book[store] musings

this little rant of mine began early this morning. i wrote a few words and came back hours later to finish it up. for better or for worse, i lost a good bit of steam during the break…but thought to finish and post anyway. here goes:

there are three books that sit atop the desk in my room:

  1. the new oxford american dictionary, fourth edition. i was told in high school that no one should be without a dictionary nearby. at the hazard of sounding too smart for my own good (who are we kidding, i just used a double negative), i believed my teacher. whether or not i use the dictionary is another thing, but at least it is there.
  2. a bible. specifically, a bible that was given to me in china by a student named jack. there is a bookmark in that bible by isaiah 6…and verse 8 hangs written on a scroll on the nearest wall.
  3. the whisper of the river by ferrol sams. it’s a loose autobiography of his first year at mercer university told from the perspective of porter osborne, a first year student at willingham university. at the time, it was required reading for every incoming freshman at mercer. i’m not sure if the tradition still stands.

the whisper of the river opens up with young porter getting ready to head to college. his mother writes him a letter which contains a motif threaded throughout the work: “there’s more to college than just books.”

any college freshman can tell you this keen advice. i think the same holds true for graduate education as well. you see, i’ve finished classes almost six months ago, but i’m looking at some big changes in the (too immediate for my comfort) future: finishing my campus job, walking across the stage at lake ave with my master’s hood receiving a diploma cover, and moving to the east coast. it is finally time to tie those loose ends together.

recently the seminary has come to a decision on the future of the campus bookstore. basically, it is being outsourced to a company that manages similar higher education bookstores. big bummer…especially given the work that went into envisioning means of maintaining the bookstore as an in-house entity. mad props to my friend, snow, who turned out a workable–and profitable–business plan in a short amount of time to propose to upper administration. you can read snow’s full update here. good gume, i just dated myself with ‘mad props.’ i digress.

i really would have liked to see snow’s plan come to fruition, and he articulately underscores the need for the pasadena campus to create space for community building initiatives, pairing ‘heady’ academic knowledge with spiritual growth and pastoral training.

if you felt the obligatory ‘but’ coming, i shall not keep you waiting.

but, something has not sat well as i’ve read others’ responses to snow’s post. one response in particular led me to stop and think:

…you said everything I’ve been thinking about Fuller since I started two years ago. And I too have been asking, why can’t Fuller be the Fuller that the world thinks it is?…Third, I sincerely hope that you maintain your optimism and perspective because Fuller and churches need people who think like you.

most of the comments have been framed in light of thanking snow for his hard work, but the above response is not unfamiliar to the fuller water cooler (there i go again with the double negative). that is, fuller is lacking as an institution in its community-building/reconstructing strategies. it is top notch in faculty, library accessibility is growing, and students are in a long lineage of reputable graduates influencing their respective spheres of the world; however, the pasadena campus is derelict in matching its academic standing with spiritual formation, providing necessary theological deconstruction without enough support to rearrange the pieces when it is all over.

in response to these comments, i’ve been once again reminded of the wisdom of mrs. osborne: there is more to [seminary] than just books.

as a girl raised in a megachurch–and not embittered beyond repair by it–i’ve seen firsthand that institutional change is a slow-moving ship. and the community organizer in me would much rather ask “what do you want” rather than “what can i do for you?” it is no secret that the choice to come to fuller comes with a hefty financial pricetag…but so many of us make the choice regardless of the dollar amount. would not such an investment cause us to ask ourselves to articulate what we are looking for in our graduate education…and thus seek it out?

and speaking of that word graduate, what and how much are we asking of a graduate institution? perhaps the stakes are a little higher when we are talking about christian education, maybe we are looking for fuller to bridge both the proverbial heart and the head. i think this assessment is fair; but i also recognize that i am in my twenties, and that i should probably not wait for the elusive ‘community’ to fall into my lap. happy hours in old town, trips to downtown LA on the metro, dodgers games…these will all be remembered as i reminisce on the community at fuller. none of them take place on fuller’s geophysical campus.

like i said, it is sad that the bookstore will not be run internally by fuller in the immediate future. there still remains the question of how fuller better engages the spiritual formation of its students and proposes life-giving community building initiatives to come alongside our academic education.

if i could add a question to the conversation, though: what are we doing to help or hurt that process?


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