conjectural navel gazing; jesus in lint form

Don't lose any opportunity, however small, of being gentle toward everyone. Don't rely on your own efforts to succeed in your various undertakings, but only on God's help. Then rest in his care of you, confident that he will do what is best for you, provided that you will, for your part, work diligently but gently. I say "gently" because a tense diligence is harmful both to our heart and to our task and is not really diligence, but rather over eagerness and anxiety...I recommend you to God's mercy. I beg him, through that same mercy, to fill you with his love. - Francis de Sales


Thinking About Seminary Debt (Again)

Posted September 15, 2014 @ 6:51pm | by Tripp

In 1991, more than half of Masters of Divinity students graduated with no educational debt. This decreased significantly to 37 percent in 2001, but the rate of declined slowed to 36 percent with no educational debt upon graduation. The average level of debt, for those graduates who borrowed, grew from $11,043 in 1991, to $25,018 in 2001 and $38,704 in 2011.

Sharon L. Miller, Kim Maphis Early, Anthony T. Ruger, A Call To Action: Lifting the Burden, April 2014. pdf

Lately I've been spending time reading stuff from Auburn Theological Seminary's research about seminary debt, attendance, and connection to denominations. They've done a good job sketching things out. The quote to the side is from the most recent document to fall into my grasp. I've linked to the document if you are interested.

There are, as you might imagine, many factors at work here. I was drawn to this little tidbit for rather personal reasons. I graduated from college in 1992 with no student debt thanks to the generosity of my parents. Though certainly not easy, they made it happen. You could then.

In the fall of that same year I enrolled in seminary at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. If memory serves, I managed to wait tables and pay my seminary bills on time. After less than I year, I withdrew. I wasn't ready. But I had no debt.

In 2001, seredipitously, I enrolled at Seabury Western Theological Seminary which is now Bexley Seabury. Both Seabury and BTSR have, in the intervening years struggled financially. Some might be surprised to discover that Seabury exists at all. BTSR has been wrangling with debt, etc. and recently moved to a less expensive locale in order to make things work.

It was during my time at Seabury (2001-04) that Union Theological in New York sold its library to stay solvent. Things were already in free-fall in some places. Southern Baptist scaled back its PhD program in there somewhere, too.

I am now in a PhD program at the Graduate Theological Union and serve as the Director of Admissions at American Baptist Seminary of The West, a member school of the GTU. Needless to say, we're all struggling now. And I can't stop thinking about it.

I just want to share all this to give a sense of how precipitous the change has been in such a short time. It was one person's young adulthood. That's all. It took no time at all. Congregations and denominations have not been giving to seminaries. The economy of higher education has become more and more expensive. The economy in general has changed rather dramatically in those two decades.

Sometimes I need to see the numbers - as much as it pains me to admit it (numbers, ew) - in order to get a better sense of what's at work.

In the vocational journey of a single generation of potential seminarians, everything changed. There is nothing slow about this. We can write of simplicity. We can write of taking our time. All of that is well and good.

I wonder, however, if we don't need to find the pace of the shift in order to better respond to it even if our response is slow.

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink
Tags: slow church, fast change, seminary debt

U2: The Art of Hitting One's Stride

Posted September 10, 2014 @ 3:54pm | by Tripp

Perhaps you heard. U2 has a new album. You can download it from iTunes for free right now. Go. I'll wait. It's free. 

Yes, free. This is what has my mind spinning right now. Bono wrote:

"It’s also free to everyone on iTunes thanks to Apple. To celebrate the ten year anniversary of our iPod commercial, they bought it as a gift to give to all their music customers."

So, free to us thanks to the largesse of Apple. Why would that be? 

"We’re collaborating with Apple on some cool stuff over the next couple of years, innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed. We’ll keep you posted. If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience. It should be ready soon enough… although I know I’ve said that before…"

Yesterday's barage of downloads actually gummed up the works at iTunes. Who knew that it would test the bandwidth like that? It almost crashed the Apple website. Another band I follow, Carbon Leaf, suffered the inconvenience of the negative effects on their crowdfunding project with humor. On Facebook they posted, "Due to U2 hogging all of the bandwidth, there was a technical glitch that crashed our pledge site prematurely. IT IS NOW BACK ONLINE TIL MIDNIGHT AND READY FOR LAST MINUTE PLEDGES. Eat it U2."

Welcome to the new musical economy...or something. One band gives their music away - a corporation payed for it; we subscribers to that corporation's product enjoy the new music for free - while another's crowdfunding efforts are delayed because of the strain on the digital infrastructure. 

Yeah. Okay. 

U2 and Apple are teaming up. They are out to "transform the way music is listend to and viewed." I've a professional stake in this particular proclamation. We'll see what happens. My advice, listen to this album with this statement in mind. Download it with this statement in mind. 

U2's hit their stride. The album is a aural sampling of what they do best. It is a nostalgic reflective bit of lyricism. It is spiritual but not religious. It is precisely what four guys in their fifties who are masters of their craft should put out into the world. They aren't inventing or re-inventing. They are perfecting. 

I'm not the first to suggest this. Like The Edge's love of reverb, these little reviews are echoing all over one another online. "DOO - Doo - doo. DEE - Dee - dee," Greg Blosser offered his thoughts. Rolling Stone is on it, of course, as are other larger news outlets. 

The Guardian: "But the initial impression is that this album sees the band not so much still looking for something that they haven’t yet found, but rather treading old ground without much of a sense of how to move forward."

The Wall Street Journal: "'Songs of Innocence' reveals itself as a pleasing, subtly adventurous work by a great band that knows how to tweak formula and manage risk."

I love the album. U2 has offered up their usual rich soundscape, but harkening back to their post-Punk roots, it's clean, almost stark compared to an album like Achtung Baby.

What they were working on with Dismanteling an Atomic Bomb and No Line on The Horizon, they have truly perfected in this offering. Bono's voice is in full display. Larry and Adam are holding down the rhythm with their usual autodidact bravado. The Edge is more restrained. As Greg stated, you hear actual guitars on this album, wood and steel. It's quite beautiful. 

Lyrically, the Bono and The Edge are doing precisely what they claim. They are sharing the band's past, their memories, their inspirations. The first track is a eulogy to Joey Ramone. With their usual spiritualizing habit, the call the sound of The Ramones to be a miracle. 

Some will find this quotidian spirituality to be trite. Others will find it profound. Nothing is new here. Bono writes: 

"I hope after listening to our new long player a few times, you’ll understand why it took so long. We really went there… it’s a very, very personal album. Apologies if that gets excruciating… actually, I take that back. No apologies if it gets excruciating. What’s the point in being in U2 if you can’t go there? There is no end to LOVE."

This is the thing about this album. There is nothing new here. If that's what you were hoping for, brace yourself to be diappointed. But if you were looking for something that demonstrates how four guys who have been in the business for 35 years have perfected their craft, then this is the album for you. What's the point of being in U2 if you can't be U2?

To make this all come together, they partnered with veteran producers, "The album was recorded in Dublin, Los Angeles, and New York, and was produced by Danger Mouse, as previously reported, as well as Paul Epworth, Ryan Tedder, Declan Gaffney and Flood."

The gents know precisely what they are doing. They aren't 20 year old risk takers because they don't need to be. 

Personally, I find it beautiful. It's a glorious album. But don't let the music distract you from what they are trying to do with it. 

That's the real news. Pay attention to the transformation. 


Ten Things to Do With an Unwanted U2 Album

Apple Just Uploaded A U2 Album To Your iPhone And iPad — And Seriously, WTF

“Who is U2?” Inquiring Twitter users want to know (my favorite of the three)

T'would seem not everyone is happy about having the album in their cloud or uploaded in their list of albums. The transformation of the music industry when some have the power to transform it going to be interesting to watch.

Filed Under: mandodoxy |   | Permalink
Tags: U2, Songs of Innocence, review, theology, spirituality, technology

This might be fun. #ABSWTheology

Posted September 4, 2014 @ 4:10pm | by Tripp

Filed Under: theology |   | Permalink

No Pretending

Posted September 2, 2014 @ 9:03am | by Tripp

I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.

- Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

On mornings like these, I really should be making the coffee for both of us. But it seems that I lack the energy to do that, too. The dishes sit unwashed in the sink. Laundry is piled in the bedroom. This is not the site of some disaster movie, fortunately. Not yet. We are not that far gone.

I have posted about it again, this “getting my shitte together” that plagues me so. Some offered advice. Others support. Some made humorous quips. We all deal with the realities of life differently. I used to try and simplify when things got rough. That always seemed to work. But now, well, the One Big Thing cannot be simplified and I simply don’t know how to pass through it, manipulate it, tweak it, shrink it, break it down. No, I have to swallow it whole.

This is no longer about the dissertation or the comps but the whole of it together. It’s about my life. It’s about All The Things, and I cannot let go and let God or some other tried and true trite platitude. There is always Grace, but this is outside the Grace Zone. This is something else. No fairy dust, magic, grace, mojo, juju, can make this better.



So, why do I write about it and post about it online? Good question.

Because I am trying my damnedest to make something beautiful in spite of it all, in spite of myself. There is no other choice for me. I don’t want to glam it up, put make-up on this pig. And I don’t tell you all. I speak around it, a fence of poorly wrought prose, and that’s for the best. But I want you to know about it. I want you to know what it’s like over here.

No pretending. I am trying to make something beautiful from the ruins and the garbage. 

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink
Tags: making shitte up to keep myself sane

Church: What The Hell Am I Doing Here?

Posted August 31, 2014 @ 9:05am | by Tripp

There is never enough time to do all the things that I'd like to do each day. The stacks of books, the instruments. It's a normal human condition, of course. There are always demands on our time. Lately, the demands upon my time have been pleasant ones. I enjoy time with friends, impromptu date nights with Spouse, and an unexpected bike ride. But then there are the books and instruments.

I don't know if my epitaph will read "Gee, I should have spent more time with my mandolin" or not, but lately, I miss the thing. I miss learning new instruments as well. The feeling is acute lately because there's a violin sitting in my apartment next to my mandolin. It's a loaner and I'm elated. This week simply didn't have instrument time in it.

So many of my weeks have been like that. There are 52 weeks in a year. Maybe 20 of mine are musicking heavy. I need to learn how to be excited about 20 weeks of musicking rather than disappointed. Unsurprisingly, I spend more time wishing for more time and jealous of those who appear to have made more time.

How does one "make time" anyway? A curious act of faith, indeed. Perhaps we "make time" at the eucharist, that polychronic rite of bread, wine, and bodies gathered.

Making time to make music is an act of faith.

"Poets," opines Gerald Stern, "maybe all artists, get away from their own religious upbringing in order to arrive at a condition of faith."*

This is silly to some, obvious to others, but I never know where my faith resides. Church music has been my church. There have been very few Sundays when I have sat in a pew. All those turning points of faith happened in the choir loft.

It was singing "Ave Verum Corpus" in the university chapel that I found faith and beauty together.
I stood with the choir at the Great Vigil as the resurrection came alive for the first time.
When I came forward for the altar call at North Shore Baptist, I came down from the choir loft.
Again and again as a pastor, I preached with the Bible in one hand and the choir folder in the other.
Some day I will explain "mandodoxy" to you all. Suffice it to say that a mandolinist spends half her life tuning up and the other half her life playing out of tune.

This PhD is an obvious extension of what I have been asked to do again and again over these past twenty-five years.

Gerald Stern's musing is helpful for me right now. It's to universally directed to be true and yet it has the ring of truth to it no less. I am at a place of making sense of what came before and what has come after my joining this whole Jesus project. The institutions, culture, and ideologies are still a puzzle to me. Christianity is barely second nature. I was not raised to be religious, but my inclination? Perhaps there is always something else at work. Maybe I am naturally inclined toward the ambiguity of religion.

I really don't know what I'm doing here and this prose is too ridiculous.

Crafting a rite so that all who wish to may join in is still a passion. Lifting the veil of secrecy so that the mystery is available to any and all who would dare to embrace it is still a passion. In spite of all, the questions and doubts that accompany the lunatic practice of Sunday morning worship are still present.

These days especially.

It is Sunday and once again I ask myself, "What the hell are you doing here, son?"

I am going to church.

*p. ix, Kaminsky, Ilya and Towler, Katherine, eds. POETS TALK ABOUT FAITH: A GOD IN THE HOUSE, Tupelo Press, North Adams, MA, 2012.

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

Developing a Plan #PhD #ruXus

Posted August 26, 2014 @ 9:26am | by Tripp

I write to save my own ass, to shove the grip of madness away from me with words."
- Charles Bukowski

Yesterday I wrote about my frustrations and anxiety about finishing the degree. No, wait. Let's call it The Degree. It needs capital letters, you know. It has that kind of place in my life.

I wrote about how isolating it is. I wrote about how I fret over getting things done in isolation. I shared some grief about how the end of coursework was so sad to me. I love a good seminar.

I debated posting it because there's so much of my ego in it. It's a way of drawing attention to myself. I'm well aware of how co-dependent it might be. For what it's worth, I do talk to people about it, people who are here in Berkeley, and one with whom I live. I'm not isolating in that sense. Still, posting something so personal on a blog is worth closer scrutiny.

Nonetheless, I am deeply grateful for the kind responses both on my blog and on Facebook from friends and acquaintances. Some even sent me private messages offering support. Truly, these are kindnesses I will not soon forget. Thank you.

The truth of it is that I am freaking out. It's to be expected, I'm told. It's time. One mentor of mine who possesses two (2) PhDs recently exclaimed, "Oh! Comps?! They are terrible. I'll pray for you." It was very good to know it's not just me. This is the trap of isolating, of course. I keep thinking that it's just me. I am the only one who finds the process isolating and sad.

Nope. Not in the least.

So, here's what I'm gonna do. I'm going to try to take people up on their offers of support. I am also going to trim back on some other things I'm doing in order to make for more cognitive room for the work of comps and dissertating (note: spellcheck does not believe that dissertating is a real word; silly spellcheck). I will say "no" to a couple of things I love in the process. But if I am going to make this happen, I've got to make room for it to happen. I keep filling my time with charming distractions.

This means that those of you who offered support are on notice. I'm actually taking you up on your offers.

Another thing I am going to do is calendar this stuff out again. I used to do this well. It's how I managed to get through coursework and the comps proposal process in record (for me) time (even a little ahead of schedule for the program). Let it be calendared. Let it be done.

Lastly, I am going to schedule in two ethnomusicology conferences for each year I am in this program. One will be a return to Ripon College, Cuddesdon. These are my people. This is my field. As much as I turn this work into theology and ecclesiology, these conferences are where I don't need to translate my jargon. Thus, they are also the places where I get a clearer understanding of where new work is being done. Also, I'm up to my eyeballs in theology here at GTU. That base is well covered.

Thanks again to all of you who have shown me such kind support. I won't soon forget it.

Filed Under: Comprehensive Exams |   | Permalink
Tags: #occupycomps, #PhD, #ruXus

I May Never Finish #PhD

Posted August 25, 2014 @ 4:58pm | by Tripp

I work best under pressure, knee-deep in the mud. It helps me concentrate. The truth is I have never been guided by the kind of strict discipline I see in some people, those who get up at five in the morning and jog for an hour. My priorities are elsewhere. I will rearrange my entire day to have a solid meal with friends. ~ Werner Herzog


omeone is sure to claim that I am embracing negative thinking here. No doubt. I'm positive about that much at least. And perhaps I am. Perhaps it is defeatist to give voice to the doubts and frustrations that plague me these days. It is also disctinctly possible that I am making a mountain of a mole hill. 

I do that a lot, too.

I've been wrangling and wrestling. I've been mulling and musing. Hell, I've been tying myself up in knots trying to make sense of my muddled psyche and what might be afoot there in my head and beyond. 

Cognitive theorists would be quick to remind me that my brain is part of a very complicated system of self-understanding and such. Right. Very helpful. 

At any rate, I'm struggling with this PhD. I just can't get motivated to take my comprehensive examinations. Last night the obvious occurred to me once again. I don't actually want to finish. No. I don't.

I never feel more myself than when I am sitting in that seminar room having my notions of the world, music, God, humanity, or something else shattered into a million little pieces. It's a rush. I'm hooked. I dig it. I like the social setting. I like the intellectual setting. I like the feeling of learning in a group. 

That was over a year ago and it sucks. It sucks a lot.

Wener Herzog is someone I hardly understand. I've only vaguely known of him. It seems he's quite a big deal to some. Brain Pickings posted a book review. Someone interviewed the guy and so I read the review. It's about creativity and creators, so I read the thing. It's what I do now. I read about creators creating creative creations. 

For the most part I was uninspired.

Then there was the quote I placed above. Yeah. That sums it up for me. It's so hard to want to make time for the rest of the degree process. There are always more important things claiming my attention in the moment. I try to make the process more "urgent" but that's just not how it works.  

I don't see comps or the dissertation as hazing though that's a popular trope. No, it's simply the least enjoyable part of the process. It's the most solitary part of the process. I won't be sharing anything of the beautiful stuff I find with a class. I won't have a chance to talk things through with others. I will be totally alone.

I hate that. 

What's the point of discovery if one is alone in it?

I hate this.


Okay. That's all I got today. More later. 

Filed Under: Comprehensive Exams |   | Permalink
Tags: occupycomps, PhD

It's A Weekend, Doctor

Posted August 24, 2014 @ 9:16am | by Tripp

It has already been a full weekend. Saturday was the first day of orientation at American Baptist Seminary of the West. I did some research on new glasses, snuck into a guitar sale at UC Berkeley, and spent a fun evening with friends watching the newest Dr. Who. Today, as Sundays usually are, will be full to o'er flowing with churching and musicking.

I did not know how much fun student orientation is when you are not the one being oriented. We have such a great group of students coming in and it was fun to finally meet many of them in the flesh. The experience has inspired me to rethink what student recruitment looks like. I'm going to start pulling more from my AIDSRide playbook as well as some of the community-building work from congregations I have pastored. The students are looking for connection. They are looking for people to discern with them what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives. Since many of our congregations don't actually have discernment committees, etc., this could be a benefit to many. It might also create some group cohesion as well (read: community).

I was also asked to offer a little devotional, a short sermon if you will, to the gathered faculty and entering students. Preaching to the faculty made me nervous, but over all it went well. You can read the post on the ABSW blog.

On the way home early Saturday afternoon I was walking across UC Berkeley and saw a sign. Yes, a sign. Several actually, with red arrows encouraging me to stop by the guitar and piano sale. I did not buy anything, but it was great fun to wander about. They had some beautiful instruments available. Prices ranged from $500 to $10,000 for a guitar. There were some amazing instruments available. I noodled around on a red hollowbody electric guitar for a while. I've been thinking about what I might do with such a contraption.

The visit to the guitar sale was a helpful precursor to the visit to the optometrist. Say it with me, "Progressive lenses are entirely too expensive!" Wow. Astonishingly expensive. Nuts! So, now we have to figure out how to get these new glasses. The issue isn't the frames. They are reasonably priced. The lenses are exorbitantly priced. If I didn't need them so badly, I'd simply go spend the same money on a nice Breedlove cut-away.

Only the Doctor could make all of this better. And he did not disappoint. Capaldi is going to be a great Doctor as long as his eye brows do not run off to star in their own spin-off.

Also, Mary Poppins is a Time Lord. How this was missed, I still do not understand.

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

The Great Cloud of Unreliable Witnesses

Posted August 15, 2014 @ 9:37am | by Tripp

This morning, with the requisite fog covering Berkeley, I turned to Last Night’s Fun for some solace and inspiration. I have a lot to do today, e-mails to send, books to pack up in one office and take to another, reservations to make, recruitment kits to create, and a metric ton of introspection to accompany it all.

Once again I am plagued by missing the mark. We have a long and uncomfortable relationship.

Today’s reading comes from a chapter entitled “O’Dowd’s No. 9.” Where do the tunes come from?

“The tune becomes a family tree. It is a conversation piece, a modus operandi, a way of renegotiating lost time. Our knowledge os the past is changed each time we hear it; our present time, imbued with yesterday, comes out with bent dimensions. Slipping in and out of nodes of time, we find our circles sometimes intersect with others.”

Carson paints this picture of our relationship with time and other people through the experience of trying to play a tune, a “traditional” tune whose origins are necessarily suspect. This, for me, is a helpful analogy for liturgy, how it’s lived rather than how it’s recorded. Did John Chrysostom write the Orthodox liturgy? Scholars suggest that he did not, but it is so named nonetheless. Accretions, subtractions, omissions intentional or accidental, happenstance, deliberation, feud, council, committee meeting, some old person scolding the priest (“Bless me, Father, but that’s not how it goes...”), and even the seminary have had their say.

And it is no different for us Baptists. We too depend upon the lose connections of churchy sociality. Carson continues:

“Yet there is a wider circle we can only dimly comprehend, whose congregation is uncountable, whose brains and hands have shaped the tune in ways unknowable to us. We do not know how far or deep its palimpsets extend. We do not even know O’Dowd, or whether he made up the tune, or simply borrowed it and thought he made it up.”

The great cloud of witnesses is an unreliable one.

And yet, it is the most trustworthy.  

Filed Under: Comprehensive Exams |   | Permalink
Tags: Last Night's Fun, Ciaran Carson, O'Dowd's No. 9, music, ecclesiology, liturgy, time, music

More Fretting About the PhD

Posted August 11, 2014 @ 9:56am | by Tripp

Amma Syncletica said, "We ought to govern our souls with discretion and to remain in the community, neither following our own will nor seeking our own good. We are like exiles: we have been separated from the things of this world and have given ourselves in one faith to the one Father. We need nothing of what we have left behind. There we had reputation and plenty to eat; here we have little to eat and little of everything else."

The above is from Benedicta Ward's Daily Readings with The Desert Fathers. I try to turn to Amma Syncletica from time to time. Her's was a rigorous soul. The last line of this particular story always catches me up. I wrestle with my place in the world. It's an ongoing habit that I have failed to break over the years.

In spite of Jesus' admonition, I do worry for my life. I do. I fret. I'm good at it. I should have a doctorate in fretting rather than liturgics and ethnomusicology.

You want to fret? I'm your guy.

The more recent fretfulness has been focused on reputation and influence, "greatness," if you will. It's been couched in several different aspects of my life, but most recently it has been a question about getting this damn degree.

I call it the "damn degree" now. Why? Cussing has always made me feel better.

Also, hubris. I am awash in it.

"We need nothing of what we have left behind. There we had reputation and plenty to eat; here we have little to eat and little of everything else."

Lordy, but the economics of the academy have come off the rails, especially in the religious academy. I know many will disagree with me. I think that's a good thing. God forbid it that any one of us alone gets to say what is good, right, and true about what we do. That would be a disaster. But I keep thinking about Amma Syncletica and her understanding of the ascetic life and it's relationship to reputation or notoriety. Even if we are not called to the ascetic life, there is a good warning in her wisdom.

Why are you getting a PhD?
Why do you wish to serve in theological education?
What is your understanding of leadership and notoriety?

Because they are gonna come. Stand up in a pulpit in front of people and they come whether you like it or not. The classroom lectern is no different.

The PhD affords me the opportunity to teach in the seminary, in the college or university. I want to get up early and meet with students in a class room and discuss ideas, history, practices, the lives of the faithful so that we too might become more faithful. I want to help facilitate a conversation that can last a lifetime. For me, these are theological concerns and practices.

Temptation arises, of course, in the way this whole endeavor is structured. Who leads the conversation? Who holds power? Who is the "expert" in the room? Authority, hierarchy...there are some utilitarian realities that should be honored, but there is also an interpersonal dynamic at work that I still struggle with.

I want to be recognized without notoriety. I want to speak without bearing the weight of leadership.

I look at my heroes, the women and men who educated me. Sometimes I want to be like them. I do. But more truthfully, I want to help my students be like them. I don't care that much if I become like them.

I want more heroes. I don't want to be one.

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink

Getting A PhD: I Am Any Idiot

Posted August 7, 2014 @ 12:33pm | by Tripp

The story goes something like this: I was at my college choir rehearsal. I must have been a Sophomore or Junior. For some reason we were all talking about education and what a BA is worth (this is circa 1990, the first of the more memorable recent recessions) and the choir director exclaimed, "Any idiot can get a Ph.D."

Well, you could have heard a pin drop. It was not the good news we hoped he would offer. 

The good professor then spoke of the G.I. Bill and the boom in the college "marketplace." He spoke of how if one program turns you down, there's likely another somewhere which will help you get a PhD in something.

He benefitted from the Bill. His PhD was from Harvard. He listed all the good that had been done, but he cautioned us. "There might be too many colleges, too many PhD's. I know I sound like a terrible person, but that's the truth of it. There may be no more value to the PhD." 

Here I am twenty-five years later and his soothsaying echoes through my mind and this recent article has me thinking about why one would get a PhD these days. Ryan Anderson writes:

When are we going to wake up and realize that it’s 2014 and our academic paradise is a smoldering ash heap, a sad leftover from thirty something years of complete and utter demolition? We no longer have a booming economy and tons of federal money going into the university system. The days of cheap, accessible higher ed are done and gone. And yet, we keep churning out graduate students as if they, too, are going to end up as university professors. As if each and every one of them will soon have their own hip little office full of books, dedicated students, and bright, starry-eyed careers ahead of them. It’s not happening. Paradise. In. Ashes.

The glut has devalued the ultimate product. What was a rarely seen honorific (if one believes the Golden Era hype) has been replaced with just another line on a resume. 

"Any idiot," indeed. So, why do it? I cannot answer that question for you. Instead, let me offer a few idiotic reasons to do it. 

1. You have no choice. I'm serious. Everytime I try to do something else I flounder because I keep trying to turn my other places of work into a college, university, or more specifically, a seminary. I'm hardwired for this thing. I cannot help myself. (Note: I also try to turn these same places into concert halls. It's a complicated problem.)

2. The PhD is still a credential you need to do some things. Though the institutional administrators are moving toward hiring faculty (mostly adjunct) who are seasoned practitioners, the truth is that a PhD is still considered a reasonable metric for knowledge. If you want to teach in a college, you may very well still need the terminal degree in your chosen field. 

3. Making time to dive deeply into ways of knowing and thinking still matters. There are, of course, lots of ways to do this. But there are, at least at this writing, very few places, communities if you will, where one can gather with others to think, to ponder, postulate, wonder, and experiment. The academy is still such a place. The challenge is that it is one of many places for this work now. The academy does not hold a monopoly on the practice. I think this is also a good thing. It is imperative that the academy seek out partnerships. 

4. Knowledge and wisdom are more important than money or fame. Yes, I said it. You will die poor. You will have to seek other means of earning income. Adjuncts are unionizing, but that's no guarantee of an improvement. No. You must hold the value of knowledge and/or wisdom above many other things. I encourage you to work out those details. Make your priorities. Think through the issue of justice and pay equity, but also remember that this is no way to get rich and, for the present, is not even a way to be comfortable. You must love knowledge for knowledge's sake

Now, I am an idiot. I am seeking a PhD in a theological discipline. I may well be a special breed of idiot. And I am acutely aware of the ethical quandary of encouraging people to amass incredible debt by attending school. Please know that I am actively try to to help change this in my present position as Director of Admissions. My idocy multiplies by a magnitude...of something (h/t: Aaron Sorkin).

And, yet, I am still here. Why are you? What are your reasons for getting a PhD? 

Filed Under: random foolishness |   | Permalink
Tags: academia, PhD, job market, adjunct, it is all more complicated than we can fully grok

Holy Poverty and The Seminary

Posted July 29, 2014 @ 5:13pm | by Tripp

Paul said, "the foolishness of the cross" not "the stable middle class lifestyle," if you want my opinion on seminary education, the changing economy, and baptismal identity in general. We bear a responsibility to care for one another as Christians (and beyond) that we have abdicated to the persnickety "marketplace." It's time to talk about holy poverty again, I think.

I can hear my free church friends and colleagues now, "But we don't take a vow of poverty!" It's true. We don't. We remember this historical movement away from the monasteries and the cathedrals, the parish system and the state church. This is an issue of ecclesiology, no question. What I wonder, however, is if in our attempts to not fall into the traps of the past, we simply have settled on the marketplace as our model for ecclesiology. I assume we have. 

My degree is a "professional degree" yet within its conceptual framework the notion that I am "professed" is easily lost. I am not called to earn, but to labor, to serve. My work is "worth" nothing. Instead, it is a response to a vocation that in many ways we all share. The wealth of the community affords me the opportunity to respond to that shared call in a particular way. I am not your employee. I am your pastor. I am poor. Any wealth I may posses comes directly from the pockets of others. 

Seminaries are places for the formation of pastors, not employees. I am afraid, however, that we have lost the sense of that. Seminaries, once considered part of the Church, are now often perceived to be outside agencies or even adversaries of the congregations they were designed to serve. Communities once shared their wealth to establish institutions of learning (again, a kind of formation) so that they would have a place to send those in whom they perceived a call to the work called "pastor." 

But that has changed. It has. There's no way around or even through it. 

So, when I read about the fear of the loss of the middle class status of clergy, I am not surprised that some of us are shocked. Yet, we have been warned that this would happen. Even recently, a prominent pastor warned us about why we should seek this work. 

So, if any of the following inform or narrate your impetus for pursuing professional ministry, I’d like to ask you to take a step back and reconsider your vocational choice:

— I work to live. My job is how I make money.

— I’ve got my diploma and I’m done with all those books forever!

— I’m hoping that being a pastor will make me popular/please (or shock) my parents/make me seem super holy.

— I’m a lone ranger. I’ve got this ministry gig down and I don’t need any help.

— I’m doing this because I need emotional affirmation and I’m too scared to go to therapy and figure out why.

— I love to talk but I hate to listen.

Indeed. Have we lost our middle class status? I wonder why we had it in the first place.

No seminarian should graduate with debt. This is true. I agree.

Holy poverty is not the same as economic destitution. 

This should have nothing to do, however, with economic class. Instead, it should reflect the sense of responsibility we all share as Christians to provide servant leaders for the church. This is not about having a nice line of work. No. This is not even about the larger issue of economic justice. No, this is about whether or not individuals, congregations, and larger ecclesial bodies value ordained ministry any longer. 

I am afraid that we have our answer. 

This is the challenge seminaries face. 

Filed Under: conjecture |   | Permalink
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