Finishing the Basement, Round 2

The day’s work

After several days of rain here in New Haven, yesterday ended up be a sunny, nice, Saturday.  This had one major side effect: it was now possible to open the cellar doors to the basement in order to let some air in, and also enabled us to move the remainder of the garbage, tools, and furniture out of the basement at my house to one of two locations: for storage in the unused basement of another house Whitney the landlord owns, or to the junk pile in our yard, due to the furniture being ruined by mold and water damage.  We spent a good set of hours slowly but surely moving the majority of the crap to the junk pile, and while it was great to not have rain, it was also very warm down in the basement.  Though we have fans down there, the outlet had been blown last Saturday when Tom attempted to saw in half that metal oil tank, so we had to replace that too (and also added an outlet to the other side of the basement, which is quite useful).  Additionally, we added another light fixture to that back and newly-cleared corner of the basement; in essence, all of the work done was to enable Ryan and I to be able to go down there at any time to water seal the walls in the coming days.  All in all, a very successful (albeit tiring) day!

Photos of the build

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Finishing the basement, Round 1

The first Round of the first Wave of home improvements in the basement

As a brief written account of the first day of finishing the basement, readers of this blog may recall previous mentions of my interest in improving wherever I live, particularly working with the owner(s) to facilitate a stronger positive relationshipAssuredly, I have gotten what I wished for in this case!  As a little bit of background to the house I live in, it is nearly 100 years old (if I recall correctly), and thus has the characteristics one might expect.  The basement is a bit on the short side, has no ceiling to it (just exposed rafters), the walls were once painted (~30 years ago, from the looks of it), but are mostly exposed brick and stone; and then the pile of unused furniture and/or garbage.  A lot of work to do, but one of the most important steps that has to happen early is shoring up any holes in the brick- and stone-work with mortar, and then water-sealing it all with Dry-Lok, which also functions as a white paint.

The process involved, then, went as follows.  We had to start the day by doing three things: removing a low-hanging heating duct (that needed replacing anyways, and isn’t in use yet), Ryan scrubbed the walls with a steel brush to remove loose bits of masonry (to better prep the walls for painting), and then I vacuumed an innumerable amount of spiderwebs from the ceiling rafters.  While we did this, the owner Whitney split his time between installing 4 additional light fixtures (bringing our basement to a well-lit total of 6 lights) and working on repairing Ryan’s shower on the third floor (for folks who speak to me in person know, his shower overflowed and caused 7 different leaks into my bedroom this past Wednesday… good times!).  Ryan and I eventually took a break for lunch, and realized that our goals for the first day would be to 1) clean the ceiling where we were working; 2) scrub 2 of the 4 walls; 3) acid-etch those same walls (a caustic designed to remove even more loose dust and the like that would make the painting less effective); 4) rinse them and finally 5) paint those two walls.

As part of this set of goals, we had to remove furniture and tools and crap from the one corner of the basement, and after that, remove an installed oil tank that was previously used to heat water and the house.  I can not only say now that I have done such a thing; I simply have to tell the story.  There is a gentleman who lives in this neighborhood who have known Matt and Whitney (the owners) for years, and his name is Tom.  He has a very specific method of dealing with problems when it comes to home improvement and changes; he has a big old hammer, and just goes to town.  He absolutely destroys things which are to be removed; for instance, the old oil refill lines that went through the brick and outside, Whitney cut through the thinner pipe and then had trouble with the thicker one.  Tom was like “don’t worry,” and then smashed through the wall with his hammer.  Once we have the oil tank on its side, to unscrew the four metal legs, I unscrewed mine without any problem (not that rusty, surprisingly); Tom’s approach was to instantly start bashing them.  A lot.  Similarly, his method for loosening the two refill pipes enough to unscrew them was to bash them!  It was a loud and entertaining interlude, and interesting in a historical sense; as per much of the basement, we’re mostly certain that the oil sludge in the bottom of the tank is old enough to have been THE oil brought in by Captain Ahab.  The oil tank itself was installed on the remains of the foundation for the older coal chute and bin; as far as we can figure, approximately 4 levels lower, one can find early Bronze Age pictograms and indications of the wheat harvests in our basement.

Definitely a bunch of work to go, as we only got the one wall painted (we ran out of both DryLok as well as energy at the end of a ~9 hour day of work), but Sunday will bring the removal of all the furniture and junk, so the basement will be open for us to work on from time to time.  Pre-winter is my goal, as water-sealing the old house will reduce chances of leaking and the like.

Photos: the build in progress!

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Trip to DC: Candidacy Business, Part 1

Photo finish arrival to a wedding; church at St. Paul’s; and initial interview

This weekend was truly a whirlwind of activity; this blog post is assuredly going to mirror that pattern and pace.  To start, I departed New Haven with the assistance of my wonderful housemate Ryan, who was nice enough to drive me over to the train station.  After getting a LOT of reading done for Pastoral Care & Addiction, as well as delightful AMTRAK-style nap, we pulled into DC slightly ahead of schedule.  This was key for the next step; two individuals from the mission trip to Zambia I helped plan and lead, Gail and Karen, were getting married at my church in DC, St. Paul’s, and although the wedding started before I arrived on the train (4:30pm), the reception was set to end an hour after my arrival (6:30pm).  With this goal in mind, I moved like some kind of lightning/wind amalgamation, running to the Metro like Tom Hanks in The Terminal due to being laden with my possessions.  Therein, I was blessed with a quickly-arriving train, and only slight delays.  All told, I was somewhat unpresentable (sweating due to carrying my stuff from the Metro to church, and wearing the shorts/t-shirt I had on for the train ride), but the bride and groom weren’t expecting me to be able to make it, so it was a great surprise.

After the wedding, I made my way south towards Franconia/Springfield, the southmost Metro stop on the Blue Line.  My friends Erika and David Stoner, were wonderfully gracious and offered me a space to stay while I was in town on Saturday night.  I arrived after a lengthy trip (the Metro was CRAZY due to fear-mongering “security” measures which had people’s bags getting checked during the busiest time of the night), and we watched part of Young Frankenstein before heading to sleep.  In the morning, we departed en masse to church at St. Paul’s.

While at St. Paul’s, I would like to take a moment and speak to the high quality of the service for the combination of Rally Day and the commemoration of 9/11.  The first reading was Genesis 50:15-21, the second reading was Romans 14:1-12, and the Gospel reading was Matthew 18:21-35.  This was all towards the end of commemorating 9/11 with the underlying theme of forgiveness, and Pastor Tom accomplished this with a masterful sermon; it was amongst the best I have ever heard him preach.  Similarly, the focus of the liturgy was on this concept of really wrestling with how radical this notion of forgiveness, as presented by Jesus, really is; I think a lot of people in the congregation benefited from the experience.  Finally, it was genuinely a pleasure to be back in church there, and many families and individuals I know well were delighted to see me, and made me feel quite loved!

After church, I had Part 1 of my Lutheran candidacy process, an initial interview that seemed to go quite well. More on this as I hear back from them!  I also had the brief chance to visit with some old friends, which was grand.

The Friendly Cabbie

On the way to AMTRAK for my trip out of DC, I had a fantastically nice and engaging cabbie to chat with.  Its an old habit of mine, drawn from my time in Israel/Palestine, to get to know cabbies as much as possible; it is also a tendency that has paid off in getting to know cities better.  This gentleman, I learned after our ~20 minute conversation, was an older black man who was an atheist and a conscripted veteran of Vietnam (and this religious outlook was related to his experiences there).  In short, we discussed everything from the nature of the “security” response to terrorism by the government, to the issue of ethical international development, to my personal sense of vocational calling and how it rests upon the border of the secular and the sacred.  At the end of the conversation, I was immensely complimented; he said that I am one of the first religious leaders (albeit in-training) he has ever been able to respect, after conversation.  I mention this for the sole reason of establishing a comparison for the next event in my evening…

The Obtuse Cabbie

…which happened after my brief AMTRAK trip from DC to BWI, which was peaceful, timely, and enjoyable (it IS AMTRAK, after all). Got off of the train, walked up to the first cab in line, and the cabbie comes over. He is wearing a kilt 3 sizes too big.

::imagine an internal Civil Defense Force siren here::

For better or worse, my cab fate was sealed. He had a “COEXIST” sticker on the back window, which I thought meant we could have a talk about religion, and my clergy intentions.

Boy, was I wrong.

To make a long story short, he was interested and let me explain part of The Plan (in terms of what I am studying and the like). Then, he interjected and mentioned he is a member of the Universal Life Church (the folks who will send you official paperwork claiming you are an ordained clergy member in whatever religion, scam-style). Then, he mentioned he is a nudist (and gave this as an explanation for the kilt. Lovely.). Then, he explained that he is Wiccan, and started calling me out on problems caused by Christians. Highlights included him accusing all Christians of certain traits and outlooks (hating the environment, the poor, and more!), and was rounded out by his seemingly entirely-genuine dissolution at “Christians who rudely  generalize about us non-Christians.”  This continued for 10 minutes in the parking lot of my hotel here, until he got a phone call and I was able to escape the unorganized verbal assault that was in progress. I left him a $4 tip, to avoid having to touch change from his hands.  Never a dull moment. Never.

The Motivated Cabbie

As a quick side note, my hotel stay was mostly pleasant.  The staff was nice, and my room was in mostly nice condition. The only exception: the air conditioner was installed wrong, so that when the fan in it spooled up, but particularly when it spooled down after cooling the room, would shake that wall of the room.  The first time it happened, I nearly crapped in my pants, as it sounded as though someone was trying to bust down the door with a crowbar.  This happened every ~15 minutes or so, so needless to say I slept lightly on Sunday evening.  On Monday morning, the cabbie I called was there early at the hotel, which was a good sign.  He was airing a VERY Pentecostal radio station, and so we chatted about non-religious things (as I have been roped into zealous arguments with Pentecostal cabbies before) on the way to the place (more on the event, the ELCA psychological evaluation, below).  I liked the guy and gave him a big tip, so that he would be willing to drive all the way over to get me whenever I was finished.  The trip away from the office, back to the BWI AMTRAK station, though, was fantastic.  At that point, I mentioned why I was in DC, what I was studying, and what I hoped to do.  This fascinated him, and he started bubbling over with stories of his own along the same lines.  While driving on the highway with one hand (I was bracing for impact), he reached down to the front passenger seat floor and grabbed a copy of his business plan for a development company in his native Ghana (photo of this below); in short, he is working to get money invested to help him set up a localized home construction company, designed to teach useful skills to people while also giving them and their neighbors safer, better quality housing.  He also mentioned that he was an ordained Pentecostal preacher for 20 or so years in Ghana, and set up 5 churches before coming to the US; all in all, he was an amazing man with a great story; and yet more evidence as to my strong insistence on getting to know cabbies any- and every-where!

The Ecumenical Cabbie

The final taxi of my whirlwind of a weekend was from the New Haven AMTRAK to my home; the gentleman was a Muslim who was very interested in why I looked so tired and yet so well-dressed coming off the train (at least I did one thing right this weekend!).  I explained the story of what I am studying and how that landed me in DC for the weekend; we proceeded to have a fantastic and open discussion about how each of our respective faiths have done better or worse at things like flexibility to exist within a changing world, versus the issue of not losing sight of the purpose of the faith.  We parted quite amicably, and he thanked me for an excellent conversation that got him thinking about his faith; I thanked him for the same.  I have his business card, and will likely garner additional installments to this dialogue over future trips to the train station.

Psychological evaluation; return to AMTRAK

There was a large serving of multiple choice questions for me to fill out the bubbles (approximately 900 of them!) for during my visit to the office.  To establish the proper mood of what I am referring to, please watch this informational video on the subject of questionnaire length.  That said, a small sample of what tests I went through included a lengthy career interest survey; the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI-2); the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-R); and then several puzzle, math, and spatial reasoning-based miniature tests.  I know two things about the experience: I finished an hour early (an old, bad habit from first grade; finish fast without checking my work), and I will eventually receive a full copy of the report that this event will generate.  I, like many who are following this candidacy process I am in the midst of, find myself quite interested to see just what this report ends up saying; more on this as I get a copy!

Photographs: Yale paraphernalia,time in DC, etc

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Laboring on Labor Day

As crazy as this may sound, the title of this post is indeed true; Yale Divinity School, it seems, stops for very few men, and CERTAINLY doesn’t stop for any Federal holidays like Labor Day (although all the staff at YDS did take the day off, the faculty and students showed up, and continue to show up all day long).  That said, today was actually an excellent day, with several instances worth mentioning, and of course the requisite small photograph gallery (again taken with my phone, so I apologize for the lower quality of photos than I’d really prefer).

A Labor Day spent Laboring

The best part of the day thus far was the chapel service, which was tailored around the concept of it being Labor Day, and religious notions of resting and working, the Sabbath, and the like.  The overall service was good, but one part in particular really resonated with me, and I would like to reproduce it here.  A lot of Christian aims have to do with the cyclical nature of life, and in particular the duality of people who are doing well, and those who are suffering, often summed up with the expression “feast or famine.”  The closing hymn for today is one I had never heard, and so I am reproducing the lyrics here, as it does such an excellent job of covering people with a feast or famine of work, and all the possible spots in between.  Not least of all, this really touched me as today was the first day of the first full week of my time laboring at the div school, and also because I am waiting to hear about a part time job I interviewed for, so a meditative consideration of work and rest did me a lot of good this morning.  Being only partially facetious here, its almost like the placement of chapel at 10:30am between classes was intentional (and is such a great break between lectures).

“God, Bless the Work Your People Do”, lyrics by stanza

1) God, bless the work your people do throughout each working day, The contributions that they make the talents they display.  God, bless the work your people do, with minds and hands and hearts, To benefit the common good, the sciences and arts.

2) For all who have no respite, God, from labor without ease, For those for whom their work is filled with danger or disease.  For all who labor without gain, or have no rest this day, For all who labor without hope, O God we humbly pray.

3) We pray for those who cannot work, or seek for work in vain, Great God, we pray your mercy shall encourage them again! We pray for those whose work is hard, on body, spirit, soul, The underpaid, underemployed, who fill a vital role.

4) Grant unto each a day designed for worship, joy and rest; A Sabbath time of holiness, in which they may be blessed.  As you achieved creation’s work, then rested from your task, God bless the work your people do, and call it good, we ask!

Systematic theology: meeting Professor Volf

I mentioned Professor Miroslav Volf in my previous post here, as the other professor of my Systematics class, but now that I have had him, I would like to quickly speak to his excellent teaching and method of running the lecture.  As I mentioned previously, he is world-renowned for his teaching, and having sat in on his class, it is for good reason; today’s lecture was a seamless blend of history, theology, and hermeneutics, punctuated with just the right blend of anecdotes and jokes to make for a delightful experience.  The best part, however, was how he opened today’s class and will be opening them in the future: he picks a prayer which was meaningful to one of  the major thinkers we read for the day, and then leads the class in said prayer.  Today we talked a fair amount about Aquinas, and so we opened with Aquinas’ somewhat well-known “Prayer Before Study,” which I will also reproduce here (as taken from here):

Ineffable Creator…
You are proclaimed
the true font of light and wisdom,
and the primal origin
raised high beyond all things.

Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind;
disperse from my soul the twofold darkness
into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants.
Refine my speech
and pour forth upon my lips
the goodness of Your blessing.

Grant to me keenness of mind,
capacity to remember,
skill in learning,
subtlety to interpret,
and eloquence in speech.

May You guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.

You Who are true God and true Man,
Who live and reign,
world without end.

Good stuff.  Words worth pondering as my semester goes on and I enter midterm and final territory; I can already imagine that I will have at least one study guide that, upon my reading it, I can only respond with “God, help me, who was born into sin AND ignorance” after not having read in enough detail or the like.

First class of Pastoral Care & Addiction

Finally, we come to the one remaining unknown (a “known unknown,” if you will) in my schedule during the first week; my only skills-based course in a veritable forest of theological ground-pounding, Pastoral Care & Addiction.  In short, this class is the only one this semester not in the Niebuhr lecture hall (pictured below), and is actually around 20 students, so my smallest setting for learning.  It is also taught by Professor Jan Holton, whose work is predominantly in the value of theological approaches to helping war refugees deal with suffering and grief, which is an interesting angle to be approaching this course from, in my opinion.  Since I only have the class one night per week, it is a 3 hour long experience, but I am very happy to report that if tonight’s lively and engaging discussion was any indication, the course will likely fly by as the semester goes on.  I am excited about this course, and everyone else in the room seems to be coming from the same point of view.  More on this course as it develops!

Photos: Yale’s Commons dining hall, the H. Richard Neibuhr Lecture hall where most of my classes occur, a model of Chartres Cathedral from the Institute of Sacred Music

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An Academic Genesis

First (half) week of classes, and reactions to the coming Academic Experience

So it has been a bunch of days since I last posted here, not least of all due to being quite busy with a wide variety of pursuits.  Even though I knew that classes were incoming, that didn’t change the fact that I needed to look for a job (which I might have gotten, just waiting on a response from the hirer), do additional work on the house, and get other errands and tasks done that simply take time.  All of that said, classes seemed to come so quickly after a grueling week of orientation, but they oddly started on Wednesday; they almost swooped down upon us like some intellectual but ravenous bird of prey.  So which classes am I inaugurating my time at YDS with, you might ask?  Take a look (scheduling included):

1) Transitional Moments in Western Christianity I (MW 8:30-9:20am): this course is an introduction to broadly vital moments in Christian history, from approximately the time of Paul to approximately the Reformation in its earlier stages (with the second part of the course, in the spring, going from the late Reformation until modern times).  Although the moments we will examine are chosen from a large set of potential material, I am not at all concerned about this: the professor, Bruce Gordon, is apparently one of the absolute top academic contenders in this field of study.  Although I have only had his class once, and it was a an introduction class, I can already tell that this course is going to be fantastic: he spent the intro lecture taking us on a brief consideration of what it means to truly consider and study history, in a way that made a lot of sense to everyone (but which had taken me a good 2 or maybe 3 years at AU to figure some of those things out on my own) in a mere 50 minutes.  I imagine I will be posting a whole bunch more on this course and my experiences there over time.

2) Old Testament Interpretation I (MWF 9:30-10:20am): this course is again the first of a two-parter, with this fall semester focusing on the Pentateuch as one “half” of the Old Testament, and the latter half being the “minor prophets” as they are called.  Taught by Professor Carolyn Sharp,one of the Hebrew Bible scholars here at the school and an Episcopalian priest, the course is excellent in that she is carefully attuned to the necessity of making an introductory course like this one into both a) something accessible to people who are just starting out while also b) adding little “paperclips” into the lecture note outline, little details that are highlighted and meant to be returned to and studied further once we progress further into our studies.  The course seems like it will be an interesting experience, but I have already noticed that her teaching style is strongly theological; while this makes sense given that she is an ordained clergy member, I had some background in critical Old Testament studies while studying abroad in Jerusalem, so this will likely take some adjustment for me.

3) Systematic Theology I (MW 11:30-12:20): this has the capacity to be one of the best courses I take while I am at YDS, for a variety of reasons.  “Systematic theology,” for the sake of clarity, is the process of attempting to set up a philosophical and theological explanation for everything about God, the world, humanity, and the interconnections thereof.  Given that YDS is an ecumenical school, this course is a comparative examination of many different approaches to this type of theological project; this of course is the sort of course setup that drew me so strongly to YDS.  Even better, however, is the pair of professors who are team-teaching the course, as they are absolute giants in the field: Kathryn Tanner, and Miroslav Volf.  Professor Volf was not actually in the lecture on the first day, due to being on the return leg of an academic speaking trip abroad, but let me wax for a moment on the subject of Professor Tanner.  While I have had professors and clergy speak to me before in a meaningful way that made me truly question and pressure my own views compared to what I had just heard, this woman, in the course of a mere 50 minute long lecture period, managed to not only do the usual introduction/go over the syllabus/explain the course, she casually did the whole “incisive and brilliant commentary offered that truly shakes my understanding of the world/some aspect of it” no less than five (5) times.  That is unprecedented, and I think I know why it clicked so powerfully.  I am going to reproduce a quote from her Yale Div faculty page, linked above, right here, as it captures so concisely the exact reason I understand my calling to be a combination of clergy membership/outlook with an international development employer and career: “Theologians are now primarily called to provide, not a theoretical argument for Christianity’s plausibility, but an account of how Christianity can be part of the solution, rather than simply part of the problem, on matters of great human moment that make a life-and-death difference to people, especially the poor and the oppressed.”  While I don’t want to hope for too much too quickly, I am seriously praying that I will get the chance to do additional coursework with Professor Tanner as my time here continues.

4) Pastoral Care & Addiction (M 6:00-9:00pm): This is the last 3 credit course on my expected 4-course workload for this semester, and I have not actually been to it yet, as classes started this past Wednesday, and this course only happens on Monday nights.  That said, I picked this course for a pair of reasons: it is the only skills-based course I will be taking this semester, which is necessary given the massive workload in the other classes I am taking; and second, because this area is something that deeply interests me.  I will post more about this once I go and get a sense, but both Bill Goettler (Dean of the MDiv students) and my personal advisor Paul Stuehrenberg (head librarian, and head of the Lutheran programs on campus) had the highest of praise for both the course and the professor, so I have high hopes for my experiences therein.

5) Lutheran Students Colloquium (T 3:00-4:00pm): Finally, another course I have not yet taken, and also an excellent segue to the other section of this blog post, I am also enrolled in the First Year Lutheran student colloquium.  This is both a community-building event for the Lutherans on campus, while also being a requirement for the Lutheran Certificate (awarded to students who participate in the communal life of the Lutherans, as well as ministerial formation events).  I have heard that it will be a great experience, and though this is content for a future post, I am also fairly heavily involved in Lutheran student planning for this year, so this will be a great support network.  The other Lutheran offering at YDS is the Diploma in Lutheran Studies, which I explain in the next section.

Diploma in Lutheran Studies, Lutheran Certificate

Now, since its apparently not online anywhere else, I wanted to just give the requirements for the Diploma in Lutheran Studies I will have to fit into my MDiv coursework:

-6 credit hours of Koine Greek (which I am interested in doing over a summer, even if not a ELCA requirement)
Holy Scriptures
-6 credit hours Old Testament interpretation
-6 credit hours New Testament intepretation
-one additional exegesis, interpretation, or theology
History and Theology of the Christian Tradition
-1 course in theology or history of the early church
-1 course in theology or history of the medieval and Reformation church
-1 course on the theology of Martin Luther
-1 course on the Lutheran Confessions
Christian Ethics
-1 course on ethics, the recommendation being “Lutheran ethics in a comparative context”
Social, Cultural, and Global contexts of the church’s mission
-1 course required
Liturgy and preaching
-1 course in foundations of liturgical study
-1 course in parish worship: Planning and presiding
-1 additional course in preaching
Theory and practice of ministry
-1 course in ecclesiology, ministry, and polity
-2 additional courses in pastoral care, counseling, or Christian education

I am quite excited at this list; the Lutheran students spent all day today doing our yearly retreat for planning the coming year, and as we discussed several times, the huge benefit to being Lutheran at the ecumenical Yale Divinity School is that we learn more about our own faith identity by being in the midst of other faiths (as opposed to a Lutheran seminary, whereat everyone shares the same basic views and sometimes those can go unnoticed as a result).

Photos of new books (and my joyful acquisition of Puerto Rico, the best board game ever), as well as some more shots of the interior of our house and its yard:

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