad from Mama’s purse, a huge black thing with a vicious metal snap and a hard, flat bottom with sharp corners, I drew what I heard the preacher say.

At top: “God,” just the word, with some lines for light rays around it. At bottom: A stick figure of a boy: Me. Between, another stick figure, a cross, for Jesus. I put the cross there because the preacher said, according to the Old, Old Story, God loved us so much that he put it there: “A Savior came from Glory.”

I looked up and Mama smiled at my handiwork. As a hymn played, I stepped out into the aisle and I walked to the front, and I prayed with the preacher.

This I believe: At that moment, the spirit of Jesus, my friend, helper, Savior in ways even more mysterious to me today than then, at age 8 – his spirit of honesty, openness, willingness, kindness, love and justice -- did, in fact, come into my heart. Grace, Grace – “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely bestowed” -- found me, in a Southern Baptist church in a small Southern town. And in that congregation I first learned my privilege and obligation as a Christian to give grace away as freely as it was given to me.

The spirit of Jesus saves.

The spirit of Jesus saved me from racism when in my teens, the Ku Klux Klan tried to resurrect. I could not square such rhetoric and meanness with the Gospel as preached at that little church.

The spirit of Jesus saved me from the mood of greed that dominated the 1980s when I was in college, a worldly spirit perfectly depicted in a familiar dorm-room poster of the era: “Poverty Sucks,” it says, over a big photo of a big man, a self-satisfied prig wearing jodhpurs, tweed jacket, sporty cap and riding boots, glass in hand, wine in an ice bucket on the bumper of a gaudy Rolls Royce.

The spirit of Jesus kept me in the 1990s, lingering, loitering it seemed at times, whispering, tickling the ears of my soul, pricking my heart, even as I went my own way in my own prodigality, wasting my substance, living riotously.

Not long ago, the spirit of Jesus wrecked a particularly stubborn cultural vestige of my upbringing, destroying my selfish, unthinking bias against same-sex orientation, as sure as he destroyed the money changers’ tables in the temple.

But, I want to be greedy. I want to waste my substance. I want to think myself better than others, black others, homosexual others, other nations' others, other religions' others. It’s natural.

But! There is God, me, and the spirit of Jesus, saving me from myself, when I let myself go. It’s so clear you can draw it.

XXXXX

I wrote a version of the above in 2007 for a Lenten study based on NPR’s “This I Believe” series. Writing is what I do – and editing – as a journalist and history researcher-writer.

I grew up on a farm among an extended family long involved with First Baptist Church in XXXXX, Okla. When fundamentalism swept the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979, it eventually swept the SBC away from me and the Gospel as I first heard it preached. For more than 20 years, other than attending a United Methodist church sporadically for several years while living in Texas, I was an absentee Christian.

That changed in 2005. Three things drew me back to church. First, I started blogging and getting into heated discussions with other bloggers about the church, religion’s role in public life and public affairs, and what it means to “be a Christian.” The least I could do, to keep myself honest, was to go back to church. Also in 2005, the United Church of Christ’s “Bouncer” ad, which depicts bouncers turning away gay couples trying to enter a church, “convicted” me, to use the good old term, of my homophobia. I had been examining the thinking I inherited for some time; I was a dancehall bouncer for awhile in Texas; that ad spoke to me, and I consider the episode an important revelation-epiphany. Also in 2005 came Hurricane Katrina, and the images of wrecked and washed-up humanity – poor, mostly black people, like so much driftwood – on my TV screen caused me to repent of the indifference with which I had started to hold others. I think years of the forced detachment required of a journalist had cauterized into coldness. I continue to repent. I had learned about Mayflower Congregational-UCC Church in Oklahoma City, and I started attending. I joined in 2006. I volunteered for a committee in 2007. I started a two-year term as a deacon this year.

Scholarly study of theology and Christian history has interested me since I took an introduction to New Testament class as an undergraduate at Oklahoma State in the 1980s, but my career kept it a hobby. My success in a rigorous seminar on the Reformation as a history graduate student in 2004 at the University of Central Oklahoma spurred my interest. Rejoining church life has turned it into a longing that I just have to treat.

My calling is as a communicator. As a Christian, I feel drawn to strengthen my ability to communicate the Gospel (which I summarize here as the revelation of God in Christ and God’s ways for humanity in what we know of the teachings of Jesus), whether through writing, editing or preaching; to better inform my research and writing on the nineteenth-century “civilization” efforts toward American Indians; to be in the vanguard of the Christian faith tradition as it evolves; and to bolster myself, head and heart, for sojourning with people who find themselves drawn to God and to others, no matter, as the UCC puts it, where they are on life’s journey.

--30--

Comments:
You said I had to be kind so I can't comment.
 
I did not. I said don't me mean.

Hit me, and I'll try to splain myself!!
 
Don't BE mean, I mean.
 
You said you needed to write:"...2-page "essay" on my religious background and why in the hell I want to take seminary classes."

OK

Kill the cute testimony and colorful revelation....yuk...
Trash everything from the paragraph that begins with the line...."I wrote a version of the above in 2007 for a Lenten... " and all above it.

From there down it is workable.

Lose the code words: such as "calling"- longing- etc.

dump the phrase:...as sure as he destroyed the money changers’ tables in the temple- don't import it south to the redone version

...and (which I summarize here as the revelation of God in Christ and God’s ways for humanity in what we know of the teachings of Jesus) gag, please don't, this is seminary not preacher votech training.

Leave your personal "creeds" and "faith statements" out of it.

Refer directly to your intellectual and/or soul's itch, I mean use ITCH, it is really what your doing isn't it?

Now here is my disclaimer: If they don't let you in because of any advice I have given you then you don't need to go there.

Oh yes and don't use my real name in any interview or conversation with anyone there. My asinine ways have had a far reach.
 
While I like the "This I believe. . .", I have to agree in part with drlobojo. Don't lose ALL of it; summarize it, reduce it to a paragraph as a way of explaining your own "coming to faith". Then, move on.

I would disagree with dropping "call" - that's the kind of stuff seminary admissions people want to hear, but in detail and context. You've given a good introduction, but it isn't - quite - fleshed out enough. You are a communicator, a writer, an editor. OK. How will that become useful for the work of the UCC? What's the relationship, as you see it right now?

Are you seeking ordination? Consecration? Service as a theologically-educated layperson in a church agency (denominational publication, say)? Are these goals that can be furthered by theological education?

While specifics are not necessary, seeing a certain amount of goal-directedness (recognizing that can always change in the course of events) is kind of important. The role of theological education in achieving that goal - beyond the mere requirements of denominational law - is also important.

Don't get me wrong; it's good, and probably, as is, will serve you well. You asked for comments, and I am only offering my suggestions.

Blessings.
 
BTW, the word verification on my previous comment was "dinessb", which I read as "dines on Southern Baptists". LOL
 
Excellent, from both of you. Part of the challenge is this: I know how to write for an audience, but I don't yet know the theological-academic audience.

The fact is, if it's all philosophy and head stuff at this place, I won't stick around long. There has to be some mystery, and some emotion, and some experience, ROOTED in scholarship and church history.

Having slept on it, I agree that the top part is probably too "written." I need to Cheeverize it! (An aside: Reading Cheever, while he is depressing as hell, is making me think I might could write fiction. More on that later.) As far as the testimony being cute and the revelation being colorful it is what it is, and it's mine whether it is DrLobo's or anyone else's.

Not sure I can be more specific in what I might do with this degree, other than letting it inform my writing and editing. Who can say what else will or won't come down the pike? I guess I could stick something in there about social media, LOL, since it's all the rage. The degree I'm applying to pursue, BTW, is the MTS, not the M.Div., so the assumption is that i am not seeking ordination or any office-ministry-etc. in the UCC or anywhere else.

Re, "Leave your personal "creeds" and "faith statements" out of it." Do what? This is a Christian seminary operated by the Disciples of Christ. "No creed but Christ." It is not a religious studies curriculum in a state university. They have chapel services every day. I tried to be very careful in expressing myself, and nothing is ever finished until the presses roll, or it's turned in, but I'm not sure "hiding my light under a bushel" -- bite me -- is the thing to do, for Christ's sake, so to speak.

Anyway: If they happened to not let me in because of what I wrote, I wouldn't want to go there. But, I'll tweak it significantly today.
It's too long anyway.

Gracias, y'all.

Oh, and dining on Southern Baptist give ya heartburn. ;-)
 
"No creed but Christ."

EXACTLY

It needs no elaboration. If you feel the need to elaborate talk about how you want to explore the depths of that creed.

As an apostate Disciple of Christ member I am aware of the original "politics" of Phillips Seminary and of the undergraduate school in Enid from wince it fled and that was using the seminary as its cash cow. I was present in many ways at the death of the university and the seperation of the seminary.

You might add a line to the effect that your concepts of God have evolved as you have matured and see this as an opportunity to extend and speed up that process, or some words to that effect.

Remember the Disciples were formed by populist believers to be a force for ecumenical-ism. One of the founders of the "group" for Christ's sake was named Raccoon John Smith. Of course now seperated from the Disciples the seminary may not harbor raccoons any more.

But what the heh, you got the tuition they'll let you in. Staying, well most don't.

Break a leg.
 
Not sure how I "elaborated" on "No creed but Christ" by talking about my personal experience. It's my experience. It doesn't have to be anybody else's.

BTW, Phillips is still a Disciples institution. From the Web page:


About PTS
Phillips Theological Seminary is a graduate seminary, affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), dedicated to preparing women and men for varied Christian ministries in church and society. We are a community of teachers and learners seeking to be faithful to God through disciplined, reasoned, and reflective study of scripture, religious tradition, and human experience.


We exist primarily to serve the church's need for an educated ministry. Located in Tulsa, OK, we offer a unique brand of theological education in this region of the country: the tandem of ecumenical theological education and denominational formation in partnership with various Christian denominations. In addition, we welcome students who are not pursuing ministerial degrees but who want to explore and deepen their faith by taking specific courses in our curriculum. Furthermore, as an ecumenically-oriented seminary, we employ faculty and staff and welcome students from over 20 denominations.


The Phillips community is comprised of about 25 trustees, over 200 current students, approximately 2,000 living alumni/ae, more than 1,100 donor individuals and supporting congregations annually, and a dedicated faculty (full-time, affiliate, and adjunct) and staff.
 
"BTW, Phillips is still a Disciples institution."

Nope, it is "affiliated". We kinda hang out together, but they are independent from the General Assembly.

The Disciples' control was given over in about 95-97 to the current structure.

" but I'm not sure "hiding my light under a bushel" -- bite me -- is the thing to do, for Christ's sake, so to speak."

Bite me?

I thought that was what I was doing. Shall I really CHOMP down?
 
Nope. I got enough teeth marks.
 
Oh, and I stand corrected on the affiliation.
 
Home now from weekend with the in-laws and ribs.

I think DrLBJ is astringently right and GKS is substantially right.

I just wanted to be alliteratively write.

But you could send it in as is and your in. You not a hayseed, you have accomplishments, you have career experience, you have connections, and every seminary needs money.
 
"I think DrLBJ is astringently right..."

Ah yes, astringent as in Cabernet Sauvignon.
 
umm, I was thinking more like witch hazel.
 
LOL. DrLobo, when I know yer gfixin' to filet me, that is, when I've asked for it and know it's coming, I think of your advice like whiskey: Burns goin' down, but leave a warm feeling once it's swallered.

GLAD to see ya Feodor. :-)

OK, I am fixin' to kill all my babies in this thing. Hard fro a writer not to write. BUT, it's been five years since grad school last time, and I fergot how to follow directions. I surrender all. I surrender all. All to ... oh, never mind. ;-)
 
OK, if y'all are hanging around, you have 30 minutes from now 8:30 a.m. Oklahoma, to draw yer final blood, then I hit "print."


I grew up part of an extended family long involved with First Baptist Church in XXXXX, Okla. When fundamentalism swept the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979, it eventually swept the SBC away from me and the Gospel as I understood it. For more than 20 years, other than attending a United Methodist church sporadically for several years while living in Texas, I was a non-churchgoing Christian. That changed in 2005. Three things drew me back to church. First, I started blogging and getting into heated discussions with other bloggers about church, religion’s role in public life and public affairs, and what it means to “be a Christian.” The least I could do, to keep myself honest, was to go back to church. Also in 2005, I saw the United Church of Christ’s “Bouncer” ad, which depicts bouncers turning away gay couples trying to enter a church; I had been examining the thinking I inherited for some time; I was a dancehall bouncer for awhile in Texas; that ad spoke to me, and the ad sparked what I consider an epiphany. Also in 2005 came Hurricane Katrina, and the images of wrecked and washed-up humanity – mostly poor people – on my TV screen caused me to admit the indifference with which I had started to hold others. I think years of the forced detachment required of a journalist had cauterized into coldness. I continue to repent. I had learned about Mayflower Congregational-UCC Church in Oklahoma City, and I started attending. I joined in 2006. I volunteered for a committee in 2007. I started a two-year term as a deacon this year.

Scholarly study of theology and Christian history has interested me since I took an introduction to New Testament class as an undergraduate at Oklahoma State in the 1980s, but my career kept it a hobby. My success in a rigorous seminar on the Reformation as a history graduate student in 2004 at the University of Central Oklahoma spurred my interest. Since I rejoined church life, it’s become a real itch – and to be frank I just have to scratch it. My calling is as a communicator. As a Christian, I feel drawn to strengthen my ability to communicate the Gospel, whether through writing, editing or speaking; to better inform my research and writing on the nineteenth-century “civilization” efforts toward American Indians; to be in the vanguard of the Christian faith tradition as it evolves; and to bolster myself, head and heart, for sojourning with people who find themselves drawn to God and to others, no matter, as the UCC puts it, where they are on life’s journey.
 
Adios!
 
And it's a good thing, too.
 
Not too shabby for a redneck.
And Feodor, I knew in my heart you would bring up witchhazel.
 
:-)
 
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