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Meet a Professor | The 'CURE' for your Vocation

Category: Meet a Professor


Ethics Professor Reggie Williams led us in worship this week entitled, “Jesus Began to Weep.” The choir offered many powerful hymns, and Scripture was read by guest artist, Peterson Toscano. Peterson went through the story of Lazarus’ resurrection and Jesus’ weeping from the Gospel of John by asking us all to assume the positions of those involved. We attempted to be downcast like Lazarus’ family at his death and hopeful like Mary as she saw Jesus on his way. It was a unique and intimate way to “read” through the familiar Scripture to prepare us for Reggie’s words for the day.

Reggie then discussed the ways Jesus’ radical empathy pervades the “deaths” we see in our daily lives.

We partook of the Eucharist, presided by Rev. Youngil Jin, around a map of the world. Our hearts are heavy here at McCormick as we prayer for the people of Boston. At the same time, we recognize the acts of violence throughout our world everyday. For our ending prayer, we all approached the table and placed a gem on an area of the map where, like Boston, we wanted resurrection from the death of the world. Worship was a healing, reflective, and resurrecting experience.
Community meal followed in the LSTC refectory.

Meet a Professor: Dr. Reggie Williams

Happy Wednesday McReaders!

This week, I’d like to introduce you to  McCormick’s newest professor – Reggie Williams.

Reggie has been with us only a few short weeks, but he has quickly found his place in our community. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions:

Wes: Tell us your name and what you do.
Reggie: My name is Reggie Williams, and I am an assistant professor of Christian Ethics. My wife Stacy and I celebrated 17 years of marriage this summer, on August 26th, and we have two children, Darion (13) and Simone (11). They are both in the 7th grade.

W: How is it you came to McCormick?
R: I was appointed to the faculty of the Religion department at Baylor University in the Spring of 2010. I completed my dissertation that summer, and joined their faculty in the summer of that year. That meant moving my family from Pasadena, California, the place my children will never stop referring to as their real home. We lived in Pasadena for 6 years, which isn’t very long, but it was for them, a significant part of their childhood. Fuller Theological Seminary is there, and that’s were I completed my master’s and Ph.D. degrees. I did not expect to leave Baylor, at least not any time soon. But early in my first semester there, I came across the job description for this position. I had visited Chicago on a number of occasions for scholarly conferences, and already loved the place. I’d heard of McCormick Theological Seminary, and a number of dear friends told me that it would be a great fit. And although Baylor University is a very good school, with a fantastic athletics program (I played basketball in college, and professionally), I really wanted to teach in a seminary. McCormick is a perfect fit. I was thrilled to be offered this position. That’s the extremely abridged version of my journey to McCormick.

W: How has your family adjusted to the big move?
R: My children have had to move to two different towns, and schools to start all over again making friends, twice within one year. That has been very difficult on them. But for now, they seem to be adjusting well. They seem to enjoy their new school. They tell me that they wish they could pick this school up, and plant it in Pasadena, where they could feel at home in a school that they really like. But if they did that, they wouldn’t have the museums that they’ve come to love, or the SkyDeck at the Willis Tower
which my daughter loves, or Navy Pier which we all love, or the lake views with the city skyline, or our house which we’ve recently purchased. I could go on. Stacy and I love it here. She was ready to walk here from Waco, Texas, if we had to. There has been no need to adjustment for us, only a need to reorient ourselves to a different geography. We miss friends in Waco, but we like Chicago, and McCormick, very much.

W: What are your hopes for your first year as a faculty member at McCormick?
R: I hope to learn a lot from students and colleagues here. I am very excited about McCormick’s emphasis on justice and ecumenism. In this first year, I hope to learn how my voice can contribute to the conversation about church and society, going on here. From what I see so far, this institution is one of the most important Christian institutions of higher learning in the country. That can be deceiving because we are so small, but so was Gideon’s army. And in this small, and important institution, I plan to learn at least as much as I teach this year, so that by the end of the year, I have a greater understanding of the expectations of McCormick students, and how my research and teaching corresponds with the call of God on their lives that brings them into my classroom.

W: I had the pleasure in sitting in on a lecture you gave while you were in the interview process and really enjoyed hearing from you. How is it that you became interested in Ethics?
R: I began my studies at a small Christian Liberal Arts school in Santa Barbara California – Westmont College. I was a French major at first. But after my first semester there, I changed my major to theology and church history. I wanted to “see the gospel at work” in society. I led a ministry to the local juvenile hall, in the summers, I lived in a group home for convicted teens who had drug addictions. When I graduated, I married my college sweetheart, and my first job was as a counselor at a juvenile hall. All of this was motivated by my pursuit of living the gospel. Years later, when I was near the end of my masters degree, the only African American professor of religion that I ever had strongly urged me to enter a Ph.D. program “if you don’t, it would be a mistake.” Those words from Pasor J. Alfred Smith of Allen Temple Baptist church in Oakland, Ca. were the push that I needed to go in the direction of a Ph.D., and the desire was still there to “see the gospel at work” rather than accumulating theological knowledge. I saw both endeavors as important, but without the ability to do theology, I didn’t see the value of learning about it.
Near the end of my first year in a Ph.D. program, something brought to mind an encounter that I’d had when I was in the 3rd grade. It’s funny to say, that when I was in the third grade, I was taking my faith very seriously. And that year, I faced violent racism from three classmates. In that encounter, I struggled to know what Jesus wanted me to do in the face of their unmerited anger at me. So, at the end of my first year as a Ph.D.
student, I saw that I’d been on the journey of “how does one live what we believe” for many years.

W: You’re teaching a course on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King, Jr. this semester. Why these two individuals? What do they have to offer seminary students?
R: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King Jr. offer us some insight into what it took for them to be prophetic Christians in a social environment, and cultural/historical context that saw Christians taking sides against what they saw as true Christian witness. Hindsight is 20/20, and today we agree with them, that Christians should have agreed with how they described faithfulness to Jesus, in support of the oppressed and marginalized. But many Christians saw themselves as faithfully following Jesus, in opposition to them. Today we call their opponents wrong, and Bonhoeffer and King
are seen as prophetic Christians, even martyrs by some. What are we opposing today? What are we ignoring? What do we advocate? What does our faith give us to guide our advocacy? King and Bonhoeffer can help us faithfully follow Christ today.

W: What else do you hope to bring to McCormick in terms of classes or
anything else?
R: My academic project is to recalibrate what it means to be human, since modernity. That involves the critical analysis of race, and the mingling of race and religion in modernity. One particularly crucial moment when critical analysis of race and religion occurred is called the Harlem Renaissance. I study the Harlem Renaissance, and the critical analysis of race and religion occurring within it by folks like Du Bois, Zora Neil Hurston, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and a whole host of black intellectuals.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was not in Harlem at that time, but the time period corresponds with her social justice advocacy, and her work is a part of the womanist cannon of theological ethics that I pay attention to, as well. The project of “recalibration” has in its scope, ecological ethics, biological ethics, as well as social ethics, since the modern construction of humanity sees only some folks as human, and domination as the right relationship between the humans and the “others.” With that in mind, one of the
next classes I hope to teach is a study of the literature and theology of the Harlem Renaissance, or perhaps a detailed exploration of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s experience in the Harlem Renaissance. Those two are the first courses that come to mind for my immediate new course offerings.

W: We’ve heard about some of your academic background. What about Reggie the person? What is it you like to spend your time doing when you’re not at McCormick?
R: I am still somewhat of a jock. I played college and professional basketball, and being in the gym is somewhat like therapy for me. But I’m an old guy now. So I’m looking for a basketball league here in town to play on, that is ok for old has beens. I also really like fishing, camping, hiking, and gardening; but not in that order. In my family, we are outdoors folks, but we haven’t had the opportunity to get out and explore as much, recently. Hopefully now that we’re settling in to our new home town, we will!

W: Food is a big part of life at McCormick – What’s your favorite food, why?
R: I love seafood and Chinese food. I also love to eat breakfast, any time of the day. Those are my food weaknesses! And, after I eat any meal, I’ve gotta have a dessert. I’ve got a very active sweet tooth.

A big thank you to Reggie for taking the time to introduce himself to all the CURE readers! See you on Friday!

Dr. Brad Braxton is preparing to leave McCormick after serving for the past two years as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar. He is a scholar, a preacher, a tireless advocate for issues of social justice and an engaging human being. He’s been a dynamic presence in our community and will certainly be missed by many of us. He is starting a new position at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in the Lois Craddock Perkins Endowed Chair of Homiletics, the first African American to hold this position. His responsibilities include a full teaching load, mentoring students and working with his faculty colleagues. He will do all this while living with his family in Baltimore, Maryland where he has begun serving as the founding Senior Pastor of The Open Church, a new congregation located in the same city where he served in his first pastorate nearly 20 years ago.
Founding a new church was not something that happened overnight. Brad first envisioned The Open Church more than a decade ago (see CURE Blog post from April 17, 2012). Over the years, he has employed a great deal of thought, collaboration with others, frequent consultations with his family and the “wisdom circle” of clergy and other partners who have served as touchstones for him throughout his ministry. That, plus the serendipity of being called to SMC made it possible for him to launch the dream at this point in his life.
I asked Brad what advice and counsel he would offer someone who wanted to start a new church. What did he believe was at stake in such an undertaking? How does one begin at the beginning, and at the same time, begin with the end in mind? Brad believes you should know the goal of your leadership in starting a new church endeavor; you should he asserts, know “where you are going beyond your efforts to be ‘professionally holy.’ “ He reduced his advice to five essentials:
First, starting a church requires a sense of purpose. Brad believes you must “find that thing for which you are willing to die.” In other words, you have to be willing to take a risk and leave your old life behind you. It’s important, he adds, to have some knowledge of your own personality type and be comfortable in your own skin, and it helps to have a “questioning personality” that isn’t satisfied by the status quo or easy answers.
Second, don’t ignore the fact that structures of authority are being flattened and democratized; it’s important to recognize that you will continually need to hold democratization and collaboration in tension, along with your own understanding of pastoral authority. For Brad, pastoral authority is ultimately the bottom line; so he’s encouraging his leadership team at The Open Church to create a governing structure where there won’t ever be a need for him to break a tie vote. If that happens, he notes, his deciding vote will make it clear who’s in charge.
Third, you need to make certain that your family support system (in whatever configuration that takes) is part of your thinking and conversation from the start. The process of starting a new church (or revitalizing an old one) is time consuming, laborious and can be energy draining. It’s critical that your family be on board with you. It’s one of the reasons why he is adamant about supporting models of family life and church life that “promote fullness.”
Fourth, you need to ask yourself if this is the right time in your life and ministry to take this step. Where are you in your professional development that would make this the time to launch such an endeavor?
Fifth, and critically important: Ask yourself if you have the resources (or commitment from others for the resources) necessary to make this work. Give substantive and careful thought to what a start up budget for your dream church would look like. And don’t forget to take into account issues of space, necessary equipment, legal incorporation, liability insurance and salaries (for others, if not for yourself).

No one ever said that ministry was easy.  Starting a new church is even less so.  But if that leadership endeavor calls out to you, find a way to begin.   As Brad said in a lecture he delivered last year atFourth Presbyterian Church:   “Leadership is neutral; it doesn’t make any difference until you shift it into forward or reverse.”    Could a new church start be the way your leadership is taking you forward?

Well, McReaders, this is the last blog you’ll get from me. Wes will be taking over soon, and I’ll be done with seminary after 3 glorious years.

Thinking about the past 3 years is a bit overwhelming. As I’m leaving seminary, I’m not one of those prefect Presbyterians who passed all her ordination exams in the first try; I’m not walking out of seminary with a job in hand, ready to become ordained; I’m not in the minority. I am, once again, in the majority. I’m walking out of seminary with debt, no job, very little idea of where I am going to live, and a car that requires prayer each time to drive it down the Dan Ryan (which, given the shape it’s in, I don’t go down the Dan Ryan with it if I can help it). It’s not that I don’t have skills, I have mad skills. It’s just, there really aren’t many jobs out there. Recently, several people have asked me, “So, if you had to do it over, would you do it all again the same?”

Yes. I’d do it all over again and I would not do it differently. Here are a few reasons why:

1. I met Megan, Alex, TC, Sylvia, Tracy, Jon, Joe, Holly, Kim, Jason, Bong, Lilit, Ching Boi, Tyler, Ken, Lora, Matt, Jenny, Hannah, Amber, Molly, Han Kook, Dave, Kristi, Meredith, Kristin, Robyn, Tina, Karl, Michele, Vimary, Abby, Nathy, Nancy, Jeanine, Sergio, Kristin, Deanna, Mo, Stephanie, Melva, Kathi, Wes, Liz, Albert, Mike, Monica, Daniel, Sarah, Sarah, Katie Jo, Kate, Kirk, Jamie, Matt, Allison, Casey, Phil, Jeff, JC, Honna, Jake, Kelly, Megan, Sarah, Melvina, Delores, Kay, Sheila, Chris, Brenda, Peter, Heather, Jamie… the list is endless. This only includes the people that I could think of in 5 minutes and doesn’t include staff, professors, students from other seminaries, people in the community… Need I say more?

2. The friendly folks at the Starbucks at 55th and Woodlawn know my name.

3. I now know that Joel is an actual book in the Bible.

4. Ted Hiebert taught me Hebrew and Sarah Tanzer taught me Greek.

5. Janaan Hashim and Bob Cathey answered all my ridiculous questions and never told me to shut up. Ever.

6. I got to be Lib Caldwell’s EA.

7. If you ask nice enough, Luis will put on his Dracula cape.

8. Christine Vogel lets me cry in her office and Frank Yamada lets me cry in the halls.

9. Dr. Daniels made singing “Welcome Table” my favorite communion tradition.

10. Deb Mullen helped me accept who I was on my first day of classes.

11. Joann Lindstrom has a puppy in her office.

12. Sam Evans talks in a French accent when he’s in the office.

13. David Crawford is my friend and I know how hard he works for the seminary and the people there.

14. My classmates are fabulous dog-sitters, bird watchers, fish sitters, and plant waterers.

15. Melody Knowles taught me how to write a better paper.

16. Ted Hiebert made me re-think how I read the Bible.

17. Jennifer Ayers made me appreciate food and be thankful that I have it.

18. Ken Sawyer.

19. Ken Sawyer’s Mustache.

20. David Esterline’s wife’s cookies.

21. Knowing that Priscilla Rodriguez is always laughing at my facebook posts and understands my existential angst and will always have a hug for me.

22. Christine Vogel has a constant and steady supply of chocolate in her office.

23. No one reads the Psalms quite like Nanette Banks.

24. Dr. Frank Thomas taught me how to preach like I was on fire and then he made us go play in the snow.

25. Joann Lindstrom has my back.

26. Deb Kapp is an awesome cook at Iron Chef.

27. Monica actually smiles, you just have to know how to make her do it.

28. Natasha thinks I’ve already graduated.

29. I sort of have teacher crushes on Bob Cathey, Ted Hiebert, Lib Caldwell, Melody Knowles, and Janaan Hashim.

30. Community meals are always better food than I have in my apartment.

31. David Crawford often confuses me and Abby Mohaupt.

32. Boundaries don’t actually exist at McCormick despite Joann Lindstrom’s attempts at educating us.

33. Kimchi and Chapchae are two of my new favorite foods.

34. After being her EA, Abby Mohaupt and I now know that Lib Caldwell drinks Diet Coke at break and her Starbucks order is a grande unsweetened passion fruit iced tea.

35. I learned more about YAV’s than I ever imagined was possible.

36. I learned that Frank Yamada used to be in a band.

37. Anna Case-Winters lets me call her A.C. Dub.

38. Ken Crews can eat ungodly amounts of fast food in one sitting.

39. Deacon retreats aren’t the same without Christine Vogel present.

And last but not least…

40. The University of Chicago has a library. Thank God, or none of my work would have ever gotten done.

Well, that’s it. There are other things I could have talked about on here, but this is all I had time for, I have to finish a project for Bob Cathey. Go figure. Graduation, here I come!

Peace – Shelley D.

Greetings McReaders! We’re back after a well deserved reading week here on the Southside of Chicago. Back to homework, reading, researching, going to weekly chapel, going to our respective meetings, and going back to class.In the next few weeks, we’re going to be looking at some of the classes that McCormick offers students. Sure, we have the typical Greek and Hebrew and we have our theology classes, but our professors go out of the way to create specialty classes and environments where students can learn, explore, and challenge themselves based on their own areas of study and expertise.

Today I want to introduce you to one of those classes (and the professor that go with it). You won’t find a class like this one at any other seminary (well, you might find one similar, but not this one!).

Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Sarah Tanzer

Welcome to Bible 440, Life Cycles of Judaism! Sarah is one of our New Testament professors here at McCormick; she also teaches classes such as Greek Exegesis and Gospels (a must take if you love some NT). The class itself is designed to look at the Jewish calendar, Jewish practices, and, you guessed it, the life cycles of Judaism. Since being in this class, we’ve learned about everything from holidays and Jewish festivals, to learning how to blow a Shofar, a ram’s horn.

First year student, Tyler Orem, practices blowing the Shofar, the ram's horn which is blown on Jewish holidays such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah

Now, it’s not about the super cool instruments and prayer shawls that we get to see in class, it’s really a class about learning where we, as Christians, come from. It’s a chance to learn more about our Jewish brothers and sisters and to gain more respect for the Jewish culture. It’s about appreciating the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Sarah even invites us into her home for a traditional Shabbat service. We are also sent out into Chicago, to visit a Synagogue of our choice (I’ll be visiting Congregation Or Chadash).

As our professor, Sarah brings a lot to the table. A practicing Jew herself, Sarah explores the class with the students (as she does in all her classes). This isn’t some class where you get a talking head for 3 hours. Nope, it’s a dialogue in which the students and professor interact in a mutual desire to learn and share information. Sarah has a love for teaching and she even makes two semesters of Greek Exegesis pretty bearable; you almost like it when you leave it! One thing that I can say, on a personal level, is that Sarah is invested in her students, and she is always around to help.

This is one of many classes that you can expect to see at McCormick. Next week, we’ll be talking about one of our Christian Education/Bible classes with Lib Caldwell and Ted Hiebert.

Have questions about more of our classes?! Contact one of our student reps in the Office of Recruitment and Admissions and we’ll be happy to tell you more!

Stay tuned to see what Wes will be bringing to the table on Thursday. Until then, happy reading!

~Shelley D.

Meet a Professor, Adjunct Jessica DeCou

Good afternoon folks! On this warm winter day I thought it’d be nice to bring you something fun. Over January Term I took this super cool class called “Theology and Pop Culture,” taught by Adjunct Professor Jessica DeCou. Our class was a pretty lively bunch from all different backgrounds (diversity? at McCormick you say?) and it was truly a pleasure learning from Jessica and all those in the class. Because I had so much fun, and I think Theology and Popular Culture is a subject worthy of attention by seminarians, I thought I’d introduce you to Jessica and have her explain why her field of study is such a big deal (plus lots of fun clips for you to watch!)

Wes: Tell us who you are and a little about yourself.

Jessica: I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago Divinity School, completing a dissertation on Karl Barth’s theology of culture and its import for the study of popular entertainment.  My hobbies include watching TV and … um…

W: What got you interested in theology/pop culture?

J: Remember Scrooged (Love that movie, by the way – Bill Murray is a rock star), when the Ghost of Christmas Past brings Bill Murray to the realization that most of his childhood memories were actually things that happened to kids on TV?  That’s me.  As a kid, I spent most of my time with TV (“television: teacher, mother, secret lover,” as Homer Simpson so rightly put it).  After school, I’d do homework while watching reruns of Three’s Company and Bosom Buddies, then later I would watch reruns of M*A*S*H or The Rockford Files with my grandpa.  To this day, I still remember the prime-time schedules for certain nights of particular seasons (e.g. 1986 CBS Mondays, 1987 NBC Thursdays, 1988 NBC Saturdays).  And, as an adult, I’ve found that there is a relevant TV theme song for every life lesson (how much better would the world be if we all just embraced the theme to Diff’rent Strokes – God bless you, Alan Thicke).

Being raised by two Pentecostal preachers did not inhibit my love of popular culture.  At church, my grandma would often take popular songs from her youth and adjust the lyrics to turn them into gospel songs.  My mother and aunt would do the same on their sheet music for love songs of the 70s and 80s.

Growing up in this kind of environment meant that I had to think theologically about popular culture from the start.

W: Here’s a three parter – You taught a class this past J-Term entitled “Theology and Pop Culture.” What does theology have to do with pop culture (or vice versa)?

J: We are all consumers of popular entertainment (and those who claim they aren’t are lying).  And so, in today’s media-saturated environment, developing critical tools for engaging pop-culture is essential not only for theologians and clergy, but for all who seek to understand the relationship between their faith commitments and their responsibilities as cultural consumers.

Moreover, I strongly believe that popular culture has unique contributions to make to human flourishing, such as encouraging play and fellowship (but I better not spoil the whole plot of my dissertation just yet).

W: What made you want to teach this class?

J: It is every doctoral student’s dream to teach his/her dissertation.  I’m just grateful McCormick was willing to give me the opportunity.

W: Why at McCormick?

J: An ongoing problem in academic theology is that this kind of work is often not very useful or relevant to clergy or their congregations. Working with the Louisville Institute has really helped me to recognize the need for regular, meaningful conversations between theologians working in the academy and theologians working in ministry (and, yes, I believe every minister is also always a theologian).  The eventual objective of even the most theoretical research is to have some practical import for the “real world” –  all theology must be, in some sense, practical theology.

So, I felt that the best way to make my own work relevant was to try to develop a course on the subject specifically with ministry students in mind.  In other words, I was hoping that the course would be just as much a learning experience for me as for the students.  And that’s exactly what happened.  It was pretty great.

W: So you’re a tv buff – what is your favorite show (or shows) on right now?

J: Too much to choose from.  Let’s see…

Breaking Bad (AMC) – because it’s not only the greatest drama on TV right now, but I also like to think of it as the darkest comedy in TV history (I was going to link to an example, but I thought better of it).

Community (NBC) – because I love me some Troy and Abed (Only YOU can help prevent Community’s cancellation6 Seasons and a Movie!!).

Parks & Rec (NBC) – because Ron Swanson, that’s why.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) – because of the implication (better not link to this one either…).

Southland (TNT) – because it sometimes gives me nightmares.

Louie (FX) – just because.

Justified (FX) – because it has the best villains on TV.  FACT.

Mad Men (AMC) – because we’re all supposed to say we like it, even when it’s boring (what?).

Cougar Town (ABC) – because penny can is the best game ever.

W: If you could only watch one tv show for the rest of your life, what would it be?

J: The questions keep getting harder!

Only one?!?!?!?!

I suppose I would probably end up choosing Deadwood (since I still watch it all the time and can’t seem to tire of it).  But I’d also have to consider something more silly and fun, like Better Off Ted.  Or maybe even Lost since, unlike the other two short-lived series, it has 120 episodes to choose from, although far too many of them feature Jack and/or Kate (they’re the worst!).

W: In class it was pretty apparent you really like both Louis C.K. and Jimmy Fallon. In a fight between them (we ask the same thing about super heroes, so why not comedians?), who would win?

J: Hmm…  Are we talking UFC, WWE, professional boxing, or just a street fight?

Jimmy Fallon’s got a lot of speed – he’s energetic and nimble.  But it seems very possible that Louis C.K. has a vast emotional caldera that could erupt at any moment.  With that in mind, I guess I’d say:

UFC = Louis C.K.; WWE = Fallon; Boxing = Fallon; Street Fight = Louis C.K.

W: Back to theology - last October you wrote an article on Zombies – what exactly do Zombies have to do with theology or religious life?

J: Zombies are an odd case – they elicit creativity and playfulness in a way unlike any other mythical/literary creature.  You have people enacting make-believe zombie apocalypses, making Amazon lists for surviving the real deal, writing legal codes for the protection of (or abolition of) zombie rights, and so on.  My favorite was the couple who killed a zombie in their wedding photos.

Surely, then, this phenomenon has theological significance, right?

So, I guess the reason I wanted to write about them was because I wanted to understand why they stimulate these very constructive human attributes.  I still haven’t figured it out, though.  My best guess is that, by forcing us to consider questions of enormous existential/ethical/theological/philosophical significance (e.g., what it means to be human, what it means to live and to die), they elicit an appreciation for human life and incite people to (as Barth would put it) “seize our limited time as a unique opportunity.”  Just a theory…

A big thanks is in order to Jessica DeCou! Thanks for having this chat and for coming to McCormick to share your research and your awesome video/game making skills! For those of you who are now craving more from Jessica, read another article from her about Karl Barth and Craig Furgeson.

Have a great weekend!

Happy Unusually Warm Thursday!

Last December, a few members of the McCormick community were invited to sit and have a chat with Different Drummers, a web-based program produced by CBS here in Chicago.

Lets have a look: Click to view (link opens in a new window!)

Melva Lowry, Angela Ryo (whom you might remember from a post last September), and Dean of Students Christine Vogel talk about what specialized ministry is and why it’s important. McCormick has a long tradition of preparing students for all aspects of ministry, including parish and specialized. Through McCormick’s unique degree programs, which include Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Discipleship Development and Master of Arts in Urban Ministry, students gain the tools necessary to become successful in anything and everything God is calling them to do!

See you next week!

Happy Wednesday McCormick Community.

So often you all get to meet our professors and students, but there are other aspects to our community, like our adjunct professors that we want to show off as well. They’re pretty awesome, especially today’s interviewee: Janaan Hashim, Esq. Janaan teaches alongside of our favorite Nesting in Beirut Theology Guru, Bob Cathey. Not only is she one of our favorites here, she’s also a lawyer (and one of the founders) of the first law firm founded by 6 Muslim women right here in Chicago, the Amal Law Group. She’s also a maker of homemade baklava, and she has a great sense of humor. Janaan also lectures wherever and whenever she can. She covers a range of topics, and I was lucky enough to go to one of her recent lectures right next door at LSTC.

Janaan plays a really important role in the life of the McCormick community. To state the obvious at this point, she’s a practicing Muslim (trust me, there’s much more to this lady than only that!). Chicago is a place rich for interfaith learning and conversation, and Janaan helps to bring that directly into our classrooms. Personally, I can attest that she has helped me, a white, Christian, Southerner, to connect with someone of another faith and to really learn. Through interaction, we get the information first hand and that’s how people make relationships and come to have a respect for one another. This is how things change and how people learn.

Now it’s time for me to stop rambling on and on about her, you come by the Religious Pluralism class on Friday mornings and meet her as well. You’ll also get another change to meet her and take a class from her and Bob Cathey this coming Spring semester as they teach a new class, Arab Reawakening. Check it out on the McCormick page for more information! Without further ado, here she is!

Please tell us your name, where you are from, and what exactly it is you do at McCormick.

My name is Janaan Hashim, I was born a mile south of the Mason-Dixon line in Cumberland, Maryland but grew up just outside the Capitol in Rockville, MD.  At McCormick, I try to keep students in my class awake Friday mornings by engaging them in thought-provoking analysis of the faith being studied that particular day, and when we go on our site visits to various houses of worship, I do my best to set a good example of being a respectful guest and learner.  And what class would draw students out of their comfortable quarters on a Friday morning?  Religious Pluralism and the Ministry.

http://www.amallaw.com/bios/janaanhashim.html

Tell us a little bit about your family.

There’s not much to be said.  My father is from Iraq, my mom is from Ohio, so I’m a Scotts-Irish Arab…reality is, if I were a horse, I’d be valuable.

As for the boring stuff, I have two older brothers and when I was young, our family included two guinea pigs, Spicey and Cutie-Pie, two rabbits, Bunny and Fredrick, and several tanks of fresh water fish.  I went to public school (thus, my weak geography skills), played the piano for nine years and trumpet for four, enjoyed photography tremendously in high school, was a member of 4-H and spent parts of my summer on the shores of the Atlantic at Ocean City, MD.  Oh, and I was a runner doing cross-country, indoor track and spring track in middle school and high school with my mom at too many meets to count, cheering me on every step of the way… no pun intended.

You are a McCormick adjunct professor, and (besides the rumor that you make some stellar baklava), we hear you are also a lawyer. What’s that all about?

Good question.  Hmmmmm, well, I had just finished meeting my goals at the high school at which I taught (journalism and desktop publishing) and was trying to determine whether I should set new goals or do something different.  My husband reminded me of my interest in continuing my higher education and suggested law.  Since my kids were in upper elementary school, I figured why not?

I was intrigued by the analytical thinking and reasoning skills that many lawyers carry, and thought that this was something I’d like to polish.  With that, my skills as an oralist also improved, thanks to both the Socratic Method and the moot court team I was on.  Through these experiences, I came to realize that when I find myself put on the spot, whether it’s the professor or a judge wanting an answer, it was either shrivel away or step-up to the challenge.  Early on, I decided I would always try the latter and not worry about being wrong, looking silly, or anything like that.  It was an incredible learning experience to say the least and one that has made me into a better person and thinker.

How did you come to teach at McCormick? What do you teach/will you be teaching?

God really works in strange ways…at least, strange to us.  It took a trip to Barcelona, Spain to get me to McCormick – talk about taking the scenic route!  I was a panelist at the 2004 Conference of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.  Among other speaking engagements, I participated in a panel discussion entitled, “The Headscarf Debate and Ultra-Secularism in Democratic Societies” in which two others and I talked about our head covering experiences.  Of course, with the other two democracies being France and Turkey, it was easy to make the US shine above the others in terms of religious freedom and expression while also expressing caution with the growth of Islamophobia.  Afterward, Professor Cathey’s daughter approached me, with Professor Cathey and his wife by her side, we talked and exchanged contact info.  That fall, Professor Cathey invited me to speak to his class that attended the Parliament, then the following year he approached me to tweak his Parliamment class so that McCormick could provide a course relating to the interfaith movement between Parliament events given the pluralistic city we live it.

Bob and I met, we discussed a few avenues for the course, and then came up with the current model that was based on a course I took in law school.  The course, Religious Pluralism and the Ministry was born, approved by the administration and has earned a steady spot in the fall as an elective.

The other course that I will also team-teach with Professor Cathey is Arab Reawakening which will be offered for the first time this spring.  It will be really interesting because we will look at Arab Christian and Arab Muslim immigrants who moved to Chicago from six specific Middle Eastern countries over the past 100 or so years, the impact they have had on the community and its impact on them, and then what kind of impact that may have had on current life in the Middle East all within the context of diaspora in the Bible and Quran.  Cool, eh?

Personally, I think it’s pretty important that we have you as a professor. You’re a practicing Muslim, and that’s something really great that you bring to the table for students to learn from and to engage with. Why do you think it is important that you are part of the McCormick community? What role do you see yourself playing (besides the obvious professor role)?

This is a great question.  Without a doubt, if I were to learn about, say, Judaism, I would be smart to go to an observing Jew or even a Rabbi, ask my questions and learn from them.  Similarly, a smart school would do the same if it chooses to offer a course that involves Islam: it would pull in someone who not only knows the faith, but feels it, breaths it, lives it.  That makes all the difference in teaching students because it brings in passion and brightens an otherwise dry topic.

The events of 9/11 propelled me into the interfaith world and, through it, I’ve realized that the only way we can undermine the nay-sayers out there who are convincing the world that faith is part of the world’s problem, is to step up to the plate and say, “No, faith is part of the solution.”  The basis of this is simple. I’ve found through my interfaith work, especially with the CPWR, that no faith calls for the annihilation of the other, no faith calls for starving the other, no faith calls for hate and violence toward the other.  I hope to bring that into my classroom and help my students see the beautiful world beyond the circle of their own faith.

In terms of role, I guess there’s a bit of helping the student realize his/her own stereotypes or prejudices of a person who doesn’t dress like them and helping the student overcome these preconceptions through my role as an educator.  It’s pretty fair to say that most of my students have had little contact with Islam, Muslim women, or an American Muslim woman.  I’ve noticed that over the course of the semester, the student shifts from seeing me as “the professor who wears the hijab” to “the prof who teaches the Religious Pluralism class.”  In essence, they, themselves, move beyond defining my scope or essence, in their view, by what they see on the exterior toward defining my scope or essence with what is deeper through what they see in class, experience on the road, learn from in debriefings after site visits, etc.

To me, the reality is that it’s a pluralistic world out there, especially in the US, and more so in Chicago.  The sooner seminarians can enlarge their comfort zone such that it includes “the other,” the better equipped they will be as religious leaders in their community.   I hope that my presence as a member of the MTS community helps with that process and that students years from now will say, “I had this professor who was Muslim, and I learned that when you go to a mosque, expect to see the wall lined with shelves filled with Qurans in the prayer area, or when a Sikh greets you with his hands clasped together, the best response is to reciprocate with the same gesture, or when you go to meditation at a Buddhist temple, expect to sit for a long time.”  So long as I’m making this a part of my students’ learning curve, then I can sleep well at night knowing that our future is a bright one.

You mentioned your involvement with the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Can you speak to that a bit?

I was first exposed to the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) in 2004 when I was invited to speak on a couple of panels at the Barcelona Parliament event.  I then stayed connected by helping with the programming of the 2009 Parliament event in the context of finding highly qualified Muslim speakers to talk on a variety of relevant and interesting issues.  In 2010, I was privileged to join their Board of Trustees.  I currently sit on the HR committee and I also served on the Site Selection Task Force Committee to determine which bid city would host the next Parliament Event in 2014.  Working with the CPWR staff, Dirk Ficca, the Executive Director (and a MTS grad!) and other trustees has been a tremendous experience and wonderful gift.

At the beginning of our reading week, you gave a lecture on the shariah at LSTC, and I hear you get a lot of requests for speaking engagements. What kinds of things do you get asked to speak about? Which one was your favorite to give?

Most of my talks involve Islam one way or the other.  Typically they address Islamophobia, eg. religious freedom in the US, the hijab, rising hate toward Muslims both at the personal level and within a legal context; women’s issues ranging from my work as a criminal defense attorney to Muslim women’s involvement in society and women’s rights in Islam; my work with Radio Islam and religion in the media; and now, as you mentioned, Shariah since it is becoming a political issue and it seems that politicians and their constituencies, including many Muslims, do not know what Shariah really is.  I really love talking about issues relating to Islam, it really lights the fire in my belly! I love informing and educating folks and seeing the light above their heads turn on as well as exploring issues with scholars and seeing my own light shine a bit brighter.

I know you’ve traveled to study Arabic. Where all have you gone and how’s that going?

I have studied classical Arabic for the past three summers in Amman, Jordan at Qasid Institute.  It’s a fabulous program and I hope to ultimately complete its five levels.  Until I found this program, learning Arabic was a great challenge and I became increasingly frustrated with the fact that, to know my faith, I have to rely on someone else’s translations, their proficiency (or lack thereof) in Arabic and English, and whatever social and personal influences they may carry when determining what English word properly translates the corresponding Arabic word.  With this handicap, libraries upon libraries filled with thousands of classical works by brilliant minds – both men and women – are closed to me; but once I learn the language, imagine, not only will those library doors be open, but I won’t need a library card to read the works!  So, with great patience, I plow forward, finding myself closer to my faith as I hear and better understand what I’m saying and reading.

Honestly, you work with Bob Cathey. How great is it to get to work with him?

I couldn’t have a better teacher to be by my side.  He has terrific patience with me, introducing me to various aspects of life in academia and the pace with which it operates.  In class, he gives me full freedom as an equal when it comes down to everything from grading to in-class analyses and discussion of students’ writings.  He has been very supportive of my interest in entering academia and provided many great ideas.  MTS is blessed to have him on board.

What is the one thing you hope your students get to walk away with when they are done with your class?

Other than my baklava?  Wow, hard to beat that.  Seriously, though, I hope they feel that their horizons have broadened, as cheesy as that sounds.  I really want my students to leave the semester saying, “I feel that I not only learned a lot, but I’m a better person now because 1) of what I learned, and 2) how I’m going to use that knowledge-base and gift that I’ve been given.”

What’s on your playlist right now?

Nothing.  Sorry, I can’t concentrate and listen to music at the same time.  You?  What’s on your playlist? (Um, I’m still listening to the Yusaf Islam CD you gave me!)

The food you hate the most?

Ugh, my mom’s split pea soup.  It’s the worst thing I ever tasted!  (and Mom knows this reality…) Thank GOD she hasn’t made this during my adult life – the memory from 35 years ago is still that painful!

If you could meet anyone, dead or alive, right now, who would it be and why (and you can’t say the Prophet!)?

Khawla bint Tha’laba.

Here’s the context:  Back in the day, one way in which divorce was possible in Arab culture was through zihar, a specific expression that reduced the wife to the status the the husband’s mother’s backside, meaning the wife was completely devoid of sensual attraction.  Under Arab custom, zihar was irrevocable and thus, it became prohibited for the husband to touch his wife, and yet she was not free of the marital bond.  It’s unknown what made Khawla’s husband, Aws ibn Samit, reject Khawla with this vulgar expression, but when it happened, she was stuck without any ability to override such norms and customs.  So she decided to take her concerns to a higher power – to God.

When Khawla approached the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) to complain of the injustice fallen upon her, she left dissatisfied because, as the Prophet explained, unless God revealed a new ruling, he was without authority to change existing custom; the change had to be through devine revelation, not the Prophet’s own decision.  The Prophet received no revelation on the issue, and thus, Khawla left disappointed, but not without hope.

Convinced that the custom was unjust, she continued to complain to God, and waited near His messenger.  The answer came in the first two verses of chapter 58:

“God has heard the words of she who disputes with you regarding her husband and made her complaint to God.  God hears your conversation.  Verily, God is all-Hearing, all-Seeing.

“Those of you who shun their wives by zihar – they are not their mothers.  Their mothers are only those women who gave birth to them.  Indeed they utter words that are unjust and false; but God is absolving of sins, all-Forgiving.”

With these verses, God openly confirmed what Khawla knew all along: that what her husband had done to her was unjust and needed to be prohibited by law.

Although she was an average person, like her contemporaries, she was involved in society and shaping its direction.  She fought in two significant battles and by the Prophet’s side.

Many years later after the Prophet died, she stopped the Caliph Umar while he was walking with another and started advising him.  She was an old woman, and as she was talking, the companion interrupted her, saying she was talking for too long, asking whether she knew with whom she is talking, and then saying that she was talking to the caliph. Then Umar said to his companion, “Let her talk.  Do you know her?  This is Khawla to whom God listened from above the seven heavens, and so Umar has to listen, too.”

I’d like to meet her because of this strong character and to see what life was like in the time of the Prophet and thereafter.  She had the distinction of having her complaint heard and answered by God, fought by the Prophet’s side, and honored when she was old and almost forgotten by the younger generation.  I think I’d like to see her thoughts on the current state of Muslims – seeing this week an expected five million pilgrims gathering peacefully in her hometown to worship and reflect, while at the same time looking at the nation-states that claim to be based on Islamic jurisprudence.  I doubt there would be enough tea for such a conversation!

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading short stories in Arabic, حكايات كليلة و دمية لطلاب اللغة العربية ,Tales from Kalila wa Dimna for Students of Arabic , To Kill A Mockingbird (it’s been about 25 years, what a great book!) and some of the books for class next semester.

What’s the most annoying sound you’ve ever heard?

A child’s cry that is not comforted …I’m not annoyed at the child, but at the caretaker for not comforting the child.

Wow, thanks for that Janaan! Well, there you have it my faithful readers. Just one more reason for McCormick to be proud of our adjunct professors!

Until Friday!

Peace ~ Shelley D.

Bob Dylan sang, “He who isn’t busy being born, is busy dying.”   Those words, surely a variation on Ecclesiastes 3, were relevant when he wrote them and they’re even more fitting today.    They’re a call and a challenge to people, churches and yes, to seminaries and theological education.

Being born takes effort and time. Having given birth twice, I know full well that the process isn’t painless or easy. And in most cases, it takes a lot of time.  Do we expect a spiritual birthing process to be any easier?   We are impatient people who prefer instantaneous results for our efforts.   We are also easily discouraged when things don’t go according to plans and our preconceived expectations and wishes.   When something takes too long or, conversely, when something changes too quickly, alarm bells go off in our heads.

McCormick Theological Seminary is in the process of giving birth to something new.  We have a new president, a new sense of energy, and a diverse student body that is excited to be in the midst of a community that challenges them to grow in faith and understanding of what it means to be called to ministry in the 21st century.

The rapid shifts taking place in our churches are calling us to rethink our own place in theological education.  How do we best prepare these emerging leaders, both lay and ordained?   How do we hold the emerging future in a time of chaos, and remind people of their roots even as we open up God’s Word to them in new ways?

Some days the questions are unnerving.   But then I remember that God, who is eternal, strengthens all of us for faithful living in the midst of this birthing process.  God’s word is bringing us to new life and a new day, even though we do not yet know how long it will take or what it will look like.  God’s presence and steadfast love will call us to “keep busy being born.”

Good morning McCormick Community! Well, we’ve introduced you to some great folks in the past, but we want you to meet even more! That’s right. McCormick is made up of so many amazing people, and everyone has a different role. Today I want to introduce you to one of my former classmates and now adjunct professor, Linda Eastwood. Linda has an amazing story and I’ve asked her to share a little about herself today. She plays an important role in our community, and you should know about it!
So, tell us your name, title, and what you do at McCormick?
I’m Linda Eastwood, and my presence at McCormick is somewhat informal, but hopefully beneficial to the seminary community! My main “title” is “Coordinator of the Colombia Accompaniment Program” (more on that later) for the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF). McCormick kindly provides me with office space and facilities to do this work. Right now, I’m also adjunct small-group leader for McCormick’s PIF (Pilgrimage in Faithfulness). That’s an experience that I treasure, not least as a way to get to know new members of McCormick’s diverse student body. I particularly love working with our international students, so I joined in with much of our Summer Language Institute this year. (In past years I’ve been paid-student help; this year I helped as informal volunteer.) I’ve also done a little volunteer teaching (in McCormick’s name) at the Reformed University in Barranquilla, Colombia on “Science and Faith”, and right now I’m slated to go back early summer 2012 to teach (at their request) an introductory Old Testament course.

Rev. Linda Eastwood, Ph. D

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What was your last job/career? And how did it all get you to where you are now?
As some of you may have subtly detected from my accent, I’m originally from England. Back in my “former life” I studied physics in England and then medical-physics (Ph.D.) in Scotland, and then worked for 25 year designing medical MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), as scientist and as manager. I’ve lived in the U.S. since 1986 when I was recruited to work in Cleveland, OH. I’m a “polymath”, so a career-change wasn’t a surprise – although seminary was (despite my strong church involvement) emphatically not in my plan. Which is why, of course, I ended up studying for M.Div. at McCormick (2006-2010), and have never looked back. (God has a great sense of humor.) I took advantage of many “cross-cultural” opportunities (J-term in Egypt, courses in the Hispanic Summer Program, semester in Korea, and semester in Colombia.) I assumed that I’d end up as pastor of a cross-cultural church. God’s sense of humor showed up again, and I was called and ordained to my (officially part-time) work with Colombia Accompaniment. So – here I am!
So, tell everyone exactly what it is you do?
In my main official role, I run – on behalf of the PC(U.S.A.) – a now 7-year old program of volunteer accompaniers going to Colombia a month at a time. At the Colombians’ request, they walk in solidarity with the Presbyterian Church of Colombia (IPC – Iglesia Presbiteriana de Colombia). We are a protective and supportive presence in their work of human-rights advocacy and community-rebuilding with some of the more than 5 million Colombians displaced by violence – all in the grab to concentrate ownership of land and resources. I recruit volunteers, run orientation and discernment, and send pairs to Colombia (one of each pair must be Spanish-speaking) to be a ministry of presence under the guidance of our Colombian partners. Accompaniers come back and (we hope and encourage!) tell the story and advocate for improvements in U.S. military, trade and drug policies that so drastically affect Colombian life.
How does all of this fit into the larger community of McCormick?
So what’s all this got to do with McCormick? First, McCormick has a long history of engagement with issues of social justice, and Colombia Accompaniment is one wonderful way to live out this engagement on the international level. Second, McCormick has a partnership with the Reformed University in Barranquilla. (Dean Luis Rivera visited them this last summer to formally inaugurate this already-signed agreement.) A 2008 McCormick J-term travel-seminar in Colombia was a precursor to this partnership. The presence here of Rev. Angélica Múnera Cervera as an MTS student is a piece of our partnership. What’s more, the links between McCormick and the IPC are so strong that our Colombia friends joke about the “McCormick junta!” At the IPC’s Reformed University, the president (Rev. Milciades Pua) and the heads of the school of theology (Rev. Adelaida Jiménez) and of the research department (Rev. Milton Mejia) are all McCormick alumni. The PC(U.S.A.) has two mission co-workers as long-term accompaniers in Colombia: McCormick alumni Revs. Richard Williams and Mamie Broadhurst. Many McCormick students / alums have served as accompaniers, or are preparing to do so. My predecessor running the program, Rev. Sarah Henken, now serving in Bolivia, is another McCormick alumna. And my colleague, Rev. Shannan Vance-Ocampo, the PPF board-member for Colombia Programs, is, of course, yet another McCormick alumna! We have, then, wonderful links on which to build an even stronger partnership between McCormick and the IPC.
What are some of the hopes that you have for your ministry?
My hope is to help the IPC live out their dreams of a just and peaceful society. They see both “Reformed” education for Colombians and also increased awareness of their situation by the outside world as critical pieces of fulfilling that dream. I’d love to see McCormick faculty, students and staff become linked ever more closely to the living out of that dream, and I’d personally love to mix teaching in Colombia with teaching (in whatever form) at McCormick to help us share our stories and learn from each other in our striving to bring the peace and justice of God’s kin-dom. And somewhere in that mix, I’m trying to fit my own study of the crossover between theology/Bible/Christian-ethics and the discipline of Peace Studies. But who knows? Remember, God has a wonderful sense of humor!
Awesome Linda! Thanks again. Check back in for the rest of our adjuncts and what they do. And you can expect a follow up from Linda, we need to know how everything is going!
Until next time my friends. Peace!
Shelley D.
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