Rich Legacies

by Russell Schoch

Professors Lynn Rhodes and Fumitaka Matsuoka will retire next June. “Lynn has a pastor’s heart, and the field education program has been her parish,” summed up a long-time associate. “More than anyone else, Fumitaka held this school together during the difficult years,” according to a colleague.

DURING HER QUARTER CENTURY AT PSR, Lynn Rhodes has helped transform not only the experience of field education but also the theological understanding—and therefore the lives—of hundreds and hundreds of students. “The gift of her work,” says former student and current administrative assistant Maura Tucker (MDiv 1991), “is that she asks questions that take people deeper and deeper into their own understanding as they go about the practice of learning ministry. Under Lynn’s direction, students do lots and lots of theological reflection.”

“Without giving us answers or putting words into our mouths,” adds current MDiv student George Barnett, “she coaches us into being able to think theologically about the statements we are making. This is quite an accomplishment for the students.”

When Rhodes was in seminary, field education was mostly on-the-job training. In fact, it was called “field work,” and PSR was closed on Mondays to allow students who might have travelled hundreds of miles to work at a church on the weekend the time to return to Berkeley. This training was valuable, but it lacked an educational and reflective component. The program began to change under Sharon Thornton’s direction before Rhodes, and it was aided by Barbara Brown Zikmund, the dean here in the 1980s.

But many people, both inside and outside the program, credit Lynn Rhodes with having built one of the most thoughtful and respected field education programs in the nation, and they credit her integrity and personality—and sheer hard work—for the transformation. “I remember Lynn literally working non-stop seven days a week,” says Professor Emerita Karen Lebacqz. “She not only was administering the program, but also going into the field on weekends, guiding both the students and the churches in their joint work, and always thinking about what it means to be clergy.”

Born and raised in northern California, Lynn Rhodes was educated in Berkeley, New York City, and Boston, and worked for 14 years in New England before coming to PSR in 1983. She describes herself as “a real child of the ‘60s”—shaped by the movements for civil rights and feminism and against the Vietnam War. She was at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement in 1964, at Union Theological Seminary in New York City during the strike at nearby Columbia University in 1968, and at Harvard during the campus strike there in 1971. “My father called after that and asked, ‘Where are you going next? I want to warn them!’” she says with a laugh.

While at UC Berkeley, she joined the Wesley Foundation, the college Methodist organization that was very involved with civil rights issues in the 1960s. “The Methodist student movement was probably one of the more left-political student movements in the world at that point,” she recalls. Because of her involvement in the Methodist Church, she decided to apply to seminary, and picked nearby Pacific School of Religion.

Her first experience of PSR was not a happy one. In the fall of 1965, she attended a welcome party for the handful of women students here. “It was a tea,” Lynn recalled. “The other women were all in dresses. I arrived in my blue-jeans, with long hair and my guitar. And I sat down with this group of women in their dresses, and we had tea. I thought: What have I gotten myself into?!” She stayed briefly at PSR before transferring to Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

At Union, Lynn’s social activism continued to expand. She went to Georgia to register voters in 1967, supported the student strike at Columbia University in 1968, and became increasingly active against the Vietnam war. With classmates, she founded Student Body Presidents Against the War. During a teachers strike in New York City, she helped run Freedom Schools for children in Harlem, held in Riverside Church.

After graduation, Lynn served as director of the University Christian Movement of New England, taught at Andover-Newton Theological School and in the Women’s Studies program at Harvard Divinity School. In Boston, she was part of a campus ministry collective that shared income and lived communally.

In 1975, she moved to Boston University School of Theology as associate director of field education, hired by Robert Treese, whom she credits with initiating “almost everything that is done today in field education.” He pushed her to pursue a doctorate, and she put together an interdisciplinary program—combining American church history, sociology of religion, and Christian education—for the ThD at Boston University’s School of Theology, granted in 1983. That year, after seven years in field education at B.U., she came to Pacifi c School of Religion. She will leave PSR with a total of 32 years of experience directing fi eld education.

“One thing I like about fi eld ed is that it encompasses so many aspects of theological education and is always changing,” Rhodes said in a recent interview. text—but it’s much broader and deeper than that. Our students are practicing to become skillful for the purpose of creating more justice and compassion in the world—that’s what fi eld education is about: How do we develop the kind of leadership that allows justice and compassion to flourish?

“One of the most important things that our students develop in field ed is the ability to read contexts, to have a sense of understanding what their work is, theologically, and then being able to improvise. Another important thing that happens in fi eld ed is a discerning process. What’s exciting is to see someone light up as they discover a place for themselves that they had never thought about before—including local churches. Some students come in with no thought of serving these communities, but after they go out into fi eld education they just fall in love with these churches and their people.”

Frank Baldwin, senior pastor of Orinda Congregational Church, has worked with Rhodes since 1983, when he was a new pastor at San Lorenzo Community Church. He has been a mentor and facilitator with PSR fi eld ed students and, the past two years, has served as an adjunct professor of fi eld education. Overall, he has seen the fi eld ed program from several different perspectives. “No matter which direction I look at the program from,” he says, “I can clearly say that PSR has had a fi ne thing going with Lynn Rhodes.

“She knows and cares about every student who comes through this program, as well as all of us who work as mentors,” Baldwin says. “Lynn Rhodes has a pastor’s heart, and the fi eld education program has been her parish. There are hundreds of pastors and chaplains and professors and specialized ministers all over the country who have gone through the fi eld ed program and are grateful to Lynn for the role she has played in their professional development. She leaves an amazing legacy.”

Karen Lebacqz praises Rhodes’ capacity to be open and non-defensive, while still holding strong ideas of her own, and describes her as “a right-brained, freefl oating spirit, but very capable of thinking structurally.” Lebacqz regrets that Rhodes has not had more time to write about her experience in field education. “She has such a wealth of knowledge from the work she has done with all of the different church settings and the hundreds and hundreds of students she has guided into the field. Lynn is the only faculty member with whom every student works. Watching all of them go into these different settings has given her a wealth of practical knowledge, out of which come her incredibly insightful and creative ideas. I’ve long lamented the fact that she has not written more of her ideas down.”

After leaving PSR next spring, Rhodes does hope to complete a book on vocation. “This is continually fascinating to me,” she says. “What does it mean to think about work in the world, in the daily lives of people? That’s where they spend much of their time and energy. How does work relate to their sense of vocation?”

Rhodes says that a question asked by her former colleague, Robert McAfee Brown, in his book Saying Yes and Saying No, is the test for her own work and should be the test for all ministries today: “Does what has been attained increase or diminish the chance for children to grow up without fear, without hunger, without human diminishment?” She adds: “Our common vocation should be judged by whether it leads to the diminishment or to the flourishing of all children.”

In line with that thinking is her belief that what the church needs to do is to strongly challenge “the god that rules us all,” economic determinism. “That belief is just devastating to the world. In response, I believe the church’s job is to develop what I call a ‘theo-economic imagination.’ I think that’s one of the church’s major theological jobs.”

 

 

FUMITAKA MATSUOKA WAS BORN IN DOWNTWON TOKYO on March 10, 1943. A short while later, his family moved to the outskirts of the city. Fumitaka’s fi rst memory is from March 10, 1945, his second birthday: on that day, from a second- fl oor balcony, he watched American B-29s fi rebomb and destroy central Tokyo. “Looking back,” Matsuoka says today, “I believe this memory set the tone for my life. The old Japan was coming to an end, and the new Japan was about to emerge, and I was right there at a turning point in history, between the old and the new. Being in this in-between space has been the theme of my life ever since.”

This theme has been expressed in his writings as “liminality,” and, in terms of faith, as “a theological expression of those Christians who inhabit the translocal existence of ‘not quite being at home in one’s home.’” And it has been embodied in his life and experience. Says a colleague, Professor Emerita Karen Lebacqz: “It is from Fumitaka that I first gained an understanding of the concept of liminality—of what it means to be on the border or on the edge, on a line between communities. That in many ways is what Fumitaka is.”

An ordained minister of the Church of the Brethren, Matsuoka taught here from 1984 to 1987 and returned to serve as dean and academic vice president from 1992 to 2001. He was director of Pacifi c and Asian American Center for Theology and Strategies (PACTS) in the 1980s and has been executive director of PANA (the Institute for Leadership Development and Study of Pacifi c and Asian North American Religion) since its founding in 2000. In 2005, he was named Robert Gordon Sproul Professor of Theology at PSR, succeeding Karen Lebacqz.

His crucial contributions to PSR include helping to hold the seminary together as dean during the troubled period in the 1990s and helping build a unique and nationally recognized center for Asian American studies in theology as founding director of PANA.

Many of the key events in his liminal life occurred less by choice than by happenstance, Matsuoka says—including his theological and educational careers. Growing up in a Shin Buddhist household in Japan, Matsuoka fi rst encountered Christianity as a second grader when he saw Christian missionaries handing out leafl ets with directions to their church. Two weeks later, the eight-year-old Matsuoka decided to go to the church “and fi nd out what the heck was going on.” He was ushered into a Sunday School class, where the teacher was talking about Abraham, which to his young ears sounded like Abura, the Japanese word for “greasy ham.” “What,” he wondered, “was she talking about?”

But he returned, and he and the others were told that if they came every Sunday until Christmas they would get a surprise. Matsuoka attended until Christmas and was rewarded with a package of candies. “I thought, Well, this isn’t bad!”

His introductions to the United States and the Church of the Brethren were motivated neither by theology nor education. Just after he finished high school, his girlfriend moved with her family to Seattle. He wanted to be near her, but, as a shy teenager, he decided not to apply to a school right in Seattle. Instead, he wound up with a one-year scholarship to McPherson College, in Kansas. “I had no sense of the United States geographically, and I didn’t even know the college was affi liated with the Church of the Brethren,” he says.

Despite his original intentions (and no longer pursuing the young woman), Matsuoka wound up graduating from McPherson College and also being baptized in the Church of the Brethren. He majored in political science and planned a career in some sort of international relations work. Immediately after graduation, in 1965, he took a job as a ticket agent for Northwest Airlines at O’Hare airport in Chicago. He liked his job except for a growing discomfort over the fact that Northwest was used to fl y troops to Vietnam, a war he questioned and which was at odds with the pacifism of his church.

At this point, Matsuoka had to register for the draft, and he did so, successfully, as a conscientious objector. While he waited for his public service assignment, he heeded the suggestion of classmates from McPherson to consider seminary. “I had no intention of going into the ministry,” he recalls. “I was critical of such people because I thought many of them were parochial and didn’t understand what was going on in the world. But, at the same time, I thought it wouldn’t hurt me to know something about my church, since I had become a Christian!”

After his graduation with an MDiv from Bethany Theological Seminary in 1969, the denomination asked him to go to Ambon, in Indonesia, as part of an educational ministry. “This intrigued me,” he says, and so he and his wife spent a year in Tokyo, his fi rst extended time back in Japan, learning Indonesian. Matsuoka taught theology in Ambon for three years, and he and his wife found it an inspiring experience. “We also adopted one of the orphans on that island—our oldest son, who is himself the product of a multi-racial background: part Dutch, part Ambonese. Therefore, even our son has that ‘in-betweeness’ in his life.”

Three years later, in 1973, chance once again changed his life. He was invited to spend a year at Union Seminary in Richmond, Virginia before returning to Indonesia; but, when diffi culties came up over getting a long-term visa in order to go back to Indonesia, he decided to continue on for a PhD at Union.

His dissertation topic was contextual theology, guided by Paul Lehmann, who had just finished at Harvard and Union Theological Seminary in New York and had come to Richmond. “I decided to experiment with contextual theology within the history of Japanese Protestant Christianity—because I wanted to know more about Christianity in Japan. The only experience I had had was with candy!”

After completing his PhD, Matsuoka returned to Tokyo for two years as an assistant chaplain at International Christian University. In 1978, he came to California to take up pastoral ministry at the Church of the Brethren in East Oakland, at Foothill and 40th Street—“across the street from the national headquarters of Hell’s Angels,” he says with a smile. He served this church for six years, both in Oakland and, when the church moved, in Fremont. During this time, he remained in contact with PSR President Neely McCarter, who had been the dean at Union in Richmond when Matsuoka was a student there. Fumitaka began teaching summer session courses here in 1981.

In 1984, he was invited to join the faculty of PSR as a teacher and as director of the Pacifi c and Asian American Center for Theology and Strategies (PACTS). In 1987, Bethany called him to serve as dean, and he returned to Illinois. In 1992, PSR called him back, naming Matsuoka vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty as well as professor of theology. He served as dean for nine years, including the years when the school struggled to right itself from financial and administrative troubles.

“He held the school together,” says Jeffrey Kuan, now associate professor of Old Testament, then one of the young and untenured faculty members who were urging a new direction for the seminary. “All hell broke lose at PSR,” Kuan says, “and that was when Fumitaka really became a leader. He is very centered and low-keyed, not a fl ashy personality. And that is exactly what we needed at the time. More than anyone else, he was the glue that held this school together through the diffi cult years.”

In the late 1990s, Matsuoka and Kuan led discussions about how to address Asian and Asian American theological concerns. The result, in 2000, was the PANA Institute. Matsuoka left the dean’s offi ce to become the institute’s founding executive director, still teaching half-time.

“When he created PANA, he wanted it to be a space where Asian and Pacifi c Island people could come and be themselves,” says PANA’s program director Deborah Lee (MDiv 2004). “I think, further, that he saw PANA as a space within theological education where people could be themselves. PANA focuses on the liminal experience of Asian and Pacifi c Island communities in the diaspora. And that reflects Fumitaka. That’s who he is.”

In addition to PSR and PANA, Matsuoka has also served the wider academic community. He has been a facilitator and consultant numerous times for the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. He has served as a member of the executive committee of the Association of Theological Studies (ATS). Says ATS executive director Daniel Aleshiere: “Fumitaka has helped North American theological educators think more effectively about global presence in North America and about the proper role of North American theological education in the world.”

As a scholar, Matsuoka says that he started out doing cross-cultural studies because of who he is, because of his life story; he then gradually focused on Asian American studies of theology. “My earlier writings tend to bring Asian American voices together, either in anthologies or in my own writing. Now, I am adding my own interpretation of what is going on, and I hope to bring some originality to my understanding of Asian American theology.”

His current writing project concerns “the meaning of peoplehood in American society,” the need for a second language to accommodate the experience of Asians and other immigrants to the United States who don’t always feel at home in their new home. Matsuoka has been named the GTU Distinguished Faculty Lecturer for 2008, and he will deliver a lecture on this theme, “Learning to Speak a New Tongue: Imagining a Way that Holds People Together,” November 11, at 7 pm, on the PSR campus.

Following his retirement from PSR next June, he will continue to be engaged in Asian American theology. He has just accepted the job of editing a twovolume encyclopedia on Asian American religious cultures, to be published by ABC-CLIO. He also has invitations from universities and seminaries, including in Asia, to teach short term, and says that he plans to spend more time in his home town of Tokyo. “As you get older,” Matsuoka says, “you want to go back to where you came from.”

His stay at PSR has been highly rewarding for the seminary and for his colleagues. Jeffrey Kuan summarizes the feelings many have about his friend: “At this moment, there is no more signifi cant person than Fumitaka in the Asian American religious and theological community. His writings are well received, he provides leadership and mentors young and upcoming faculty in Asian American theology and religious studies, and he is respected in the wider theological community. Fumitaka is a very loyal person—both to friends and to institutions. And he serves both extremely well.”