Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Random thoughts when I should be reading Calvin...

Not just Calvin, but Schleiermacher (who always needs reading twice).  And there's always that bit from the Gospel of Mark that is only partly translated.  And there's also Augustine awaiting.

One of the pleasures/pains of this fool's errand is that every day there's a chance for my mind to be blown.  Pleasure because it's the best kind of mind-blowing; new stuff, new possibilities, ideas that will be old hat to many but are new to me.  New Testament I in particular has been something else, particularly now upon entering the odd and tricky Gospel of Mark.  Just one class in and everything I'd ever thought about that book (which, admittedly, was not a lot) has been upended and strewn about the room, and the mess is glorious and wonderful and amazing.  My new favorite gospel, at least until we get to Matthew (I think that's next...), and then I think Luke...you get the idea.  Theology I is a bit more challenging.  Calvin and Schleiermacher are the twin (reformed) systematic pillars in the design of this class, with other theologians of the church's history weaving in and out at various points on various topics.  (Schleiermacher ran with the Romantics just a little bit, and so I do find myself occasionally having flashbacks to some of those nineteenth-century German writers on music who occupied parts of my brain in my previous life.)  History of Christianity I is in many ways closest to my scholarly heart, with my history jones that has for so many years been trained on music re-focusing and adapting to the much more ancient and complicated history of the Christian church.  I get wowed on a regular basis.

That's the pleasure, and the pain too.  I run close to "wow burnout" sometimes.  It's sooooo much to take in and try to make sense of, coming so fast, and my slow brain gets overwhelmed trying to keep up.  (I mean that word very deliberately; it's a pretty good brain all things considered, but it is not a fast one; it takes me time to digest and work through new stuff, and then more new stuff is pouring in and wowing my brain, and the whole cycle keeps running and I keep dog-paddling.)

Those who know my past know that as seminary experiences go, this ain't my first rodeo.  Twenty years ago at this point I was into the first term of my final year at another school, one which is now the Voldemort of my academic experience -- "it which must not be named."  That was long, long ago, in a denominational galaxy far, far away, one in which the Rebel Alliance was sorely lacking in Luke Skywalkers and got crushed by the Empire swiftly and brutally.  (At this point twenty years ago I was trying to figure out if I was capable of getting up the nerve to ask this one girl out; we've been married over seventeen years now, which is to say that this prior seminary experience was not all for nought.)   The Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond which sits across the street from Union serves as a regular reminder of that experience, born as it was out of the debris.  The overall negative vibe of that older experience has frankly caused me to block a lot of it out.  It was that depressing in the overall.

The experiences are different enough that comparison is frankly pointless.  I was pursuing a church music degree then, an M.Div. now.  (It really would not kill Union, or other Presbyterian schools, to include a little more systematic academic instruction in church music in their curriculum--a basic hymnody class, for example--but that's a different subject for another blog post, well into the future.)  Union is a much smaller community than that was.  And PC-USA is rather different than that denomination, to say the least.  And I am a rather different person, partly because of that experience at, uh, Voldemort.  In a perverse way, is it possible that the whole depressing Voldemort experience is part of why this beginning of this fool's errand is so satisfying and rewarding?  Was that necessary to make this work?  Ugh, that sounds rather predeterministic, and I'm writing this entry to put off reading Calvin for the moment, not to be a case study in it...

Whether being put on the spot to engage in a little dramatic storytelling of the first sentences of the Gospel of Mark, or getting that job in the campus library's Instructional Resource Center, or crowding in for tomorrow's community lunch, it's good for now.  I remain all too aware from that past of how things can turn ugly quickly, but that is not seemingly on the horizon for the moment.

Yes, I still miss Lawrence, and KU, and even musicology a bit.  But this is not only good, it's right. Call this a midterm progress report if you like.  And in the meantime I'm looking forward to seeing how my mind gets blown tomorrow.

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