Category Archives: naomi

On the end of the school year.

As the 2013-2014 school year draws to a close, I have paused to reflect on the past year. This is the first year of my life in which I have not been in school since I was three. I must say that the break from constant studying and writing has been enjoyable, although I have filled my time with many other activities, including working full-time, transitioning from one job to another, and, the cherry on top, planning a wedding.

There are some aspects of school that I miss. I miss having assigned reading, at least in part because it’s difficult to motivate myself to read books that haven’t been assigned to me (aside from novels. That’s a different story). I miss class lectures — I learned so much from my Fuller professors, and still can’t believe that I got to take classes with some of the foremost theologians in the world. I miss preaching labs, and hearing from students who will one day preach compelling and gospel-centric sermons to their congregations. I miss exegesis papers (or at least the process of sitting and wrestling with a biblical text and asking questions about it). And finally, I miss taking exams. JUST KIDDING. That last one’s a joke.

Fuller has shaped me, spiritually formed me, intellectually challenged me, and taught me the true meaning of community. As the school year draws to a close, I cannot but be grateful for this place.

Introduction to Family Ministry

I took Introduction to Family Ministry with Chap Clark during my first year at Fuller. I had no intention of doing family ministry, but part of the reason why I came to Fuller was to study youth ministry with professors such as Chap Clark, and this happened to be the first class offered with him during my seminary career. So, I registered, expecting to learn a lot from Chap but not really thinking that I would wind up doing family ministry. I loved the class. There’s a lot to be said for being in a class full of youth workers, the least of which is that no one takes themselves *too* seriously. The assignments were challenging, though–we had to write a theology of family ministry, and for our final project we had to design a family ministry. How do you develop a theology of something you’ve never actually considered as a career option?

Most of what we talked about in class were the three modes of family ministry, which are as follows:
1. Guardrails and Emergency Rooms – This mode of family ministry is most prevalent in large churches. It consists primarily of programs designed to prevent family crises (guardrails) and to work with families in crises (emergency rooms). Think: Divorce Care for Kids, Mommy and Me, Mothers of Preschoolers, etc.
2. Nuclear-Family Focused – This mode of family ministry, often found in non-denominational and “Bible” churches, is primarily focused on the nuclear family, and having parents raise up their children as disciples. Rather than excessive programming, churches who function in this mode of family ministry focus on equipping parents to raise their children well, but also assume that parents have the biblical know-how to do so.
3. The Church as Family – This mode of family ministry is most commonly found in small churches. Its goal is to treat the church body as a family. The primary focus on family ministry programming is all-church events, such as potlucks, family dinners, and so on.

Fast forward three years. Here I am, still in California, still working at Fuller, and serving as the Director of Christian Education at a small church, and much of what I do is family ministry. When you work at a small church, you interact with parents quite frequently, as it is possible to know almost every family in the congregation. Our church primarily functions within the third mode of family ministry, but we’re working on appropriating aspects of the other two. I am glad I took this class! It has been very useful.

Autumn in LA

Pumpkin Spice lattes. Boots. Falling leaves. Scarves. Apple cider. All of these things are part of autumn in LA (well, maybe not the falling leaves, and you can’t really get away with boots or scarves until almost the end of October). However, none of these things is my favorite thing about autumn in the LA area.

So, what is my favorite thing about autumn in LA? I would have to say that it is the slightly-cooler-but-not-cold weather that we get in fall.

Let me explain. I grew up in Southern California…twenty minutes east of Pasadena, to be exact. So fall weather in Pasadena is pretty much identical to fall weather where I grew up. However, I went to college on the East Coast, in rural western New York. There, fall is much colder. You can wear boots starting about September 1, and by September 15 you need a coat. Sure, the leaves change color and fall, and you can go apple-picking, and there’s nothing quite like an apple cider donut. But it gets cold, and fast!

The seasons here in Southern California are a little different. Summer doesn’t really start until July, and the heat stays through September. Fall starts in earnest in mid-October. And winter? Let’s just say that California has the most perfectly mild winters.

What’s so special about slightly-cooler-but-not-cold autumn weather? Well, one of my favorite things to do in the LA area is explore. I have a metro TAP card in my wallet, a general knowledge of the LA freeway system, and for shorter trips, a bicycle. Exploring LA in the summer is fun…but it can get pretty hot. Exploring LA in the fall? A little more temperate.

I like Southern California weather. I know it has its detractors–people who grew up someplace where it’s colder, where the leaves change color, and so on. But if you ask me? The weather here in LA is perfect in the fall.

my one online class

So, I am three weeks away from finishing all my MDiv classes, which is exciting and bittersweet simultaneously. In the course of my degree, I have taken a grand total of 36 classes…and 35 of these 36 classes took place on campus.

But, I did have one online class.

And I loved it.

Last summer I took a class called Encountering the City online. The class satisfied a ministry class requirement for the MDiv, and it was taught by Dr. Chris Accornero, who is an affiliate faculty member and who did her PhD in Intercultural Studies here. There were students in the class from Fuller’s various regional campuses, students from Fuller’s Pasadena campus, and students who were online-only students (in locations as far away as Thailand and Kenya!).

The purpose of the class was to give us tools to exegete our cities, the way we might exegete the Bible, so that we can serve the people who live in our cities better as pastors, non-profit workers, and even just as residents. To that end, we visited different church and ministry locations in our cities, wrote about these experiences, and, in some cases, got involved in some of these ministries. For example, I volunteered with Fuller’s Food Distribution (which is a food pantry for low-income residents of the city of Pasadena, including Fuller students) for several weeks over the summer. For two hours every Wednesday, I got to help set up and serve our clients. At the end of the quarter, I wrote a paper for Encountering the City about my experience as a volunteer at Fuller’s Food Distribution.

The class was set up so that we would find resources on the course Moodle page, look at these resources, and then go out into our cities to use them. Dr. Chris was responsive, kind, and insightful. She would post links to articles and videos which helped us learn how to observe situations, and to be able to begin to participate. Our assignments challenged us to think critically about the way we interact with other people in our cities.

This class also reminded me that I have a heart for the city. I hope that one day I will serve in a ministry context in an urban area. As someone who grew up in the suburbs, I have ample ministry experience in places where people have yards and fences and don’t always know their neighbors well. But I have served in urban contexts as well, and I love the energy and the connectedness of cities.

So, all of that to say that my experiences with online classes at Fuller have been great. That being said, if you are planning to become an on-campus student, I do highly recommend on-campus classes. There is something gratifying about going to school in real-time. But if you are not currently in a position where you could relocate to Pasadena or one of Fuller’s regional campuses, then I would encourage you to think about applying for admission and taking online classes. You won’t regret it.

not four and not six.

I grew up in the suburbs of LA (like super super suburban…the tallest building in my hometown was the hospital), and I have now been living in Pasadena for three years, so I consider myself to be sort of an expert on what to do and what to eat in LA. Narrowing it down to five things is tough, but I’ll do my best.

1. Going to a Dodgers game.
I LOVE the Dodgers. So much. Granted, I grew up as a baseball fan, and as a child I would read off stats to my dad from Baseball Weekly as he crunched the numbers for his fantasy baseball team. And when my family moved to Southern California in 1997, one of the first things we did was go to a Dodgers game. Now that I am at Fuller, I have found that it is easy to go on a regular basis – you can get REALLY cheap tickets on StubHub (as low as $3 or $4), and then for $3 round trip, you can ride the Metro Gold Line to Union Station and then ride the Dodger Stadium Express bus up to the stadium. At Dodger Stadium, you are surrounded by a magical sea of blue, as Dodger fans tend to go all out when they dress up for games. You can eat an all-beef Super Dodger Dog for $5 or $6 (in my opinion, it’s the best hot dog in the whole world. And I LOVE hot dogs). Then, you can sit back and watch Matt Kemp hit home runs, Clayton Kershaw throw strikeouts, and AJ Ellis cement his reputation as one of the more consistent catchers in Major League Baseball.
NOTE: There is another MLB team in the LA area – the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In my opinion, though, National League baseball > American League baseball, and I’d pick my beloved boys in blue over the Angels any day.
NOTE 2: Sometimes, during inter-league games, the Dodgers play the Angels in what is known as the Freeway Series. These are pretty much the most fun baseball games to watch ever.
2. Huntington Beach
Technically, this beach is in Orange County. But it’s worth mentioning because it has clean bathrooms, volleyball nets, food within walking distance, and, best of all, bonfire pits. My friends here at Fuller tend to use the fire pits on the city side of the beach; however, I prefer the fire pits on the stateside (they are round, and larger). It’s also super fun to park up in the residential area of Huntington Beach and then ride bikes down to the beach (this can get complicated if you are also planning to have a bonfire…but it is still doable).
3. Breakfast in Glendora at the Donut Man and Classic Coffee.
Glendora is the little town where I grew up. When I was in high school, we referred to it as Glen-bore-a, because there wasn’t a whole lot to do. What Glendora does have, though, is great breakfast. There is a great pancake place called Flappy Jack’s, but I have to say that my absolute favorite thing to eat for breakfast is a strawberry donut from Donut Man, followed by coffee from Classic Coffee. A strawberry donut is essentially a giant plain donut, cut open and filled with ripe strawberries and just the right amount of glaze. And Classic Coffee has been my favorite coffee shop ever since it opened in 2004.
4. Try lots of different churches.
I do recommend plugging into one church and serving there while you are at Fuller — it’s good to be connected to a body outside the seminary. However, it’s also great to check out all different kinds of churches, to get a sense that the body of Christ does not always have to look a particular way. I have a group of friends who I often go with to other churches on Sunday nights. We have been to Bel Air Presbyterian Church, La Canada Presbyterian Church, Mosaic Church, Christian Assembly, Pasadena Presbyterian Church, and more. Churches I have checked out on my own on Sunday mornings include Lake Avenue Church, Fellowship Monrovia, Rose City Church, New City Church LA, Occidental Presbyterian Church, and Calvary Presbyterian South Pasadena (and no, not every church in Southern California is Presbyterian…although it may seem that way).
5. Eat at Umami Burger
The two locations that I have been to are at The Grove and in Pasadena. Umami Burger is one of those things that is kind of hard to explain. They do hamburgers, but they are gourmet, pretty inexpensive, and delicious. They also have incredible shoestring fries.

Fuller is….Practical

Lately, I have been reflecting on the practicality of my MDiv program here at Fuller. A selling point of the program is that it is both academic AND practical, meaning that you take classes in biblical studies, theology, and ministry. But I think that what sets Fuller apart is the practicality inherent in the academic classes.

Let me explain. Two of my favorite classes at Fuller have been Christian Ethics, with Erin Dufault-Hunter, and Systematic Theology 1: Theology and Anthropology, with Rob Johnston. These two classes, I think, exemplify how learning can be practical.

In Erin’s Ethics class, we were not simply taught about the field of ethics. She spoke briefly about the history of the discipline, as well as major developments in ethics in the church, and gave us links to more material she had written regarding that aspect of the subject. However, we spent the vast majority of our time in her class reading from the Bible, looking at how the Bible informs different issues that surface in our culture, and then drawing conclusions. In essence, we were “doing ethics.”

Similarly, in Rob Johnston’s class, we learned how to do theology. An important aspect of systematic theology is that it is systematic. It ought to go without saying, but often systematic theology is taught as a historical overview of different theologians’ perspectives. In Rob’s class, though, we talked about different paradigms of how to do theology, and then modified those paradigms and used them to approach different topics within systematic theology – such as sin, humankind, and revelation.

These two classes were formative for me, in that rather than teaching me what to think, they taught me how to think. Whether I end up in the academy or in the church, I will need to be able to think critically, in terms of people, issues, and theology. I am grateful that my professors at Fuller have invested their time in teaching us how to do so.

My Top Five Books

1. Godric – Frederick Buechner

We read this novel about a 12th-century hermit for my Theology and Contemporary Literature class. It is easily the most poignant, heart-wrenching book I have ever read, and simultaneously it is one of the most challenging books I have ever read. The book details Godric’s spiritual journey, with brutal honesty. Godric is not afraid to speak about his struggles, of how he has failed God.
“As a man dies many times before he’s dead, so does he wend from birth to birth until, by grace, he comes alive at last.”

2. Most Moved Mover – Clark Pinnock

In this book, which I read for my Systematic Theology 1: Theology and Anthropology class, Clark Pinnock responds to the criticism he received for his first book on open theism, The Openness of God. He provides a wealth of scriptural support for openness theology. While I am not an open theist, I think that Pinnock was a crucial theological voice in his lifetime, and will continue to be influential.

3. Not The Way It’s Supposed to be: A Breviary of Sin – Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.

This was another book from Systematic Theology 1 (which was a formative class for me – I’ll probably write about it sometime). Plantinga presents a theology of sin, explaining it as “vandalism of shalom.” Sin is often a touchy subject in the church, and Plantinga treats it with gravity, encouraging the reader to live differently.

4. Birthing the Sermon: Women Preachers on the Creative Process – Jana Childers

This book is a collection of essays written by women preachers about their sermon-writing process, followed by one of their sermons. I read it for my homiletics class, and it has influenced the way that I preach. Through reading about the various approaches other preachers take with regards to interpreting a biblical text and listening faithfully to the voice of God, I was able to hone my own sermon-writing process.

5. Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror – Judith Herman

I read this book for my Pastoral Care and Abuse class. As someone who is preparing to go into full-time church ministry, I am aware that I will encounter people within the church who have suffered abuse, and I want to be equipped to help them. This book gave me insight into how people who have suffered greatly can recover. I hope to be able to aid them in this process.

An Advent Reflection on the Prophet Isaiah

This week is finals week, and I am exhausted. I have an exam tonight for my Old Testament Writings class, and an exegesis paper on Isaiah 53 and a considerable amount of exegetical work on Matthew due Friday for my Isaiah class and my Christian Ethics class, respectively.

There is so much bouncing around in my head. Most of it is theological – even the non-school-related thoughts (it’s the curse of being a seminarian, I suppose). A contributing factor is that it’s the Advent season, when we await the birth of the Christ-child and reflect upon the hope found therein. For me, Advent serves as an invitation to enter into theological reflection.

This quarter in my Isaiah exegesis class, we have talked quite a bit about the both/and nature of prophecy. An example of the importance of this is the interpretation of the fourth servant song found in Isaiah 53. The story of the suffering servant is often read as solely a direct reference to Christ and his atoning work on the cross. The problem with that type of interpretation is that it does not take into account how the words of the prophet would affect the lives of the people to whom he was prophesying when he spoke. The nature of prophecy is such that it speaks into the lives of its hearers. Even if Isaiah was prophesying as late as the 5th century BCE, it would have been another 400 years until the birth of Jesus. A repeated theme throughout the Old Testament is that God is a good God, a provider who cares for his people. A good God would not abandon his people for 400 years, leaving them with a messianic hope that none of them would live to see. Thus, we must wrestle with how to interpret this prophecy regarding the suffering servant. Brevard Childs argues that Isaiah 53 is a both/and prophecy – that it refers to an actual, unknown suffering servant who lived during the time of the prophet, and that it refers to Jesus as well.

I think about this both/and nature of prophecy during the Advent season because we often read the words of the prophet Isaiah when we light the Advent candles. At Fuller, I have wrestled with the Hebrew text of Isaiah, translating it into English (a painstaking but rewarding process!), and doing secondary reading so that I can understand the context of the prophecies. I love studying the Old Testament, and understanding how it functioned in the time before Christ’s birth. When Advent begins, though, I am reminded that the Holy Spirit speaks to me through the Old Testament today, and the words of the prophet Isaiah are relevant to me. And in this season, I am reminded of the faithfulness of God. He did not give up on his people in the 5th century BCE – he cared for them, and provided for them. He will not give up on us now. The God who led his people out of Egypt, and who settled them in the land, and who brought them out of exile in Babylon is the same God who came in human form to earth as a baby. He is the same God who redeemed humanity through his atoning work on the cross. In this Advent season, I am reminded daily of the goodness of the God we serve.

thankful for….my ethics professor

Almost every student at Fuller takes a Christian Ethics class as part of their degree. The goal of the Christian Ethics classes offered at Fuller is to teach students how to incorporate their faith into their daily lives so that they can live as witnesses to Christ. I am taking it now, with Erin Dufault-Hunter. This quarter, we have covered topics ranging from race to sexuality to the pacifism/just war theory debate. I have loved every second of the class so far – we have been approaching these topics from the lens of the New Testament, and it has been a transformative experience.

Erin is a compelling lecturer – I’m on the edge of my seat for the three-hour class period each week. She’s also easily accessible – she responds to emails, and most weeks after class she stays after to talk to students. Being in her class this quarter has been a wonderful experience, and I’m sad that we only have one class period left.

The SEMI

The SEMI is Fuller’s student newspaper. It is published bi-weekly, and each issue is thematic. So far this year we have had issues about transition, food, and the election. Coming up are issues about dating/marriage and the holidays. The SEMI editor is the one and only Randall Frederick, who works hard to make sure that each issue represents a diverse cross-section of the student body. The SEMI fosters dialogue on campus about important issues, and serves as a catalyst for change.

You can read the SEMI online.

*Disclaimer: I write on a regular basis for the SEMI.