Catching up

It is really amazing how easy it is to get caught up in school. I can read for days on end, especially books that appeal to the disciplines I identify with: pastoral theology, arts, and formation. I can sit in front of books- thick, heavy, weighty tomes –and only come up for food, water, and to grunt at passers by. I love exploring new ideas, thoughts and theologies. I am, at this moment, in the middle of six books dealing with things from process theology to religious aesthetics to philosophy. It is sometimes hard to keep them straight, but each holds my interest in different ways.

We are assigned pretty close to a book a class a week. This week it was neurobiology and pastoral theology, care and counseling, it was fascinating. The idea of neuroscience and its relationship with narratives, memories, rituals and imagination was really interesting. We spoke with the author of the book via conference call for about an hour, looking at the finer points of his arguments and then peering out over the horizon to the new science that was occurring as we spoke.

It is a different experience reading someone’s passion and then being able to ask them questions about what they have written. We then spent another two hours talking about the implications of this research with communities that have experienced a life of oppression. I did not realize that pain experiences actually have the effect of shrinking the brain physically, shutting down processes that could be utilized to help pull people out of the ensuing depression, pain and grief. We discussed this in the context of Katrina and the neurological implications of the devastation on the mind.

The professor had a surprise task at the end of our three and a half hour discussion. Basically, we had to answer a comprehensive exam question with two minutes of preparation and be critiqued by our colleagues. My heart leapt at this task, anxiety maximizing its presence in my mind and manifesting itself as a pronounced stutter. I survived, and even passed according to the professor. Being put on the spot like this has never been one of my strong suits. I like time to reflect and organize my thoughts; silence to weigh my words and collect any stray wanderings. This was not my element, but watching another do it gave me the confidence to let all hang out as best as I could. At the end, it was good and exciting and actually relieved some future stress related to the whole idea of comprehensive exams.

The quarter is winding down here, and there are only four or so classes left. I am working on several things including: a short paper on the study of religion from the viewpoint of Emile Durkheim, a syllabus for an entry-level undergraduate class in comparative religions, and a paper on Pastoral Theology and Visual Arts. I am also trying to figure out what I will take at the beginning of the year. I think it will come down to three classes, an unbearable burden according to many. I think that I may try Existential Theory and Therapy, Theodicy and Tragedy, and an independent study related to Pastoral formation culminating in a co-authored article with one of my professors. The professor hasn’t decided whether or not to do the article so I am not sure if that one will come through.

This first quarter has been a busy one, full of affirmations and frustrations. My world seems petty and small compared to the things that have happened in “real” life. The national unity in the face of Katrina is beginning to wear off. People who were not directly affected are starting to forget the devastation that has occurred. This is not a bad thing, but it can’t be all good either. My wife and I are looking forward to entertaining family soon. Her parents will be the first to visit us since the move and it will be nice to encounter friendly faces from back east. We continue to miss our friends and colleagues back home. I have the month of December off, and need to figure out what to do other than study Spanish and my LCSW material…

grace and peace



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