a response to my graduate alma mater


I have mixed feelings about my grad school experience.

From the preliminary conversations I had when I had told them my desire to advance within higher education and eventually teach, to the program meeting midway through when it was announced that this program was ill-suited to advance within the academy–Princeton Laura, you were right–to the professor who inappropriately failed me in my last class–even though she was part of and on stage for my hooding ceremony prior to my last course–and forced me to appeal the grade, to the fact that they held my diploma hostage in Minnesota requesting a conversation about the ‘raw edges’ of my appeal, to the adviser who deleted me as a friend on facebook because I had the temerity to vigorously challenge his preferred notions online and in public, to the thousands of dollars I might as well have stuffed in a paper bag, pooped on and lit on fire invested as a something more than fairly expensive labor of love, I’m very conflicted.

Then there’s the seminary blog, hosted by admissions, where current students talk about their experiences in school and offer their educated reflections onto life. Apparently this kind of crap is a great selling point, particularly posts like this.

I do not know Jacobus de Keijzer: I did not attend classes with him and he started courses after I did. But, as Josh de K., I’ve seen him in social networks where there are mutual acquaintances. It’s a small school and it’s bound to happen. And I don’t have any ill will toward him; I don’t know him, aside from his usually thoughtful contributions elsewhere on the web.

I’m actually quite sympathetic to the gospel of the margins he refers to; the fact remains that Luke’s gospel is clearly written with this in mind and is a significant driving force behind the gospel irrespective of which of the four one might prefer.

But a gospel by, of and for the margins is not Jesus by, of and for the margins. It’s this line that makes me absolutely cringe: “My Christ is black. In his house one can hear salsa music and pick up the scent of exotic food.” It’s a throwaway line, to be sure, but even throwaway lines can crush the entirety of a stated proposition.

God forbid our vision of Christ is Asian and he enjoys a heaping boat of poutine while freestyling to the Beer Barrel Polka in a turban.

Zing boom tararrel.

The point is that the moment we begin to fashion Christ into our own image or according to our paradigmatic machinations–which is often as dogmatic as the gospel of the ‘center’ the writer refers to, paradogma, if you will; even the margins have centers–we either run the risk of coming uncomfortably close to the flawed pluralism of John Hick or at the very least fashion unto ourselves an image of Christ we choose to worship as an idol. The unintended consequence of a margin-centric gospel is not unlike the problem with cultural postmodernism at large: it still operates within a modernist construct and is still the West dictating and transposing a ‘proper’ worldview onto the rest, just in a different way. It’s un-imperialism, which is still, at its heart, imperialist, if one chooses to view it as such (for the record, I do not fully subscribe to that kind of thinking, which may or may not be part of the reason I had such difficulties in that program and in the pursuit of moving forward in my academic career.)

He closes with this: “I have spoken here from the center. What would happen if all of us, both in the center and the margin, would contextualize Jesus Christ away from our own center, I can only begin to imagine.” Aside from the run-on sentence that should have been ironed out in an undergrad comp course someplace, I can tell him exactly what would happen.

The margin would become the new center. This is what happens when we chase the wind, rather than let the ruach do the chasing.

Everything new becomes old again. I just wish I knew that before I spent thousands of dollars to learn something I already knew. All I got out of it are bills and some high-priced friends and a Pietist community that ultimately couldn’t give two craps about me or my life, or how pushed to the margins–and off the cliff into the abyss–my family has become as a result of doing business with them.

Perhaps Jesus looks like me, no?

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