13 September 2005

Seminary, Mid-Spin

Post 2 from California:

After a very leisurely month of getting to know the terrain, I am now in full swing. Seminary has picked me up and spun me around and last night briefly dropped me on my head, so that I could sit and rub the formed bump on my noggin. There seems to be more room in my cranium under the heading "New Information" than I thought, because after orientation, transportation schedules, geographical exploration, many new friends and acquaintances, a new job, a new job for Matt, budgeting and finance work, 5 new class subjects and 1 new language (oi boes ousiv ischuroi), I was able to cram 3 hours of Anglican Tradition and Life in there without any detectable explosions. However, there was a tiny threat of melt-down last night around 9:30 p.m., when all the words on the page started blurring so that they all read, You are getting very sleepy. Ahhhhh, yessssss.....it is sssssleeeeep that you neeeeeeed. And I journeyed in the in-between wake and sleep area of consciousness for about an hour before giving up entirely. I realize a recap of the last few weeks is overdue.

Orientation was effortless and enjoyable, meeting new people, being thrust into a new worshipping routine, and attending various discussions, workshops, and information sessions on everything from enrollment to financial aid to spiritual directors. Instead of letting it all sink in with my colleagues over the weekend, I rushed to Menlo Park for a Presiding Bishop Nominating Committee meeting for the Labor Day Weekend. Labor we did. Rest from our Labors we did not. The meeting was productive, though, and at some point I will try to form a cohesive set of reflections on the entire committee experience. Most of the time I felt distracted and a little sleep deprived, having trouble shifting mindsets from I'm in seminary! I made it! I'm really here! to Examine these nominees' strengths and weaknesses and the usual committee brain fare. Still, I returned to the City with Sierra to show her some tourist sights, had a wonderfully peaceful Chinese dinner with Matt in downtown Berkeley, and promptly returned to my apartment for sleep, sleep and sleep.

Reflections on the standard 1st year M.Div. schedule: I predict my History of Christianity class will contain the most classroom energy, and my own pursuits in Old Testament should keep me busy enough not to complain about the sea-turtle speed at which we're moving. Biggest shocker: Fundamentals of Worship. I was intensely skeptical based on some misconceptions during orientation and approached even the very floor of the common room with extreme caution. Feeling intimidated and general put-off by the "liturgy rats/nerds/junkies" around me and the hostile warnings against harboring our own "personal liturgical agendas" in orientation, I felt I was about to enter a war-zone I didn't know existed. I tried to close my eyes and examine myself honestly for a personal liturgical agenda, but the only thing that came to mind was a dislike for the conservative Christian ribbon dancers that performed to boom box tunes at the Columbia Twighlight Festivals on Thursday nights in summer. And does that even count? I doubt Lizette is going to start any jigs of this kind, even for a what-not-to-do demonstration. I sat there in the Common Room and sighed at my lack of enthusiasm for the whole chapel component of the program. Maybe I'm not supposed to be a priest after all, I thought, I don't even have my personal liturgical agenda prepared. I worried that maybe I had misinterpreted my hunger and thirst after theology for a call to ordained ministry. In talking with some 2nd year students, some other priests, and friends, I realized that my lack of zeal in this area may be an asset, in that it may leave me room to explore the chapel phenomenon with an open mind and heart, and that some history and theology of liturgy may just get the train smoking. After meeting for the 2nd time today, I think they all may just be right. Who knew I would actually be interested in which prayers were introduced in the 16th century, and which ones we took from Byzantine liturgies? And George is a highly encouraging teacher, funny and putting all of us at ease who are biting our inner-nails at the thought of singing liturgy in front of ANYONE. I don't mind performing the occassional Cher impersonation but this is NOT that, and I can't even stretch it into that. If someone asked me today, What seminary should I go to? I would say, Come here and learn from George. Some who read may be shocked, but my fellow students may agree. He is hilarious, encouraging and knows his stuff. There is hardly a better teacher out there than that.

Our entering class retreat was quick but relaxing in the middle of the redwoods. A trip to Goat Rock beach was wonderful -- a rock beach with a deadly undertow so dangerous that my barefoot wading earned me a talk with a park ranger (beach ranger?). I got to learn the history of the beach, if anyone is dying to know. And more bonding time with classmates was a good thing. I had begun to settle into a certain group and the retreat opened up the social territory splendidly. Note to self: don't clique up.

Mostly I am discovering that for the first time, I am allowing myself the time and reflection to have an integrated schooling experience. Watching Matt get his philosophy degree gave me piles of good ideas for how to actually digest the lessons at hand, and take the class notes to a level of understanding that makes them accessible in other continents of my brain. My undergrad was a flurry of 3 concurrent part-time jobs and full time class work. One semester I remember working 40 hours and taking 17 class hours. I got all A's. The amount I can tell you about from those classes amounts to some buzz phrases I memorized for professors and the books I just gave to our church's booksale this summer. What more might I have taken with me had I sat with my studies, let them steep and stew? I made a commitment before coming to CDSP to follow tangents of thought that my studies aroused, and let these trial balloons float, even if they evolve into an extra project. As I've been meditating on this hope for a more integrated experience, our Anglican Tradition and Life class seemed to poke its head up like an answered prayer. Bill Countryman urged us to make the class a space to process the experience of being here and preparing for ministry, while seeking to understand our tradition in the context of our real lives. Let the integrated experience begin.

Matt is working at Berkeley Natural Grocery doing all those natural grocery things he was doing before we came across the country. Estimated job next year: High school History teacher. He is entering a certification program that he should be able to pair with an internship teaching. Our apartment is still a bit in transition but it is coming along. My thoughts are often with Marcia and Daryll, Honey and Papaw as they continue to go through their experiences of Katrina, having lost their homes and many of their belongings. I miss Brie and Josh and our friends in Columbia, and our families. Dad and Sally are going to come for a visit in November. Hopefully someday Cindy and Roy will come, too. Matt and I are reeling with the news that BOTH of our little sisters rushed at their respective universities this fall. Where did we go wrong, we asked ourselves, laughing. They seem to be well-adjusted women, though, so we can't worry so much. Still, this inside perspective into the sorority system is not what I expected from my own flesh and blood. Katie is still thriving in her new environment of religious studies and St. Thomas.

Stay tuned for reflections on work study and other academic musings. Wrists writing off....


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