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(Un)Holy Places and Displacements

By | A World on the Move, Holy Places and Displacements, Immersions, Main News | No Comments

by Latishia James, MDiv Student

Latishia is currently traveling with the Holy Places and Displacements immersion to Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.

It is now Friday morning in this part of the world; it is a little after 5:00AM to be exact. And though I had my very comfortable, super efficient gel earplugs in I heard the call to prayer. I heard it in my spirit and felt compelled to get up. I was being called to be a witness to the movement of Spirit.

On Thursday evening we crossed the Border from Jordan (the country-East Bank of the Jordan River) into Nazareth (West Bank of the Jordan). I wish that the spoken word were adequate enough to capture the degradation and humiliation that I witnessed last night. However, I do not think it is something you can truly understand unless you experience it yourself. The culture of fear and desperation that has been cultivated by the Israelis in the hearts and minds of Palestinian people is deplorable. My classmates and I were pushed, shoved, stepped on. We were perhaps seen as not only foreigners but also ignorant travelers not familiar with the brutality of the process. While I do not blame these people for their actions it was hard to be conscious that their behavior is a more product of the environment that has been created than it is a reflection of their own morality. And while I know this to be true I had to succumb to this culture along with the rest of the group in order to succeed in completing the first step in this dehumanizing process. The East Flatbush girl in me revealed herself very quickly and while it now brings me shame to admit I had no issue with accessing her in that moment; the moment where the desperation that permeated the air took hold of me.

I do not have a picture to show you. I think everyone in the group was so entrenched in attempting to process what had just happened that it didn’t even occur to us. But also I am glad I do not have a picture to show and did not think to take one, because the humiliation that Palestinian people endure going through that process is enough without some foreigner, who is presumed to be Christian, documenting it for her own consumption. I do not need some gruesome memento to remember this night, and I refuse to turn what I bore witness to into no more than entertainment, as has been done with Black Pain through the sharing of videos of our slaughter.

The contradictions that were experienced in the span of our 15-hour day are vast and yet not really contradictions at all. Rather they reflect the complexity that is the human experience quite accurately. My morning and afternoon found me immersed in some of the most sacred and spiritually rooted sites in the world. My group and I had the privilege of visiting the site that is thought to be where Jesus was baptized and then we walked down into the Jordan River; we walked through the wilderness that archaeologists and historians say John Baptist and Jesus traversed to get there. I stood in the Jordan River and felt the presence of all things holy there, I wept for the injustices and atrocities committed in this holy land in the name of man’s religion. I wept for Jesus as I thought about him willingly going to his death in the name of Justice over Empire. I wept for every agent of social transformation who dared to do the same, before and since Jesus, who were also executed by those in power. I wept for the generations of people uprooted from the land on which I was accessing through my American and presumed Christian privilege. And then when the tears stopped I renewed my promise to justice and my commitment to the vocation I am being formed for.

It took everything in me when we initially got to the checkpoint to resist intervening where I saw injustice occurring. I battled between operating under the savior complex and the (a)pathetic neo-liberalism of “this is not my responsibility.” As I stood in the lines I remembered the prayer we the group had been led to pray earlier that day:

“…May I grow in understanding of my own motives,

knowing that people often act out of their own fears.

May I be a force for replacing fear with insight…”

I know that part of my reason for being on this trip is to be a witness and share what I witness with others who may be ignorant of what is happening on this side of the world. Our fear of the “other” fuels the continuation of the decimation of a people, a fear evident in my home country of the United States. May you gain insight from my experience, may you replace it with any fear you may possess.

Welcome to Filipe Maia, PSR’s new Assistant Professor of United Methodist Studies and Leadership

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Pacific School of Religion welcomes Filipe Maia to the seminary’s faculty as its new Assistant Professor of United Methodist Studies and Leadership. Mr. Maia will begin teaching in Fall 2016.

IMG_7045Mr. Maia is currently completing his doctoral degree at Harvard Divinity School where he has focused his studies on Latin American liberation theology, contemporary finance, and temporality. His published works include a Portuguese translation of two important texts: John Wesley’s 1774 essay “Thoughts Upon Slavery” (2013) and Joerg Rieger’s book Grace Under Pressure: Negotiating the Heart of the Methodist Tradition (2012). Mr. Maia comes to PSR with a life-long membership in The Methodist Church of Brazil and a deep personal commitment to global Methodism. He will work closely with members of the California-Nevada Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and the seminary’s many United Methodist students and alums.

Pacific School of Religion Professor Odette Lockwood-Stewart, Chair of the Search Committee, said: “We are thrilled to welcome Filipe Maia, a brilliant young United Methodist scholar, to Pacific School of Religion. Filipe’s theological depth, global experience, and perspective will strengthen and bless not only our United Methodist students, staff and faculty, but all of our students, staff, faculty and alums—as well as the United Methodist connection itself.  I look forward to the contributions he will make and give thanks for the roots from which he grew.”

Warner H. Brown, Jr., Bishop of the United Methodist Church’s Western Jurisdiction, San Francisco Episcopal Area, noted that “The leadership of the California-Nevada Conference looks forward to working with Mr. Filipe Maia.  His experience of working in the church in Brazil and the United States will be a major asset in our efforts to develop principled spiritual leaders.  He brings a strong understanding of our Wesleyan ethos and the value of working with our ecumenical and inter-faith partners.”

Welcome, Professor Maia!

“Homosexuality is a Threat to Our Family and Nation”: Challenging the Korean Protestant Right’s Anti-LGBT Movement

By | Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, Events, Main News, Queering Faith | No Comments

February 18, 6:00 – 7:30pm

Badè Museum, Pacific School of Religion

1798 Scenic Ave., Berkeley, CA

Livestream Access to the Lecture will be available here 

Join us for this special lecture with Dr. Nami Kim, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. This event is co-sponsored by PSR’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, the Graduate Theological Union’s Korean Student Association & Pacific School of Religion’s Asian and Pacific Islander Program Initiative.

Experiencing the slowdown of the domestic church growth, Korean Protestant Christianity entered the phase of post-hypermasculine developmentalism. Hypermasculine developmentalism characterized  not only the society’s rapid industrialization and urbanization during the three decades of military regimes but also the “miraculous” growth of Korean Protestant Christianity from 1960s until late 1980s. The Protestant Right, a subset of Korean Protestant Christianity, resurfaced as a unified social and political force in the post-hypermasculine developmentalism period. The reemerged Protestant Right  that combines conservative evangelical/fundamentalist gendered theology with social and political conservatism, wittingly or unwittingly, engaged hegemonic masculinity by redefining, reclaiming, or reasserting it.The Protestant Right’s anti-LGBT movement has shown its reassertion of hegemonic masculinity in relation to sexual minorities and gender nonconforming people. This talk discusses the ways in which the Protestant Right has led the anti-LGBT movement in South Korea. It will specifically examine three loci of the Protestant Right’s anti-gay bashing: mass media, the grade school, and the military, and expose the complex but often hidden interplay between homophobia, heterosexism, anticommunism, and ethnocentric nationalism of conservative Korean Protestant Christianity.

Nami Kim

Nami Kim is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Kim’s research interests meet at the intersections of feminist theology, feminist theory, Asian North American religious/theological studies, and world Christianity.  Her most recent articles include “Roundtable: Asian/Asian North American Feminist Theologies” (co-authored with W. Anne Joh, publishedJournal of Feminist Studies in Religion), and her co-edited volume (with W. Anne Joh), Critical Theology against U.S. Militarism in Asia: Decolonization and Deimperialization, is forthcoming (Palgrave, 2015). She is currently working on the manuscript on the gendered politics of Korean Protestant Right. Dr. Kim served as co-chairs of the Women and Religion and the Asian North American Religion, Culture, and Society at the American Academy of Religion, and currently serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion as well as the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion.

Centers receive major grants for Nehirim LGBTQ Jewish Roundtable and Ignite Institute

By | Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, Igniting Change, Main News, Queering Faith | No Comments

Pacific School of Religion rings in 2016 with two new major grants for our centers, supporting the creation of an LGBTQ Jewish Roundtable and providing operational support to our Ignite Institute.

From our Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS):

In 2016, a new chapter of CLGS’ work begins as we add the Nehirim LGBTQ Jewish Roundtable to our family of programs. Nehirim, a Jewish LGBTQ organization founded in 2004, is closing their doors at the end of this year but have ensured that their programming will continue as part of several other organizations. CLGS is truly honored to have been asked to be one of those partners and will now be home to the Nehirim LGBTQ Jewish clergy group, which offers networking, programs, and retreats, among other things and a project on gender identity in halachic law.

The Walter & Elise Haas Fund generously agreed to provide funding for this transition and the first year of the program. This will allow us to hire a staff person for 10 hours per week to join us here at PSR and coordinate programming for Jewish LGBTQ leaders. We have also contracted with Rabbi Emily Aviva Kapor who will be doing important research about the relationship of transgender people to Jewish law. She’ll present her findings at a conference in the fall of 2016.

CLGS and Nehirim have had strong links in the past. Nehirim’s founder, Dr. Jay Michaelson, delivered CLGS’ John E. Boswell Lecture in 2014, “Queer Theology and Social Transformation: Points of Contact, Points of Conflict.” Nehirim and CLGS also worked together in 2012, with PSR hosting a gathering of transgender Jews, which is believed to have been the first retreat of its kind.

The Nathan Cummings Foundation has provided a major grant for operating funds for PSR’s Ignite Institute. The Nathan Cummings Foundation  is “rooted in the Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice, including fairness, diversity, and community. We seek to build a socially and economically just society that values nature and protects the ecological balance for future generations; promotes humane health care; and fosters arts and culture that enriches communities.”

The grant will support operational support so Ignite may fulfill its mission to provide education and training for spiritually-rooted changemakers, excavate and communicate the transformational narratives within progressive spiritual traditions, and by anchoring a network of faith communities, social justice organizations, and activists working towards economic justice.


Rev. Dr. Justin Tanis Reflects on Marriage Equality and Religious Liberty

By | Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, Main News, Queering Faith | No Comments

Rev. Dr. Justin TanisRev. Dr. Justin Tanis, Managing Director at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, answered a series of questions offered by the Rainbow Times, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. The questions and answers focus on the intersection of marriage equality and religious liberty.

The answers are presented in a four-part series by Paul P. Jesep in the Rainbow Times. The third segment was released earlier this week, and the final segment will be published in January.

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Professor Emeritus Bishop Roy I. Sano: Amid hysteria, a call for hospitality

By | A World on the Move, Main News, Migration | One Comment

BishopRoySanoDecember 3, 2015 | Oakland, California (United Methodist News Service)

Bishop Roy I. Sano, the author of the below post, is Professor Emeritus at Pacific School of Religion and a United Methodist Bishop who served in the Denver and Los Angeles Areas. An earlier version of this article was published by Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service reporter, at or (615) 742-5470.

After President Obama urged the United States to welcome some 10,000 refugees from Syria, more than 30 governors said they refused to welcome refugees in their states.

Following the Paris terrorist attacks on Nov. 12, David Bowers — the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia — urged local governments and nonprofit groups not to accept Syrian refugees.

According to the Roanoke Times, the governor appealed to the precedence of President Franklin D. Roosevelt who, Bowers said, “felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears that the threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

A flurry of protests prompted Mayor Bowers a few days later to express regret for offending people with his remarks. More than apologies for hurting people’s feelings are in order.

If we do not curb such reckless pronouncements from public figures, frightened and angry people will become violent in their war on terrorism. I can attest personally to the costs of such fear and hatred. 

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“May Peace Prevail on Earth”: Christmas Eve Special

By | Field Education, Main News | 2 Comments

Interfaith Dancers _ May Peace Prevail on Earth

This Christmas Eve, an international, interfaith celebration of peace with a special PSR connection was broadcast nationally on CBS. The United Religions Initiative, a global grassroots interfaith peacebuilding network, gathered representatives of dozens of faith traditions for a program, “May Peace Prevail on Earth.”  Watch a recording here!

Valerie Purnell

As part of her Master of Divinity degree, Pacific School of Religion student Valerie Purnell is completing her Field Education work at the United Religions Initiative. Valerie participated in the interfaith celebration at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, offering a prayer for peace during the Christmas Eve special. Valerie is also collecting stories from around the globe of community-driven peacebuilding efforts. Read an interview with Valerie below.

Additionally, members of Pacific School of Religion alumna Carla DeSola’s Omega West Dance Company performed. David McCauley (above, in blue) co-teaches with Carla through the Center for the Arts, Religion and Education at the Graduate Theological Union.

Interview with Valerie Purnell, MDiv candidate and United Religions Initiative Field Education student

Tell us about United Religions Initiative.

I’m thrilled to be able to work with United Religions Initiative. URI is a global, grassroots, interfaith peacebuilding network that works to end religiously-motivated violence. The heart of the network is Cooperation Circlesfor me, the Cooperation Circles are really the interesting part of URI.

The Cooperation Circles are composed of a minimum of seven individuals; the Circles could be hundreds of people or more, but a minimum of seven. Together, they must represent one religious tradition, one spiritual expression, and one indigenous tradition. The Circles start out on a multifaith basis and they continue to work on a multifaith basis, to address the issues that are most pressing for their local communities. They do that in addition to working to end religiously-based violence. Working together on something that everyone cares about, that’s critical to the community, can hopefully build cooperation across faiths and cultures.

What are you doing in your Field Work at URI?

There’s a pretty extensive process individuals have to go through to start a Cooperation Circle. One part of that is Cooperation Circle Profileshow the Circle came together, how the Cooperation Circle plans to work in the future, the kinds of projects they’re working on. The Profiles also describe the cultural, political, and social context within which the Circle operates. It’s really important information.

My specific work is to take rather long documents and distill them into two-page documents, while preserving detail and heart and conveying what the group wants to do in the world. The stories are really wonderful.

Can you share with us one of your favorite Cooperation Circle stories?

One of the stories we’re highlighting right now is the story of a young Iraqi woman named Zuhal Sultan. One of our Cooperation Circles, the Euphrates Institute, honored Zuhal as a visionary leader of 2015.

Zuhal decided it was important for young people in Iraq to come together and play music. So, with only a very slow internet connection, she sent out an online call to assemble what became the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq. The group brings together Sunni, Shi’a, Kurdish, Arab people; male and female. The fact that all those folks came together across those lines is unprecedented. Many of the orchestra members didn’t have backgrounds in music, so they learned to play instruments online. They auditioned over the internet. Zuhal sent out an email to find a conductor. It was inspiring to see that a young woman on her own could pull together so many people for such important work in the world.

The Euphrates Institute educates primarily Americans on the challenges in the Middle East. It’s important to the Euphrates Institute that we don’t think no one is working for peace. The Institute educates folks and provides tours. It’s headed by a young woman who is a former CIA analyst. She was working in Iraq and said, “there’s something more that I can do.” That’s a story that has a lot of wonderful pieces.

As part of your Field Work with URI, you also traveled to the Parliament of World Religions this past October. Can you tell us about that?

With the support of URI, PSR, and my own efforts, I was able to attend the Parliament of World Religions. That was an amazing opportunity to see 9,000+ people of all faith traditionsmany that I’d never heard of!coming together to offer the same message: interfaith cooperation.

People were really focusing on peace. I found it so interesting that there was no proselytizing going on. Some of the main messages were ending religiously-based violence, rights for women and girls, environmental issuesa lot of emphasis on “bringing everyone to the party,” so to speak.  There was still a lot of growth to be had; the emphasis on women and girls was not all that it needs to be. This was the first year they had a specialized focus. Those themes really fit into the work of URI and the spiritual emphasis of PSR.

You’re also involved in this interfaith Christmas special that will be airing nationally on CBS.

A big surprise to me, as a Field Ed student! There have been some folks at CBS who have been observing URI for quite some time, and this year, with everything that’s going on the world, they felt it was time for an interfaith call to peace. It’s the first time, we believe, there’s been an interfaith special of this magnitude aired on CBS. Some 98% of CBS affiliates nationally have agreed to air the special.

I had the honor of offering a prayer for peace from the Christian tradition, joining the thirteen other faith traditions, spiritual practices, and indigenous traditions that did the same. There will be prayers, candle-lighting for peace, cultural dances; people offering a very warm call for love, cooperation, peace, mutual respect. That will be happening on Christmas Eve, and it’s yet another example of a real need that people are feeling, and responding to, for mutual respect and cooperation, like many of the things we’ve touched on.

When we first started the work on the special, we had not, at that time, experienced the recent terrorist attacks; we had not experienced the uptick in hate speech; we had not experienced the rise in Islamophobia. We had not yet had governors saying “do not bring Syrians and others into our country.”

So in the midst of all of that ugliness, it’s nice that this interfaith special will be aired. It will offer a positive message, and hopefully some inspiration.

Thank you, Valerie, for your timely work as an interfaith peace builder! We’ll see you on CBS.

Thank you! I really owe it to PSR. The Field Education department is pretty phenomenal. I never imagined I would have this kind of experience.