Few students who complete a Master of Divinity graduate program at The Seattle School remain unchanged. A natural consequence of a program that integrates theology with psychology and culture, our students become uniquely equipped to enter communities with greater depth and understanding of who they are in the story of God, how to practice faithful presence, and how to lead others with integrity and compassion.
Earlier this year we spoke with Millicent Haase (MDiv ‘21) to learn more about why she chose to pursue a Master of Divinity degree and her vision for ministry post-graduation. Keep reading to learn more about what Milli encountered in her courses and her Integrative Project—an in-depth dissertation each theology student completes as a culmination of their studies.
What drew you to The Seattle School’s Master of Divinity graduate program?
Seminary had been on my mind for a while before pursuing my Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree at The Seattle School. Before coming to the red brick building, I had completed my MA in Comparative Religion at the University of Washington and had taught undergraduate religion courses—both as a Teaching Assistant and then as a Faculty Liaison. I was trained to look at religion secularly—as a human, social phenomenon with quantifiable data points—that considering seminary was initially easily dismissed as “no, I’m too academic for that.” I grew up in Hawai’i with a fusion of progressive, non-denominational Christian theologies and indigenous worldviews, and felt comfortable taking a critical look at religion. What I found I was missing at UW, though, was the permission to both critically examine and engage religion—because I do believe religion is the most fascinating subject and the Bible is the greatest story ever told (especially if you read it in Hebrew and Greek!)—and also be in conversation with God. Because when I am honest with myself, I am not just an academic, I am a fully embodied, believing, spiritual, soulful person looking for smart and alternative ways to engage the Divine in community. The Seattle School balanced both of these impulses, and today I feel like a more well-rounded and robust Christian scholar-practitioner.
My coming to The Seattle School was slightly serendipitous – or Spirit lead – in that I had a co-worker enrolled in the MACP program at the time I began looking at seminaries, and my mentor (Dr. James Wellman, UW) casually looped me in that his wife attended The Seattle School and he absolutely saw me attending. Upon arriving on campus for my initial campus tour and exploration with Ashlee Knight, Dr. Ron Ruthruff greeted me at the front desk, and I must say, his down-to-earth, real, no-nonsense welcome sealed it for me. I thought to myself: “What is this rugged, progressive, red-brick building of a school?” And: “If Dr. Ruthruff is the kind of faculty that’s here, I’m in.” Dr. Ruthruff would go on to become my Integrative Project advisor and biggest source of understanding, support, and encouragement throughout my time at The Seattle School.
What have you been surprised by in this MDiv program?
What’s so great about The Seattle School is its multi-denominational aspect. What surprised me was that, while a lot of my peers were deconstructing their long-held theologies—and I was as well, to be sure—I found myself falling into theologies in a way that amazed me. I never felt indoctrinated, but the more we dug deep into the Bible, various historical translations, and how various translations have shifted through time, I didn’t find myself falling away from Christianity, but rather, falling deeper into Christianity in a more multifaceted way. And I feel tremendously hopeful in this. The time has long come for the deconstruction of calcified systems and patterns, and rather than feeling at a loss, I feel encouraged that something new and beautiful and Spirit lead is being birthed, and I’m thrilled to be part of the conversations.
In what ways has your story impacted, shaped, or inspired your studies?
My growing up in Hawai’i shaped my theologies, and my lived experiences bubbled up so powerfully that for my final Integrated Project, I researched Hawaiian de-colonial and anti-colonial theologies and practices. For my first Master’s degree (MA in Comparative Religion at UW), I spent considerable time on location in Israel and the Occupied Territories studying Modern Hebrew and Arabic and researching the ways the religious courts are modernizing, rendering religion a considerable part of human social change and influence. I’m absolutely in love with the Middle East and thought I might continue looking towards that region of the world in my research. But my story turned me around – literally – towards my Pacific context, a place which deeply informed me, a prophetic place that has claimed Jesus as their own to powerfully and radically undermine empire – and everything clicked into place. Of course, I see the world the way I do, and what’s more: there’s value to my perspective. So, I leaned into my story.
Tell us about the Integrative Project. What topic did you choose and why? What did you learn from the process, and how have you applied it to your work?
My Integrative Project—FATHER, SON, AND THE ALOHA SPIRIT: AN ANTICOLONIAL ENGAGEMENT WITH DECOLONIAL THEOLOGIES—is one example of an anticolonial engagement with a decolonial theologian for the shared venture of prophetically undermining empire as contextually located, fully embodied Jesus followers.
Eurocentric churches have attempted programs of racial reconciliation to varying degrees of success, most of which are left wanting. Our task as white Christians seeking appropriate antiracist and anticolonial ally-ship is to listen and to be changed by story. Rather than fit indigenous narratives into our own, for example, how can we be changed – seriously theologically and systemically changed? This project is an anticolonial project – one from within the dominating majority seeking to undermine power – that seeks to unsettle Eurocentric theologies. Decolonial theologians – theologians from the margins – are illuminating biblical motifs and theologies in nuanced ways, and these are the voices we need to guide us into more complete and unfolding ethics of Jesus if we are to advance the broader postcolonial project of dismantling systems of white supremacy.
By looking to Rev. Dr. Kaleo Patterson as one example of an indigenous decolonial theologian nuancing Eurocentric theologies, practitioners are invited to consider the ways the Hawaiian demigod Kukailimoku illuminates: 1. God’s desire to simply be with us; 2. The invitation to re-image the Cross; 3. The shortcomings of atonement theories and the invitation to something new. Drawing upon social anthropology, theology, biblical studies, and history, I excavate Patterson’s sermons, take us to the biblical motifs Patterson himself highlights, and then explore what indigenously nuanced theologies look like and what this means for anticolonial allies. While I am drawing heavily on the work of Rev. Dr. Patterson as one example of a decolonial indigenous theologian, I am not merely reporting his words and ideas. Rather, I am accepting Patterson’s invitation, among other decolonial theologians, to poke holes in Eurocentric theologies, and modeling ways by which our theological imaginations can play and expand in liberating ways.
What are your hopes, dreams, and desires as they relate to your future vocation?
I accepted the position of Assistant Instructor for The Seattle School and I am honored and thrilled to continue in this project of robust engagement with the Divine in such a life-giving community. Coaching graduate-level writing and research in the seminary classroom pulls on both parts of me: one comfortable with critically interrogating religion—Christian missions in Hawai’i have a lot to answer to—and also one deeply engaged with the Divine all around me. I’d love to keep working with religion in academic settings, perhaps even continue my research in a doctoral program? Dr. Ruthruff held strong to Integrative Project page limit because I was ready to write another 100 pages more, so there’s so much more for me to say and learn and experience and challenge.
How has your time at The Seattle School prepared you for what’s next?
I thought I was too academic for seminary, but while at The Seattle School I have pastored my peers and teachers. I have co-facilitated communion for our community in ways that challenge traditional church hierarchies. I have preached on campus and for an urban church community. I have broken bread with our unhoused neighbors, prayed with them, laughed and cried with them, and have been taught by them. I belong to a cohort of peers and teachers that have journeyed alongside me and will no doubt be with me through every next stage (my baby shower was even on campus!). I have co-hosted campus vespers services, vigils, celebrations, and banquets alongside student leadership. I was chosen to be our graduation student speaker. I have practiced pastoring in a safe space, and now I’m ready for more.
What drives you to continue in ministry?
This is such a robust field bursting forth with new life and potential. This is especially felt in the Pacific Northwest, a place of church “nones,” who aren’t “none” as initially thought, but are looking for – and bringing forth – alternatives. This is absolutely the place to be at the most exciting time.
What advice would you give someone who’s interested in our Master of Divinity program?
I was tucked in a corner on campus once, reading, and President Dr. Derek McNeil paused while passing by to tell me to look up every now and then. Yes, so much learning comes from our books, and for a theology student, our reading lists are like gift lists, but what we will remember most comes from our experiences in community. The Seattle School is a special place. You will be challenged, to be sure, you will learn, and you will grow, but it’s the people who make this place what it is. If Spirit is wooing you, like she did me, come and experience.