7 Ways to Survive Seminary for Students of Color

7 Ways to Survive Seminary for Students of Color

The other day I got an email from a friend on how he was getting frustrated and tired of reading books and hearing lectures on Eurocentric theology and church history. He wanted to have some color injected into his Bible college and seminary education.

It’s a story I’m all too familiar with. By the end of seminary, most people are screaming at the top of their lungs, “Let me out!” But they press on anyway because they know they have a calling and they know this is the path God has them on in order to equip them. This is even more true for those students who are of non-white ethnicity. The seminary is a far cry from their home culture and the things taught there are taught from a predominantly white historical and theological perspective. Consequently, you can feel like you are being brainwashed or indoctrinated into whiteness or at the very least just made to feel like an oddball or invisible based on the fact of your experience being different from a lot of the other students. I’ve been there. And I would have lost my mind if it weren’t for these principles working themselves out in my life intentionally or unintentionally.

1. Remember why you are there

You are there because you are called. You are there because you want to soak up the knowledge to make you effective in ministry. You are there to connect with like-minded folk who may one day partner with you in ministry. Do not let the overwhelming whiteness take you off course. Learn. Soak it in. Grow.

2. Make two sets of notes

There are two sets of notes to take. Notes for the paper you will write and notes for yourself (Shout out to MK Asante). Some things will be helpful for your academic career but other things will help as you take your seminary training back home.

3. Find the alternative books

When I first started attending Fuller Theological Seminary I had the privilege of working in the library. As I put the books back on the shelves I learned about James Cone, Gustavo Gutierrez and so many others. I began reading those books even before I started classes because they spoke from a perspective I understood and was familiar with. Just the exposure alone helped me to tackle some of the lack of diversity I was experiencing.

4. Find like-minded students

There is always, at least, a handful of students of color on any campus. If you can’t find students of color then there are many white students who understand where you are coming from. Reach out and connect. It may be the best thing you have ever done.

5. Find like-minded professors

In an attempt to make their faculties more diverse, most seminaries and Christian universities have hired at least two or three non-white professors who teach from a different perspective. Go and take their classes if you have the opportunity. If you can’t take their classes then find some way to connect with them. They understand your experience and are rooting for your success. Personally, I found Dr. Ralph Watkins and Dr. Jehu Hanciles. Just their teaching and course content helped me to not lose my mind!

6. Ask thought-provoking questions

Don’t just sit in class like a lump on a log. Ask questions—thought-provoking questions. Not solely to cause trouble. Ask questions from your unique ethnic and socio-economic perspective. It will not only bless you but also those in class around you who may be going into these contexts or just those who need to have their world expanded

7. Keep a vital and dynamic relationship with God

Last but not least, keep your eyes on Jesus. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop reading your Bible. Remember this isn’t about ethnicity. This is about God’s calling on your life.

What about you do you have any other tips to include? What was your experience in seminary like? How did you keep from losing your mind?

 

What is this Stewardship Thing Really All About?

What is this Stewardship Thing Really All About?

In church, we often hear people make reference to “being a good steward over what God has given us.” But do we really know what that means?

Many would argue that the Bible talks more about money and stewardship than almost anything else. That suggests to us that what God has to say about money is pretty important.

Yes, there are more ways of practicing stewardship than ways that involve money, but money is what people struggle with most. Let’s address God’s posture toward our finances this particular article—we’ll save parts II and III on personal finance tips and church finances for another time.

First, many Christians have an incorrect biblical understanding about money. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve simply mentioned money and a Christian said, “Don’t talk to me about money. You know the Bible says that money is the root of all evil!” Well… no, it doesn’t. First Timothy 6:10 says that “the LOVE of money is the root of all [kinds of] evil.” And that makes a big difference. Money itself isn’t evil. Money is necessary. It’s the love of money that makes people do evil things to acquire more money. Essentially, the Bible is warning us not to make money our idol or god. If Christians spend their time avoiding money conversations, how can we expect to acquire any money or manage the money we have well?

So how does the Bible say we should manage money? Luckily, Jesus gives us a parable (a short story that makes a point) about managing money! But it might not be quite what you realized when you heard it in Sunday School or heard it preached…

Matthew 25:14–30 and Luke 19:12–28 are parables about financial investment that Jesus tells to illustrate what the kingdom of God is like. Yes, you read that right. Jesus tells a story about stewardship and managing currency (fittingly called “talents,” making it translatable to non-monetary gifts as well) to illustrate what God’s rule is like. The stories have some minor differences, so I’ll stick with the more popular version in Matthew 25.

Briefly, the story goes like this: a man has three people that work for him. (We can call them servants or employees.) He leaves them five talents, two talents, and one talent, respectively, while he travels to another country. (A talent could be interpreted as a way of making money or money itself. For this, let’s just say a talent is worth $10,000.) When he comes back after a long time, the first employee now has ten talents ($100,000), the second has four talents ($40,000), and the last one gives his talent ($10,000) back to his employer. The employer rewards the two servants that made him money, but calls the other one wicked and “cast[s] the unprofitable servant into outer darkness” where it says there’ll be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30, KJV). Yeah… he sends the unprofitable “wicked” servant to (symbolic) hell.
Whoa! That’s what the kingdom of God is like? According to Jesus—yep. But let’s unpack what this story is trying to tell us. It’s not saying that if we don’t make money (for God or ourselves), we’re going to hell. It’s something much more subtle and fundamental. So here are the three reasons the employer (who presumably represents God in this parable) is upset and what God is trying to tell us.

1. “Talents” lose value over time unless you grow them.

One of the first things that any good finance class will teach you is the time value of money, which simply means that money today is worth more than the same amount in the future. For some, this concept can be hard to understand, but trust me, it’s true. Money today can be invested sooner and gain more interest, so it is always worth more if used. And that’s before we consider inflation. In telling the story, Jesus is pointing out that the talents/money/earning potential that the master gave the servants was a gift that the master expected to be used for his benefit. (Sound familiar?) Jesus is clearly indicating that humans are God’s servants and that He expects us to use our talents (monetary and non-monetary) to His benefit. (The text doesn’t say “after a long time” he “settled accounts with them” for no reason; it’s symbolic of our lifetimes (Matthew 25:19, NIV).)

2. The servant wastes the talent that the master gave him.

I did say it’s only worth more if used. That’s why the Lord was so upset—the servant didn’t use the talent he was given. That means he not only wasted the talent itself (because it is worth less now than it was when he gave it to him), but also wasted all of that time that he had the talent. Imagine how much that single talent could have grown and been enhanced, but by hiding it instead of using it, he robbed it of its value. Unfortunately, some of us are guilty of doing the same thing with God because, like the servant in the stories, we’re afraid of messing up with the talent we have. This story warns us that the way to really mess up is to hide our talents and money out of fear and not utilize them for God’s glory

3. The servant/employee doesn’t put in any effort.

The biggest tragedy of this parable is that it didn’t have to end up that way for the third servant. The master points out that even if he feared him, hiding his talent (i.e., putting his money under a mattress) was the worst thing he could’ve done with it. He says, “You could have at least put my money in the bank so that it could have gained interest!” (Credit unions are also a great option these days.) This suggestion serves to tell us that even a little growth is better than no growth. Yet for some reason, many Christians think that as long as we present God with what He gave us, we’ll be fine. Not so. If we don’t help grow God’s kingdom, even a little bit, then it is as if He had not given us any gifts or talents to begin with. Putting the money in the bank was something simple that did not take much effort; how often do we not put in the effort to speak with someone about God or to pay our tithes and give our offerings? When we don’t put in the effort required to grow what God has given us, we are being the wicked servant Jesus warned us about.

In conclusion, many Christians erroneously believe that if they had more money, they would do better with it. Others say that when they make more money, they’ll pay their tithes, yet when a raise comes, they simply spend more money and never tithe. Based on the Scripture, if we did a better job of managing the little that we had, not only would we have more as a result of our good stewardship, but God would bless us with more. This is what I believe Jesus means when He says, “For whoever has will be given more … Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them” (Matthew 25:29, NIV). To God, if we don’t put forth the effort to grow a little, then we won’t have the “talent,” skill, or practice needed to manage something greater.

Hospitality: What the First Century Church Teaches Us About Welcoming the Stranger

Hospitality: What the First Century Church Teaches Us About Welcoming the Stranger

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2, NIV).

Have you ever known someone who never meets a stranger?

Folks who live their lives in such a way that nearly everyone they meet becomes a new friend astound me with their generosity of spirit. I admire their courage and zest for life, which compels them to embrace even those they do not know well, knowing that each creature has gifts to share with the world.

As a faith leader, when I meet folks with those sorts of spirits, I see some of the Spirit of Christ who, although divine, shared meals with the poor, sick, and sinful, laid hands on the infirm, and drew close to the crowds without reservation.

Even in His dying moment, Jesus stretched His arms wide as though embracing all of us and declared forgiveness over us because we did not realize what we were doing. Jesus is the embodiment of the grace of hospitality, and I would argue that hospitality is the biggest gift we, the body of Christ, can offer the world right now.

The Fear Factor

The current social and political climates have caused me to take a step back to examine what Scripture teaches us about welcoming strangers among us. I confess that I focus much of my time concerning myself with the sins that other people perpetrate on each other. I concentrate on the news stories about hate crimes without giving much consideration to the ways that I allow hate and fear to fuel my actions.

The truth is that fear motivates so much of what we do. Our fears prevent us from loving and practicing hospitality in the ways that our faith demands of us. In today’s social media culture, many of us have a fear of rejection. As humans, many of us also have a fear of not knowing which prevents us from meeting new people and having new experiences.

We also often have fears of being powerless that cause us to try to stay in places that make us feel powerful. We allow our fears to impede upon our ability to love.

Before turning outward and critiquing national and international leaders, I want to encourage us, especially during this introspective liturgical season called Lent, to look within to ask ourselves how we are practicing the kind of hospitality that Scripture and the example of Jesus Christ demand of us.

Love Thy Neighbor?

Many of us have learned the classic stories about hospitality in Sunday School and Sunday morning sermons.

We have heard about Abraham and Sarah, who unknowingly hosted angels who foretold the birth of Sarah’s son. In the passage from Hebrews I cited at the top of this article, the author alludes to that passage from Genesis. Despite the many admonitions throughout the Hebrew Bible to care for the foreigner, widow, and orphan, we, like the lawyer in Luke 10, often ask, “Who is my neighbor?”

In response to that question, we have heard Luke’s well-known story of the Good Samaritan who, despite his vastly different culture and faith, cared for an Israelite stranger he found injured on the side of the road. Even after hearing such a dramatic story of sacrificial love, we continue to struggle with caring for our neighbors. Perhaps my favorite aspect of the story is the way it condemns us for the times we fail to show love to people who are just like us.

We have become politically motivated to care for immigrants in recent months, as we should, but we mistreat those who sit right next to us in the pew or who share our offices at work!

Jesus tells Israelite listeners the story of an Israelite man who was robbed as he traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho. A priest passed by and walked on the opposite side of the road to avoid helping. Then, a Levite, a religious leader from the priestly tribe of Levi, passed him. Only a Samaritan, a man who was from a different culture and faith background, cared for the man.

Many commentaries have explained that the priest and the Levite probably did not interact with the victim because of concerns about ritual purity, but does that not cause us to consider our priorities? We cannot prioritize legalism over mercy and love. Here was Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, essentially urging His listeners to ritually defile themselves because mercy is at the heart of the Gospel.

The Missing Link

What the world needs from the church is for us to be the church. The time is now for us to commit ourselves to following Jesus Christ in our actions. It was the way the early Church first began to thrive.

As J. Ellsworth Kalas puts it in his book The Story Continues: The Acts of the Apostles for Today, “The Christian church was born in a time and culture when the marketplace of beliefs was crowded to its borders. Religion was everywhere … This meant that it was easy to talk religion, but also that it was difficult for the decision to get serious. No wonder, then, that the followers of Christ were known as ‘people of the Way.’”

The earliest Christians stood out, and they increased in number because they lived their Christianity; for them, it was not simply an interesting intellectual idea. They attracted converts because of their countercultural way of viewing religion as more than a list of philosophies.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provided a practical understanding of this concept in his sermon “A Knock at Midnight,” which appears in his 1963 book of sermons called Strength to Love. King preached, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state … if the church will free itself from the shackles of a deadening status quo, and, recovering its great historic mission, will speak and act fearlessly and insistently in terms of justice and peace, it will enkindle the imagination of mankind and fire the souls of men, imbuing them with a glowing and ardent love for truth, justice, and peace.”

In other words, from the Scripture we read, to the prayers we pray, to the songs we sing, our worship is real and lived and must transform us from the inside out. The church is not a place to go; the church is a thing to do. We call the physical buildings in which we worship churches, but the church is the body of Christ, at work in the world.

So, what does living our faith teach us about hospitality?

A Place Where Ministry Happens

One of my mentors in ministry began a new pastorate at the end of 2016. After examining the needs and challenges of ministry at her new church, she chose as her theme of her church “Radical Hospitality.” The new framework of thinking about the church as a place where radical hospitality happens has changed it in practical ways in just a few short months.

Church members are beginning to imagine their worship space as first and foremost a place where ministry happens. That sounds obvious, I know, but so many churches have gotten away from thinking of themselves as being ministry spaces above all else.

One of the most drastic changes she has made as pastor has been to reimagine the parsonage, the house that is owned by the church for use by pastors and their families. That house now serves a dual purpose. It is both a “meeting house” where retreats, Bible study, and meetings can occur, and it provides accommodations for the pastor and visiting ministers.

Knowing my colleague, and understanding what it means to be “radical,” I am expecting that in the months and years to come, her new ministry will continue to grow and transform to become more welcoming for all people.

It is our task, as the Samaritan did in the Gospel of Luke, to embrace all we meet. As Hebrews 13:2 reminds us, we do not know the actual identity of those we encounter each day. Scripture teaches us that if we open our hearts to the possibility, each stranger has gifts to share with us that will enhance our lives. My fellow people of the Way, let us go forward with joy to spread Christian hospitality.

Jaimie Crumley is a minister, blogger, podcaster, and ministry consultant. She blogs about race, gender, history, and Christian faith at iamfreeagent.com.

 Share your thoughts on ministry and hospitality below.

It’s Time to Take Control of Your Financial Health

It’s Time to Take Control of Your Financial Health

Recently, a co-worker shared something that enlightened me. They always used a financial counselor to advise them on various decisions that they needed to make regarding their finances and investments. However, they didn’t seem to be satisfied with the outcome of their investments.

They shared with me that, after talking in detail with their spouse, they decided to learn more about investments and the stock market. They signed up for classes and realized they could actually manage their own financial portfolio. They took charge of their investments and began to see a positive turnaround within the first few months of releasing their financial counselor.

They seemed confident about what they had learned and we’re looking forward to managing their financial portfolio in the months and years to come.

The biggest fear that many people have, is the fear of not knowing what you don’t know. That sounds odd but it is true. What you do not know about your finances, or financial health, may seem scary to some to the point of denying its existence or choosing to deal with it when things get really tough.

God desires for us to have balance in everything we do. Having the confidence to handle your finances is a commitment you have to make to yourself. Hosea 4:6 states “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge” KJV.

If people are bold enough to admit they do not know, they take the time to educate themselves in the areas that matter to them. So, why not us, children of the faith?

There are so many resources on finances. The question you need to ask yourself is, “What is my area of struggle when dealing with money?”

  • Is it a saving problem? Most likely you have not established boundaries and self-control, and you may need to set up a budget to stick to it.
  • Do you have unrealistic goals and expectations that leave you disheartened each month when you review your finances? Set goals for yourself that will boost your confidence because you are able to achieve them. This will result in becoming a better steward of your money because you have established a level of faith in yourself that you are capable of meeting goals when you set them.
  • Are you drowning in debt? Find out the exact amount that you owe so that you can establish a precise plan of tackling it.

When it comes to money, you have to be bold and face the issues head on. If you are tremendously blessed financially and have no issues with money, find ways to educate others to live in that liberty that you have been blessed to experience.

I learned a great lesson from that co-worker. What you don’t know, you can learn, and what you learn can enlighten you to make better and sound decisions that can position you financially to be in a stable place.

Are you ready to face what you don’t know about your finances? Start today. Learn something. It could serve as the trigger of change to a great financial future for you in the years to come.

When Women Strike: A Closer Look at ‘A Day Without A Woman’

When Women Strike: A Closer Look at ‘A Day Without A Woman’

March, in many ways, has become the month of women. Each year, the month is set aside to pay homage to women who have been world changers throughout history and acknowledge the impact of women on present-day society.

Within Women’s History Month is International Women’s Day, a yearly campaign that encourages solidarity on issues related to women and girls. This year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange: “a call on the masses to help forge a better working world—a more gender-inclusive world,” according to the International Women’s Day website. In the spirit of this year’s theme, women and men across the United States are encouraged to #BeBoldForChange by staying home from work.

On the heels of the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, women, men, and children came out by the millions to protest a man who has been criticized for being misogynistic, sexist, and hostile toward women and immigrants during the Women’s March in January. On February 16, a nationwide Day Without Immigrants was organized to stand in solidarity with those who are often mischaracterized as criminals, “illegals,” and over-consumers of the United States’ economic resources. This year’s “A Day Without A Woman” protest intentionally overlaps with the global International Women’s Strike and International Women’s Day during Women’s History Month.

“A Day Without A Woman” protest is a one-day international strike from paid and unpaid work and a one-day freeze on spending at non-women or minority owned businesses. Women make up nearly half of the United States’ workforce but continue to earn less than their male counterparts. The goal of the strike is “to highlight the economic power and significance that women have in the U.S. and global economies, while calling attention to the economic injustices women and gender nonconforming people continue to face.” Women and men were encouraged to wear red as a symbol of “revolutionary love and sacrifice” and participate in any way that they can.

“I have taken the day off from my 8-to-5 office career but I am also a business owner,” said Ronisha Sanders, who participated in the strike. “I have orders to fulfill and brides to meet for cake tastings as well as speaking to a young group of ladies about what it means to be a black female business owner. That is all today! I am also wearing my red in solidarity.”

“I will be participating by not buying anything and wearing red,” said Alanah Dillard, a youth and family therapist. “I am not able to stay home from work today, ­but I will be having a staff meeting and spending time addressing the importance of recognizing this month and this day.”

Like Dillard, all women and men across the country are not able to take off from work to show their support. Organizers have recognized that some workers do not have the option of refraining from work for a day, particularly those with jobs that “provide essential services” like the medical field, as well as women and men who face “economic insecurity” and literally cannot afford to lose a day of pay.

A Day Without A Woman is a testament to the major contributions of women in paid, unpaid, and unnoticed labor capacities. According to the Center for American Progress projections, a total of $21 billion (in GDP) could be lost if all women took off work for one day. Although the idea of all working women in the country staying home from work is improbable, the potential impact of the strike is not only economic.

“I work in a predominantly woman-dominated profession [mental health counseling and social services] so to have women not show up to work would make a huge difference,” Dillard said.

Education—a field typically dominated by women—has already been affected. Some public school systems such as Prince George’s County, Maryland, have closed after hundreds of teachers and school staff members requested the day off.

As young professional women, both Dillard and Sanders acknowledge the importance of A Day Without A Woman through the perspective of their livelihoods.

As a resident manager for the YMCA, Dillard works closely with young adults and has noticed the need to continue to empower women and fight for female equality and respect.

“I was told by two African American male residents, ‘I don’t have to respect you. You are a woman and you can’t get me a job unless you are a white male, so I don’t have to do anything for you.’ This is why these strikes are important. In this day, these comments are made with no hesitation—and by kids born in the 2000s.”

For Sanders, the strike and call to support women and minority businesses strike a personal chord.

“For me, this strike is a solidified push against Mr. Trump, [and a call] to be bold in pushing for change when it comes to women inequality. As a young, minority, female business owner, I pray and hope that other women know their worth and that their purpose collided with destiny,” she said. “I hope we women never question who we are. The sky is the limit. I hope that supporting women-owned business continues even after this International Women’s Day.”