Pop Culture & The Kingdom of God

I never dreamed I would end my two years as an Assistant Instructor at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology, and my four preceding years as a student, by co-teaching a new course I co-created on a topic I love, with twenty-plus amazing graduate students. But I did. A few weeks ago we celebrated the last session of TCE 575 Cultural Exegesis: Pop Culture & The Kingdom with a four-hour food fest and round table sharing of students’ research. I already miss them like crazy.

I wanted to share a bit of the genesis and execution of what was one of the best experiences of my life. Here we go. [And as Jev & I considered it a pop cultural duty to use a different Google Drive Powerpoint Design Scheme each week, here’s a selection from each class.]

During my first year as an AI, I found myself spending a lot of time hanging out at the front desk. After class Wednesday nights I’d be heading out the door, but Jev, who I’d had a few classes with as a student but not much interaction with, would strike up a conversation from the reception desk he staffed as a student worker and I’d soon realize I’d been standing there for an hour and half riffing on topics spanning Joss Whedon to Captain Picard, vampires to zombies, and back around again. I knew Jev had done some theological engagement with comic books and that the Mdiv thesis he was planning dealt with violence and video games, and he knew that I’d written on Firefly and Twilight and basically, we discoverd that between the two of us, we’d never run out of conversation topics or Star Trek Next Generation tunes to hum.

A year later, Jev walked up to me on the first day of the 2011-2012 school year and basically said “we should co-teach a class on theology & pop culture together and we should teach it here.” Despite all the reasons I gave him why we’d never get approval or funding or why I had LITERALLY no time to create a syllabus for a new class, he was perseverant, encouraging, and convincing. Over the next few months we drafted a course syllabus, met with the Academic Dean and were blown away when he not only gave us a green light but joined us a collaborator.

Creating a syllabus (or more specifically, doing all the reading necessary to decide what you’re going to teach and how you’re going to teach it) was one of the most exhausting things I’ve done (because I’d never done it before), but collaborating with Jev and running our ideas through Dr. McNeil was absolutely inviorating. And teaching the class? Holy shit. Better than rollerskating. Better than Molly Moon’s Ice Cream. Almost as good as Jonsi‘s solo album.

Four hours a week, Jev and I got to fly our helicopter of academic exploration into wild and wondrous territories such as fan fiction, social media, sci-fi, video games, monster movies and, (you know I had to) The Hunger Games, all with the goal of exegeting the texts’ meanings, specifically for the purpose of letting pop culture critique theology, rather than vice versa.

To have my first faculty teaching experience be a collaboration with a kindred spirit, centered on favorite topics and favorite methods of engagement, was unquestionably, an un-dreamed of dream come true. Jev and I both got to see some of our natural teaching styles emerge as well as learning from one another. I learned, for one, that you can take the director/dramaturge out of the theater but you can’t take the theatre out of her. Jev obliged not only my need to have pre and post-show music for every class, but also my directorial/obsessive tendency towards secrecy regarding class prep. (Gotta pull that red curtain down before the audience is in the space).

Jev and I loved engaging the work students did. It felt like we curated our own personal academic pop culture conference (that didn’t involve having to go to Albuquerque) and we both learned tons from the creative, risky, playful and theologically curious work students put forth. I wanted to share a sample of what our students spent May & June investigating, questioning and learning from. (And if you’re a student reading this who didn’t send me your paper title to include, please email me and I’ll add it!)

Thanks to Dr. McNeil for his encouragement and support, to The Seattle School whose community and ethos fostered the kind of interpretive space and hope that made this work possible, to Jev for inviting me into friendship through the sharing of doing what we love, and most especially to the students who that took a leap of faith with us into areas of our lives that often go unconsidered yet reveal so much of what we dream of and hope for. We truly loved every second spent with you in that room. Thank you.

Selection of Students’ Cultural Exegesis Research Paper Titles & Topics

Conflict And Identity In The Collaborative Narrative Of Tabletop Role Playing Games
[topic: Tabletop RPGs]
By Philip Doud

“Battlestar Galactica,” Moral Ambiguity, and a Christian Ethic of Love.
[topic: Battlestar Galactica]
By Amanda Barbee

The Final Rose: Viewers Tell All
[topic: The Bachelorette]
By Jenny Wanty

A LEGENDARY Cultural Exegesis of ‘How I Met Your Mother'”
[topic: How I Met Your Mother]
By Katherine Haddle

Advance of the Woman Savior –a Retelling of Snow White for Today
[topic: Snow White & the Huntsman]
by Katie Jensen

Children of God Through Faith and Plate Lunch
[topic: Hawaiian Plate Lunch]
By Randall Ajimine

The Works of Lady Gaga, One of the Prophets of USAmerica in the Reign of Obama: Lady Gaga and the Re-Imagination of the Prophetic Role
[topic: Lady Gaga]
By Kate Rae Davis

The Quest for Lasting Love
[topic: The Bachelorette]
By Becca Shirley

Imma Let You Finish: Kanye West and the Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy of the Relational Self
[topic: Kanye West’s VMA interruption of Taylor Swift]
By Brian Schroeder

The Beauty in the Dark: Searching for the Kingdom of God in Horse Feathers [topic: the band Horse Feathers]
By Michelle Ward

And yes, we used the lunch time to make (invite?) people watch The IT Crowd, The Animatrix, or play…

Posted on Sun, Jul 22nd, 2012 at 3:15 am
Filed under Cultural Shifts, Film, History, intertextuality, Lists, Music, Pop Culture, Psychology/Being Human, Seattle, The Seattle School/MHGS, theology.

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Comments: 1

  1. 1 | Jonathan Edmund

    July 22nd, 2012 at 11:33 am


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