Saturday, September 28, 2013

I feel the need to confess!

It's Saturday, which means it's blog day.  I haven't intentionally set out to have blog updates on Saturday, it just happens that way.  The week of classes is such a blur that I couldn't even begin to fathom updating in the middle of the week.  So to the weekends it falls.  Overall I've had a successful week.  Things were tough here and there, there were a few down days, but I've rebounded quite nicely. 

I've taken to creating a list each week of what I need to do.  You might remember me posting one in last week's blog... It has REALLY helped me in staying organized and on top of everything.  Further, I'm able to make more effective use of my time.  I had to post for a class blog by Thursday (for this Monday's class), which meant I had to have the reading for that class done earlier than usual.  One of the texts was by Paulo Freire.  Freire was an educator and philosopher, and his main area of expertise involves pedagogy and the educational system.  I've read his stuff before during undergrad, so not only was it a familiar read, it felt like a throwback to days in the AED trenches at Cortland. 

Yesterday was a library and study day.  I arrived at the STH library around 11:30, and worked until it closed at 5pm.  Once the library closed, I went over to the Theo house to study and work with some classmates.  I was at Theo house until about 11:30, and throughout the entire day was able to make some good ground on two (of three) papers due in two weeks in addition to continuing St. Augustine's Confessions (only 60 pages left!) and studying for a quiz next week in Hebrew Bible (I've got this on lock down!). 

One paper I have due asks that I critically reflect upon my faith formation.  As I thought and wrote, I found myself looking back over the years to all of the people who have been influential in making me a part of who I am today.  I'm not going to name everybody because I don't want to run the risk of accidentally forgetting someone, but you all know who you are.  People from home, SUNY Cortland and the Interfaith Crew, Homer Con., East Side, Habitat, Supper Club, on and on.  My heartfelt gratitude to each and every person who has been a part of my life and faith formation.  It's brought me to where I am today and where I will go in the future.  It truly does take a village my friends. 

The other paper I've been working on involves a critical reflection of a community worship experience.  I had the joy of observing and participating in a Greek Orthodox vespers service in the beginning of September.  If you've never been into a Greek Orthodox church, I HIGHLY recommend that you pay a visit during a worship service.  The rhythmic chanting and ornate adornments make it such an exceptional experience to the senses. 

Classes this past week were very interesting.  In Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Dr. Botta alluded to the idea that the majority of biblical scholars don't believe Genesis 1-11 actually occurred.  Rather, most scholars suggest they are myth.  Now for me personally, this wasn't a big news flash.  But it does open up a proverbial can of worms.  "If the events in Genesis 1-11 didn't happen historically, does that mean the rest of the scriptures are myth?  What does this mean for my faith?"  It is so appealing to deconstruct the theological and historical implications of biblical times and reconcile what we think we know and what we might possibly have some vague idea about but aren't really quite sure because things got lost in translation so long ago that some things are still inconclusive to this day...  Even if something didn't occur historically, does that make it any less theologically true?  If it didn't happen historically, does that make it any less relevant to us today? My personal answers would be, "no" and, "no."  It is my personal opinion that it doesn't need to have happened historically to have theological implications for our faith. 

When I was leaving for seminary, Oma told me I was going to go and make lifelong friends.  I usually tell her when she's right (don't I, Oma?), and I'm happy to once again say that she was.  It's so interesting; we're still making sense of where people moved here from and what brought them to ministry, but we connect on such a deep level because we spend all week talking about significant issues and ideas.  There is an exceptional bond that brings us together.  We all go out Thursday nights to the university pub, and we all talk ecclesiastical structures, denominational doctrine, and the divine Logos.  It's a completely different culture from what I'm used to where people say, "let's not talk about school or work while we're out."  Yet there's nothing else we'd rather be doing (except for possibly not incurring so much debt as we do so..). 

So, some of you will be seeing me next weekend.  I'm going to a wedding... I'm going to a wedding! (said in sing-song voice of course).  Corey and Ben get married on the 5th, and I can wait to celebrate and have a good time.  Looking forward to seeing some of you while I'm home.  But of course this means that this week is going to drag slowly on. Thankfully I'll have plenty of work to keep me busy!

Safety tip 101: In other unrelated news, I have become really REALLY good at crossing the street.  If there aren't cars coming, you go.  It doesn't matter if you have the walk symbol or not.  No cars = walking.  Just watch out for bicyclists.  They go pretty fast and are MUCH harder to see than big cars. 

Shout out this week to Sarah, Lauren, Laura, Lindsey, and Caroline.  Why?  Because you ladies rock and just because I can.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dignity, Confessions, and Reflections

          I’ve done a substantial amount of reading over the past two days.  I spent all day at the library from 10:30 to 5pm yesterday, and then attended a reading retreat today from 9am to 5:30.  Although there is still a good chunk left to get done, I’ve managed to use my time well and get some of the major stuff out of the way, which feels great!  The readings for two classes are completely done.

This is my reading list for the week.  The blue arrows and underlined names are my classes, and the writing underneath is the reading for that class.  The stuff crossed off in green is what I accomplished in the past two days. 

          In all this reading, I’ve been having some great interaction with the text, and it has been really enjoyable to get down and dirty with these texts and explore more in the realm of theology.  The two main texts that I found quite enjoyable were:
Dignity: The Essential Role it Plays in Resolving Conflict by Donna Hicks, Ph.D. and
Confessions by Saint Augustine. 
As you can probably guess from the title of her book, Donna Hicks touches in the conflicts that arise when our dignity is violated and how we can move forward in healthy ways from such a situation.  Now, I didn’t agree with every angle she described in the first half of the book, but I’m only half way through so I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt.  What she included that I did like were two great lists which I want to share with you all.  Now, I’m going to give an absolutely shameless plug and say, “If you’re in a field where you work with people, go get this book!”  Ministry, psychology, therapy, teaching, babysitting, whatever you might do, I promise you you’ll get something beneficial out of reading Hick’s thoughts.  It’s an easy read with some nicely laid out ideas.  I’m excited to see where she takes the second half… anyway, back to the lists!
Hicks includes two great lists to help her readers understand what dignity is and how it is honored, as well as ways we violate the dignity of others or allow our own dignity to be violated.   Below are the two lists. *

10 Essential Elements of Dignity
Acceptance of Identity: Approach people as being neither inferior nor superior to you. Give them the freedom to express their authentic selves. Assume that others have integrity.
Make others feel that they belong, what ever the relationship.
Put people at ease physically (safe from bodily harm) and psychologically (safe from humiliation). Help them speak without fear of retribution.

Acknowledgment: Give people your full attention by listening, hearing validating and responding.
Recognition: Validate others forthright talents, hard work, thoughtfulness, etc. Praise generously, show appreciation and gratitude.
Fairness: Treat people justly with equality. People feel you have honored their dignity when you avoid discrimination and judgment.
Benefit of the Doubt: Treat people as trustworthy. Believe they have good motives.
Understanding: Believe that what others think matters. Actively listen while you give the opportunity for them to explain.
Independence: Encourage people to act on their own behalf.  They will feel a sense of control and hope.
Accountability: Take responsibility for your actions, apologize if you hurt another's dignity. Ten, commit to change your behaviors. 

10 Temptations to Violate Dignity
Taking the Bait: Don’t let the bad behavior of others determine how you will act.  
Saving Face: Don’t bother trying to save face, just admit your responsibility for your mistake.
Shirking Responsibility: Admit it when you make a mistake, and apologize to the person or people whom you’ve hurt.
Seeking False Dignity: If we only depend upon others for validation, we’re seeking false dignity.  Authentic dignity resides within.
Seeking False Security: Don’t remain in a relationship in which your dignity is routinely violated in the name of connection.  
Avoiding Conflict: Don’t avoid confrontation when your dignity has been violated.  Look out for yourself.
Being the Victim: Don’t assume innocence in a troubled relationship.  Recognize that you may be contributing to the problem.
Resisting Feedback: Feedback gives us an opportunity to grow.  We might not know of the violations we are committing until we are told.
Blaming and Shaming Others to Deflect Your Own Guilt: Making yourself look good by making others look bad doesn’t really make you look good.
Engaging in False Intimacy and Demeaning Gossip: If you want to create connections, speak truth about yourself.  Avoid connecting by gossiping about another common person.
            As I worked my way through the text, I found myself reflecting upon these ideas.  Now, I will say that to my way of thinking, none of these statements are anything that we would consider earth shattering.  They’re absolutely wonderful, but they’re all common sense.  That is, we shouldn’t need to be told to give people our full attention in listening.  We shouldn’t need to be reminded that blaming others to shift the guilt away from ourselves is bad.  And yet we do.  So the question is, why?  Why do we need to be reminded to see people as people?  Why do we need to be reminded that even the person we despise has dignity? Why can’t we take our experiences, learn and grow from them, and make this world a better place?  Okay, the answer to that last one is that WE CAN learn, grow, and make this world a better place.  We don’t because we’re in a culture where instead of looking out for we, we look out for me.  Your culture has ingrained in you that everyone is out to steal your piece of the pie, and you need to ensure that doesn’t happen by putting yourself above others.  My culture has ingrained the same in me, and it’s so damn sad to think that we’re doing this to ourselves and merely perpetuating the cycle of dignity violations and emotional abuse.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY! Call me an idealist, tell me I’m dreaming and that I have my head in the clouds.  Tell me I’m just a kid and I have no idea how the real world works.  But don’t just ignore me and cast my idea off.  (Hint, if you actually read the list above, you’ll see this as an essential element of dignity)  The point is this, once you stop seeing someone as your ally and start seeing them as a competitor, you’ve already lost.  I believe that with practice and conscientious effort, we can turn the tide on this “me versus him” mentality that we have going on.  I know, I know, it’s hard to wrap your head around, but think of it as loving your neighbor, or even your enemy.  When someone gives a smart retort and it really pushes your buttons, see if you can let it go. 

          The other text I’ve spent some time with and am really enjoying is Saint Augustine’s Confessions.  It’s amazing to see what someone who lived between the 3rd and 4th centuries was contemplating.  ##
As an example, Augustine writes,
Do heaven and earth contain you because you have filled them? or do you fill them and overflow them because they do not contain you? Where do you put the overflow of yourself after heaven and earth are filled? Or have you, who contain all things, no need to be contained by anything because what you will you fill by containing it? We cannot think you are given coherence by vessels full of you, because even if they were to be broken you would not be spilt. When are you 'poured out' (Joel 2:28) upon us, you are not wasted on the ground. You raise us upright. You are not scattered but reassemble us. In filling all things, you fill them all with the whole of yourself. (4)

The question evokes such beauty.  There is nothing large enough that can contain God, yet God is large enough to contain all of us. I don’t know what to say about this one, it’s just sticking with me.  I can’t get it out of my head.  I also enjoyed some gentle reminders later in the text about the gentleness and commitment of God.  Some of these reminders are:
- God will never leave me (or you) even if I (or you) leave God. 
- God was there even when you couldn’t find your way with a map.  This isn’t a put-down to people who struggle with navigation.  It serves to make the point that even when you are lost in a foreign land, when no landmarks are recognizable and you’re out of cell range, God is there in that moment, in that space. 
- Love is powerful.  More powerful than we can fully grasp and understand.  And the grief that comes from losing someone you love is inexplicably horrendous. 
- God did not create and then depart.
There are so many more key ideas I want to share, but I’m going to stop there.  Augustine had such a deep well of understanding when it came to philosophy and theology, it’s fun to hear (read) his thoughts and follow his logic process.  He wasn’t a saint (okay, at some point he became one, but he had QUITE the time growing up!), but he sought a deeper relationship with and understanding of God.

          So, those are my two favorite readings for the week.  I was thankful for the reading retreat today which also enabled me to slog through a reading for yet another class that I didn’t enjoy so much.  It’s a Brueggemann text (I know!  I love Brueggemann, but not this one!) regarding religious education, and I couldn’t get my brain beyond his using what I believe is a made up word, multiple times.  I’m reading another one of his texts for another class, and it is absolutely phenomenal, but this one… woah.  I’m glad it’s finished.  The retreat started at 9am with a homemade breakfast of French toast casserole (either cinnamon of pumpkin flavors) baked scrambled eggs (made with eggs, milk, and butter), fresh fruit, coffee, and orange juice. There were about 25 participants, and it took 9 dozen eggs to make our breakfast.  After, we gathered for a brief morning worship where we shared our goals for the day, and then we settled in to work.  My main task was to get through some reading, but some people were working on writing papers, drafting letters, research, writing sermons, planning services, etc.  I rolled out a large cushion in between a stone pillar and a wall in the Robinson chapel and began reading, where I promptly fell asleep after 20 pages for a good 10 minutes.  We gathered upstairs in the big sanctuary of Marsh chapel for our mid-day worship where we sang, “Come and Find the Quiet Center,” and listened to a roughly 40-person Chancel Choir sing Ave Maria.  Absolutely breath taking.  Lunch was sandwiches, followed by more work time.  We ended around 5:30 with a closing service in which we shared our paths of success (or lack of success for some) that we had traveled on throughout the day.  I thoroughly enjoyed the retreat and plan to go again in the future. 
          The library is quite possibly my favorite place in the School of Theology building.  I’ve been working on setting boundaries about doing school work in my room.  My room is a place for rest, relaxation, and fun.  I’ll do work in here if I have to, but I think having the separate, almost sacred space is helpful.  Because of this, I’m needing to spend time in the library.  You’ll recall from an earlier post that I was excited about this.  I still am!  I need to be a bit more diligent about making effective use of that time (I slacked a bit this week), but it’s all working out and the librarians are wonderful. 

          Life in Boston is fast paced.  I learned VERY quickly that you cross Comm Ave if there aren't any approaching cars, even if you don't have the signal to walk.  And I also learned that you need to leave extra commute time because the T is not always reliable.  

Finally, I'm not really getting married.  That is all.



* All words and ideas belong to Donna Hicks.
Hicks, Donna. Dignity: The Essential Role it Plays in Resolving Conflict. Yale University Press, London. 2011. Print.
## All words and ideas belong to Saint Augustine
Augustine, Saint . Confessions. Oxford University Press, USA.  1992. Print.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Life Lessons (or simply personal observations) from three weeks in Boston

I've been writing this particular post in parts over the past week, comprising some of the top ten things I've learned about this great seminary and amazing city...

1) I think listening to music on the T is a way to drown out the incredibly unpleasant noises one hears when it rumbles along the tracks.
2) Listening to music can backfire when a loud percussion solo kicks into your head at the same exact moment that the T starts shuddering and swaying from side-to-side.  The two occurring together is enough to scare you out of your wits.
3) Addresses don't necessarily follow a common pattern.  Ex: 745, 750, 881, 1019, and 1036 Commonwealth Ave all fall on the same side of the street.  But 808 falls on the opposite side...
4) When you join seminary singers, make damn sure there are actually people who can sing on your side.  It was quite frightening when I was the ONLY alto at rehearsal.  Fortunately, people started to trickle in and some solid anchors kept me going.
5) Don't buy that PB&J sandwich you're looking at in the student union.  I bought one; for the price there should have been glitter, rainbows, and some ******** (insert expletive of your choice if that's your thing) fanfare in addition to an amazingly delicious sandwich.  There was not.
6) When powering through work in the library during a five hour break, be sure to set an alarm so you can make it to your afternoon class on time.
7) Costco is awesome!  My super awesome neighbor and I went a-shopping, and we stocked up on some great stuff like toilet paper (for two months), freezer bags and meat, bleach, tuna, fruit, etc.  The full list isn't nearly as interesting as the fun I had just spending some time getting to know Alyce.  She informed me about how much better than Sam's Club Costco is.  As an example, Costco pays its hourly workers an average of $20.89 an hour, not including overtime (vs. the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour), while Walmart said its average wage for full-time employees in the U.S. is $12.67 an hour.
8) Sharing is great!  Many people in my classes are still waiting for the arrival of books.  Because reading stops for no one, we're all forced to use that one copy on reserve in the library.  The BUSTH (Boston University School of Theology) library has free scanning to pdf for us.  So, I scanned some of the reading for class, and then shared it with my classmates.  My inbox flooded with words of thanks from people.  I'm thinking about asking for a repayment program in which they bring me donuts, cookies, and coffee.  Seems a fair trade... right?
9) Orange juice and water are the beverage staples of my life. I'm not sure why, but nothing has been more delicious for me than orange juice, not even coffee... Gasp! I know too much of a good thing can be a bad thing (alcohol to hangover as an example), but I'm hoping that by continuing to inhale orange juice on the regular I won't experience my annual month long cold this winter.
10) Sometimes the MBTA just likes to screw with you. The train you board has the desired "final destination," yet half way through the journey it is "taken out of service" and you're made to transfer to another train. 

BONUS... I'm including a few more bits of information to this list!
11) The university has its own pub. When people referenced the "BU Pub" I thought they were referring to an establishment that had borrowed the name of the university. Wrong! It's this great bar with an outdoor patio, and only faculty, staff, alumni, and students ages 21+ can be there. On Thursday a substantial group gathered to commemorate the end of yet another week.  We started small with about ten, but had about forty to forty-five by the end of the night. I brought my guitar, which made the rounds of several people in the group, and in all we had a jolly good time. 
12) Reading... Do it and do it early. It's so helpful to have class discussion reinforced in text, and to have text reinforced in class discussion. 
13) Shout out to Noodle. Diggy loves you!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

What a great week!

Wow!  What can I say about the first week of classes that adequately depicts what I'm feeling?  As of writing this at 11:12pm on Wednesday, September 4th, I have had all but one of my classes.  Introduction to Christian Religious Education falls to next week due to the long weekend.  My schedule is as follows for those who enjoy tracking my whereabouts...

Mondays from 2:00 to 5:00pm I will be in Introduction to Christian Religious Education
Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 to 11:00am I will be in Reading the World
Tuesdays from 11:00 to 12:00pm I will be with my discussion group for Reading the World;  from 5:00 to 6:30 you'll find me rehearsing in Marsh Chapel with the Seminary Singers
Wednesdays from 11:00 to 12:00 I'll be in Wednesday Worship (followed by community lunch!); from 1:00 to 3:30 I'll be in Practicing Faith followed by my plenary group from 3:30 to 4:45; from 6:00 to 9:00pm I'll be in Introduction to the Hebrew Bible.
Thursdays will also hold my discussion group for Introduction to the Hebrew Bible from 4:00 to 5:00pm. 

I know, I know... It's a great schedule!  I see plenty of time in the library in my future, and I like it!

I have officially ordered all of my text books, and they should begin arriving shortly.  Did you know that through Amazon Prime for students you can get free two-day shipping for six months?  DEFINITELY making use of that!

Okay, so this week has been an absolutely wonderful whirlwind of information.  I've met so many great people in this first week that I fall short of expressing my excitement that comes with having new friends!  I so look forward to the great connections we will make in the coming years.  I'm thinking back fondly of my time in Cortland's Adolescent English Education program and the great connections I made with people as we slogged through work and learned about ourselves, (this may sound strange, but..) I'm looking forward to doing the same with a new group of people as we interact with the scriptures in today's world, as we grapple with what we believe and how we make this world a better place, as we challenge each other to look inside ourselves and present an authentic interpretation of our hearts and minds in these times. 

I'll admit to already being just a tad intimidated by the number of papers and amount of readings that will need to be completed.  My agenda for tomorrow includes parsing all of the papers, projects, and readings down into an organized schedule.  I have a perfect spot in my room where I can hang such a calendar to keep myself on track.  Organization is key!  I'm also going to be set up with a mentor of sorts, someone in either year 2 or 3, who I think will be a great asset as I continue my studies.

Here I am on my first day of school!

Let's see... let's see... I'm trying to think of anything that may have happened in the past week that I wanted to be sure to write about.  I found myself noting things in my sleep, but neglected to make a note in the real world.  There is so much that I am forgetting, but I can't possibly trick my brain into retrieving it at this point in the night. 
One thing that is for certain is that mail is gold to me.  I felt such love and relief when I received my first piece of mail from home.  All correspondence is greatly welcomed!  Don't get me wrong, I'm finding that I'm adjusting quite well now that there's school work and new friends, but I still miss the family, friends, and home I left behind.  I actually found myself disoriented last night when I awoke at 2am... I thought I was back in the apartment at the Interfaith Center.  It took me about thirty seconds to realize where I was and why my bed felt strange.

Okay, enough of this 'I miss home' junk.  Tonight at the Walker Center there was a BBQ for all residents, staff, and board members.  I couldn't attend because I had class, but Wanda the gardener put a plate in my fridge for me so that I would have something to return home to.  And Bill the maintenance manager tried to turn the fog lamps off on my car when they came on partway through the day.  There's a wiring problem which turns them on at random, and then they're stuck on until the battery dies.  Anyway, although he was unsuccessful in his attempts to get the lights off, I was very appreciative of his efforts.  It speaks just a bit to the great community that I now belong to.  I know that my car is looked after during the day when I am in class, and I know that I have people who will help me when things go wrong.  I am so thankful to be part of such a great place!

I know I'm forgetting a bunch, but the brain is starting to close up shop for the night.  I know this is a bit of a messy message as you follow my stream of consciousness, but it simply goes with the theme of my day.

If you get nothing else from this, know that I am adjusted, I am healthy, and I am loving life!