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Since returning to the states and adjusting to my normal rhythm at seminary, I have struggled to put my Israel/Palestine trip into meaningful words. It is to that end that I am deeply grateful for my photos and for the stories, dissonance, and truth that they harbor. Upon committing to this photo essay project, part of my own processing involved figuring out the best way to present my photographs. Initially, these photographs were shot with the intention of being expressed in full color, but after converting them to black and white, I couldn’t present them in any other way. I felt compelled to present the photos in a way that would help invite an audience to a conversation of meaning and interpretation, while simultaneously showing the paradox of constructing a narrative of Israel/Palestine that is binary.
Many motifs and themes surfaced again and again throughout the trip. For the purpose of this blog, I am highlighting the theme of 
“memory” – how memory can hold both deposits of liberation and fear and the connection between memory and victimization.
I’m indebted to the Israelis & Palestinians—along with Jews, Muslims, and Christians—that trusted me to hold their stories. There is too much at stake; as a future educator and minister, I recognize the earnest need to do my best to communicate this multi-layered narrative with integrity. The beauty of photography is that it helps us tell the truth, especially at times when the written word falls flat – this project is a small attempt to do just that.


Art/Poetry on Separation Wall

1. Art/Poetry on Separation Wall

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2. Cedar trees at Yad Vashem. In the Hebrew Bible, cedar trees were chosen to build the temple in Jerusalem and Solomon’s home

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 3. Palestinians are barred from using Shuhada Street by the Israeli government. In 1994, almost half of the Arab shops there closed following the Hebron Mosque massacre killing of 29 Arabs by Israeli settler, Baruch Goldstein.

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4. Engraving commemorating the Day of Nazi Germany surrender

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5. Woman lighting candles at Jesus’ tomb memorial inside the Holy Sepulchre

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 6. Monument to Warsaw Ghetto heroes that resisted Nazi forces in 1943

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 7. Memories of freedom on the Separation Wall in Bethlehem

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8. Candles at the Church of the Nativity

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 9. Stones placed on top of Theodor Herzl (founder of Zionism/State of Israel) burial site

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10. Art on the Separation Wall

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11. Memories of the Intifada (violent Palestinian resistance against the State of Israel)

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12. “Kill All Arabs” on a garage in Hebron

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13. Yasser Arafat (1929 – 2004), Chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, president of the Palestinian National Authority, and leader of Fatah. Fought for Palestinian self-determination against Israel



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How I Got That Name is a poem written by poet, Marilyn Chin, and submitted to PRISM by Sera Chung.  Sera is a vocal artist and middler at Princeton Theological Seminary from Binghamton, New York.  How I Got That Name is an essay on assimilation and a creative submission from Sera as a beautifully thoughful offering to the community.  Read below and enjoy...

I am Marilyn Mei Ling Chin

Oh, how I love the resoluteness of that first person singular followed by that stalwart indicative of "be," without the uncertain i-n-g of "becoming." Of course, the name had been changed somewhere between Angel Island and the sea, when my father the paperson in the late 1950s obsessed with a bombshell blond transliterated "Mei Ling" to "Marilyn." And nobody dared question his initial impulse—for we all know lust drove men to greatness, not goodness, not decency. And there I was, a wayward pink baby, named after some tragic white woman swollen with gin and Nembutal. My mother couldn't pronounce the "r." She dubbed me "Numba one female offshoot" for brevity: henceforth, she will live and die in sublime ignorance, flanked by loving children and the "kitchen deity." While my father dithers, a tomcat in Hong Kong trash— a gambler, a petty thug, who bought a chain of chopsuey joints in Piss River, Oregon, with bootlegged Gucci cash. Nobody dared question his integrity given his nice, devout daughters and his bright, industrious sons as if filial piety were the standard by which all earthly men are measured. * Oh, how trustworthy our daughters, how thrifty our sons! How we've managed to fool the experts in education, statistic and demography— We're not very creative but not adverse to rote-learning. Indeed, they can use us. But the "Model Minority" is a tease. We know you are watching now, so we refuse to give you any! Oh, bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots! The further west we go, we'll hit east; the deeper down we dig, we'll find China. History has turned its stomach on a black polluted beach— where life doesn't hinge on that red, red wheelbarrow, but whether or not our new lover in the final episode of "Santa Barbara" will lean over a scented candle and call us a "bitch." Oh God, where have we gone wrong? We have no inner resources! * Then, one redolent spring morning the Great Patriarch Chin peered down from his kiosk in heaven and saw that his descendants were ugly. One had a squarish head and a nose without a bridge Another's profile—long and knobbed as a gourd. A third, the sad, brutish one may never, never marry. And I, his least favorite— "not quite boiled, not quite cooked," a plump pomfret simmering in my juices— too listless to fight for my people's destiny. "To kill without resistance is not slaughter" says the proverb. So, I wait for imminent death. The fact that this death is also metaphorical is testament to my lethargy. * So here lies Marilyn Mei Ling Chin, married once, twice to so-and-so, a Lee and a Wong, granddaughter of Jack "the patriarch" and the brooding Suilin Fong, daughter of the virtuous Yuet Kuen Wong and G.G. Chin the infamous, sister of a dozen, cousin of a million, survived by everbody and forgotten by all. She was neither black nor white, neither cherished nor vanquished, just another squatter in her own bamboo grove minding her poetry— when one day heaven was unmerciful, and a chasm opened where she stood. Like the jowls of a mighty white whale, or the jaws of a metaphysical Godzilla, it swallowed her whole. She did not flinch nor writhe, nor fret about the afterlife, but stayed! Solid as wood, happily a little gnawed, tattered, mesmerized by all that was lavished upon her and all that was taken away!

Navigating My Way Through

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Amy Molina is a bright, promising M.Div senior at PTS. She is currently seeking ordination in the Episcopal Church and an active student on and off campus. Part of that activity is with Navigation the Waters, a diversity initiative that has sparked much discussion about what we really believe and value about each other as a diverse body of students and ministers serving a multi-layered, endlessly diverse world community. In this blog, Amy gives her own reflection on what her experience has been with the initiative and what she thinks we all need to perk up and pay attention to in its push forward toward respectful, respected and loving diversity --

 Navigating the Waters has been on my radar screen since my first year here at Princeton Seminary, 2010-2011.  Its beginnings were birthed from a controversy that many find themselves still sorting through the roots and results of, and so its reception here at the seminary has not been welcomed as one might have a hoped a diversity initiative in this institution would have been.  There is clearly a lot of skepticism and distrust amongst the different constituencies who work and live on this campus. That was one of the first things the Navigating the Waters initiative uncovered in its extensive survey of the campus.  How will this program be different?  How will this help?  And since then, the process has been slow-going, BUT IT HAS PERSERVERED and after a full year of gathering data, some kick-starts and setbacks, it is evolving and maturing into something that has real potential to be an engine of change and accountability in this place.  At the beginning of this year everyone was sent an email inviting them to be a part of Navigating the Waters, of that invitation about 30 people have responded and joined the initiative.  They have formed dialogue groups which work to create a safe space for students to stop and hear one another’s stories and dive into topics that cover a range of issues regarding diversity, exclusion and inclusion.  As current and future ministers of the Gospel, this matters.  Hopefully this movement will grow as more students recognize that these are issues that touch all of our lives… especially here at seminary.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         - Amy Molina, M.Div Senior


A Good Kind of Culture-Shock

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 By John Reinink, Master of Divinity 2014    

John is a Master of Divinity and Master of Arts 2014 dual candidate.  John comes to the Princeton Seminary community from Blyth, Ontario - Canada. Current Co-Moderator of BGLASS, he is also a Candidate for Ministry with the Presbyterian Church (USA) under the Philadelphia Presbytery.  Simply put, PTS is fortunate to have such an amazing heart and mind here with us.  In this reflective blog, John shares with us the culture shock he never expected and at one time could only hope for ---

Diversity is a funny thing.  How diverse a community is completely depends on the person judging that diversity.  For someone from a large urban center with experience in communities that have a large diversity of races, cultures, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, artistic preferences, occupational backgrounds, etc., etc., Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) may seem pretty homogenous, boring, and even dangerously unaware of its lack of diversity.  For other individuals who don’t come from such a community or city center, PTS is wrought with new people, ideologies, experiences, and, loosely put, extreme diversity.

 I come from a community that would identify as the latter.  Statistically, the county I hail from has very few individuals that are of a visible minority (1.5% of the total population).  The community in which I spent most of my pre-college years was made up of mostly recent immigrants (or first-generation Canadians), all white, almost all farmers, very few with university education, and almost all members of the same conservative, Calvinist, Reformed denomination.  All of my pre-Seminary education was completed in schools started by that denomination and most of my professional and summer work experience was in ministries affiliated with that denomination.  For me, it didn’t take much to experience something that was more diverse than my community. 

 To make matters a little more complicated, having come from such a conservative community, my theology reflected a very conservative and evangelical perspective.  Not that this is a bad thing, but my opportunity to explore other perspectives was highly limited simply because of a lack of exposure.  Growing up as a young man who struggled to identify his sexual orientation in such a community was difficult to say the least.  I felt like a black sheep not only because of my different orientation, but also because I wanted to move away from rural Ontario, I had a passion for school, and I wanted to explore other theological perspectives. 

 For me, moving to Princeton Theological Seminary was a breath of fresh air.  It was liberating and exciting to experience a community that was so diverse (comparatively) and theologically open.  In learning about other theologies I was able to better define my own understanding of Scripture, providence, and God’s love for me.  By finally having the space and resources to do that, I was finally able to explore my sexual identity in a space that was open, accepting, and supportive.  The diversity of PTS was enough to break through my single-track theological experience, to create an open space for personal reflection and new personal identification, and to support my growth as a man of God seeking God’s will for me, someone who does not identify with traditional sexual identity norms. 

 Some have said that PTS has diversity issues and needs to expand its perspective on the diversity of God’s people and creation.  I agree, but only because everyone and every institution needs to.  PTS may be behind some institutions on this issue, but it is also a 200-year old institution that has some pretty dense history to work through and reconcile.  There will always be institutions that are doing it better than we are, but I am a testament to the fact that PTS’ diversity development is working and has already had huge positive impacts on its students. 

 I pray that our community would continue to embrace opportunities to explore our diversity and not see it as something less than an opportunity.  The community can only grow in this area if we all commit to recognizing our need for continual growth in this area.


Overcoming the Adversity of Diversity

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Growing up, my father did something we call attitude checks.  I don't know if it first started with him or a spiritual friend of his that owned a Christian camp my siblings and I used to attend.  Either way, an attitude check went like this: Someone looks mad, acts out, seems frustrated. Dad: 'Attitude check!?' Us: 'Praise the Lord.' This exchange would repeat until we smiled big or couldn't avoid laughing. This may sound silly but it was a simple thing to remind us in its repetition to always be mindful of our thoughts and attitudes and what was shaping them. That's what we are to always do as believers: be mindful, consider and reconsider our attitudes.  In this brief blog below, Victor Aloyo poignantly reminds us of the importance in reexamining our attitudes about something absolutely essential to every minister and ministry: diversity.  After all, everybody is different so diversity is about You.


Overcoming Adversity

Our attempts at diversity in theological education are fraught with risk as we consider what we must rethink and what traditional boundaries must be transgressed as we prepare effective religious leaders. In our American society, the myth of the melting pot has created the illusion of cultural homogeneity and sameness in the minds of many and it supports an unrealistic desire to view our American culture as monolithic. But as institutions of theological education that are gifted with the lenses of faith and values, we are challenged to identify, reinterpret, and dismantle barriers that prevent diversity. If our mission is to prepare women and men for effective and liberating ministry in the world, we miss the mark with educational experiences that do not reflect the realities of diversity in our daily lives. As with the Peter in Acts 10:15b, we are challenged to embrace the vision of God’s realm as revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. When we do, we discover the connection between authentic, intentional diversity and progressive, transformative education. Upon this theological foundation we see the value of a reinterpreted educational mission that is committed to the vision of diversity, that cultivates new attitudes that honor diversity, and that willingly creates policies and practices that support ongoing diversity.

A commitment to any cause is only as good as the attitudes and perspectives that support it, so a second principle in our efforts toward diversity is to cultivate attitudes that honor diversity. Once Peter committed to reexamine the implications of his cultural exclusiveness in his new and changing context, he was challenged to adjust and realign his attitude. Some of the very things that he accepted as profane under the Law were now viewed in a different light under the grace of salvation. It became apparent that his encounter with Cornelius caused a change in his thinking as he made the profound theological statement, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality but in every nation, anyone who fears [God] and does what is right is acceptable to [God].” (Acts 10:34-35) The beauty of this proclamation is that Peter began with a solid theological statement not a speculative human position. He stood on the firm ground of the Gospel message that provided reassurance in the unfamiliar waters of cultural diversity.

Likewise, as we consider the awesome challenge of diversity here at Princeton Seminary, we must be aware of the need for attitudinal changes in our institution. Beginning with Peter’s theological posture of will support and sustain an educational environment that prepares effective religious leaders. Unfortunately, once institutions face the full magnitude of diversity there is a temptation to adopt a “color-blind” or “a-cultural” posture that will shield us from differences rather than help us appreciate and learn from the experience. An attempt to neutralize cultural particularities in an educational environment creates instead an ethos that favors the comfort of uniformity rather than the dynamism of unity within diversity.  

 Attitude check?



Victor Aloyo - Spring2013 OpeningService

By The Reverend Victor Aloyo, Director of the Office of Multicultural Relations at Princeton Theological Seminary and pastor of The United Presbyterian Church and Mision Presbiteriana Nuevas Fronteras in Plainfield, New Jersey. Victor will also begin his doctoral studies at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. His concentration will be Diversity and Inclusion in Theological Education and Structures.


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PRISM. is You. 


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