Converted at Seminary: The Top Five Reasons Theological Education Matters

[The following article was published in Presbyterians Today*. You can find the original online article here.]

I have had two conversions in my life. The first happened when I converted from my Buddhist upbringing to Christianity at 19. I quickly joined a 20,000-person megachurch and dropped out of premed to become a religion major at the nearest Christian liberal arts college. This decision was not popular in the Yamada household. I was neither a Christian nor the son of a Christian. I was a dentist’s son.

My second conversion came during seminary, where I learned that the book of Genesis presents two different creation narratives and that Christianity comprises not one but many traditions. I studied Augustine, Barth, Bonhoeffer, and, of course, Calvin. I read Walter Brueggemann, Delores Williams, Kwok Pui Lan, and Phyllis Trible. Seminary was where I found out that there was such a thing as Asian American theology and ministry. Seminary deepened my faith and sense of call and provided a supportive community. It taught me how to care for people in hospitals and in our pews, to translate theology into worship, community service, and education, and to pursue justice.

There is no question: I am a convert to theological education.

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The World Where Underdogs Win

The World Where Underdogs Win[1]

Sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette (Wilmette, IL)

Sunday following the Shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO

August 17, 2014

 

Texts: Genesis 45:1–15; Matthew 15:21–28

Our country has a history of valuing the underdog, of pulling for the one against whom all of the odds of the world are stacked.

Take, for example, Sam Gordon, a 9-year old from Salt Lake City. She was then a 60 lb. girl going up against guys almost three times her size, playing tackle football. It brings me absolute joy to watch this really fast, small girl run circles around these much bigger guys. In her first year, her rookie season, she had 232 carries, 1,911 yards, and 35 TDs. She also recorded 65 tackles on defense. To put these statistics into perspective, Eric Dickerson holds the NFL record for most rushing yards in a season at 2,105 yds. LaDanian Tomlinson holds the record for most rushing TDs in one season with 28. Both Dickerson and Tomlinson played in 16 games, Sam Gordon accomplished this in 10. Her video has become a YouTube sensation with over 5 million hits. She also became the first female football player ever to be put on a Wheaties box cover. You can see Sam Gordon’s video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdIOOY43HWs.

More recently, Mo’ne Davis, a 13-year old girl from Philly, became the first female pitcher in Little League World Series history to earn a win. She pitched a complete game shutout, allowing only two weak hits, and striking out eight. It was a dominating performance with her pitches topping out over 70 mph (equivalent to about 90-92 mph from a major-league distance).

We pull for underdogs, don’t we? Not just in sports but in life. There is something inspiring about someone who beats the odds that life has stacked against her:

  • The inner-city child who goes on to become a Rhodes scholar
  • The scientist who started life as an orphan in China
  • The survivor who beats cancer at its advanced stage
  • The immigrant’s story (and we are a nation of immigrants), where an ancestor comes with nothing but the shirt on his back before making a better way for his family in the new world.
  • The person who goes from homeless to Harvard

For good reason we pull for the underdog. Their stories inspire us, give us a narrative to face into life’s difficulties, and, in short, give us hope when at times life seems to be filled with formidable giants and insurmountable difficulties.

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The Space Between Acts 2 and Acts 10: An Ecclesiology of Text, Time, and the Holy Spirit

THE SPACE BETWEEN ACTS 2 AND ACTS 10:

AN ECCLESIOLOGY OF TEXT, TIME,

AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

Presented to the Second Ecclesiological Colloquium

Convened by Moderator of the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA), Neal Presa

Princeton, NJ

by

Frank M. Yamada

Jake: Oh yeah? Well me and the Lord. We got an understanding.
Elwood: We’re on a mission from God.

                                    ~The Blues Brothers

Of Conversions and Interruptions

The quote above comes from an iconic Chicago-based movie, The Blues Brothers, starring Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi. They are bearing witness to a calling that the two brothers’ received after their journey through the penitentiary system lands them eventually at Triple Rock Baptist Church, the Reverend Cleophus James presiding (played by James Brown). Jake and Elwood are in crisis. The orphanage where they grew up will be closed if they can’t come up with $5000. So they go to get “churched up” and cleaned up. During the gospel frenzy that ensues, they are interrupted by a literal light from heaven, from which they receive the revelation that will guide them on their calling—a calling that is summed up in two words: “THE BAND.” They must get the band back together. God interrupts. Their calling and mission become clear. Their lives and the clubs of Chicago are never quite the same.

As a Presbyterian, I understand that this type of scene, while comedic, would never have happened at First Presbyterian Church of the Midwest. Not only is the hand-clapping, dancing, shouting, and improvising that characterized this church scene inconsistent with what most deem good Reformed worship, there was also obviously no worship committee planning for this service, which was, therefore, hardly decent and in good order.

My biblical reflections on ecclesiology focus on interruptions, more precisely on the interplay between continuity and discontinuity in the narrative and life of the church—on the recovering of tradition, which is held together at the same time with disruptions from the Holy Spirit. I will argue that in our current crisis, we have privileged continuity in our current understandings of the church, and have failed to embrace the confrontational and often disruptive moments that may actually open us up to the missio Dei. Such confrontations are not mere digressions or differences of opinion regarding tradition. I would argue that these holy interruptions both challenge us to think radically different thoughts about the nature and makeup of the church, i.e., who is in and who is out, and enliven mission in the process.

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Recent Responses to Alums

I recently responded to some often asked questions from our alums regarding McCormick’s financial  status. You can see my full responses on McCormick’s CURE blog.

In short, we are not in financial distress. We have in the past and are currently seeking ways to be more financially healthy for the future–no small task in these uncertain economic times. Our model throughout most of the 20th C. was similar to seminaries across the country. We were: 1) primarily residential; 2) focused on the 3-year M.Div. degree; 3) producing professionalized clergy as the primary form of leadership for the Church; and 4) driven by a financial model that emphasized our very healthy endowment. One should be able to see that a lot has changed. How quickly and nimbly we migrate our model to address the realities of the church and higher education will be directly related to our “health” going forward. No one wants to be left behind in this rapidly changing world. Ask Borders.

Do we have challenges in front of us? Absolutely! All of theological education and higher education, in general, is in an unprecedented era of change an uncertainty. At McCormick, we are fortunate to have both enough resources to pivot and a window of time in which we can execute this pivot (or series of pivots). Personally, I look forward to trying some exciting, new things.

I am assured and energized by these two thoughts: 1) how much fun is it to be in a time where innovation is a necessity not a luxury?; and 2) in the end, our future is not dependent on our creativity or ingenuity — God is the author and finisher of our faith.

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Video and Photos of the Inauguration

The full video of the Inauguration Service is now online.

You can view it here: http://videos.mccormick.edu/. Click on the photo, and the video will start.

Photos of the Inauguration Service are also up. Thanks to Dwight Morita for his excellent photographic eye!

Photos of the distinguished panel, which was held at LSTC’s Augustana Chapel the night before, are also up.

Enjoy!

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The Inaugural Address

The View from 2040: the Futures of Theological Education

Inaugural Address at the Installation of the 10th President

of McCormick Theological Seminary

by

The Reverend Dr. Frank M. Yamada

Apostolic Church of God, Chicago, Illinois

February 9, 2012

Keep it Simple?

I have received a lot of advice over my first six months as president of McCormick Theological Seminary. I have asked for more. The most consistent counsel that I have received relates to our gathering here today. When I have asked colleagues about inauguration planning, I have heard a deafening refrain—a resounding chorus of consensus: “Keep it short. Keep it simple.” To which I respond, “I will with God’s help,” but if you have ever known a preacher who is an academic or a scholarly homilitician, then you can attest to the fact that if an inaugural address remains short then it is most definitely a powerful work of the Spirit.

There is tremendous and difficult wisdom in those words, “Keep it short. Keep it simple.” We live in world that has become overly complex. We are living in an unprecedented age, in which the flow of information comes at us with more speed, volume, and force than in any other time in human history. Economic markets have become so diverse that predicting them has become a crap shoot at best, even as world economies have also become more interdependent to the point that the collapse of one threatens the whole. Governments are teetering. Revolutions are going viral. One might say that our society is spasming, “limbs flailing and arms akimbo.”[i]

Even in theological education and our congregations we suffer from this tyranny of the complex. We have highly detailed org charts, mutli-dimensional business models, interdisciplinary analysis of our demographic data, strategic planning processes that carry on for months, and if you are Presbyterian, committee after committee after committee; and all to do what? Teach, proclaim, and live the good news? I can’t help but think that all of this complexity and hyper-activity is our wishful attempt to fend off the uncertainty that haunts us. Is it any wonder that preachers of over-simplicity or false prophets who sell hope cheaply have become such a temptation for people seeking faith today? Our world and our problems have become increasingly complex, even when we understand that “keeping it simple” doesn’t mean positing trite, easy answers.

Keep it short; keep it simple, but not too simple.

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Webcast of the Inauguration

Here is a URL for the webcast of the Inauguration at Apostolic Church of God in Chicago. Spread the word for those of you who can not attend the service in person. You can watch the webcast on Apostolic’s  live broadcast page. The link is here: http://acogportal.publishpath.com/ The feed will be live for the service.

We are very excited!

There will also be a designated time in the service where you will be encouraged to Tweet in your dreams and visions for theological education. Our Twitter hash tag is #mts2040

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Inaugural Address… almost

Here, as a brief sample, are the first lines from my inaugural address, which will go up shortly after its delivery on February 9th at 10:00 a.m. Keep posted for information about the Inauguration webcast if you can’t make it in person.

The View from 2040: the Futures of Theological Education

“I have received a lot of advice over my first six months as president of McCormick Theological Seminary. I have asked for more. The most consistent counsel that I have received…”

Oh, and because I was double-dog dared, I am incorporating the challenging word, “akimbo,” into my inaugural address. Wait for it. Wait for it…

Stay tuned!

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The Cultural Difference

Here are the Powerpoint slides for my adult education session last Sunday, “Reading from Cultural Spaces: the Difference that Culture Makes in Biblical Interpretation.”

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Troubling the Waters: Wading into Our Future

“Troubling the Waters: Wading into Our Future”

Sermon preached on January 8, 2012

First United Church, Oak Park

 Texts: Genesis 1:1–5; Psalm 29; Mark 1:4–11 (allusion to John 5:4)

I.  Opening Quote from the Novella by Norman MacLean, “A River Runs Through It”

  1. Quote set up:
    1. Son of a Presbyterian pastor who has two loves beyond the church: literature and fly fishing
    2. He reflects on his life and the role of water in it:

 “Now nearly all those I loved and did not understand when I was young are dead, but I still reach out to them… in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by waters.”[i]

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