Friday, March 30, 2012

What have I learned?

It's been an interesting week, low-key but revealing in perhaps unexpected ways.  Due to a "progress report" I had to turn in as part of my advising process, I have been compelled to engage in a bit of reflection about seminary so far.  What follows is not stuff that necessarily went into that report, but other thoughts and realizations that bobbed to the surface as part of that reflection; take it for what you will.

1. There are at least some aspects of doing this M.Div. degree that have actually been more difficult than doing my Ph.D. all those years ago.  Please be sure you do not engage in sloppy reading comprehension (which I consider an unpardonable offense); I did not say that an M.Div. degree is harder than a Ph.D.  In my particular situation, however, there have been some ways in which the M.Div. has so far presented challenges that the Ph.D. in musicology did not.  One way is encapsulated in the phrase at the end of that sentence, "all those years ago."  It's been a few years since I was last a full-time student, and being a faculty member does not exercise those same muscles, so there has been some adjustment necessary.  Those adjustments are somewhat complicated by the advancing years; for example, I just don't read as fast as I used to be able to do.  Another factor that I had to recognize is that, for that Ph.D., I was prepared by years of study in the general area of music, represented by a Bachelor's in music ed and a master's degree in church music.  I did take one year off to work between each degree, but that still represents a fairly continuous chain of study in musical areas.  For this master of divinity degree, I came with zero preparation in such fields as theology or academic study of the Old or New Testaments.  I, like other students out in "real life" for some time, am catching up on the fly with those kids who came straight from a religion degree in college, for example.  I'm not making excuses, and I'm frankly doing pretty well so far, but these were a couple of adjustments I've had to make without even realizing it.

2.  Still, having been in academia all this time has helped.  If nothing else, I'm still accustomed to the demands of collegiate or graduate study, even if I've been the one doing the demanding for the past several years instead of the one trying to meet those demands.  The requirement to read x number of pages per week just doesn't faze me.  I have to learn to prioritize what assignments get priority and which ones get a quicker skimming, to be blunt about it (I'm sure my students in the past were doing likewise), but it generally gets done to some degree.

3.  What I expected to enjoy most and what I've enjoyed most are not quite the same.  Coming from a career studying and teaching music history, I expected some crossover effect to cause me to take the most pleasure in studying church history this first year.  While I've enjoyed that subject, I have to admit that my other classes this year, New Testament and Theology (I and II for both), have actually proved as stimulating and even more at times.  At their best the studies required of me in Theology I and II and History of Christianity I and II have overlapped and informed other to a surprising and beneficial degree.  I know on one midterm I answered a couple of questions (correctly, mind you) not because I remembered them from that class, but from the other.  Juggling the reading for both has been a brain blowout, but I think it's helped, strangely enough.

4.  In some ways it's been depressingly easy to revert to being a "college student" again.  I'll admit it; I enjoy being able to throw on a t-shirt and shorts and being good to go.  I don't always do that, particularly not on days when I have something to do in chapel, but I enjoy being able to get away with it.  Grad-student poverty, ehh, not so much, but there are other things I've been able to enjoy about being out from behind the lectern, at least for now.  I don't think this is what the dean of the KU music school meant when at my last faculty meeting he congratulated me on my "promotion to being a student again," but I do take my pleasures where I can get them.

5.  Small is beautiful.  Union Presbyterian Seminary is quite small in enrollment.  I have found this most beneficial.  One simply can't slip through the cracks no matter how much one tries (and I've not been above trying to do so at times in my life--I do put the 'I' in 'INTP' after all).  The opportunities to get experience in things one has never done before are hard to miss in such an atmosphere, and by the time this year is over I'll have done many things I've never done before (more on some of that in a later post).

6.  It is possible to miss what you used to do tremendously and yet at the same time know that you are in the right place and doing the right thing.  This is my experience.  I do miss being at KU, even knowing I'd be in the throes of tenure terror right now.  I know Lawrence has been a fun place to be with the Jayhawks making their unexpected Final Four run (but then, it's almost always a fun place to be, except perhaps in the midst of a blizzard or heat wave).  But I could not be more at peace with where I am, and I'd even say at times the experience is joy.

There are many more thoughts on this that occur to me at different times.  For now, it's getting late, and six such reflections are plenty.  There is so much left to do, of course, and so much more to learn.  But the thing is, I'm looking forward to it, no matter how crazy or unsettling it may be.  And so, onward.

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