Justice

Seminary 2.0

What does it mean to prepare for God’s work in today’s world? As communities expand to include not just next-door neighbors but bordering countries, the traditional seminary preparation, focused primarily on church work, preaching, and teaching, is also expanding.

Southern California, for example, “is an environment that is so in flux that you can’t just do church the way you’ve always done it,” says Helene Slessarev-Jamir, professor of urban ministries at Claremont School of Theology. “You have to be able to connect church to community.” To help students better understand the lives of the immigrant community around them, Helene created an experiential course with the U.S.-Mexico border south of Tucson, Arizona, as its classroom. To stimulate critical thinking on the theological implications of immigration, students witnessed a federal court hearing for 60-some immigrants accused of crossing the border illegally. “Within an hour they had prosecuted them all en masse. All pleaded guilty,” said Slessarev-Jamir. Later that week, the students crossed into Mexico and talked with recently deported migrants, learning about the issue in a way that the traditional classroom might never have been able to teach.

Seminary programs across the United States are rethinking what it means to “do ministry”—embracing an expanding view of the world as community and neighbor—and responding to the real needs of our ever-changing social context with innovative, intentional programs of study. Here are a few that may make you want to head back to school.

NEW 2009
Seattle Pacific University

Business and Applied Theology
Seattle, Washington

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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New and Noteworthy

Serve God, Save the Planet
Coffee, cars, chocolate, clothes—small choices we make can add up to lifestyles that are more ethical and sustainable. In Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices, Julie Clawson offers biblically based wisdom on living justly in our consumer society, starting with: “Don’t Panic.” InterVarsity Press

Melodic Pop
The 10 tracks on The Fray’s latest CD, The Fray, offer the melodic lines and moodiness fans have come to expect from the Denver-based pop band. “I found God on the corner of First and Amistad,” they sing in “You Found Me.” “Just a little late, you found me.” Epic

Love Beyond Bars
When their daughter, Carolyn, went to prison, her parents, Wesley and Marilyn, also “did time” in a sense. Learning to Sing in a Strange Land: When a Loved One Goes to Prison is Wesley’s beautiful account of how they remained connected—and hopeful—during the years of Carolyn’s sentence. Resource Publications

A Familiar Companion
Grace Notes: Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim, by Philip Yancey, pulls together thoughtful daily reflections from Yancey’s writings over the last 30 years on God, faith, prayer, and the Christian life. Zondervan

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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How to ... Find a Social Justice College

Because there are so many different facets of social justice, there’s no one formula for picking a school that values it. “I’m really interested in Latin America, so I focused on international issues,” says current undergraduate Luke Walsh-Mellett, who also “looked at mostly small schools, because they have more of a reputation for being socially aware.”

Here’s a road map for decision-making that starts the summer before you plan to apply:

Consider your goals (late summer). Is it most important to you to have classroom learning about social justice issues? To have your tuition go to an institution that is living out justice values? To be part of a community of students who share your faith and/or social values? Alternatively, to be part of a community—secular or Christian—that needs to hear your witness about the connections between faith and justice?

Ask around (early fall). Walsh-Mellett talked to friends and neighbors a few years older than himself about where they’d gone; he also visited a number of them at their schools and stayed overnight. “Talk to people about what they’re doing, what they’re studying” to get “a sense of what the school is about,” he advises.

Research student activism (fall). Look at the campus newspaper and the school’s student activities Web site to see what active student groups exist. Is there a chapter of Students Against Sweatshops, Amnesty International, or Pax Christi?

To assess institutional commitment to volunteerism, check out the percentage of federal work-study dollars (if it gets any) the college devotes to community service (www.learnandserve.gov/for_organizations/highered/fws.asp).

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A More Noble Way

Never let a problem to be solved become more important than the person to be loved. —Barbara Johnson

Immigration reform is not just a way to improve our country; it is a way to stop destroying it. Immigration is not merely a complication to be addressed; it is an injection that can bring vitality. A broken system is not just a problem; it is a piercing thorn that causes ongoing pain.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2009
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