Monday, March 3, 2014

Me, Myself and Eyes That Watch God: Who I am Becoming and Why I Chose to Pursue a PhD in Communications and Not Theology

by Earle Fisher
R3 Contributor

In his storied writing, The Miseducation of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson, expounds on the impact that the education of an oppressed and displaced people can have on the psyche of generations yet unborn. Education in this sense posed a problem for those being educated due to the xenophobic misunderstanding of one group of people in producing an apathetic and inadequate educational environment for a group deemed inferior, separate and unequal. Although this brand of education has proved itself to be theoretically erroneous and transient, the spotlight that was placed on how education can influence thought and self-awareness is still evident, even when education takes place inappropriately, with malice and ill intent. Although the insight Woodson appropriated to the field of education was not theologically specific, suffice it to say that the impact theological thought has had on the American ethos makes his assertions applicable and apropos.

The necessity for theological educators of color is glaring. In lieu of this, I have committed myself to be a theological educator; one that is devoted to the uplifting and enlightenment of those who are impacted by the ideas and efforts that stem from sacred communities. I have adopted a philosophy of education that posits education as a priceless endeavor that continuously provides an opportunity for learning, empowerment and liberation to take place both individually and communally.

I have spent the last 5 years of my life teaching in higher education at several college campuses, classes that range from humanities to philosophy to religious studies. I have been intentional to offer my educational experiences and perspectives to a diverse group of students at various institutions. Although I consider myself to be interdisciplinary (in part because I believe the contemporary climate demands this of educators and faith leaders), I view my educational platform as an extension of my ministerial calling.

I am eternally indebted and bonded to the black church. And what the black church is tragically lacking are theologically and academically trained, nurtured and empowered ministerial leaders. There has been a mythical chasm drawn between the academy, community and the church. It has been my pledge to uncover the bridge that already exists, but has been buried under despair and misconception; a bridge the joins together the aforementioned entities.

As a pastor, I am able to see the impact theological education (and the lack thereof) have at the grass roots level. Therefore I have grounded my educational endeavors in a commitment to scholarship, service, creativity and compassion.

Not only is there a need for theological educators of color, but there is also a need for educators outside the 
scope of the “traditional” theological disciplines who maintain the necessary sensitivity to assist the contemporary church (and spaces of theological thought) in expanding our reach and sustaining (or reclaiming) our relevance. I view institutions apart from divinity schools and programs beyond the religious studies disciplines as increasing in importance as it relates to the well-being of the church in a post-modern, multicultural, hyper-corporatized and uber-technological culture. Therefore, I have sought the Rhetoric and Communication program at the University of Memphis as my platform for furthering my education.

Follow Earle on Twitter @pastor_earle


Reginald Eddins said...

I can relate and agree with Fisher. I started my seminary journey about 7 years ago in 2007 with the intent to just graduate and pastor a church. In the process of taking classes and trying to apply new insights to ministry I've discovered the desire to teach as well. I must admit that my scholarship is not where it needs to be, but I am intentionally taking classes like Rhethoric and Religion to help broaden my ministry scope and better prepare me to be the public theologian I so readily desire to be. said...

"I am eternally indebted and bonded to the black church. And what the black church is tragically lacking are theologically and academically trained, nurtured and empowered ministerial leaders..."

This was a powerful and perceptive statement. As we lovingly look at the black church we must acknowledge this as truth but how can we address the fact that many within the black church spurn the educated approach to ministry? We tend to do this both overtly and covertly with our insatiable thirst for entertainment in the pulpit as well as with a belief that if one has the blessing of God on their ministry they won't need to make such great sacrifices to read outside texts (extra Biblical material written by scholars and theologians through the years) because they have the blessing and their Bible.

How can we push back against this as the next generation of preachers?

IYB@SB said...

Amen and Thanks Pastor Fisher. I’m also considering extending my educational journey to include Communications. As a “wounded healer,”the decision to complete an MDiv, w/ an emphasis on Pastoral Counseling & Preaching and a Graduate Certificate in Addiction Counseling, was to lay a foundation for strategies that would reveal as well as start the healing process for leaders in the Black Church. In addition, being certified as a Life Coach Practitioner and Trainer, was an attempt to offer a less intrusive, peer-oriented approach to do the same.
Now, over eight years later and 1 year from completion of a Dmin, the decision to be equipped for the “work” of the ministry as a Holy-Ghost filled, Black woman, has become a blessing and a curse. The "blessing" of empowerment that accompanies education is over-shadowed by the "curse" of that same empowerment, as my gender makes it difficult to penetrate the stigma that accompanies being educated,Black, and a woman. Oh, did I forget to add, “Holy Ghost filled?”
@JJ I agree, how do “we address the fact that many within the black church spurn the educated approach to ministry?”
@ RE I agree that teaching is the key but how do we teach those in our communities that continue to operate with one leg in Modernity and the other in Postmodernity?”
Still, thoughts like those shared in this blog along with your comments, somehow continue to stir the embers of a passionate fire to be an integral part of the encouragement, empowerment, and education of our African American brothers and sisters in Christ , who for various although valid reasons, cannot pursue a formal education.

Andre Favors said...

Pastor Fisher,
As a first year PhD student in the Department of Communication at the U of M, I welcome you to the program! -Andre Favors, M.S.

Jessica Joy said...

It is a tragedy. The black church for so long has been a bridge to so many aspects in our social life. During the civil rights movement the black churches connected church goers to social activism. Before it has been a pathway to education. Recently the black church has been caught up with the need for pulpit entertainment (as Jessie Jennings mentioned in the earlier comment). The problem with this. People come to black churches for a show, not the spiritual nurturing that the church was founded on. Not discounting praise and worship, because in fact that is my favorite part. But churches need to refocus their attention on the basic.
Early churches were centered around teaching the bible so that individuals could walk out of church with a living application; they did not focus their energy on an entertaining show. Let's get back to the basics and uncover that bridge so that church can serve its intended meaning.