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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
A Long, Strange, Academic Trip #occupycomps
Posted July 28, 2014 @ 10:39am | by Tripp
My glasses are in another room. It seems I need to get my eyes checked. I cannot wear my glasses for anything other than walking across campus or driving the car. If I need to read or work on the computer, well, then they become a painful distraction.
Lately, I have been struggling with content management. It’s a simple malaise, really. I’ve been posting crap online. Some of it has been here. Some of it has been on Facebookistan or Twitter. Either I am picking a fight or I am vapid. Neither will serve.
Merlin Mann’s post about better user-generated content keeps coming to mind. It’s not that trolls won’t come. It’s not that we sometimes bait them. This happens. It is simply the premise that we can do better. We don’t have to fall into the trap of creating more digital white noise. There’s enough of that going around. Instead, we could compose a symphony or play the internet’s version of the gamelan. We could improvise through various forms and patterns seemingly independent of one another but, in truth, all framing the same unheard tune.
That’s what I’m trying to do. I am trying to be better.
Of course, that takes more thoughtfulness than I have recently been willing to give.
So, here we go again. I am going to try to be more thoughtful in what I present. I will try not to take the bait when my friends and others post inflamatory stuff (intentionally so or not). I have too much to do and I am woefully behind.
This means that I have to write about what I need to write about. #occupycomps
None of you will read that stuff. It’s so damned silly. Truly, it is. But I have convinced myself that there are a dozen people on the planet remotely interested in what I am interested in. Most of them live here.
What a strange trip this academic life is. Strange.
On Global Weirding
Posted July 24, 2014 @ 9:49am | by Tripp
As surprising as this may be to some of you, July is not supposed to be a warm month in the Bay Area. July is supposed to be a rather cool month. "The coldest winter I ever spend was summer in San Francisco" is not only a little bit of pith; it's a meteorological truism. The marine layer rolls in from the Pacific in response to the hot and dry weather in the Central Valley and it just sits here. It's a natural refrigerator. A rainy one at that.
Not this year.
Don't get me wrong. We're not suddenly experiencing a sub-tropical heatwave. Not at all. But the Berkeleyites have been wilting. Many of the buildings aren't air conditioned. On July 4th, people watched fire works in their parkas and scarves. Today, people are wondering if they can convince their boss to let them wear shorts and tank tops to the office.
You would think the issue of office dress would vanish in the Silicon Valley. Alas. No. Office casual is giving way to summer swelter.
I am sitting here in the kitchen listening to the radio announcer proclaim highs in the 90's. Insane.
What? Is it October already?
Bearing Witness to Tragedy and Thanksgiving
Posted July 20, 2014 @ 9:31am | by Tripp
A fog sits upon the Berkeley hills. You would think that this is a daily occurrence, but it is not. The years of drought have taken their toll. But it is summer here and that means morning fog.
I can see the hilltops over the apex of the roof of the church building next door. Those who worship early have arrived. There is a small but steady stream of people walking into the chapel. The religious habits of Berkeleyites are a mystery to me even after three years of worshiping among them.
I am making breakfast. The aroma of coffee keeps me company as I listen to the radio. They are still talking about Gaza and Kiev. No one has the courage to ask if the world will go to war again. Perhaps it is simply a stupid question. Of course there will be no world war. There's nothing in it for the global powers. So, we will watch the Ukraine and Israel tear themselves or their neighbors apart.
Recently there was a story about Israelis sitting along hilltops watching the shelling. They were eating popcorn. So many were astonished at the callousness. There is nothing new to this, of course. People packed picnics to watch the siege of Petersburg in the American Civil War. And though I want to, I cannot pass judgment. I sit here in my California kitchen listening to the news and doing nothing. A vicarious life is the life we have crafted for ourselves.
It is the fruit of broadcast technology.
The most we can do is bear witness to the tragedy of others.
At best we remember.
Like my Berkeley neighbors, this morning I too will walk into the church. I will partake of the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, thanksgiving for what God has done in the world. Even there, with a necessarily sacramental twist, I will bear witness to resurrection and reconciliation. I will partake with bread and wine, but even then it is witnessing.
We are participant observers, recipients of the grace we witness in memory and sign.
Waiting for The Music
Posted July 15, 2014 @ 5:14pm | by Tripp
I am waiting for the music to return, the sonorous graces of laughter and kitchen clinking, of bird call on the hillside.
I am waiting for the music to return, the precarious arrangement of hope and memory that uplifts and guides.
I am waiting for the music to return, the band, the orchestra, the seisiun, the jam, the people who make and craft sound.
Instead, I am stranded in an eschatological posture like pause on my mp3 player. The Wifi Spirit does not respond and even if I could connect, the playlist I have randomized is sore lacking. I miss the people who make these sounds. I miss their voices.
Have you ever sat in a small room as somebody made beautiful music? Maybe for you it's the singer-songwriter. Or maybe it's the saxophonist. Perhaps it's the kora. I'm not so certain it matters what, but more where and who. Have you ever been in a place where the music surrounds you and the musician stands close? Have you ever been graced with that attention?
I've been the recipient of such a gift. I've also tried again and again to offer it. I've stood in bar, sanctuary, nave, and concert hall. I've sounded my barbaric yawp until I was hoarse. I have strummed and plucked until I bled. I have listened for the sudden, astonished intake of breath and the breathless beer-spilling songster alike.
The attention that comes from being lost in the space, the time, the sound, in one another, grounds me like none other. I feel each breath. I lean into each sound. I hear the room, the hall, the cathedral, the space between us, and I hear all of us as we join one another in a symbol. I feel my own voice or the resonating instrument strapped to my chest. I listen for all of these. I breathe with all of these.
We craft a symbol in which we may all dwell a while, not transported, but graciously made aware of who we are and to whom we belong. "It is in the shelter of each other that the people live," so the old Irish proverb goes. "Ubuntu!" exclaims the bishop from South Africa. "We are one body in the One Lord," the editors of that hymnal remember for us.
"Ever-present" is the Lord God, the Almighty. Right here. With us. You. Me. He. She. We. Them.
Not "out there" or "far away" in some other place above and beyond this one, but so "further up and further in" as to feel elsewhere when all the while we are being awoken to what is always and ever right here, right now.
Right here, right now. Jesus Jones was right. . . on Earth as in Heaven.
We are building a sonic theology. Those who have ears, listen.
The Hills Stand Vigil
Posted July 11, 2014 @ 6:28am | by Tripp
There is no accounting for time and space
As the blue mist settles on the morning hillside
I imagine the hills of another place
Still bathed starlight and moonglow
The one whom I love is there
I am here as the hills stand vigil