Fellows out on the town: Grant, Rob, Adam, Sarah, Mark, Chris, Becca, Courtney
Thousands of feet up in the air right now, I will try to fill you in a bit on what this past week at the FTE Summer Conference was like. I’m grateful that I’m only flying to Seattle, as I have a few new friends who are flying to Cairo and Belfast today, and while I would love to be traveling to those locations, I don’t envy their time on planes (hope it turns out okay Becca & Anna Lisa).
The only conferences I’ve been to in the past few years, have been Youth Specialties and Emergent, where the majority of those in attendance come from Evangelical (primarily conservative) churches; the majority of the 110 students selected as FTE Fellows were from mainline backgrounds. I felt this change to be refreshing and stimulating, seeing that these young people (some of which came from such schools as Yale, Harvard, Princeton, etc) were not simply “intellectuals” but deep people of faith, passionate about the call of God and seeking justice and peace in a broken world – a far cry from how many Evangelicals like to stereotype “mainliners.” I was proud. I want to be a mainliner!
We spent time in many seminars, workshops and plenary sessions. I went to seminars on ecumenism, biblical conflict resolution, contemplative approaches to discernment and a seminar on new models of youth ministry. Dr. Miroslav Volf (Yale Divinity) and Dr. Robert Franklin (Candler School of Theology) shared both lectures and sermons with us throughout the week. Volf challenged us to keep God at the center of all, urged us to dance/theologize for an “audience of One” (the One obviously being God), and shared what it meant personally for him to consider “passing on the faith” to his sons. Franklin passionately challenged our government and said that “Post 9/11 American Christianity has a global/public-relations problem.” He shared some myths that we have bought into, quoting from Richard Hughes’ “Myths America Lives By” (myths of inequalities, innocence, etc.). Franklin called us to be public theologians, to take our theology out into the public realm and believe that change can happen (that we would be transformed non-comformists). He also reminded us of Brueggemann’s insistence that as pastors we have a “prophetic imagination.”
Franklin also quoted a Rabbi from the ’60s who said, “While few are guilty, all are responsible.” Am I guilty…probably, yes. But even more so than that, before I continue to pronounce my judgment upon others, I need to know that I am responsible. I am responsible. And what have I done…what am I doing…nothing. My friend Travis said that he believes that things are happening. He believes that if we truly…truly believe that change can happen, that walls can be broken – he believes that it will happen. That the walls of our denominations will be broken. I can only pray and hope that he is right – and I can only do…act…and call others to act; call others to justice, and peace, and mercy – believing that it is in fact a reality.
This also serves as a bit of a wake-up call to me. I have, in the past, possessed a type of false-interest in politics. I like to know just a little bit so I can have some stance on an issue, but I really don’t know much. I’m not exactly sure how I need to go about this, but I do know that I need to become much more politically-conscious if I am going to become a public theologian, if I am going to preach with a prophetic imagination, unless I’m more aware of the incredible injustices and inequalities that are happening nationally and globally – I’m basically a pretty damn annoying banging gong or a clanging cymbal.
We worshipped a few times each day together and were able to share some different worship styles from different traditions. While the majority of the liturgy was fairly typical mainline Reformed liturgy, some of our Black sisters and brothers shared some songs with us throughout the week. The last night, the worship leaders put together a Taize-like prayer service, which was an incredibly powerful time of prayer, healing and community. People came forward to light a candle, pray before a cross and to anoint each other with oil and pray prayers of blessing and healing over each other. Once again, I couldn’t help but feel the very presence of the Spirit in the room, and wonder if the “Evangelicals” wouldn’t be surprised by such an evening with all of us “liberal mainliners.”
One of the best parts of the conference was getting a chance to be with our peers, meeting the other Ministry Fellows and the other 70 Undergraduate Fellows. I met a few of my fellow Princeton students next fall and I know we are going to have a wonderful few years (Cathy is even going to try to score some tickets to see David Sedaris when he comes to Princeton in the fall) and formed some wonderful friendships with others who will attending other seminaries. Mark is going to McCormick, Sarah to Columbia (which of course, is WAY more liberal than Princeton), Becca is headed to Duke (although she’ll be visiting us up in Princeton), Courtney to Harvard, Rob to Luther, Erika to Yale and many others going everywhere else. Sarah has been involved with some Spirituality Centers in PC(USA) churches and very interested in experiential worship and the use of ancient spiritual disciplines and practices. We had some great conversations about what I’ve been doing with .bE and how I may be thinking about turning .bE into a Summer Ministry Project next summer. I know we’ll continue to have great conversations. Of course, we all want to travel with our money, and Becca’s idea of heading to the Holy Land also sounds very very appealing (how many times would you get a chance for a free trip to the Holy Lands?). Someone mentioned working with the World Council of Churches in Europe. There are so many amazing possibilities…
I was so blessed to be able to go to this conference, and as of right now, I’m definitely planning on heading back next summer to the 2005 FTE Summer Conference. If you are a FTE Fellow who was at Fuller reading this, please leave a comment about some of your thoughts and experiences from the conference as well. I would love to hear from you.