It is interesting to reflect on this piece of writing approximately ten months after I wrote it. I later adapted this essay for the application to Princeton Theological Seminary, the school at which I am currently attending in pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree. I hope that by sharing it with others here that others may benefit from hearing my perspective on why I decided to come to seminary in case it may help them in their own walks in life.
With its powerful message of hope and restoration, Christianity offers a unique framework for addressing a variety of social issues. I believe pursuing a Master of Divinity at the Candler School of Theology (CST) would provide me with a solid foundation in the teachings and practices of progressive Christianity and also would prepare me for a career in an urban ministry setting or in a non-profit organization. I seek to become ordained as a pastor or minister of a church, preferably one that actively is involved with social justice and interfaith efforts. The proximity of CST to the Atlanta area would offer a wealth of opportunities for the practical application of theological principles through participation in internships and volunteer programs. I am particularly drawn to the prospect of taking courses from Elizabeth Bounds (e.g. Social Mission of the Christian Church), David Pacini (e.g. Reality of God), and Timothy Jackson (e.g. Religion, Science, and Morality), as I believe they may provide a solid foundation for preparing to work in an urban ministry.
My evolution towards seeking a theological education has been a long and complex one. Raised in the Unitarian Universalist Church, I gained a deep respect for spiritual and religious pluralism. Throughout my life, but particularly over the last ten years, reading the Bible has offered me solace and spiritual support both when faced with personal challenges as well as in happier times. Both prayer and meditation have been important tools for me to try to reconcile the practical demands on my current profession as a chemist and the call of my faith. During my graduate school years at U.C. Berkeley, I became intimately aware of the suffering of people who had been diagnosed with a mental illness, especially those who became homeless residents of the streets. The experience led me to feel a call to serve God by serving the poor and oppressed. A key component of my resolution to find a way to aid the homeless has been performing charity work. I now regularly contribute to the urban ministry of the Open Door Community in Atlanta, which strives to feed the homeless population of Atlanta and offers spiritual support to those who are incarcerated in prisons and jails. Through working in the prison pen pal and food preparation ministries at the Open Door, I have slowly developed a strong vocation to work towards restorative social justice. It is my hope that a rigorous theological education will provide a firm foundation to evolve my life towards a full-time ministry, which strives to promote social justice.
My perception of faith has been strongly influenced by my educational trajectory. I started to become interested in the formal study of religion and Christianity while an undergraduate at Emory University. During college, I took a biblical history course in which I was introduced to the formal analysis of biblical texts. I look forward to the future prospect of taking similar courses in seminary, as they enrich the reading of the Bible by providing historical context for the lessons and wisdom in scriptural text. Also during college I developed my interest in science, particularly chemistry through course work and research, and this path evolved into a desire to pursue graduate training in chemistry. As a Ph.D. student in chemistry I became increasingly interested in the interface of science and theology. My definition of the Trinity (God, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus Christ) became subtler as I struggled to reach a balanced position of faith that was compatible with modern science. Following the completion of my Ph.D., I became increasingly concerned about the ethical limits of the modern scientific approach (e.g. genetic engineering). I seek training in theology in order to obtain a firm educational foundation to ensure that my future ministry is able to soundly address ethical dilemmas presented by modern science from a Christian perspective.
Today I believe one of the most critical issues facing Americans is socio-economic inequality, especially as it manifests itself in racial and ethnic divisions. Growing up in the city of Atlanta, I have been exposed to the legacy of social inequality resulting from the institution of slavery. While religious leaders such as Martin Luther King in support of providing civil rights and more equal opportunities for African-Americans have made solid legal advances, tremendous socio-economic inequality between European-Americans and African-Americans still exists in this city. For example, due to Atlanta’s rapid development in my lifetime, I have observed large sections of low-income housing destroyed, which has resulted in the widespread homelessness of African-Americans. For many years, I silently observed racism and poverty in Atlanta, feeling that the problems were too complex for me individually to contribute to a solution. However while I was a graduate student in Berkeley, I came to believe in the possibility of restorative justice for the suffering of the homeless. Since my return to Atlanta no longer feeling powerless to perform acts of reconciliation, I became involved with working with the Open Door Community. It is my hope that obtaining a theological education at CST will provide me with a solid foundation, which would enable me to work for social justice in either a secular or religious organization.
As a Ph.D. student in chemistry, I developed the ability to start, perform, and complete an independent line of research. As the modern science laboratory is also a social environment, I also developed the ability to work collaboratively with others to perform experiments through teamwork. Through my postdoctoral work, I have continued to work both collaboratively and independently to conduct innovative scientific research. It is my hope that I would be able to transfer my skills in managing long-term scientific projects to a leadership role in an urban congregation or non-profit management position. It has become increasingly apparent to me that the extremely specialized nature of scientific research no longer suits my career interests and leadership abilities. During the last ten years I have grown increasingly aware of the need for people in modern American society to work towards restorative social justice from a balanced position of science and spirituality. My heart is in following a vocational trajectory that directly employs the Gospel to address the ethical, socioeconomic, and spiritual needs of all people in an increasingly fragmented and confused world. My interest in the sciences has evolved away from the desire to directly obtain data and generate new scientific knowledge towards serving in an informed leadership position in a parish or congregation that could influence other people’s ethical judgments, including those related to scientific matters. Lastly, scientific knowledge offers only one perspective on the wonder of God’s creation. By obtaining a theological education, it is my dream that one day I would be able to deliver sermons that would address the spiritual dimensions of controversial scientific topics, as well as to discuss effectively the interface of science and spirituality.
The definitive call that I feel to vocational Christian ministry requires a solid biblical and theological foundation. In order to build this foundation, I seek training in biblical study, biblical languages, and Christian theology. Biblical study that frames the historical and cultural context of Christianity is essential in order to convey how scripture relates to the modern world. Since much of the content and meaning within the Bible involves subtle linguistic details, a firm foundation in biblical languages such as Hebrew and Greek is essential. Lastly, training in Christian theology may provide a foundation to better understand my own faith and how it relates to other religious traditions. As the landscape of the modern world is an increasingly pluralistic one, I feel it is essential to remain firmly grounded in the Christian tradition, but also to approach interfaith relationships with tolerance and mutual respect.
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