it’s been a while

No, I’m not quoting the painfully annoying song by Staind from back in 2001, I’m simply stating the obvious, it’s been a while; or, as Kevin Garnet might say, “it’s been a minute” since I last posted anything on anewdoxology. To be specific, the last time I wrote was about three weeks ago and it was the day before I left for Haiti to film a documentary – with my friend Andrew Brown – on the realities of life in the poorest country in the western hemisphere. There were four of us (from America) in our group. They are all good friends of mine and we had an incredibly memorable and meaningful week together in Haiti.

Highlights include the baptism of our friend Partick’s son Evan (I was even asked to be his godfather…what an honor!), spending time at the beach with the family and child (Jean, 10 yrs old) I have sponsored through Compassion International since 2005 (this is the third year in a row I was able to hang out with Jean and his family, and one of my friends sponsors his little sister), and we even has the opportunity to visit the neighborhoods and homes of some of our Haitian friends while interviewing them and collecting footage for the documentary.

If you’d like to see some pictures from the trip, along with my commentary to explain what you’re looking at, here are links to a few photo albums I made public on facebook (you can view them even if you’re not on facebook, or if you are but you’re not my friend).

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The Last Semester

Today is my last first day of school EVER…probably. Let me clarify what I mean…today is the first day of spring semester at Luther Seminary, where I have been a student since 2006, and from where I will graduate and receive a master’s degree (in Theology & Pop-Culture) this coming Memorial Day weekend. I added the modifier “probably” at the end of the first sentence because I have made that statement once before in life — on my last first day of college — because I never thought I’d go back to school after getting my bachelor’s degree. But the saying goes, “never say never,” and I’d assume that whoever first said that also meant it to mean “never say ever,” since never and ever are often synonymous. I highly doubt I will go back to school again, either for another M.A. or the life-stealing Ph.D, but who knows. Never say (n)ever.

Looking back on my experiences as a seminary student so far, it’s been an interesting personal and educational adventure. Please don’t misunderstand that to mean it has been anything but a positive experience, but there’s been a lot of “stuff” involved beside just going to class and studying. For instance, it was a major life change going from working full-time at a church (and loving my job, for the most part), making decent money (relatively speaking for someone recently out of college and working at a church) and basically feeling comfortable in life (even being able to put money into savings every month) … to being a full-time student (after a three year break from school, a break I thought would last the rest of my life), making basically no money (except the small amount I made as a barista at Caribou–until I quit after only two months, and then the money I made donating plasma for a year–a job that caused my mom and many others to worry about/for me), yet still feeling relatively comfortable in my life (even though I have been stealing from myself by spending the money I put in savings to buy things like rent, gas, and of course macaroni and peanut butter & jelly).

So here I am, about to start my final semester of seminary. Four classes, an independent study and an optional audited course are all that stands between me and a piece of paper stating that I am more intelligent than I was before…supposedly. I have taken some great courses in my three semesters and two J-terms at seminary thus far, but looking at my schedule (and even reading the syllabuses, or is it syllabi? that’s a weird word, huh?) and the courses I’ll be taking over the next four months or so, I think I’m probably more excited about this semester than any of the others. The courses I’m taking sound really interesting, they’re being taught by excellent professors and if I’m able to learn even 53% of the stuff I’m hoping to, it’s going to be a great semester. I’m sure you can count on reading about some of the things I’m studying as the semester goes on, and I actually think that some of my assignments (papers, projects, videos) might end up on here. In fact, the major writing assignment for one of my classes is to create/write a blog in which I “reflect theologically on popular culture.” Done and done.

In case you’re interested, here’s a list of the courses I’m taking along with the things I’m most excited about each…

  • Singleness, Marriage and Family — the focus of this class is to develop a biblical and theological understanding that will allow me to help individuals, couples and families deal with the realities (struggles, joys and everything in between) of life, with some attention given to scientific approaches of counseling.
  • The Spirit, the Church and the Triune God — the final installment of the three core systematic theology courses, the others being “Creation and the Triune God” and “Jesus the Savior and the Triune God” (both of which I’ve already taken). In this Trilogy, there is a course focused on each part of the Trinity, and each studies what theologians throughout history have written about the Father, Son and Spirit; but then the challenge becomes turning that new knowledge into understanding and then practice for ministry and life, which is my favorite part of the class.
  • Proactive Ministry in a Media Culture — this is the course where my blog will temporarily become “homework.” The class is going to focus on issues like media literacy, social networking, religion and violence in media, the shape of education in a media culture, and the question “what is ‘real’ anymore?” We are also going to create two short videos documenting faith stories/journeys as assignments for class. The only negative thing about this class is that it meets on Monday nights during the games for my basketball league.
  • Ministry for the Sake of the World — this course serves as my senior seminar for my degree program, so much of the work will draw on writings and learning from previous courses as I attempt to bring it all together into an explainable vision/mission strategy for transformational ministry with younger people (the MTV generation) in a world influenced by pop-culture. Reading through the syllabus for this course, I was drawn to a sentence stating that the objective of the course is to “utilize a theology of hope as a compass for moving [young adult] ministry out into the world to witness to the Gospel and care for all of God’s creation.” I really like that objective. I also like the writing assignment from this course to pick either a song or a scene from a movie or TV show that has led me to feel something deeply and then (in two pages) explore why I feel the way I do when listening to (or watching) it, and what questions does this song or scene seem to ask me?
  • The Meaning Project: faith & facebook (independent study) — I mentioned this study in a previous post about social networking (I also included a video of Demetri Martin from The Daily Show). Basically, the study is an examination of how things like social networking sites, reality television, music, movies and other “texts” of pop-culture influence the faith and values of college-aged young people (18-22 year olds). To help with the project, I spent two weeks this past summer at a Bible camp interviewing counselors and conducting surveys. There’s no excuse for why I am just now working to finish the study, I guess I’ve just been lazy, but I’m excited to finally focus some time to work on it and see how it turns out.
  • Ethics I (course audit) — I am probably going to attend this class, but most likely won’t do any of the work (which means I also won’t get credit for it, which pretty much defines what it means to “audit” a class). I don’t actually need this class to graduate, but I’ve wanted to take it for a while, and since I’m already taking four classes and doing an independent study, I thought it would be better/easier to just go to class to learn what I could from lectures (and not have the pressure of doing all the reading or writing the papers). About the course, according to the academic catalog, it’s “an overview of various ways that Christians make moral arguments and decisions. The focus is on methods and models important for moral discourse and the relationship of theological ethics and its biblical, historical, and confessional sources to insights from philosophy and other disciplines.”

Well, I should probably stop writing about my classes and actually drive to campus so I’m not late for class.

trendspotting: social networking

Note:  I can no longer find this video on youtube and the one I originally used was taken off…sorry (February 27, 2008).

Before Demetri Martin received my vote for the funniest comedian in America–assuming Dave Chappelle is retired–he was the goofy “trendspotting” guy on the Daily Show (for those of you who don’t watch the Daily Show–perhaps because you prefer receiving your news from what some people might consider “legitimate” sources–trendspotting is a series of humorous and somewhat informative segments about current cultural trends). The video above first broadcast on the Daily Show back in February of 2006 and is about online social networking sites like Myspace and Facebook; because both Myspace and Facebook have grown exponentially over the last year or so, the segment is already a bit outdated – for instance, the reference to Friendster, which is another online social community that—although it may have started the whole craze—is now basically non-existent due to the incredible popularity of Myspace (110 million users) and Facebook (47 million users) [1]. I am fascinated by many aspects of the Facebook/Myspace phenomenon, so you can count on seeing posts in the future about the many different ways I see online communities influencing how people in my generation see themselves and interact with each other [2]. Newsweek has included a few articles about the differences between Facebook and Myspace over the past months and there was even a story on the CBS Evening News this past Monday on sites like Facebook (I haven’t watched it yet, but it’s still on my DVR); but for now, I thought this short video would be a great not-so-serious introduction to the topic and to the work of Demetri Martin [3].

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[1] Statistics from a Newsweek online article (November 20, 2007).

[2] I spent two weeks at a Bible camp in Wisconsin this past summer interviewing college-aged counselors to study how they make meaning amidst the influences of things like Facebook, reality TV, People magazine and other pop-culture creations. I have not had time to complete the study yet, but you can count on hearing more about it when it is finished. Right now it is called the Meaning Project: Faith & Facebook.

[3] If you like Demetri’s style of comedy, check Comedy Central’s schedule for a rerun or search youtube for last year’s comedy special “Demetri Martin. Person.” It’s a good one; very funny stuff.