I don’t know exactly where the time went, but the other day I just realized that I am thirty-seven years old. Wow.
After considering the matter, it occurred to me that I aged three years while at Seminary. (To be clear, this means I now have righteous reading skills, not major math skills.)
Additionally, I just realized that I finally have the clearest and most truthful answer to the question that has been nagging at me for some time.
The question: What did you do at Seminary?
The answer: I got older.
Nearly three years ago I applied for and was accepted into a 78-credit hour Masters of Divinity in Theology program. I later attempted to reduce my workload and transferred into the more reasonable 50-credit hour Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies degree. I am now out of quarters, as they say, and have decided to cut my losses. I will leave with the 24-credit hour Graduate Certificate in Biblical and Theological Studies to show for my efforts. I have 56 credit hours total, but stubbornly and, I believe, biblically, I refused to complete the required thesis and thus forego the actual graduate degree.
24 of the other 32 hours I passed were in ancient languages. When it comes to scholarship, I prefer word study to anything else. How precisely do words work? Answering that is endlessly fascinating to me.
I confess that I would have loved to see future bio’s read, “Pete earned his Master’s of Divinity…” or hear, “…Pete comes to us having earned his Master’s…” But I had to do things my way. The truth is that I think the theological and biblical higher education degrees are the paper equivalent of bullshit. There. I said it.
First of all, any title that can generically cover studies in several religions are misleading from the beginning. Divinity? Who’s soul has divinity saved? You know the answer is, “No one’s,” and you don’t have a degree in Divinity. Amazing!
Secondly, the Bible is full of very intelligible words. Words like mountain, rock, rain, serpent, turn, and blood. Unity is another one. By my thinking, if we are not in unity as Christians, it often means we’re simply off topic. Let’s admit it. For Christians, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only topic. See for yourself if you doubt me. In any case, talk about it. Reconciling evolution with creation is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you enjoy engaging in that type of mental gymnastic and know others who do too, by all means talk about it. If you lose friends over it, don’t talk about it; skip it like you would a difficult crossword puzzle. Keep the unity.
Thirdly, if I ran a seminary today, to accurately communicate to the fallen world what I was doing, I would confer to graduates only one degree: a Masters of Power. And I definitely would not recommend anyone enroll at my school. Can you imagine someone claiming to have earned a degree in power? And how could power be taught by books? What a joke he’d be. My first question to the new man-of-letters would be, “Which power, exactly? The wind? Heat? Speed? Darkness? Light? Forgiveness? Love? Make an actual claim, man!”
As it is, “Masters of Divinity” or “MA in Theology” plays only on a bygone era’s final unbroken string and merely reassures church-goers that they don’t need to read their Bible for themselves. Divinity and Theology are so general that their teaching solely requires that the institution’s curriculum be limited to trending positive ideas. But the Masters of Power degree, my way, would necessarily demand further specification. And instead of reassuring church-goers that they’re not being duped by some hack with a Bible, it would be an excellent metric by which to measure the preacher. Is he preaching that there’s power in some book? Power in some culture? Power in guilt and remorse? Or is he preaching that there is power in the Blood of Jesus? Power in the Word of God? Power in repentance? Power in holiness? Surely we all possess the mental faculties to discern the difference between these things.
Here me clearly: Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He holds all power. The adversary, the great serpent of old is defeated. This is good news. If someone let’s you know they disagree with this, thank them for their honesty and then pray that the Holy Spirit uses you to reveal Christ to them. When answering questions (they will have them) stick to Scripture and the spirit of Scripture. Think of yourself as the translator. You know their vocabulary and you know the Word of God. Be the friend they need. Feed them. In doing so, you’ll help them see the good news that they are already free.
Oh, and one more observation to round out my first week at seminary.
Tenth, it feels amazing to be back in a place that uses B.C. and A.D. to describe dates in history.
When I was taking a few undergraduate writing courses for pleasure a year or so ago, I kinda shrugged off the new-to-me B.C.E. (before common era) and C.E. (common era) dating convention as, “that’s redonkulous, but whatever.” (If you’re older than me and haven’t been in college recently, these days colleges (maybe all schools?) call B.C., B.C.E., ie 700 B.C. is 700 B.C.E. and call years formerly designated as A.D., C.E.–this year is 2015 C.E.–not 2015 A.D.) (Too many parentheses–sorry–but does anyone else crack up that they couldn’t get away from the letters B and C?) Despite only being 34 years old, I feel like others must view me as a crotchety, old, slave-owning white man when I confess that I am happy to be among honest historians again. Seriously, how in the world can someone honestly describe what makes BCE change to CE without mentioning a certain Jew? (That’s a serious question. Tell me.)
“Pete, I think that that was the line.”
“There are so many couples here.”
“We’re the cutest couple in this place,” say two teenage girls loud enough for 1995 to hear after taking a selfie.
A flock of college students approach a twenty foot tall stack of folded quilts. To the agreement of the rest, one female righteously asserts, “They should give these to the homeless.”
“I don’t think I’m a museum person.”
“I mean it’s alright, but I’m not that intrigued or even empathetic to the artwork. I don’t get most of it. I saw that Picasso piece. I was impressed that I was actually looking at a Picasso. Really, though, all I know is he cut off his ear.”
“He was insane.”
“Right. I will say this though. You and I, and H-, we’re walking around here, looking around. When you see something you like, you walk away, and I don’t think twice. I’ve been doing the same. H- too. Then we find each other and move on. It’s a very nice pace. But I’ve never seen couples do that. Have you been watching the guy’s faces as they follow their women around? Art is a very individual thing, no?”
“I have. Did you see that one, the dude with that smokin’ redhead by where we had H- dancing to the African drums? He looked miserable.”
“Oh my god. George. Read that first sentence over there.”
George turns and reads about Jaune Quick-to-See Smith’s Trade Canoe for Don Quixote piece.
Indian canoes were used on the river highways for thousands of years, but after the Great Invasion, they were also used by trappers, traders and U.S. government agents.
His head quickly retreats an inch in disbelief before turning to Pete.
“I know. Great Invasion. How does that get published? Just stick to drawing lady.”
“I wonder how far she’ll get before she realizes you’re not next to her.”
“I don’t know. She’s been doing it all day.”
Pete quickens his pace to keep H- in sight.
“Little girl! Little girl! Where’s your pare-”
“Sir, you need to stay in the same room as your child. You don’t know how many kids we lose here.”
The German word’s English meaning can be “nice one”, “beautiful”, “lovely”, even the simple, yet elegant, “good”. “Fish-hooker”, however, is nowhere on the Google Translate list of twenty-two words/concepts. Then again, he doesn’t go by Schoen these days. It’s too difficult to pronounce, he says.
I still prefer Schoen (pronounced “Shane”) though. You see, for me, Schoen was a senior in the fraternity that I was certain I’d never join. And Schoen ended up being my tag-team wrestling partner against a heavyweight Brent and lightweight Climer. Of course, while freshmen might be bold enough to challenge seniors, no senior would ever risk losing to a freshman, so despite the unpredictable nature of tag-team wrestling, I wrestled Climer and Schoen took on Brent. The match-up was more even than expected, Climer’s gangliness undoing much of my strength, and Brent’s weight putting to test much of Schoen’s.
The rectangular room had newer carpet, not plush, but fuller than the thin stuff commonly found in high traffic areas. Blue folding chairs lined the walls. The lighting was excellent. Anytime a wrestler’s energy or motivation began to fade his partner would tag in. Consequently, the other partner tagged in. My confidence in Schoen never faltered. One can imagine my surprise, then, as Brent managed (likely a surprise to himself) to maneuver Schoen into a nasty headlock. Wriggling like a python’s prey at first, Schoen quickly realized the futility of purposeless movement. Instead, he opted for a move that is illegal in every version of sanctioned combat across the globe: the fish hook.
For the ladies, the fish-hook is a tactic where one combatant curves his index finger into the shape of a “fish-hook” and places it into his enemies mouth. Obviously, this act alone would cause no advantage. What does cause an advantage is when this finger pulls against the cheek of the enemy. So picture the scene with me. Brent was standing a full head higher than Schoen, holding him in a head lock. They were spinning in circles. They were spinning in circles because Schoen, on his knees, was reaching up with one free hand and fish-hooking Brent’s right cheek. Eventually (moments like these do not last) I heard I tear. I guessed that Schoen had torn Brent’s cheek. Raising my guess to the level of certainty, Brent immediately tapped out, and as Schoen removed his finger, ran to the restroom.
Thick. The anticipation was thick. Breathing heavy, but relieved to be out of the headlock, Schoen lowered his chin towards his chest while he raised his eyebrows and stared at me. It was a knowing nod, a victor’s nod.
The restroom door handle’s jiggle announced Brent’s reappearance.
“Dude, I just vomited,” said Brent.
Apparently, Schoen’s finger had touched a nerve, so to speak. I know I was hooked.
This blog has a persona that I’ve been attempting to carefully control. It hasn’t been the full picture, though, and sometimes I don’t feel good about not sharing everything. As an experiment then, here’s some of what you’ve been missing:
“Hi Pete…maybe not cold blooded, but perhaps a bit narrow visioned, or at least inconsiderate, as a result of white male privilege…brutal enslavement of women is not a thing of the past. Sadly, that is not made up. And I disagree that it was “cured” by the U.S. military riding in on their white horse. It happens here too.”
I just finished watching “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” and I have to say I’m in the mood to talk about my feelings. Brutal enslavement of women is not sanctioned by anyone (public or private) in the United States of America.
What are you even talking about?
Individual crimes happen, sure, but those will never stop happening. In fact, I heard the other day that a white male was murdered. I cried myself to sleep that night. Because I’m white. And I’m a male.
The terrible crimes against women that happen in America and occasionally are bizarre enough to receive national news coverage (which are the only things I can possibly imagine you’re referencing as evidence of women being enslaved “here”–you do know slavery is against the law here, right?), these individual crimes aren’t even in the same categorical universe as the situation in Afghanistan–the situation that is causing Afghan women to choose to burn themselves alive.
Wait a minute. I think I know what’s happened here. Yes, it’s all becoming clear now. Because I look like your dad, who I can only assume you hate, you think you get to bring up my “race” or my “culture” or my “ethnicity” without fear of reprisal. That must be it. Am I close?
To be clear: (I was taught once to not use the phrase “I think” when writing, because of course each of us only ever writes our opinion. But for those of you who haven’t learned that ev-er-y-thing is opinion, I’ll use “I think” here.) I read M-‘s poem. I thought it was good. I didn’t think it was great. But I thought it had the potential to be great. I never doubted that Afghan girls were burning themselves alive, though I don’t have time to focus on the news these days, and until reading the poem, I wasn’t aware they were doing this. The purpose of this course is to teach us to write better, teach us to use imagery, etc., teach us to write in a way that causes the reader–any reader–to feel what we (the writer) intended to be felt. I did not “feel” that M-‘s word choice was as effectively-imagery-ridden as it could be, and, in my own style, I told her as much.
S-, R-, and K-, that you chimed in on this discussion did nothing except reveal how misaligned your understandings’ of life on planet Earth are. Suffice it to say, because I have responded to you despite the fact that you used words like “offended” and “inconsiderate”, I’m now very afraid that some actual repercussion will occur, and, if so, that could result in me losing some money. Because I clearly think I know everything, I composed a swan song that I’d like to share with you now. Please write this down, and when able, commit it to memory:
College is the last time in your life
When you might be given actual honest feedback.
However, at your bidding, in this class, and from now on,
I’ll only say the most unoffensive and considerate things about everything you write.
That should cause
Some real growth.
I know I’m
Looking forward to it.
“She has to know, right?”
“I don’t know, man. Does she? Know what?”
“Know that her words are very flattering. Very, very flattering.”
“I mean, sure she’s your teacher and we’d all like to believe teachers are more aware than their students, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s thinking like you think she’s thinking.”
“I’m not saying I know how she’s thinking. I’m just saying that it has been a long time since anyone has said I’m fascinating, endearing, and an enigma.”
“Whoa, slow down buddy. She didn’t say you were fascinating, endearing and enigmatic. She said your writing was.”
“Hey, don’t ruin this moment for me.”
“So what do you think my next play should be?”
“All I know is that she’s your number one contender right now.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
“You said she reads your blog?”
“She said she does. She even used the word ‘wildly’ to describe an aspect of them. ‘Wildly’. I like that.”
“You told me that she said your blog was ‘wildly different’ than your discussion posts for class.”
“Like I said, ‘wildly’.”
Those of you who left the world of academia long ago might be unaware that there is a debate raging about the humanities. Are college students interested in majoring in the humanities? Are they not? Would they like to, but their practical mind says, “Don’t be a fool. There are no jobs for humanities majors.”
My question is why is this debate even happening? I suspect that students who major in vocational type degrees get their long-sought-after jobs and live happily ever after. Just like students who major in the humanities or liberal arts degrees don’t get jobs related to their degree and live happily ever after.
There is some notion that accompanies attending college which goes something like, “If only we all do this right, we can achieve heaven on earth.” Is that what we (humans) really think?
I say do what you want. I wanted to get good grades and learn about why people behave they way they do. So I majored in sociology. Some people want to become very rich, so they major in fields that lend themselves to making money. Other people want to paint, so they major in art. I don’t see why this is a discussion. Am I missing something?
I want to be the best that I can be. Isn’t that enough? Why do I have to conform to your utopia? How about this: You just do your best rather than worry about forecasting what will happen if nobody studies English or History anymore. And I’ll do the same. And then we’ll see what happens.
Dear Professor E–:
I’ve been thinking about our relationship a lot lately. Do you remember how we first met? You, the professor–the gatekeeper; me, the seeker? I remember it like it was yesterday. You lectured me on the importance of listening. Always the professional, you wouldn’t fudge my grade just because I made really good arguments why I didn’t turn in my work on time. Didn’t you understand that I was just coming out of another relationship and didn’t have time for you yet?
Without you, I would’ve never experienced growth. Of course, I’m referring to how you led me from veritable darkness to light in the areas of critical reading, argument analysis, and revision.
Like a dream, you asked me to explore anything I wanted. You challenged me to research a body of work in a way I never before had. You even allowed me to use webpages. More than that, you loosed the first-person-perspective that I had bottled up inside for all these years. Specifically, I told you I wanted to go to Mars. Like a good friend, you encouraged this dream, while subtly encouraging me to do a little research before packing. Now, neither of us were greenhorns when we met, but it is because of your relentless attention that I discovered how to improve my ability to read for understanding and then communicate my findings via the written word. The only pity is that, according to my research, there is a great chance that after I’m selected to move to Mars, our relationship will be forced to end. I hope you’ll write.
Next, I wanted to thank you for the invaluable lessons in argument analysis. Before we met, I always thought I won my arguments using “the right way.” Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to learn that I could be right using several different methods of argumentation. Formal logic is difficult to defeat, but with your help I learned that it isn’t the only kind. You taught me The Toulmin Model, which comes in most handy when reading an argument that is so shameful that the writer hides what they really have to say. Just the same, I want to be good at everything, so learning how to be forgiving during a debate proved invaluable. And then, do you remember how you kept me up late reading about Rogerian analysis? You know, when you apply the time-tested art of flattery to win over dissenters? The whole, “Let me outline your argument for you, praise it, but then subtly recommend that my way is still better.” It’s really touching how it works. If you ever get sick of me, I just may use it to win you back—watch out!
Finally, and really through everything—thick and thin—you taught me how to keep an every-watchful eye on my own writing. Revise, revise, revise. Over the last several months, you asked me to do a lot of things. Sometimes I was uncomfortable, yet you always required that I take it a step at a time. It was here where I learned that the process is as important as the product.
So here we sit—you and me—in this crazy, crazy world. Who can know what the future holds? All I can hope is that you’ll stay in mine. It’s been wonderful thus far Professor E–. You’re the best.
Pete, Favorite Student
“Pilots are so much better than everyone else,” thought a young boy once. As a grown man, I think we should all agree with the boy. A few years ago, I found a spare moment hidden in Iraq of all places. That moment contained irrefutable proof that pilots are better than everyone else. Pilots are better because they live many lifetimes, while other people only live one lifetime. Confusing? Maybe it’d help if I said that pilots are better because they live many mini-lifetimes. Any better? No? Allow me to explain.
A mini-lifetime is the term I use to capture the three-part event of flight: takeoff, flight, and landing. In order for the definition’s perfection to become perceivable, you must understand that a lifetime has three key parts: birth, life, and death. To critical readers, I confess that there certainly are other professions or human activities that contain just three parts; however, I’m convinced you’ll see there is a special genius in this metaphor’s specific use of pilots.
To begin the comparison, birth and takeoff share a foundational similarity. Both initiate a sequence of events that will only ever come to an end. Next, life and flight are that sequence. They are the continuation of birth and takeoff. Moreover, during life and flight, no matter how a person lives or how a person flies, a tragic end lingers at a moment’s distance. Finally, the death (near death, at least) and landing phases offer a unique ability to look back over the life and flight phases with the express purpose of forming judgments. For pilots, these judgments, of course, are not the end–but the beginning. The end is the application of the lessons learned. Note, that pilots repeat this three-chapter cycle almost daily. And while doing so, they become very proficient at improving their flying skills through the post-landing debriefs. Grounded folk, on the other hand, are not afforded these vantage points. They must make extreme efforts to be still, take inventory, determine lessons learned, and then apply the lessons as they resume living out their lifetime. Consequently, pilots living all these mini-lifetimes–do not discount the very real threat of death this metaphor demands–are in the habit of debriefing their own grounded lives each day, week, month, year, or whatever time period and applying the lessons learned to the next iteration. That is why they are better.
Whew! Glad you’re still with me, as I have great news. That was just the introduction. Let’s not kid ourselves, it was worth it. Next up, the part of the assignment you’ve been waiting for: more meta-for. (Yep, that’s my humor.)
The assignment was to write a(n interesting) paper relating grammar to some other system in life. Naturally, it follows that if my flying-life metaphor is so perfect, grammar being a part of life, then grammar should be able to be explained via flying. As Rafiki tells newly-mature Simba in the Disney classic, The Lion King, “Eet is time.” It is time to push the metaphor further.
Clear as day, the first requirement for grammar is words. Lady Luck, beauty that she is, smiled down on me as it became clear that flying also needs one thing more than anything else: pilots. So words must be pilots. Obviously, humans don’t have physiological wings, so we invented machines that could lift us into the air. Just as all humans are not pilots, all sounds humans emit are not words. Within the sounds that can be classified as words, there are subtle intonations and pauses. When creating written language, earlier man decided these subtle intonations and pauses required special written markings, different from alpha characters. Whatever name initially given, today we call them punctuation. Like a pilot’s aircraft, punctuation is a tool to help words achieve their God-given purpose. A pilot’s purpose is to accomplish a mission and he does so using an aircraft. A written word’s purpose is to accomplish communication and it does so using punctuation.
With words and punctuation under my belt, I pressed onward. What more could I synthesize? I knew that individual words and punctuation didn’t communicate as well as a group of words, a sentence, does. Equivalently, pilots and aircraft don’t accomplish missions in a single action–they need a group of actions. So a sentence, then, is the coordinated cycle of takeoff/flight/landing. Each takeoff is the capital letter and marks the beginning of an independent, complete thought. The flight is that thought. And the landing is the concluding punctuation. (This is pretend world. It’s okay if the punctuation is both the aircraft and the landing…think how a period can be both part of an ellipses and a period at the same time if you need to.)
But wait! Stop here, and consider a new revelation. Consider how an exclamation point has varied tones. I said consider how an exclamation point has varied tones, silly! Then consider how a perfect landing would be a soft, beautiful exclamation point as in, “Man, that landing was as sublime as an outdoor professional hockey game being graced by light falling snow!” While a crash landing would be a hard, abrupt exclamation point found in, “Bam!” At first daunting, the question mark still fits the metaphor. Can you picture a student pilot attempting to land a helicopter? Sometimes the student thinks he has landed just once, when the instructor knows it was at least twice. After all, there is no place to record number-of-times-student-bounced-the-helicopter-before-finally-landing, is there?
Next, while it is possible that a mission can be comprised of just one takeoff/fly/land iteration, most missions include several such iterations. Similarly, it is true that some sentences can be paragraphs themselves. A more elementary view is that sentences need other sentences in order to be a paragraph. A paragraph is usually a more effective method of communication than a sentence or word. This, then, is the same as how missions containing several iterations of takeoff/fly/land are usually more effective missions. Specifically, if a pilot flies to a destination to pick up someone, flies to a second destination to drop them off, and then flies back to the home airfield, that is more effective than just one of those three iterations. One effective mission composed of three total flights.
This metaphor becomes ever easier as we move away from the basics, into the more subjective parts of written language. Lexicon, or an individual’s dictionary, would be the capabilities of a particular pilot, whereas diction would be his or her style. Metadiscourse, or the words and phrases that help the reader understand the writer’s meaning, would be a pilot’s clothing. Is the pilot wearing a uniform, or just dressed in plain clothes? Just as a writer’s intentional metadiscourse helps the reader understand the writer, a pilot’s clothes conveys who the pilot works for, how good he or she is, how experienced he or she is, and what type of missions the pilot accomplishes (passenger transport, combat, reconnaissance, etc.).
In the end, this assignment is over before it begins. That grammar can be synthesized into any system shows that it can be synthesized into every system. That’s because grammar is a system. That’s the point, isn’t it? The real trouble for sticklers of grammar, however, is not that people don’t use the system; it’s that life goes on whether people use or ignore the system. This, just as life goes on whether or not human flight occurs. If there is any overarching lesson this metaphor can teach us, it is that grammar is not a solution to a problem. It is a tool to be used by those who care to use it. Just like flying.