Sunday, September 30, 2012

Reflection Sunday 9.30.12 (Jesus Corner)

Hola! Sorry I've been a little absent - it turns out that when you spend 45 hours a week thinking, reading, and writing, you have less energy to do more of that in your spare time. Who knew? Plus, last weekend was our school retreat, which was great, but also has put me in catch up mode since then (hopefully should be back on track by tomorrow!).

Anyways, I just wanted to hop on here and reflect a little bit about this last week. You should know  that I'm taking 3 classes that are designed to be taken together: Christian Thought and Culture 1 (kind of a history of Christian philosophy), Church History 1, and Old Testament Foundations. I'm really appreciating the different texts that each class presents each week, because they all seem to be riffs on a central theme. Last week, the theme that overwhelmed me throughout the readings and lectures is the uniqueness of the Judeo-Christian God in the context from which worship emerged.

See, gigantic nerd that I am, I'd studied ancient Near Eastern religions enough to understand the basics. I saw that there was a pantheon of gods that were highly correlated to natural elements and understood that there was a proscribed method and rationale behind each god's worship. What I had failed to fully think through was the moral or ethical outcomes from that kind of system.

In this cosmology, humans were formed to inhabit preexisting cities by gods who wanted them as slave labor to execute the less fun aspects of their bureaucratic functions. In fact, these gods don't usually create humans at all, because that's not within their set power (i.e. over fertility, the sun, the underworld, etc.). These gods are totally limited in their scope of power and their expectation from humanity is nothing more or less than provision for the gods' needs. The god requires food and to be put to bed and a house to live in on earth. The god does not give a flying flip what humans do to each other, for the most part, so long as it doesn't interfere with worship. It makes sense, then, that the ancient world did not see ethics in terms of right or wrong as we would define it. Rather, they saw ethics in terms of order and disorder; order is right, disorder is wrong. There is no sense of morality outside of these bounds.

It's not surprising, perhaps, that around the world this explanation became unsatisfying, and we see the beginnings of modern religion emerging, with concepts of a supreme god or a universal spirit behind many of them. What continued to set the Hebrew God apart from others, though, was that He was good. He was good and worship of Him absolutely required goodness towards Himself and fellow humans. He cared deeply about daily life, not because it affected His well being, but because as a good Being, He demanded His followers to behave in a good way towards Himself and others. The elements of ancient religion remained, but sacrifice was meant to be an outward expression of the heart, not food for Him to literally eat. This was a profoundly new idea about God, and one that may surprise those who have been inclined to think of "the Old Testament God" as a purely malevolent force. I totally understand that there are passages in the OT that clash with our modern sensibility - but I would also encourage us to remember that a) we would not have that sensibility without the Judeo-Christian worldview of right/wrong that comes into Western thought and b) that the authors of the text describe this God as good, holy, and merciful over and over again. With that in mind, it's an interesting exercise rereading the OT with this lens.

The Christian worldview kicks things up a notch. Jesus goes so far as to identify Himself with those that the Romans would have classified as weak and contemptible - "For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothe me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me... Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me." When great epidemics hit the Roman empire, even the great physicians like Galen fled to spare their own health; Christians inexplicably stayed to care for the sick. This was truly puzzling to the pagan worldview, which saw no correlation between their actions towards each other and their standing before their gods. Likewise, women flocked to the church, not because they were dumb, as some Roman commentators speculated, but because they were respected members of liturgical life in the early church (something we seriously need to reclaim, but that's another day's soapbox), because "there is neither male nor female" before God, and because they were spared the common practices of consummated marriages before they hit puberty, arbitrary divorces, forced remarriages, abortions that killed mother along with child as often as not, and infanticide for their daughters or sickly boys.

I guess the short way to say all of this is that I have been struck by how much it affects our actions to worship a God who has created mankind in His image and who values our behavior towards each other. It's also challenging me anew to think about how I treat my neighbor and how we as a church have gotten sidetracked from the Golden Rule in too many situations. We're not perfect - we will never act with complete righteousness towards others. But praise God that our Father cares about our relationships with each other as an overflowing of our relationship with Him.  As Rodney Stark put it, "The issue is spectacle - for the throngs of the stadia, watching people torn and devoured by beasts or killed in armed combat was the ultimate spectator sport, worthy of a boy's birthday treat. It is difficult to imagine the emotional life of such people... What Christianity gave to its converts was nothing less than their humanity. In this sense, virtue was its own reward." (pp.214-215)

Here's a couple of the books I've been reading from this week:

The Didache - early Christian catechism
The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark
Jesus Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan

What does it mean to view our treatment of others as part of our relationship with God?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Inside Scientology by Janet Reitman

Ready to thank God for the AMA and loose some respect for the IRS? Let's go Inside Scientology...



Inside Scientology
by Janet Reitman

Procured from my library's online lending program - the best advance of the digital age

Procured on July 29, 2012

Finished on August 4, 2012

Format: eBook edition 

Why I gave it a try: I heard the author, Janet Reitman, discussing the book on the NYT Book Review podcast. Not only did the subject matter intrigue me, but I appreciated her stated purpose, which was to try to assess the religion on its own terms, as well as from an outsider's perspective. Additionally, she sought out defectors who (at least when she was writing) had not previously spoken publicly about their experiences.

Summary: Scientology claims to be the world's fastest growing religion. But how did it get started? Who the heck is L. Ron Hubbard? Why is it so expensive? What are the roots of their well known hatred of psychiatrists? How did so many celebrities become involved with the movement? Reitman tackles all these questions and more...

Thoughts: Considering what we're talking about here, I do want to say on the front end- this is my opinion only, based on what I've read in Reitman's book and seen on the web. I'd encourage anyone curious about this to look into this important topic for themselves and hear both sides.

So, let's get straight to the question that I'm sure you come to this topic with: is Scientology a cult? Coming away from the book, my conclusion is... kind of. Reitman herself characterizes the group as a "commercially driven spiritual enterprise." The loudest of critics have no problem labeling them as a dangerous cult, while the Church of Scientology itself decries critics as persecuting a new and legitimate faith group. Everyone has to make up their own mind... I'll link to a few resources that can help form your own opinion if you are interested in the topic. From the horse's mouth, you can see what the CoS claims itself to be. You can read Dianetics (my library has a copy, so yours probably does, too). You can also watch Jason Beghe's compelling testimony to a Germany panel on Scientology's dangers or his amazing story about how he got out of Scientology (a lot of profanity here, warning!, but he is a compelling raconteur). There are hundreds of videos from Tory Christman that explain why she left the church and what happened to her when she did*.  The Village Voice did a really interesting series on the 25 people most damaging the CoS. And besides all of these online things, you could just buy Reitman's amazing book.

I went into the book with a somewhat open mind, though of course I'd gleaned various pieces of concerning information about the group over the years from the media and the weird behavior of Tom Cruise. Frankly, the whole TomKat split had revived my awareness in Scientology, and as I started to poke around, I found myself more and more intrigued as to what in the world was going on out there in Hollywood and Clearwater. I read the exposé in the New Yorker, which raised a lot of questions for me about how accurate the human rights abuse claims it contained were, though considering they sat down with CoS lawyers beforehand, I had to assume it was reasonably well established. What I wanted was a book that dealt with these kinds of claims in an objective fashion. I found all of this and more in Reitman's thoughtful and fair treatment of the group.

The book is structured as a chronological history of the group, starting with old L. Ron Hubbard himself, and moving into present day.  Reitman brings in many witnesses throughout the history, who explain the mood and attitude shifts within the organization as time moves on. One element that Reitman brings out beautifully is how Scientology has really always been a group that served the spiritual needs of its day. That is, it was born out of the 50's self-help fixation, adapted as a more New Age-y kind of spiritual movement in the 60s and 70s, and became much more regimented and structured with the "we-can-own-the-world" consumerism of the 80s. In many respects, the portrait Reitman has painted shows a group now stuck in that 80s mindset and ill-adaptable to the internet age. She also illustrates clearly (and with Hubbard letters stating as much) that the decision to declare the movement a religion was a business one, not a spiritual one. Hubbard speculates openly on how it would be advantageous for tax purposes to be a religion... not only that, Reitman points out that it would get the medical community off their back for offering therapeutic services without a medical license (makes the whole anti-psychiatry bit make more sense, no?)

Reitman shows Hubbard as a charismatic leader, more concerned with the sound of the thing than the truth of the thing, and as a kind of quintessential American capitalist. It appears to be well documented that Hubbard lied about his background on many scores, but he managed to bluff his way through any questions during his lifetime. While he wrote many statements and policies that are morally questionable at best ("Fair Game" appears to be the exact opposite of the Golden Rule), he wasn't inflexible about their applications. He was a master at giving people what they wanted to the extent that they would serve his ultimate purposes.

The current management, however, is presented as taking a much more literalist view of what Hubbard had written, which has resulted in an increasingly extreme and abusive atmosphere. Reitman documents several horrifying human rights violation that accord with what I had originally read in the New Yorker. We weren't there, so who can say whether all these accusations are true. But down South we have a saying - where there's smoke, there's fire, and it strains plausibility to look in the face of the sheer volume and consistency of the accusations and say none are true. And if even a small percentage are, the CoS is getting away with appalling acts of violence and psychological abuse.

I appreciated Reitman's non-hysterical tone throughout the book, especially given the extreme nature of many of the things she is documenting. In this respect, it reminded me strongly of All the President's Men, where you as the reader are the one going, "What?! Really?!" as the narrator unfolds the events calmly and without ado (as in, CoS was behind the biggest government infiltration in history? and that they basically bullied the IRS into giving them tax breaks, some of which are not enjoyed by other religious groups?). Just glancing at the footnotes gives an idea of the volume of research and interviewing she has done, and her knowledge of the subject shines through on every page. It is a work of narrative nonfiction in the very best sense.

I cannot help but come to this book as a person of faith. In that regard, I am probably more inclined than others to be generous on topics of belief. I personally find Scientology's religious beliefs improbable and derivative of other faiths and psychotherapy concepts. That said, I am always going to stand up for anyone to exercise belief. I don't have a problem with the faith group, as such - but the way the CoS is run is unacceptable in any humane society.

This book has encouraged me to dig deeper into this topic (I'm going to do one of my grad papers on the parallels between 2nd century Gnosticism and Scientology) and also to pray for those who feel that they are trapped in a situation from which they have no hope of escape. As a religious person, I am passionate about religious freedom for all- from the government and private bodies.

Reitman's book was engaging, well written, and deeply thought-provoking. Highly recommended to anyone with any interest in the subject.

Rating:

6 - Why are you still reading this review? Go pick this one up NOW

*BTW, this lady is a BAMF - she's not messing around. I would not want to be on the wrong side of her! :) I have a lot of admiration for anyone who stands up and fights against injustices, and Tory is clearly one of those kinds of take-no-prisoners warriors who fights for what she believes in.

What are your thoughts on Scientology?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reflection Sunday 9.16.12 (Jesus Corner)

As I've started school, I'm kind of overwhelmed by how much I've already learned in such a short amount of time. I've heard folks saying around campus how important it is to take the time to reflect on what you're learning and also to share it with others who aren't here... so this is my attempt to do that. No promises, but I'm going to try to reflect a bit on my previous week's musings on Sundays. So here we go...

This week has been massively useful in helping me articulate a lot of the feelings I've had about history, facts, and reality in a more cogent manner. Basically, we've been learning how we can't know facts... but not in a postmodern way :). I've read these arguments from philosophers before and always found them wanting. We can't know facts? Really? I can't know that I'm from Knoxville? I can't know that my sister is a teacher or that my dad builds houses? Well, in the strictest sense of "knowing," I can't. Unless I follow each of them around every work day and observe them doing it, I can't know that they are... that would also assume that I could somehow know that what they were doing was teaching or building a house, which would require training... but then I'd have to find some way to know that what was being taught to me was in fact teaching or home construction... you can see how this gets despair-making in a hurry.

There's also some interesting notes of this in Socrates/Plato. If you're looking for a very digestible way to get into these guys, I highly recommend The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps podcast. It's very accessible and I'd been listening to this in preparation for my school year. It's already come in handy in terms of orientation on the history of thought.

Anyways, I never fully embraced this mode of thinking about knowledge. I'm a kind of brutish literalist at heart.. I mean, does that make intuitive sense to anyone? Is your experience that you don't know anything? But what I've loved about this week's readings for my church history and history of Christian culture classes is that we've gone to a level of specificity that makes me much more comfortable with the bigger idea. 2 key things we've discussed:
1) That history is not a science. There is a fetish in our times about objectivity in recent historical narratives (see The Lifespan of a Fact, Jonah Lehrer, Mike Daisey, etc. for contemporary discussions about truth and objectivity in journalism). While I understand that fixation, especially in the cultural context that we've been in for the last ~100 years, it's a little bit of a farce. Because the objective evidence is in the past, we can never be 100% sure of facts. This, however, does not mean that we can't be sure enough about the past to functionally say that we know the facts. Things in the near past (i.e. that I was born in Knoxville) are often easier to gain practical certainty about. Things further back in the past, where evidence is likely fewer (i.e. that Trajan was a Roman emperor), are not as likely to gain full certainty about in our narrative, but we can gain probability or possibility quotients to assign to them and proceed accordingly. This understanding doesn't negate the idea that there are facts. It simply acknowledges that our ability to know them will have limitations and that doesn't negate our ability to study or "know" things. Basically, it's saying that the historical process (i.e. the unfolding of history moment to moment) is factual and knowable; historiography (i.e. the recording of and analysis of the historical process) has limitations.
2) That cultural context isn't a necessarily bad thing. We certainly need to understand our cultural biases to the extent that we are able (and be open to other culture's critiques of our own); but we don't have to feel like we are hopelessly hog-tied by it. In Christianity, this is seen in the "indigenization" and "pilgrim" principles. If you look across the world and time, the expression of orthodox Christianity looks vastly different. That's because it's an acceptable part of the Christian understanding of God's creation and intention. There is not an expectation that every culture will interpret and express their faith identically. Tied with the idea that there are core commonalities, it means that we can express our faith differently, but that it remains the same faith. In other words, it is possible for second century Greeks and twenty first century Africans to confess the same Lord and same core faith, even if the manifestations of that confession are different in some respects.

Basically, both of these things are saying that faith and knowledge are Venn diagrams - and that's okay. Different cultures, pieces of historical record, ongoing experiences, etc. are going to add circles to our collective understanding. 

These discussion points have made me reflect on my own assumptions and understanding of the world in an exciting way. I've been able to articulate my thoughts on these matters to myself and it makes me feel more secure in my agency in knowing, rather than less. 

For one thing, it's made me see that a big part of this sense of being adrift that I see in my (and the last few) generations is really tied to the anxiety of not being able to know. Because of the scientific revolution, we gained this great tool called the scientific method. But this method is only fully applicable to observable phenomenon. History, by it's nature, is only observable at the rate of 60 seconds/minute. It's gone as soon as it happens. And since we can't "know" those past historical things, or we see the narratives around history as malleable, history becomes less valid or less valuable. The idea of absolute knowledge has become such a central backdrop to our culture that we are completely uncomfortable with anything less. The beauty of life in Jesus is that I don't have to have absolute knowledge about the past or future- Jesus is full of truth AND grace. There is grace for me to not absolutely know everything, but also room for me to gain enough truth to move forward without anxiety. I am only responsible to know as fully as I can what I can know within my cultural context. That means I can look on history and the past as a wonderful thread that I am a strand in, not a scary region of non-empirical data that I have to precisely understand or else discard entirely.

I've also been able to see some of the roots of why the American South gets a bad reputation with our expression of faith. From talking to international students whose mother churches experience some of the same types of problems, I don't think this is a unique issue. That being said, the Southern churches do have a tendency to assert the primacy of their cultural context onto the church across time... in other words, if second century Greeks didn't have altar calls, they weren't really Christian. That's an extreme example, but as a group, our churches do seem to be very uncomfortable with different modes of engaging with Christ on a relational level (i.e. as a rabbi, as a philosopher, as a king, etc.). I think that's born out of a fierce defensive reflex as they perceive contemporary cultural invalidation to the South's own cultural context for Jesus. It drives them to the extreme and creates a hyper-"Berean" attitude that can be destructive if not counterbalanced with self-awareness. This also lends a certain imperialistic attitude towards missions where an importation of the cultural context is seen as an integral part of the conversion process, at least, that's what I've seen a lot of times in the way folks talk about evangelism. But what I've been realizing throughout the week is that different cultural contexts allow us to get a fuller picture of who Jesus is and that it's an integral part of why we need the body of Christ. The Southern church tells the world something about Jesus that couldn't be known any other way, just as African churches or Asian churches bring their own circles of the Venn diagram to bear, and collectively, we all know Jesus more for having engaged with each other. 

Anyways, those are my thoughts from the week... for those interested, here are some of the books we were reading:

Patterns In History by David Bebbington
Jesus Through the Centuries by Jaroslav Pelikan
The Missionary Movement in Christian History by Andrew Walls
The Story of Christianity Volume 1 by Justo Gonzalez

What do you think about history and our ability to know?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Books Like Whoa: What Kind of Reader Are You?

I have a confession to make: I have been reading. A lot. But I haven't finished a book in almost 4 weeks. It's not for lack of trying or progress or interest. I've made good progress with several books that I am really enjoying... they are well written and generally awesome. Alas, I simply can't seem to commit to any one book and hence can't seem to close the deal.



The Atlantic ran a highly amusing piece on different kinds of readers and recommended reads for each type. Color me convicted. I am soooo a promiscuous reader. I wish I could change, but this is all I know in my reading life. The root of the problem is that I have to be in the mood to make progress with any book... meaning that books only get finished if I have a sustained mood to read them or I am trapped on a plane with nothing else to distract me.

Seriously, you want to know which books I'm reading right now (besides the ones I'm reading for school)? The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Plagues and Peoples by William T. McNeil, The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, The Omnivore's Dilemna by Michael Pollan, The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir, Heaven by Randy Alcorn, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, London by Peter Ackroyd, The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy by David Carradine, Judy by Gerold Frank, and Middlemarch by George Elilot. And those are just the ones that are on the book hutch over my desk.

I have a sickness. I long to be made well and into a chronological reader.

But for those of you who don't have a promiscuous reading disease, who are a different kind of reader than I am, here are a couple of recommendations to honor your able-to-complete-a-book skillz.

For the Hate Reader: Anything by Dan Brown

For Delayed Onset Reader #1 (yeah, I'm guilty of this, too...): The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

For Delayed Onset Reader #2: Nothing - you don't deserve to be a book steward (only kidding - The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon is sure to impress)

For the Anti-Reader: Maus by Art Spiegelman

For the Cross-Under: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens or Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, depending on which way you are crossing

For the Multi-Tasker: Masterpieces in Miniature by Agatha Christie

For the Sleep Bedtime Reader: A non-fiction book on a topic you have zero interest in

What kind of reader are you?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Books Like Whoa: Top Ten Books To Make You Think

Hey-ho, blogosphere! It's Tuesday, which means another great prompt from the folks at The Broke and The Bookish. Today's prompt was the top 10 books to make you think. Now, as a warning, I do read a lot of books in the philosophical/religious thread, so there will be some of that. But I tried to think about books that expanded my view of the world or prompted me to consider ideas or topics that I had never considered before.

1. Candide by Voltaire: Has philosophy ever been more fun? I think not. Thanks to our friend, Voltaire, we get to explore the Enlightenment and have a rollicking good time along the way. I read this in the original French - I will pause for you to be impressed.

2. Bad Religion by Ross Douthat: A review of this is to come, but OMG people, I wanted to kiss Ross Douthat on the mouth after I read his book. And since he's coming to a conference at my grad school soon, I very well may get this chance. A former op-ed columnist to the NYT, he has systematically reviewed and critiqued the last 60 years of history of Christianity in American cultural, religious, and political life. He puts into words what so many of my friends and I have often expressed frustration over. Seriously, if you have ever rolled your eyes at Christians, read this book. It explains so clearly where they are coming from and where things have gone astray.

3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: I don't want to spoiler this book. Because it is really, really good. But please read it and tell me whether or not it challenged  your ideas about personhood and what the ethical boundaries of science are.

4. How Then Should We Live? by Francis Schaeffer: Another philosophy book, this is a systematic history of how religious thought has been stripped out of contemporary society and what the positive and negative effects of that have been. Schaeffer illuminated the role of art in culture more clearly than I've seen in many other's analysis.

5. The Quiet American by Graham Greene: Set in Vietnam, this is a thinker about the impact and ethics of colonization. This book has an especially prescient feeling in the wake of the Vietnam War of the 1960s.

6. The Big Short by Michael Lewis: If you have been scratching your head trying to figure out what the heck happened in 2008 that made everything go to hell in a hand basket, this is the book for you. Lewis manages to explain complex financial concepts in enviously simple terms that are easy to engage with, and by the end, I promise you will be both satisfied that you understand AAA bonds and righteously indignant at all the Wall Street cronies who took the economy for a ride.

7. An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis: Lewis is the single biggest influence on my thinking, but I confined myself to this master work on the art of literary criticism. He gave me SO many things to think about in this book, but I was particularly struck by his theories of "morbid castle-building." Read it, people.

8. Expecting Adam by Martha Beck: This is a really quiet memoir that asks the simple question, "What happens when you find yourself making a decision that goes against everything you and your community ever expected of you?" There are also some beautiful descriptions of motherhood and the world of parenting the disabled.

9. The Giver by Lois Lowry: Did The Giver not blow the mind hole of every middle schooler made to read this amazing YA novel? Talk about thinking! What an amazing parable of the value of knowledge and the value of perserving one's humanity even in the face of pain.

10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: You can't make a list of books that made you think without putting Harper on it. Please. This is such a wonderfully realized world that allows the reader to fully engage with the characters, their foibles, and the product of the society that they live in.



What books have made you think?

Friday, September 7, 2012

On Being Oriented and Amazed

It has been a crazy couple of weeks. As of today, I have been a Vancouverite for one amazing week. And before we even dive into all the feeling stuff, let's just have a moment of mountain porn, shall we?:





Ah. That's better. I can't even tell you how much I love being near the mountains again.

Anyways, I cannot get over how drama free the move and transition into the city has been. The flights? All on time. The bags? All arrived. The study permit? Granted without any problems. The procurement of shelves and various household goods? An IKEA magically appeared. Getting to across the border and back with all of my stuff in one piece from Greyhound? No problems. Moving everything up into my apartment and breaking down all the boxes? Finished in no time flat. Truly, I felt like the whole process was blessed.



And let's also take a moment to marvel at my wonderful parents. Their love languages really shone through this whole process- planning and "doing." My mother is the world's most prodigious planner and she set her skills to work in full force for the trip, handling all the little details so that everything would come off. My father shows his love through service to people... and considering that this man has moved me TWICE in 30 days, I can certainly say that I feel very loved. He, however, is not impressed:



I did have a bit of a cry when my parents left, but other than that, I have been so surprised at how little this change has upset my equilibrium, especially compared to my move to DC. I suppose that's because I've done this before - I've moved somewhere where I didn't know anyone and made it work. I've also been traveling so much in the last year, I think I've gotten much better at just taking change and a lack of stability in stride... and I've just gotten to a place since the beginning of this year where I don't have anxiety about much. Certainly there are moments of tension or fear and when I let them build up, I end up needing to have a good cry. But overall, things don't get me down so much as they used to. I think they call that growth...

Plus, I have moved into an amazing community. This week has been my orientation at Regent and I have simply been blown away. I'm sure I will continue to have my mind blown over and over again for the last three years but there are a few thing that have especially bowled me over this week:

1. The emphasis on thinking/learning over "information download." The professors who have spoken at orientation have all emphasized over and over again that they are not interested in what was, frankly, my undergrad experience: the consumer/product mentality of modern education. Students are consumers who are expecting to get a compact product of digestible knowledge that will result in a high grade. At Regent, they are not interested in making sure you have perfect grades, but rather that you are engaging with the material.
2. The focus on community and growth within that context. Nearly all the "marquee" name professors not only made an appearance at this week's sessions, but were integral presenters and interacted with us newbies throughout the week. They all clearly know and like each other a lot and they all clearly want to know their students as fellow members of a community, not as faces in their classes. The older students were also really involved and there has been such a warm welcome to this group life. They all have focused on the idea of transformation through your time in school and how that is informed by your place within the larger group.
3. The lack of specified purpose for most of the students. I was expecting a lot of pastors to be in my class... in reality, I have met few people who are planning to go into full time ministry. Most people are here for a messy nest of reasons and may or may not have a narrow vocational end in mind. This is great for me, since I'm in that camp and in good company! It's also really encouraging to me that they emphasis this mix as one of the strengths for those who are going into full time ministry, because they won't have been isolated with other like-minded people. They will have been engaging with the people they will be serving throughout their education.

Whew. I can't even process all the interesting, crazy stuff from this week. And now I have to get on my readings for class. Yikes! This is really happening!