The Seattle School blog, featuring the writing of students, faculty, and alumni.
We gather in a circle, hand in hand, and scan the faces of those standing in our midst. It is 8:30pm on Wednesday night, and most of us are undoubtedly feeling spent after full days of classes, work, internship and studying. And still, we gather. We take the hand of those nearest to us and we pray –
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit
With blessing behind us. With blessing before us. With blessing to our right, and blessing to our left. With blessing all around us, we journey into Christ.
With beauty behind us. With beauty before us. With beauty to our right, and beauty to our left. With beauty all around us, we journey to a holy place, indeed.
Glory to the Father, who so loved the world; the Son, who lived, died and rose again, that we might know life; and the Spirit, who births life in unexpected places.
As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever,
This is what the end of nearly every Student Leadership meeting looks like at The Seattle School, and it is how I have spent many Wednesday evenings for the past year. We are different ages, in different degree programs, from different cohorts, we are single, married, and we are here, all of us, with the shared desire of serving “our” Seattle School and Seattle-area community. What I have found during my time on Student Leadership is that as we serve our community with one another, we also find ourselves serving one another.
This past year has been marked by great loss and grief in my own life. There were, admittedly, many Wednesdays when I didn’t want to, or didn’t think I physically or emotionally could, show up to Student Leadership meetings. I was exhausted, grieved and almost certain that I had nothing to give. But, in showing up, I had the opportunity to gather at the dinner table with the other members, share stories of my grief and receive heartfelt prayers, support and words of encouragement. My deepest sense of place at this school has been found in Student Leadership, and it is through this organization where I find myself being infused with life, joy, wisdom, growth and friendship, all while strategically and prayerfully discerning how best to serve our community.
What I now know of community, through my time on Student Leadership, is that here, I am invited and desired to show up, regardless of how “chaotic” I feel. Student Leadership is not a place where the fittest come together to serve; but, instead, we show up as is, we do what we can out of our love for our school and we stand alongside, listen to, and support one another wholeheartedly along the way.
As we gather on Wednesdays to plan forums and events for the school, I have become unspeakably aware of the beauty and blessing that truly is all around me. It is a holy place, indeed.
We’re proud to see two of our alumni at TEDxIsfeld! Watch their videos below.
Hillary Augustine has been called an innovator, poet, wordsmith, cultural engineer, and financial energizer. She graduated from The Seattle School in 2007 with an MA in Counseling Psychology. In this talk, Hillary invites us to pause, to study the dots in the space between poverty and plenty, and to see what patterns emerge in seemingly disparate places.
Ronna Detrick, M.Div., is a writer, speaker, and provocateur of passionate conversation about women and faith. She graduated from The Seattle School in 2004 with her Master of Divinity. In this talk, Ronna addresses how the predominant telling of Eve’s story has determined our past and how re-imagining it can determine our future.
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be highlighting a few of our community rhythms – events and gatherings that allow our students to share life together. First up, Jorge Tovar tells us about Exhale!
I can’t help but smile when I see the remnant of luggage decorating the spaces in our building.
It is a reminder of the history that inhabits these walls. And before the luggage factory, back when the Puget waters met the western wall, a fisherman’s wharf greeted the day’s catch with open arms. This is the building that now bears our name – The Seattle School.
I smile because the allegory of a former fisherman’s wharf/luggage factory now housing grad students is not lost on me. Just like a fisherman casting his nets into the Pacific, we dive into the depths of the soul to see what can be brought to the surface. And just like a luggage maker filling his space with suitcases, we fill the building with the baggage of our hearts.
We are a group of artists, nomads, farmers, fishers of men, orphans, wanderers, prophets, & gypsies that are desperately seeking to reek of healing of grace. Our pasts chased us into this building, and I’m hoping for a future that will one-day chase us out.
This building is not an easy building to be in. It’s not normal for people to openly tote around so much baggage – let alone talk about it in a room full of aspiring therapists and pastors. We talk about meeting. We find it difficult to be in this building and hold the tension of also being out in the world, let alone finding community elsewhere. For now, we learn to be here, how can we be elsewhere too?
Mainly for it not to be called church, we named it Exhale. We sought just that. We needed a space to breathe – find rest in the midst of our work. Exhale has become my community to hold my past baggage of church & community. I never envisioned Exhale to become for me what it has – a hope, a symbol for how to live out a new way of being in community with others. To be a fisher of men and provide space to hold another’s luggage, this building reflects incarnation.
We meet bi-monthly and take turns sharing. We prepare songs to sing together. We set up microphones, chords, and a projector. We relive the times we’ve done this – set up chords, fix the sound, and set up seating. We laugh, share how much transference we have to these things, and make up a phantasmal Transference Team, just like our past churches had ushers, greeters, and praise teams. We call on this team often!
The past and the future, both welcomed to inhabit the space, as much as we can bear to share in our present. We exhale, breathe from our lungs, “we are here, I need you, be with me, can I be with you”, as chests expand and collapse. We share our stories, talk about communities we’ve failed and been failed by. We break bread, pour Welch’s juice, but communion began long before with the 6 o’clock chimes that mark our beginning. My community is a space that I can breathe with others who know of the shortness of breath we’ve come to remedy. The same aspirations we will one day go out into the world to aid.
I love Preview Weekends.
I have plenty of reasons not to. As a student worker, I spends Saturdays single-handedly covering both the library and the front desk. It’s not an incredibly heavy workload, but for those few hours I am the first resource for a steady stream of students needing anything from paperclips to paper sources.
So Preview Weekends mean current students asking for the usual assistances and the addition of prospective students in need of directions and full of questions. Preview Weekends mean I’m in the building for twice as many hours as normal Saturdays, they mean my mutt Oliver is missing his weekly outing to the dog park. Preview Weekends mean I don’t get even a page of my own research done all day.
And yet, I love the Preview Weekends.
Being at the front desk, I get to see the prospectives as they first enter. I see their hope thinly masking an underlying anxiety, and I remember my first time in this building, remember traveling three thousand thick miles to this three-story brick building that had been built up so much bigger in my mind. I remember both the ideals that brought me and the confusion that I, a woman who had planned on being a librarian, found myself studying theology. I remember noticing the urban cool of exposed brick walls from a warm seat on an overstuffed leather couch and thinking, yes, I want to study right here, in this seat.
Throughout the day I answer the questions of these maybe-someday pastors or counselors and hear myself explain all that this school aims to do, explain all that we do well, explain (with more compassion than I feel most days) where the school is struggling to do better.
Tonight, I walk through the building with many sets of eyes. I see the building as it first welcomed me. I see the classrooms on my first days, feeling like a stranger in a foreign land. I see the halls with many previous art exhibits, I see the second floor as classes and conferences and two distinct Christmas parties. I see the offices as intimidating administration, and I see the same offices as the places of mentors and friends. As I move, I’ve been flipping off light switches, but I walk without need of light. I forgot to wash my coffee mug before darkening everything, and do so quickly before leaving, in the dark, the faucet as familiar to me as if I really did live here.
The weekend is a reminiscence of the ideals that brought me here, a remembrance of the ideals the school holds, a reminder of the good work of theology, the good work of psychology, and the good work of finding their intersections. In daily life here, I tend to get tired down, to see the failings and the shortcomings, to struggle with what can be done better. I despair. But through the eyes of these visitors from across the nation, I’m reminded of the hope that is housed in this building and how far I’ve really come—it’s such a greater distance than those first three thousand miles.
My sunrise service on Easter Sunday took place at The Seattle School. With more impending due dates than I could keep track of, I chose to write papers instead of attending a morning church service. Let’s not judge here.
The decision to do homework on Easter wasn’t exactly an arduous one, anyway. I have been in the midst of a difficult season of life and was not yet past the “silence of Saturday.” Celebrating Christ’s resurrection felt like a far cry from where I stood. If you need me, you can find me in Holy Saturday; the grief, the questions, the waiting, the confusion, the silence and the mourning of a Christ who was no longer with us – or no longer with me, anyway. Lately, it has felt like I am living in one really long Holy Saturday. I’ve heard that joy comes in the morning, but I’m just not sure which morning? For me, I felt the joyful celebration of the resurrection on behalf of all of humanity but, in my own little world of Mallory, I still felt lonely and despairing. Lucky for me, loneliness and despair are the perfect combination for paper-writing. This was going to be one forgettable Easter.
With access to the closed building, because of my job at the school, I let myself in just after sunrise and set up shop at a desk on the top floor. The school was silent and dark, occupied only by me. These were favorable study conditions, but also an appropriate representation of how my relationship with God has felt lately. With my full attention focused on assignments, I began plugging away, admittedly impressed with my own productivity. A couple of hours had passed and I was making some serious progress when, suddenly, I was jolted out of my intense concentration.
Bong. Bong. Bong. The time is 9 am.
Three chimes ring throughout every level of the school on the hours of 3, 6, 9 and 12, day and night. They are intended to serve as a reminder to our community, in the midst of our day, that God is present with us in all that we do. They are a holy interruption. “Nine.Noon.Three” as the practice is often referred to at the school, has been a part of my life for nearly two years now but it was still jarring to hear those bells in that empty building on that weekend morning.
But they rang, loud and clear, at exactly 9:00 am.
My heart started racing when I heard the first bell, startled by its loud and unannounced presence. Initially, I was annoyed by the interruption; I had been making so much progress and the bells were disturbing my flow. However, as quickly as the bells sounded, they were finished, soon allowing me to return to my paper. But, by the grace of God, I couldn’t just get back to work. Truth be told, I was angry that they had rang, frustrated that they never miss a beat, even if it’s early or it’s a weekend or nobody is even there to hear them. They are faithful reminders of God’s presence and, that morning, they sounded deep into the places of my soul that wanted to stay in the darkness of Saturday. I pushed myself away from the desk, rested my head on the back of the chair, closed my eyes and exhaled deeply. Those bells are relentless. They’re often unexpected, always interrupting and they never forget to ring, even when I forget about them.
This God is relentless. She’s unexpected, full of interruptions and just keeps showing up, right when I’ve forgotten about Her or decided She must be taking the weekend off.
That morning, the bells served a greater purpose for me. They were, indeed, holy reminders of God’s presence, even in the midst of silence, loneliness and despair. Those three chimes, which continued to ring faithfully every three hours, moved me towards the joy, celebration and awe of Easter Sunday. What a sweet gift, to be reminded that as deep into the darkness of Holy Saturday I may feel, the bells still chime, and Sunday comes.
A few years ago, I was studying Colossians 1. This is a passage in which Paul talks about how in Christ all things are being reconciled to God. As I was collecting thoughts on this, I made this file on our desktop entitled, “The Reconciliation of All Things.” As I would go about other tasks on my laptop, I’d glance over and see this self-important looking file sitting there, staring at me. Two thoughts alternated through my mind: (1) that is far too grand of an idea – it’s absurd, and (2) why would anyone be satisfied with anything less?
One of the things I’ve loved about the Marriage and Family class at The Seattle School, is that when Dan and Steve talk about the goal of our relationships, they do not settle for less. As my wife and I sit in class together, we are regularly challenged to recognize that the “just-trying-to-get-by” mode isn’t what God had in mind for marriage.
Our culture often presents marriage as the mundane, final step on the path towards becoming a ‘real adult,’ but marriage is not a cure for loneliness, a status symbol, or the next logical step in the game of life. Most of us enter marriage primarily concerned with assuring our own personal happiness and safety. This is setting our sights far too low.
The purpose of marriage is more presumptuous – more radical than we might be willing to allow. It’s deeper and richer and well, intimate and mysterious.
It’s about glory.
On the first day of class, we were invited to consider how our spouse is uniquely able to “help you name the glory that God has woven into you.” It’s a staggering responsibility! Doing this well requires the death of those parts of us that do not bring glory, and this is not always an easy or pleasant process. It involves acknowledging and confessing the places where I fail in our relationship.
But as we engage this journey together, we are finding that somehow in the pain of our brokenness, there is life. As we strip away the weakness, we also are able to better name the good. We are uniquely positioned to name the goodness in each other, and call forth the person each of us was created to be – for one another, for our son, and in the world.
Why would anyone be satisfied with anything less?
Rob Bell sits with Professor Chelle Stearns at The Seattle School to discuss the present and future state of the church and theological discourse. Rob also discusses his new book, "What We Talk About When We Talk About God." They also talk on sci-fi, Rob's upcoming projects, and unicorns.
The conversation is followed up by a Q&A session. Learn more about The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology at theseattleschool.edu
Earlier this year, a memorial to rape survivors was temporarily in place in the reflection pool of the Washington Monument. The letters floated in blood red on the water’s surface, reading “I CAN’T FORGET WHAT HAPPENED BUT NO ONE ELSE REMEMBERS.” Upon encountering the image, my first thought was “Of course, that’s why we have the church.” It was only on later reflection that I realized what a strange thought that may have been. Not everyone has such an experience of the church.
Trauma, such as sexual assault or the murder of a mentor, reforms our ability to narrate an understanding of self and the world; it becomes difficult to narrate in ways that are life-giving. It is through the help of community leading us to grace that the ability to narrate is again reformed, that identity and agency are relocated. The church is a place of community that first gathered around an event of trauma and an event of grace. We first gathered because of the crucifixion and resurrection of a man from Nazareth.
And we continue to gather around that same event, and its echoes in our own lives. In the Lord’s Supper, we hear Jesus in solidarity with the rape survivor: his body, too, is broken at the beckoning of abusers. The church remembers this. The church enacts this. The church refuses to turn away from systemic abuse, exploited power, a humiliated victim, a broken body, blood prematurely poured. We won’t shield our eyes to the violence, but continue to observe it, expose it, to name evil for what it is.
So rape, along with other abuses, is not just the problem of the survivor. Every act of violence is my problem, is your problem, is the church’s problem, is God’s problem.
The church is full of people who can’t forget what happened. The church is a community that holds.
This is incredibly hopeful, painfully hopeful. If we can tolerate the remembrance of this one act of violence, we can see, hear, and hold all acts of violence. If we can see the human glory in one victim, we can narrate the glory we see in one another. If we can believe in the resurrection, the new life, given to one man, then we can hold the hope that new life is available for each survivor. We are a community of witnesses, and through our witnessing, we become agents of change, bearers of grace, affirmers of agency and embodiment.
I don’t have a clean answer for why many churches don’t do a better job of engaging trauma , especially when the entire organization is built around the remembrance of trauma. Fear and shame, I’d guess. But I will say that meaning occurs where we make it, together. And if you can’t forget what happened, please come find someone to remember with you.
Last month, Dr. Dan Allender, Dr. Derek McNeil, and Dr. Keith Anderson shared the stage to speak to Seattle-area pastors on surviving and thriving in the work of ministry. In the last of three recordings, Dr. Keith Anderson spoke on how the process of vocational discernment and clarification of calling are two of the core battlefronts to find deeper rest and greater joy in the midst of one’s daily work. As Anderson suggests, we already know more than we practice. We don’t need new words, ideas, or new theology. The temptation, especially in pastoral leadership, is always moving from simplicity to complexity, from particularity to abstraction. Rather, we must receive the invitation to trust what we already know. Jesus moves people in the other direction: back to simplicity and particularity, back to the embodiment of what we already know.