A Heat Only the Devil Could Love

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

White People, Sexy Adult Babies in Diapers, and Homeless Jesus. Four days in Texas visiting Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

As the plane approached the tarmac I looked out into the flat horizon and wondered if I could really give up the ocean and mountains, for this? I stepped out of the airport and was hit by a heat only the devil could love and started sweating like a knowing sinner on the day of his baptismal confirmation. I would know, I remember my full immersion event like it was only five years ago.

Visiting Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary was a beautiful exhausting experience. The campus is gorgeous and the people are beyond friendly but what struck me the most was the quality faculty. The first class we sat in on was Intro to Theology, taught by Cynthia Rigby. Within the first few minutes I was hearing ideas about acting on the now and not using the excuse that things will get better someday. That the pain someone is feeling is current and legit, that telling them things will be better in the end is irrelevant. “If the end is eternity, then the end is now.”

I cried.

The other class was Intro to Biblical Studies with Lewie Donaldson. Here we were challenged to challenge the status/meaning of each line of the bible. “As soon as your eyes meet another persons’, you fall into an obligation with them. It is your job to listen to their voice, not to interject your own onto theirs. Allow yourself to hear something that is truly different from how you think.” (paraphrased) “But to understand I have to make it mine, and when I make it mine I take it away from the author.” In the end, with our text just as with those we listen to, it is impossible to ever truly know what the author meant.

President Ted Warlow gave us an introduction on the Theology of Vocation and Call. This idea of a “call” being a reality that is not limited to the religious order. That where your deepest joy meets the world’s greatest need… that is a call. I personally dislike the word call, especially its use in the PC(USA). More importantly he reminded us that there is no logical reason to say you want to go to Seminary. Cause you know, we must be crazy.

My biggest concern with the Seminary is the diversity, or lack thereof. I was the darkest person in my tour group (and I am olive at best). With only five faculty members of color (out of 20) and 9 Hispanic students (out of 118) I would be subscribing to a community where I am part of the other. I don’t mind this generally but have played this card for far too long in my previous educational and employment communities and am seeking a place where I don’t have to remind my cohorts of the realities of “other” lives. This was evident at our business casual dinner where the faculty were asked to state who they would invite over for coffee on Nov 9th (for a Post-Election Detox). Every answer was brilliant and profound but I noticed that the professors of color called upon their respective cultural religious and social movement makers. They had to remind everyone to think of “icons” outside of Calvin, Luther, and other anglo-philosophers and theologians. It is possible that I over-read it and folks mentioned those they felt a personal connection with, but still it crossed my mind as something to pay attention to.

I had the privilege to briefly meet with 3 of the Hispanic students one on one and was able to get a sense of not only their place in the community but of their happiness, struggle, and fight. I am grateful for their time, kindness, and honesty.

Saturday night I made my way down to the gay bars of Austin, though I hate such experiences on my own it was important to see what life (or night life) looks like for my “other” people. It was halloween weekend and so everyone was in costume except me. I was approached by a guy named Jamie who asked if I was dressed as a mormon and when I said “no, I just came as me” he laughed and called me country mormon boy. I then showed him my cross and over the course of several hours he shared with me his story. He is in the middle of a divorce at the end of a fully loving and yet sexless marriage. He begged for connection, physical connection, and I had to explain my promise ring. His story sat heavy with me - a cautionary tale. It was 2 am and so I left him in the care of a buff adult baby who needed to be changed out of his diaper.

Night life ministry? I took a taxi back to the seminary, and cried.

Church Sunday morning was held at Central Presbyterian Church. I looked out into the sea of older white faces and clenched as the high church worship service began. It hit me hard how different presbyterian service is outside of San Francisco, outside of my own Mission Bay Community Church. I prepared myself for a boring sermon and then Associate Pastor Kim Rogers opened her mouth with fearless conviction to spell out local institutional injustice. I can not put in words (let alone a few sentences) the power of this sermon. This truth on how we perpetuate this system of inequality, in our own neighborhoods. If you wish to listen to the sermon you may do so here. I will admit, and with some embarrassment, that right there in my pew I balled.

And I balled.

After service we made our way to admire the statue of Homeless Jesus that sits on a bench in the alley behind the church. We looked at it in silence and then made our way to lunch before departing our separate ways.
Homeless Jesus, bronze sculpture by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz. Inscription reads: "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." (Matthew 25:40)
All in all I am still not sure if Austin is right for me but I do know, now more than ever that Seminary is. I cried a minimum of three times (but who's counting?). Being in conversation with people of different socio-religious backgrounds and seeing how God was working through them gave me a sense of peace… and more importantly of hope.

It must be said though, in the Taco department Austin has San Francisco beat!

There are still a few more campus visits to go. Next up is Columbia Theological Seminary. If the Austin heat didn’t kill me, perhaps Atlanta will.

Love and peace, in Jesus’ name I pray.


Amen.

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A Heat Only the Devil Could Love A Heat Only the Devil Could Love Reviewed by Unknown on 19:18 Rating: 5

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