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5 Things I Have Learned at FTE (Forum for Theological Exploration) by Edward Kim, ISAAC Intern

Edward Kim (1)FTE BadgeFTE 2015 Group PictureFTE 2015 discussion group

Thanks to my professor and mentor Young Lee-Hertig’s nomination, I had the opportunity to go to the Forum for Theological Exploration (June 3-6) held in the American Airlines Training & Conference Center in Fort Worth, Texas! To add onto my excitement, everything was paid for including the airplane tickets, lodging, and meals! I initially felt ecstatic and special for being chosen among other applicants and nominees, however, that feeling quickly faded as I immediately felt a chilling dread when I had realized the situation I had gotten myself into. As an extreme introvert, just the thought of meeting and spending time with people for roughly four days was not appealing. To augment the situation, I felt pressured in every way possible. Thoughts like am I deserving of such an honor? They have chosen the wrong person! I am not who they think I am! These students, church leaders, seminarians, and professors were chosen or invited just like I was! I felt displaced. Intimidated. Outclassed. The whole idea was daunting… And yet, I knew this would be a great opportunity for me. Receiving much affirmation and encouragement from those around me, I finally set aboard the airplane that would launch me into an intellectual journey in which would be utterly remarkable.

  1. “Children should not be an afterthought”– Bishop Minerva Carcaño
    This quote struck me during the Bishop’s speech in the first session of the Forum. This was because I had difficulty working with the youth or children when it came to ministry and theology! I remember during my younger days, elementary and middle school, I had contemplated the deep questions of life ranging from concepts of human nature to the idea of one’s ultimate purpose. Such experiences led me to believe and expect a very similar reciprocation and response from children. Such a predicament made it annoyingly and hilariously difficult for me to talk with the youth and had given up the whole ordeal altogether! This led to a subtle neglect of children in my part when it came to aspects of theology and faith. Unfortunately, I realized it all too late. I was so caught up in my internal world of abstraction and intuitive thought that I tried to deconstruct or push children into prematurely thinking deeply of the various philosophical topics! The Bishop once more had reminded me that children are important to the ultimate mission of the church community and made me rethink the impracticality of my past relationships/ministries with children!
  2. Sense of Time
    To my fortune, the majority of the forum participants were seminary students or those who have graduated from undergrad. The characteristic of an older crowd of people cultivated a profound environment for me. I had observed and intuitively felt that the older men and women had a deeper sense of knowing what it meant to be awaiting and preparing for their calling or vision!This was both extraordinary and awesome to see. I was surrounded by those who have been sowing and investing into their ministries and careers for many years. And to see this key quality, I was taken aback by the beauty of such an awaiting and realized that I too needed time. A long time…

To take this idea half a step up, I am inclined to contemplate the depth of what it means to age with time. This idea recurred in my mind countless times during the forum. Time is a frustrating and merciless idea which forced me to contemplate the ingenuity of the delicate intricacy of how a momentary time and a long over-drawn period of time act together in a seemingly one single plane. A plane in which there both instances of time may exist! To observe time’s very nature in constant and consistent change,  both molding and shaking an individual every moment while racing toward an individual’s vision is just so beautiful!(I got really sidetracked)

  1. Where were all the Asians at?
    I did the most Asian thing ever.As soon as I had received the information booklet of who would attend the forum, I immediately scanned the pictures and names for any sign of an Asian face or last name respectively. Furthermore, as I met with people in the large room, I noticed that there were not many Asians. In fact the only Asians I have seen, were only Korean or Korean Americans… This observation blew my mind. It did really make me wonder, where were the other Asians?!

To go further into analysis, I had to really entertain the question. I know FTE does their best in attempting to create a more diverse environment in the forum. Thus, there needed to be some answer/s. Was it that Asian Americans were not as deeply involved or interested in theology or full-time ministry in this generation? Was it that there were Asians out there who were into theology or full-time ministry but was not ever nominated because of racial discrimination? Was it that Asian Americans are not well connected with the faculty in their schools? In some ways, the forum’s racial demography ignited my fascination as I also came to realize that there were only a handful of Latin American students or church leaders as well.

  1. Community
    Led by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, our discussion revolved around the idea of community. As I faithfully listened to those around me, I found myself briskly writing down two questions: “What sort of Community do I look for? What kind of Community do I want to build?” Again, I was taken aback to these sudden profound questions. What was I really looking for? Personally, I have always felt distant from my peers at school especially when it came down to my personal theological beliefs and values. My passion and never quenching thirst for truth and desire for something “more”, constantly propelled me forward into the unknown and alone. Thus, finding the right community had always been a concern and priority for me. But better yet, what kind of community do I want to provide or build for others? Not only do I need a personal community as a safe haven for spiritual formation and mental/emotional development, I am an individual that is a part of many communities whether that be in church, school, family, etc!

What is a community anyway? Many statements bounced around the room between the participants. There was a corporate agreement among the group that shared the understanding that we are all disconnected but we all want to share something with someone! Furthermore, an aspect of community was explained as a place where an individual can be deeply seen. This then, could be great and affirming but at the same time challenging and difficult!

However, this does not just stop here. Not only are communities good for people, but also they can be negative and counter-formative. Rather, the very existence of a community that has the power to cultivate and shape someone can even sound threatening to some. Jonathan made it clear by saying “We have gifts but those gifts are not without attachments.” Furthermore, another danger would be that the power of community expectation and conformity may reduce one’s uniqueness or strength. Thus it was concluded that a good community is a place where each individual or member of a community can flourish while the community flourishes. 

As a leader of a club on my school campus, there is a responsibility on my part to build and be a part of a community on campus. However, I find it so difficult and in conflict of the very nature of the behavior of a community. How much do I sacrifice for the community? How much provision can I extend until I myself am in no position of giving but rather in a place of receiving? Finally these questions lead to the last key point.

  1. Self-care
    One of the many topics that was discussed that peaked my interest was the topic of self-care. One of the participants of the exploration of this topic shared a quote he had heard recently. “Put on your oxygen mask before you help your neighbor.”Never did I think it profound when the everyday routine statement of the airline emergency instruction rang so clear. There is a great need in those in ministry to take care of themselves as leaders because burn-out is evident if self-care is not properly applied. This rang true in me. Again and again, the need for self-care in my life is tremendously vital to not only the growth of the self but also to the growth of the community as well!Furthermore, as a personality type that is very independent and always ready to help, I must keep in mind to be available and open to accept others’ help!

BONUS: Just because you go to seminary does not mean you will end up a pastor nor does it mean you have to be a pastor to do God’s works.
I have met way too many people who are making a difference in terms of ministry without seminary background! I also find that many seminarians or those who have have their M.Div are impacting this nation as political activists, social injustice advocates, and business partners!

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