Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quite a Quotable Semester Results

I nearly forgot to announce the results of the Quote of the Semester Contest! and the winner is...

"The beauty of theology is that we are just going to sit here and argue about it until we all drop dead or doomsday happens."

Runner-up goes to:

"If there was true democracy in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood would win an overwhleming majority, and nobody wants that. Except for a majority of the people."

Followed by:

"Said labeled him 'the last of the gentleman scholars,' as though all subsequent scholars entered through the tradesman's entrance."

And, last but not least

"Ethnicity is a funny concept."

Thanks to all who voted and, though there haven't been any Quote of the Semester candidates thus far in the Spring of 2010, I look forward to the next contest and the amusing quotes that will keep me sane through another semester of higher education.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Semester in Review (Part One)

As I prepare to begin my 18th consecutive semester of higher education, I’ve spent some time reflecting on lucky number 17 – Fall Semester 2009 at the American University of Paris' Middle East and Islamic Studies program. I believe that this semester was a success, though I am not without some retrospective self-criticism. [Warning: by and large this will not be a particularly funny post, more pensive really, though from time to time the voices in my head see fit to interject some humor into otherwise serious musings, proceed at your own risk and with the knowledge that this post may leave your funny bone un-tickled]

I’ll start with the spiritual aspect of the past semester (I do, after all, possess a sheet of paper stating that I have mastered the divine). Did I go to church regularly? Well…no, I’ve walked by many and toured a few, but as for regular worship services I attended, at best, a handful. While I firmly believe that the divine moves beyond church walls, there is something about a religious community gathering to worship that I find moving. This is not to say that I haven’t had what some would call religious experiences and what others might call a creative or culturally-determined naming of an emotion that one is otherwise incapable of categorizing. I remember standing the empty, somber sanctuary of a church in Epernay with Abbey and her parents. A brochure informed me that this church replaced one that had been a part of the city’s religious life since 596. Roughly 1,413 years later I wondered how many people had worshipped at one of the churches affiliated with the history of the one in which I presently stood, what they passionately argued about, what drove some to a deep sense of piety and others to abandon the faith, what pictures of God had been envisioned here. Somewhere in these ruminations I caught a glimpse of the beauty of tradition, the longevity and power of world religions, a deep feeling that we’re part of something beyond emotions, beyond feelings and theologies, something I didn’t feel equipped to name.

A similar experience occurred inside the classroom when a professor was discussing his methodology of teaching the Qur’an – treating it as the word of god. This is a phrase that has raised doubts, preceded revelations, served to strengthen, weaken, reinforce, and challenge my faith at different points in the last few years. At this moment though, it seemed comforting – I realized that it’s a phrase so imbued with meaning, used in so many contexts that a semblance of peaceful confusion rightly accompanies it…which is where I guess faith comes in.

Speaking of the classroom, I can legitimately claim that I worked harder and applied myself more to my studies last semester than I can recall doing previously. This newfound work ethic produced two results: firstly, this semester marked my highest GPA ever (including high school GPA where those at the top of the class had something like a 6.4). Secondly, I was more stressed out during exam time than I can ever recall being (this includes the week leading up to ordination exams). I was also applying to PhD programs and probably put an undue amount of emphasis on the role of this past semester’s grades. Through this process I realized that, while I often seem relaxed to the point of being flippant I enjoy being in control of situations a lot more than I thought. I don’t like that I put hours into reading for and writing a paper before turning it in to be at the mercy of someone else grading it; I don’t particularly enjoy sending vast amounts of paperwork to various institutions to be subjected to the assessment of an admissions committee. This calls into question why these situations make me uncomfortable – do I have a need for power? Do I have a view of justice that I don’t believe will be fulfilled? A sense of personal entitlement? Maybe I was just worried that my best wasn’t quite good enough? While these questions remain and have spurred new ones, I am damn glad to be entertaining them and am excited as to how they’ll shape a career (or a call, if you will) whether I end up in the front of a classroom or behind a pulpit or somewhere in between.

That’s all for now, up next, reflections on life abroad, looking forward to the future of my status in the PC(USA) ordination process and my AUP Research Project.

As always, thanks for reading.