Category Archives: mark

On the Suppression of Christmas Music

Advent (30)Now that December has come, think about the last time you went shopping, and heard the music playing over the loudspeakers. How many Christmas songs did you hear? I don’t just mean “holiday” music, of which there is no short supply. I mean songs that mention Christmas explicitly.

Some of you reading this probably expect me to argue that such songs are becoming less common in public spaces, in favor of more secular “holiday” greetings. But the fact is that, actually, I hear expressly Christmas music all the time. Not only that, but when I’m at the mall, or shopping for groceries, I hear songs that plainly tell the story of the baby Jesus, and many even tell of his mission to save the world. Undeniably Christian messages. I find that there is no shortage of Christmas to be seen and heard as December 25th draws closer.
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On Taking “Women, the Bible, and the Church”

Some of this material appeared earlier in the blog entry entitled “The Legacy of Dr. David Scholer.”

Oddly enough, I took the course I consider to have had the greatest impact on my life after I had essentially completed my MDiv.

It was the Winter of 2002, and although I had completed the coursework for my degree (excepting for the final months of Field Education), I remained connected to Fuller through my job working for the School of Theology. One of the benefits of working here is the ability to audit courses for free. In theory, you can audit up to two courses a year, but my schedule has never permitted that. Even so, I’ve been able to sit in on several courses over the years in addition to the ones I took to get my degree, and it’s a privilege I’ve always been glad to have. But I digress….
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What Does Fall Look Like at Fuller?

'Montreat 3' photo (c) 2007, flattop341 - license: asked to discuss what Fall is like at Fuller in Pasadena, it’s hard not to first think about the kind of Fall I was used to before coming to Southern California. For example, I went to college in the mountains of North Carolina, and as you can see from the picture to the left, it really is a beautiful place in the Fall. Whatever may be said about Pasadena, it doesn’t look like this….
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Some Thoughts on Knox Presbyterian Church

The first time I went to Knox Presbyterian Church, the better part of a decade ago, there were probably around 20 kids that came up front for the children’s sermon.

This fact may not seem particularly noteworthy, until I add that the entire congregation had probably less than 80 people in attendance at the time. How many churches do you know where more than a quarter of those in attendance are under 10 years old?
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So, Was It All Worth It?

Some graduates from a few years agoIt’s graduation time here at Fuller! To celebrate, my fellow bloggers and I are sharing some thoughts about our experience as students. Of course, not all of us are graduating just yet, while I actually graduated a decade ago. This fact, coupled with the different degrees we’ve worked on, will naturally lead to a variety of perspectives on what a Fuller education has meant for us.

This bears emphasizing right from the start, because this blog is set up by the admissions department, after all. We write these entries hoping that those of you who haven’t come to Fuller yet will learn more about the seminary, and that what you learn will encourage you to consider becoming a student, yourself. Just as our stories are all different, so will your own story be unique. We hope that you might see just enough of yourself in at least one of these stories that, by our having shared them, you will consider taking the leap into the time and cost of a seminary education at Fuller as being worthwhile.
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Top Ten Reasons Why Men Should Not Be Ordained

Last July, I wrote of Dr. David M. Scholer’s impact upon my life, especially in taking his course on “Women, the Bible, and the Church.” This month, the Admissions department has asked us to write about some practical element of our work here at Fuller. Naturally, my mind gravitates again to Dr. Scholer’s class, since how one thinks about, and treats, half of the human population has enormous practical implications. Since the Admissions department has recently written on the “issue” (not the best word, as the entry itself will make clear once you read it), it seems clear that I’m not the only one who thinks so. Rather than re-hash that entry from July (which you can just go back and read if you want to, anyway), I wanted to share a particular item from that class that keeps making the rounds on the Internet.
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Mark Baker-Wright’s Top 5 Books From Seminary (kinda-sorta!)

'Jiminy Cricket at Conservation Station at Rafiki's Planet Watch' photo (c) 2010, Loren Javier - license: a classic series of cartoons starting in the 1950′s, Jiminy Cricket would tell his audience: “You know how I know all of these things? I get them out of books! You can find anything you want to know from books.” That message was especially directed at young children, but it remains true throughout one’s life, and books are certainly an important part of the seminary experience for our students. This month, the Fuller bloggers have been asked to write about our top 5 books from our time in seminary. Most of our bloggers are current students, and so the expectation is that a healthy number of these will be current textbooks, but we are encouraged to consider other types of reading, as well. My own student experience was quite a while ago now (more than a decade, in fact!), so I’m having to reach especially far into the recesses of my memory. Thankfully, I’m a bit of a book pack-rat, and so still have most of my books from this time available for reference!

As I consider my own “Top 5,” I have a quick disclaimer. I am not including the Bible on this list. I do not do this because I think any other book is more important, but because “the Bible” is such a “gimmie” for a seminarian’s “top” list of books that I don’t think it should even have to be mentioned. My fellow bloggers may or may not be thinking in this vein, but I would ask that no one criticize anyone among us for any perceived failure to give the Bible its proper place. The Bible is in a category all by itself!

Enough chit-chat, here’s the list (in no particular order):

  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — It is a truth universally acknowledged, that this book (which celebrated the 200th anniversary of its publication only a few days ago) is in possession of a large number of fans, and therefore must be in want of a place on this list. ;) But seriously, although I first read this book a few years before entering seminary, it was only in the years since that I’ve come to truly appreciate it. Being male, I probably have a somewhat different set of reasons for appreciating this book than its largely-female following (although I do appreciate that Darcy, a decidedly introverted character, does prove to be “the good guy” by the end), and Austen certainly doesn’t treat religious leaders well in this book (I cannot help but refer to the Rev. Collins, whenever he appears either in print or on screen, as “the weasel,” and it has become something of a game whenever my wife and I watch one of the several versions of this story to think of new “weasely” attributes to foist upon the character). But it nonetheless has proven to be a timeless classic precisely because it details characters with timeless qualities and struggles, however time-specific the circumstances that lead to seeing those struggles play out certainly are.
  • The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright — I read this book while taking “Life of Jesus” as taught by Marianne Meye Thompson. I appreciate what the book was trying to do today more than I did back then. Back then, it actually bothered me that I should have to work through Borg’s less-than-traditional perspective. I’m not really any closer to Borg now than I was then, but its taken me the years since finishing my degree to appreciate what it takes for scholars of such differing perspectives to engage each other in a civil manner, and I therefore hold this book up as a model for the kind of dialogue that more Christians should be seeking to be a part of, whatever one’s theological views.
  • Just Peacemaking by Glen Stassen — I took Stassen’s Ethics course during my first year at Fuller, and it’s proven to be one of my paradigm-changers. Stassen is hard to pin down in easy categories of “conservative” and “liberal” and this book perhaps demonstrates why. By pushing against “just war” theory as asking the wrong questions and assuming war as viable too quickly, but suggesting that “pacifism” is too often (if incorrectly) understood as doing nothing in the face of evil, Stassen writes about the need to take concrete actions to make peace a more likely outcome. At the time I took Stassen’s class at Fuller, his departure from another (well-known, but I’ll not name them here) seminary on the grounds that he didn’t take the Bible seriously enough (because he recognizes that women can be leaders of churches) was still fairly fresh. Anyone who thinks Stassen doesn’t respect the Bible should carefully note his extensive use of the Sermon on the Mount (and Romans) as he builds his arguments in this book.
  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle — I love a good mystery, and the Holmes canon remains among the best. I think that the successful seminary student needs to be able to engage in interests that have no obvious connection to seminary study, but if connections must be found, one can hardly do better than to take in a mystery. Learning how to reason and piece together clues to determine what really happened is an activity that seminary students have to learn how to do. After all, proper interpretation of the Bible depends on understanding how words from other languages and cultures worked in their original contexts, and what circumstances not written down would have been at play in long-distant times and places. “Correct” work in theology and doctrine may be more elusive than determining who killed Julia Stoner (The Adventure of the Speckled Band), but every seminary student remains, in some sense, a detective.
  • The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember by Fred Rogers — This last one is admittedly a bit of a cheat, as it was published in 2003 (the year after I completed my MDiv!), but Mr. Rogers has always been one of my heroes, and remains the kind of person I aspire to be (however often I may fail at that). Besides the fact that he was a Presbyterian minister (ordained specifically to his television calling of ministering to the needs of children), he demonstrated a warmth and kindness to everyone he came in contact with that I can only comprehend as a small taste of the kind of love that Jesus offered to all people, no matter who and what they were (and are!). Unlike so many other “public” figures of our day, every account I’ve heard from anyone who was in contact with Mr. Rogers has maintained that the person you saw on the screen was exactly the person he was face-to-face (there have certainly been rumors to the contrary, but every one that I’ve ever seen has been debunked by reliable sources as having no basis in fact).

    On a more personal note, one of the pages from this book proved to be a source of encouragement to me as I struggled with the decision to discontinue my efforts toward ordination in favor of what I was discovering to be a different call upon my own life’s work. Here is that page (p. 188):

    When I was ordained, it was for a special ministry, that of serving children and families through television. I consider that what I do through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood is my ministry. A ministry doesn’t have to be only through a church, or even through an ordination. And I think we all can minister to others in this world by being compassionate and caring. I hope you will feel good enough about yourselves that you will want to minister to others, and that you will find your own unique ways to do that.

What books are important to you? Feel free to share them in the comments!

“Waiting” and “Preparing” for Christmas

My wife and I are in the process of moving from our apartment in Monrovia to a space in South Pasadena. After more than 8 and a half years in our current location, this move represents a definite step up for us. More space, more privacy, closer to where we work, actual laundry facilities on-site that don’t require quarters to operate…. Now we just have to get finished moving all of our things from the old place into the new one, a process that has already taken up all of our free time for the past few weeks, and which will most likely continue into the Christmas holiday. It’s not the timing we would have chosen, other things being equal, but with the housing market the way it has been lately, we knew that this was an opportunity we couldn’t let slip by. Even so, we can’t wait to be done with the moving process so we can properly enjoy our new home.
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Thankful for Black Friday

If this post looks familiar to you, it’s because the original version of it was posted on the earlier iteration of Fuller Blogs. Since those entries aren’t available via this site, it seemed okay to post it again here, with a bit of updating, for the Thanksgiving season.

There is one thing that you absolutely must understand about me if this post is to have any meaning at all: I am an introvert. Perhaps I might even be correctly characterized as “shy,” although that’s not the same thing. I really hate crowds, and don’t do particularly well at large parties. Folks who only know me through such public settings may well assume that I’m not very friendly, because I’m much more likely to just sit by myself than I am to approach a group to join a conversation. I hope that I can say with integrity that people who know me well would agree with my assertion that can be very friendly in when the setting is just a few people, but I’m sure that’s not the impression I leave people with when they first become aware of me.

Shoppers at Toronto Eaton CentreGiven my antipathy for crowds, it’s probably no great surprise that I’m not the type of person who enjoys shopping on “Black Friday” (traditionally considered the busiest shopping day of the year). Indeed, the holiday season as a whole can be a bit much. If you’re an extrovert, and therefore possibly have trouble understanding this, may I recommend this article?

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