Archive for May, 2015

International Residential Opportunities

by   |  05.28.15  |  Distance Education, Learning, Students

This week Dr. Mindi Thompson, Director of Distance Education for the Graduate School of Theology at Abilene Christian University, wrote “Global Seminary Programs: Learning across Cultures Online, at Home and Abroad” for Colloquy. 

Read article here.

Commenting on the article, Brad Carter, ACU alumnus with both a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry (2000) and Master of Arts in Religion (2003), states,

Some of the lessons learned lead to an idea I’ve been tossing around with folks for the past 18 months. Situations like these may need for an African “guide” or “translator” that is on-the ground assisting African students and the professor in making the cultural connections, assisting with appropriate communication (like the email greetings as mentioned), translating cultural metaphors and colloquialisms, and helping African students make the relevant cultural application to the material that is often difficult for a Western lecturer to do — at least at first. This may be another area that is worth exploring in having someone in Swaziland that can communicate, participate in the courses as a guide, and play the role of translator/guide alongside the lecturer — much like the recruiter or person who was the original point of contact that serves as the go-between. –Brad Carter, President of African Christian College, Swaziland, www.AfricanChristianCollege.org

The GST is exploring other options for expanding our service to the continent of Africa. We are having extensive conversations with the good work at African Christian College. Once we figure out some logistics, the GST expects this site to be the third residential site for graduate theological education. The primary hurdle that faces us is the funding needed to scholarship African students is much higher than American students (90% scholarships or $1620/course). However, the GST’s commitment to serve out weighs these financial issues.

With the exception to offer residential courses in Zagreb and Accra approved by the ATS Board of Commissioners in 2013, ACU has the opportunity to be a leader in international theological education. Thanks to Dr. Mindi Thompson for her role in directing the GST’s distance education program and making these dreams realities.

Differences that Shape Us–Becca Kello

by   |  05.23.15  |  ACU, Interfaith Dialog, Mission of God

It was around a Panera table that I realized that I needed to pursue ministry. We were sitting around the table, sharing our stories, our lives, our beliefs and doubts discussing national and global events, how our faith shapes our worlds, and how our wounds, particularly our religious scars, make us better people. We met once a week to have a meal and a conversation, but this was about the only thing we had in common. This table in Panera, just outside of Nashville, was where an agnostic Muslim, a practicing Daoist, a few non-religious folks, an atheist, a secular humanist, and a handful of Christians became my community; the unlikely community that helped me discern my call.

Around this table I experienced the good in humanity; we regaled each other with beautiful, and occasionally horrific, stories of our faith communities as we tried to figure out how to live life and be people of faith and integrity. Around this table I saw vulnerability and openness that was tender and inspiring, and I laughed at stories that were comical and too bizarre to be made up. And around this table I first came to fully know the rewards and challenges of interfaith dialogue as I was beginning to shape my ministerial identity.

While some of the challenges are obvious, occasionally they are quite subtle. Generally, we define and understand God differently, religious garb seems unfamiliar and perhaps unnecessary, and we have a different religious vocabulary and often different cultures, but to let these overt differences be the sole focus of our understanding of interfaith dialogue is to see it dimly, through a glass.

Around this table, with these people, I learned what it looks (and feels) like to firmly hold a belief in conversation with someone who firmly holds an opposing belief. This, especially in our social climate today, is incredibly invaluable. The skill of being able to not only articulate what you think and believe and why, but also to hold a real conversation with someone who doesn’t automatically agree with you because of the shape of your religious necklace is sharpened through interfaith dialogue.

Interfaith dialogue is important to me and to my call not simply because I like people and diversity, but because it makes me a better Christian minister. It teaches me compassion and grace; it teaches me what aspects of my faith are central to who I am as a Christian, which aspects are central to the institution of the Christian religion, and which are matters of opinion and tradition. Interfaith dialogue teaches me conflict resolution in some very real and concrete ways. It teaches to me to see people and stories first, labels and dogmas second.

IMG_3759_2Here in this photo, I am with my friend Manel, who also serves with me on the Abilene Interfaith Council Board. Manel, along with many others in my work with the Abilene Interfaith Council, has taught me so much about being gracious in the face prejudice. Through hearing her story, I learned that she was inspired to start wearing her hijab by seeing the faith of Christians in our community, and I’ve been reminded that, in this largely Christian nation I will rarely, if ever, be treated the way she does for faithfully living out her beliefs and moral convictions. Truly, I have seen the embodiment of kenosis because of my friendship and partnership with her in our challenging work of pursuing interfaith dialogue.

There have been many things that have, and will continue to, shape my formation both as a Christian and as a minister, everything from the flannel graph VBS lessons to the friends and family who fostered in me a discerning and inquiring heart. The one that stands out, though, as I’m on the cusp of beginning my life’s work, is how I have been shaped by those who look and act differently than me and all the lessons that we have learned from each other as we seek the betterment of our community while being continually shaped by our differences.

 

Becca Kello is a third year M.Div. student and is serving as the President of the Abilene Interfaith Council.

A Sabbatical in Korea

by   |  05.11.15  |  ACU, Sabbatical

Ham 3What does a sabbatical have in common with a vacation? Absolutely nothing. And that’s a good thing too. Let me explain.

This spring, I have the privilege of living and working in Seoul, Korea with my wife Dr. Samjung Kang-Hamilton. Our apartment overlooks the Han River in the western part of this great city of almost 25,000,000 people, the sixth largest metropolitan area in the world. The energy of a city that never sleeps (or even dozes) makes life here the very opposite of dull.

Ham 2What does one do on a sabbatical in Seoul? For my part, I am teaching five courses on four campuses of three different universities. Two of those courses are at our host institution, Korea Christian University, where I teach one class on Israelite history and another on Old Testament theology. At the Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary, I am privileged to offer a doctoral seminar on divine kingship, working with excellent PhD students. And at Yonsei University, I teach an undergraduate course in Israelite religion on the main campus in downtown Seoul and a graduate (master’s and doctoral students in practical theology) course on Job and the Literature of Faith and Doubt (one of my ACU standbys) at an experimental seminary in the brand-new city of Songdo, involving a dozen or so students from many parts of the world. The teaching load, plus the hours of riding buses and subways to get from one place to another, makes for a busy week, but a very fulfilling one. It is always a privilege to be able to use one’s gifts fully. In addition to the (almost) daily teaching, I have given two major public lectures, one on Jonah and Lamentations at the Presbyterian University and the other on Psalms 93-100 for the Korean Society of Old Testament Studies, meeting this semester at the Seoul Theological University. I have also preached several Sundays at a number of congregations.

Ham 5Teaching students outside one’s native culture forces a teacher to work hard on his or her craft, to be disciplined not only with respect to content (which should always represented the state of the art), but also with respect to method. Good teachers are never satisfied with their work and always look for new ways to help students learn, and I have sought to do this as well as possible.

Ham 4Teaching biblical history and theology at three institutions in one of the world’s great cities offers a marvelous opportunity to gain a very broad picture of the possibilities of Christian education today. The old boundaries of denomination and heritage matter far less than the common interests and challenges we all face. And learning alongside such a wide range of people verifies the statement of Thomas Campbell two centuries ago:

[A]ll that are enabled, thro’ grace, to make such a profession, and to manifest the reality of it in their tempers and conduct, should consider each other as the precious saints of God, should love each other as brethren, children of the same family and father, temples of the same spirit, members of the same body, subjects of the same grace, objects of the same divine love, bought with the same price, and joint heirs of the same inheritance. Whom God hath thus joined together, no man should dare to put asunder. (Declaration & Address, Proposition 9)

Surely this vision, so central to our identity in Churches of Christ, is true, and it is important that we both believe it and act upon it. Living in a city in which God clearly works inspires us to think about how we are doing our part.

Ham 1During this time, Samjung has also been teaching courses at Korea Christian University in childhood development and multicultural education. For me, probably the greatest joy of this entire trip is the opportunity to see her use her gifts fully to make a difference in the mindset of students. It has been a pleasure to see her receive the honor and respect that her work deserves. In addition, she has also spoken in churches and exerted a positive influence on a wide range of people. And later this month, we will give a speech on theological aspects of immigration together at a conference of the East-West Theological Forum, an international group of researchers meeting this year in Seoul. Again, we have stayed busy.

Yet, staying busy is not really the goal of life, nor is it the real purpose of a sabbatical. The main goal is to learn. One does this by meeting many new people, listening to their questions and ideas and concerns, and opening up one’s own mind to the possibilities of new ways of thinking. Living in a foreign country in which many things are unfamiliar is of course an excellent way to learn new ways of thinking, because the only way to avoid learning is to work very hard to stay in the old patterns of thinking. Learning simply is the course of least resistance. I have been privileged this semester to meet students, professors, church leaders, and just plain regular people who have tried to teach me not just a little more Korean, but also how to relate to a culture with different rules than my own.

A sabbatical of this sort, most of all, teaches many lessons about faith. The vulnerability that comes from being outside our comfort zone at almost all times forces a close examination of the shape ministry is the ministry itself – the work, the plans, the goals, the big ideas driving everything – or the One whom we trust with our entire lives. If we really believe that God’s strength is shown most perfectly through our weakness, we must confront our own mixed motives, fears, excessive deference to other people, unreasonable expectations, and pride. None of this is easy. But it can be done.

So, does our sabbatical resemble a vacation? Not really. But it has been something much more valuable – a time of renewal. For that I am truly grateful.

–Mark W. Hamilton