In the business of theology it is hard not to be controversial - Jurgen Moltmann

Tuesday, 28 September 2004

Trip to the USA

Earlier this month I flew over to the USA to attend an academic conference in Louisville, Kentucky (which is in the middle of nowhere) and then spent a few days in Boston where I studied ages ago.

The conference was the ‘4th International Conference on Media, Religion, and Culture’, which is THE major conference in my field of study, held once every several years. Earlier conferences in the series have been held in Uppsala (Sweden), Boulder (Colorado, USA), and Edinburgh.

Participants are mainly scholars in media/communication, theology/religion, or other fields in humanities and social science. The common thread among these people is their serious attempts in crossing academic boundaries to muddle with the disciplines next door. It was really an invaluable opportunity to meet some people whose research interests or concerns are similar to my own. It is an amazing thing to meet people from varied social and cultural contexts but share more or less the same cluster of frustrations as mine, or even make similar critical observations about Christianity and the media.

Among the academic or semi academic conferences I have attended, this is the one with which I feel most at home by far. In occasions which are more theologically oriented, people tend to regard me as a media person and are always curious why I am there; while among cinema or media study circles people think that I am a theologian and query my presence. It is only here that I do not need to justify my presence. Open invitations from the World Association of Christian Communication and New York University for presentation and exchange are encouraging affirmations to what I am doing.

The brief stay in Boston after the conference was a good nostalgic time. I stayed with a couple who was the first persons I met when I went there to study years ago, and since then have become good friends of mine. Of course I also had the chance to rekindle friendship with several old friends whom I have not seen for ages.

Yet the most memorable moment was the evening spent with Dr. Stephen Mott, my major professor-advisor back in Gordon-Conwell, who is a pioneer in social ethical study among US American evangelicals. He has made his mark on me not only through his classes and writings, but more importantly through his lifestyle, his way of handling his students, and his overall approach to theology and scripture. Stephen has left his teaching position ten years ago and has since then been pastoring a United Methodist Church south of Boston. We have not seen each other after I graduated. This reunion is truly a moment beyond words.

I also had the time to go back to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Harvard Divinity School. As the Chinese saying goes, the sceneries were there but the faces had changed. Familiarity and unfamiliarity were ambivalently mingled. Yet apparently one thing about myself has changed – I have not bought a single book during the whole trip, which was unimaginable in the past. Well, has my area of study become so specific that I am no longer interested in books that used to interest me? And the books that I was specifically looking for were not available there. Save some money, at least. J

Farewell, new excitement. Farewell, good memories. Now I am (slowly) getting back to my normal work on hand, which is to embark on writing the 2nd chapter of my thesis and to carry out field research in preparation for writing the main body. At the same time I need to restructure my whole thesis and continuously rethink the focus of my primary research question.

The almost-full moon above reminds me that it is festival time. My mind is occupied with a favourite Chinese poem, and with family and friends all over.

人有悲歡離合 Humans experience sorrow, joy, separation, and union;
月有陰晴圓缺 The moon experiences cloudiness, clarity, fullness, and eclipse;
此事古難全 From antiquities, these have always been inevitable.
但願人長久 I shall look forward to eternity,
千里共嬋娟 That we can go a thousand miles together.

蘇軾: 水調歌頭
(poem from Song Dynasty, AD960-1279, my paraphrase)

Have a good Mid Autumn.

(written in Hong Kong)

1 comment:

ton*chat said...

"turns around the noble penthouse
sink onto the exquisite window
and shines on the sleepless...
'why is it always full moon on the wrong side?'"