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Showing posts from November, 2013

tough subject

The next milestone in my doctorate is looming on the horizon: the dreaded comprehensive exams. Basically, these exams test the student's general knowledge of their subject and two other related areas.  In my case the three areas of study are 20th century theology, ethics end encounter, and performance studies. I have spent the better part of six months plowing through a reading list of 69 titles in preparation for this exam which has two parts: a 3-hour test and a research paper. To be honest, this was the element of the degree that I most feared when I considered doctoral studies.  I have no problem doing research, writing papers, or even teaching, but being put on the spot with no idea what the questions might be and a very limited time to prove that I know what I am talking about: that's a scary thought. I am afraid I will draw a blank. It has happened before. I am one of those people who comes up with the perfect answer or comeback line the day after a conversation.   Sur…

black and white

Some people (and I can be one of them) tend to see the world in black and white, in terms of either good or bad, right or wrong, hot or cold, left or right. It makes life easier in many ways because when there are only two choices it is simple to tell the difference between them. Compartmentalizing life in this way (either/or) means that when we find ourselves on the "good" side of things (and we place ourselves there most of the time, admit it), we can relax. No gray areas to worry about, no nuances to unravel, no complex ethical quandaries to wrestle through. Just do the right thing and we're good, no questions asked. But not asking questions is a bit of a problem. People who don't ask questions, who don't look at situations from different angles...well, we call them extremists, blind followers, and even radical fundamentalists. We know them as people who don't bother to engage in the complexities of human experience. We recognize them as people who find c…

public vs. private

This fall I am facilitating a spiritual formation course based on the book "The Good and Beautiful Life" by James Bryan Smith. Each week there are what the author calls "soul training" exercises: simple tasks to explore and practice the week's topic. This past week we read a chapter titled "Learning to Live Without Vainglory." The task was to perform five secret acts of service. That sounds pretty easy, right? Do five things to help other people? Well, it proved to be a bit more challenging than I thought. The first thing I did was to make special preparations in my home for some guests; really, I went way beyond what I normally do.  When Dean came home, I pointed it out to him: "Hey, do you see all the extra decorations?" And while I was speaking, I realized what I was doing. Service: yes. Secret: no. Fail.

The next day I decided to get a special treat for my love. I found something I thought he would really like and I brought it home and …