Choosing Wisely: Halloween 2011 at YDS

Saints and Sinners

Each year at Yale Divinity School, there is one party that everyone is excited for and about: the Saints and Sinners party (named for Luther’s notion that all people are simultaneously saint and sinner).  It happens around Halloween, but being put on by the YDS Lutheran students, it is actually a Reformation Day party (celebrating the composition of Luther’s famous 95 Theses).  People dress up for Halloween of course, and given the event’s occurrence directly at the end of paper due dates and midterm weeks, people come to the party armed with two things: 1) a deep need to let loose and 2) preemptive inebriation.  Not what one might expect, perhaps, from an institution of religious education, but then again, Jesus wasn’t exactly opposed to wine-drinking himself.  The party was held in the Old Refectory (photos available here) at YDS, which meant that the DJ was going to be heard quite powerfully in that large and echoing space; this was, so-to-speak, music to the ears of the assembled students.  The party was well-attended (even by the New Haven police, as apparently the last-second room change to the Old Refectory necessitated the Fire Marshall’s approval, which was only obtained at the VERY last second), and enjoyable for many of the people there (those poor fools in warm costumes, such as I, quickly discovered a new meaning of suffering and warmth as the dance floor literally heated up the room).

‘Costume party’ implies that I wore some kind of costume; this being a correct assumption, it is worth spending a moment or two on the subject.  For those of you, my readers, who like what is good, right, salutary and delightful; that is to say, those of you who have seen Indiana Jones and enjoyed it, this costume should be entertaining.  My roommate Ryan agreed to go as Indy himself, after I realized what my heart deeply desired: a remixed version of the Grail Knight from The Last Crusade.  Basically, I have always loved the actor’s line delivery and how much it added to the entire scene as Indy discovers the chamber with the various fake chalices and then the True Grail, or Cup of Christ; as such, I wanted to do something like that character, and thus be able to tell people to “choose… wisely” (as per the Knight’s famous lines), but without breaking the bank on a direct costume from the film.  As such, I pared down the costume to the barest essentials: the chain mail hood (technically called a coif), some kind of chalice to represent the Grail, and then some method of making clear who I was referencing.  This last bit is where my roommate Ryan stepped up to the plate; his willingness to play Indiana Jones himself helped a lot of people catch the reference better (plus, Ryan makes a good Indy).  So, after some thought, I figured that a chalice, or cup, would be the realm of a cooking-related profession, and so decided to play on the economic troubles we face at present: the economy is so bad that even the Grail Knight is underemployed, thus necessitating that he pick up a second job, in this case waiting tables.  Easy enough to wear a black suit, white shirt and bow tie, and then the chain mail coif atop it; but thankfully for me, Shannon (my other housemate who is a cosmetologist for Sephora) was excited to help me do some make-up to make me look ~700 years old.  Take a look at the photo gallery for the make-up process, the costume assembly, and the finished products (both my costume, and Ryan’s).  All told, quite the enjoyable evening; after all, I was expecting zero (0) people to catch the reference, and then a whopping four (4!) caught on, and in two of their cases, thanked me for doing that costume and doing it so well.  Given that four is infinity times higher than zero, I am going to go ahead and declare this evening’s costume caper a success!

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2nd trip to DC for candidacy; successfully Entranced!

Another whirlwind candidacy weekend in DC

The variety of experiences over this past weekend was a good one; from friends to old AU professors to candidacy committees to the as-per-usual delightful AMTRAK conversation that feeds my soul, a successful trip in relationship building alone.  That said, I would like to recount some of the more memorable specifics for you now, starting with the train ride.  I have consistently commented on this, but would like to reiterate it here: AMTRAK is the best thing that has ever happened to anyone.  As someone who needs to take a little bit more of Sabbath theology to heart, my experiences on the trains have always been intensely restful and peaceful, neither of which I consistently have in droves.  After a delightful ride to DC, I took the Metro over to Twinbrook to meet my good friend Casey, who, being a REALLY good friend, was willing to drive me up to Frederick, Maryland, to the hotel I had reserved there.  For whatever reason, even though it is the Metropolitan DC synod, the church has liked to hold its events in Maryland thus far during my candidacy process experience.

Friday was the core reason for my trip, and it involved meeting the entire candidacy committee for the first time, and then interviewing with them.  The committee, approximately 15 individuals, was mostly ordained ministers (some of whom were Reverend Doctors), a small number of laypeople, and finally the bishop of Washington, DC.  The event was held at Hallowood Retreat Center, way out into Maryland, located way out on the edge of Sugarloaf Mountain (which did indeed translate into some SERIOUS cab fees to get there).  A gorgeous little getaway, one would literally never find it (not even if searching for Christian retreats in that general vicinity); there is a strong chance that the bunker from the movie Terminator 3 was patterned on this place in terms of “far enough away from everything to survive Judgement Day.”  Inside, I got to wait in front of a roaring fire for the other individuals getting interviewed to go through their respective processes, and then it was my turn.  I knew this because everyone on the committee came out of the room, got water/coffee and stretched, and then informed me that they would come get me in 10 minutes or so (they wanted to review my background/experiences as a group and thus be better armed to ask me specific questions).  Let me assure you: once I was in there, I got the most zesty mix of specific questions one might imagine, from “explain how you feel when dealing with money” to the entertaining question posed by the bishop (a Harvard Divinity School alum) “do they still, you know, do that whole ‘faith’ thing up at Yale?”  I got to speak for maybe an hour and 10 minutes, answering all manner of questions, and then I got to go and wait for their decision.  I am very pleased to report that they voted in my favor, and thus I am successfully “entranced” (which translates to my being 1/3 done with the vetting process to become a diaconal minister, eventually).  This was followed by Saturday’s event, which is the DC synod’s yearly Candidacy Day.  The main speaker was a professor of homiletics from the Lutheran seminary in Philadelphia, and she was very interesting; this was paired with the chance to get to know the other candidates (regardless of which roster, or which step in the process they were at), and the time we all needed to make sure we were on-track in our respective processes.  A good pair of days.

Perhaps best of all, I got the chance, as per my last trip to DC, to visit a few friends in between the varying scheduled events on my calendar, and that was a real blessing; combining the train rides’ peacefulness with the chance to joyfully reunite with people I haven’t seen in months, I do believe this trip to DC was the closest thing I have had to a Sabbath (albeit a working Sabbath) I have had in a long time; given that the candidacy committee’s specific requirement of me was to take more Sabbaths, that bodes well for the future of this diaconal ministry endeavor, I should think 😀

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Visiting the Yale School of Management as a prospective student

Schedule for the day

My day spent visiting Yale’s School of Management was very interesting; to start, I will give you the brief rundown of my experiences.  I arrived on the early side, having gotten a ride over from a friend rather than walking over the hill in dress clothes when it was warm out (thanks again, Rachel!!), and introduced myself to the Admissions staff working there.  As people filtered in, we went from an initial stand-off type of situation to me breaking the ice by rising and shaking hands with other folks, which set the tone for the rest of the day: jovial and warm, which really made this great experience even better. Yale’s School of Management (hereafter SOM) is strongly interested in a diverse set of backgrounds among their student body, and this was reflected in the breakdown of career interests with the other 12 prospective visitors with me: from petroleum process management to pharmaceutical brand management to IT product management to meeting facilitation to my personal interests in some kind of ethical chaplaincy in international development work, we definitely had a lot to talk about with each other.  It was cool to hear how other people with those different outlooks brought such different strengths to our conversations; it was clear that this principle was carefully cultivated and intended to happen constantly in classrooms (as we will see in a moment, held true via my experiences).  Thereafter, we got to visit our first class; in my case, I chose to sit in on a course entitled “Insight to Outcome” which examined the difficulty in actually breaking down the unending details of corporate acquisitions and mergers that can (and do) go wrong.  It turns out that the first year of school at SOM is actually split into quarters, and our visit day had fallen on the last day of classes for this first fall quarter.  As such, the class was a review session for the upcoming final exam; the basic setup was to have 2 of the 4 groups of students in the room do a presentation of any style to capture the content of the course in a helpful way.  For those of us visiting, this was actually powerfully helpful for sensing how the dynamics of peer interaction among students and then with professors actually functioned in class.  The first group decided on an activity-based approach, putting each of the groups in the room into a situation where they had to decide on an approach for their hypothetical company given specific details to work with.  The unspoken goal was to see how many students actually brought out frameworks learned in the course in the pressured situation, versus how many went with their gut reactions, so to speak (which I find fascinating).  The second group decided to go with a content-heavy review on the board (I snapped a quick photo of the one board, as I have never seen so much work put into a chart on a blackboard ever), and was actually quite informative to us in the visiting section.  The potentially good news out of all of this: the visitors ended up being invited to participate in the first group’s exercise, and I was given the role of CEO; as such, I ended up deciding on the correct course of action that the exercise was supposed to elicit.  If this isn’t a good sign for my fitting in at SOM, I don’t know what would be 😉

After this, we had a tour of the majority of the main building (which, as you’ll see in the photo section, is an 1800’s mansion, and quite gorgeous) and got to ask questions over lunch.  One of the more odd aspects of my visit was that in that first class and the one after lunch, no student was using a laptop.  I inquired about this, and found out that especially for first year MBA students, laptop use is mostly prohibited in class, to keep people from getting distracted (and as someone who thrives on being able to type notes, disappointing to me).  Something to deal with if and when I encounter it, I suppose.  That said, it was a very interesting tour, and lunch was also excellent.  For my second class visit of the day, I sat in on a course called “Risk Management,” which was not quite what I was expecting; I understood that to mean something along the lines of “keeping businesses running safely from a managerial perspective” whereas it actually meant the financial sense: more along the lines of “managing the financial volatility of a business via hedging.”  The professor was extremely intelligent, but the fact that his slides were at least half differential equations was not conducive to our sitting-in on the class as visitors.  I was able to follow some of it, but let me be the first to reiterate: money is not my thing.  I desire to understand how it works better in order to better enable my intended work in international development, and I would get that from an SOM education, but I will not look forward to something like Risk Management if/when I enroll.

The day ended with a group Q&A session with a member of the Admissions staff, which was very interesting.  I think the best moment of any visit I have ever done to any school, however, was when a gentleman from Thailand asked about the buildings and learned that they are from the mid-1800’s.  He then followed up by asking “well, are there any ghosts here,” in a way that I still cannot clearly figure out to be serious or joking.  He smiled as he asked it (so a joke??!?) but he genuinely looked relieved when the Admissions staffer, without missing (much) of a beat, responded “well in my 10 years of working here, I have not yet been introduced to any.”  To be sure: that is a REAL commitment to thoroughness in a prospective student setting!  For me personally, I stayed and asked several questions of that lady as well, on the subject of specifics as an intended joint degree student (MDiv/MBA); as far as I can tell, I made a very positive impression while also getting some of the specific information I hadn’t been able to find online previously.  All in all, an excellent day; now, I am going to turn to a bit of considering and analyzing the above.

Main reasons I want to attend SOM

In list form, I am now better-informed to be able to give the top 5 reasons why I so deeply want to do the dual degree and attend Yale’s School of Management:

1) the outlook of the school: armed with the mission to “educate leaders for business and society,” SOM has picked up three major student traits that are extremely compelling to me as a prospective student. The school is intentionally small (no more than 230 students per class year) and does this to facilitate a personal feel; this community focus extends to professors and staff (the ratio is approximately 6 students per faculty, which is an amazing figure) and so learning is nearly impossible to avoid; and finally it is a collaborative environment, with students being put into cohorts which focus on shoring up the individuals with the differing skills and backgrounds represented.
2) the SOM core curriculum: as a school of management (and not a traditional business school), Yale’s SOM is able to be much more innovative in its teaching style, and thus their unique and powerfully well-implemented Core Curriculum (if you’re at all interested, I strongly encourage you to check out their PDF which explains the whole thing)
3) their reputation and skill at educating non-profit career students amongst their majority of for-profit peers: SOM is #1 in the nation (and according to some, in the world) for non-profit Masters of Business Administration education, and this is also related to their existence as a non-traditional school of management.  For me, this translates into an unstoppable educational force towards eventually actually getting a job doing what I want for my career (because lets face it, not everyone is willing to hire someone with an ethical background only; being able to bring a commanding use of the language of business to the table is powerfully valuable), and is therefore worth working VERY hard for in the here and now
4) their unparalleled and generous Loan Forgiveness Program: taking seriously its mission to educate leaders for society AND business, SOM will actually watch out for its students who go into non-profit and/or public careers; they will actually make your loan payments for you entirely, if you’re making less than your graduating class’ average starting salary (which, given Yale’s clout, means a large average indeed for the for-profit graduates).  This is an opportunity I will have from no other institution.
5) The ability to interweave my divinity and secular education even further: the joint degree program is specifically intended to go back and forth between classes, to make the specific content of each interwoven with other concepts from your other degree.  For me, an intention towards an ethical chaplaincy in development work means that I need to be equally able to present an ethical point of view (this effort should employ more local laborers to give their community an extra boost) while also being able to convey these intentions in business language (your perceived corporate social responsibility level will improve greatly if you accept slightly lower margins by employing more workers with lower tech and thus spread the benefits to more individuals).

The schedule ahead of me to apply

The above is a lot of content; how does this exactly translate into a specific plan of action?  MBA programs usually have 3 rounds of application per year; to make a long story short, I didn’t have the time to apply to Round 1 (October 5th deadline) and I am familiar that Round 3 is HYPER-competitive (deadline in April 2012), so I am comfortably shooting for Round 2, with a deadline of January 5 to submit all parts of my application.  Speaking of that app, I am currently something like 60% done with it: I have all my information and work experience and academics put in and the like, and my letter of recommendation writers are standing by to help me out.  At this point, my final bits of work will be the short answers and essays on the application; signing up and studying for the GMAT and then taking it; and finally submitting it on time for the deadline (without losing TOO much sleep over worrying about it).  To be entirely forthcoming: this is going to be by far the most selective program I have ever applied for in my life, and so there is no guarantee here; that said, as you very well may know, I thrive on the challenge, and so am looking forward to this quite a bit.  More will be posted here on the blog as it develops.

Photos from my visit (note: SOM is located on the corner of Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven – this was described by both Charles Dickens and Mark Twain as “the most beautiful street in America)

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My Spiritual Formation at YDS

Spiritual formation as part of the candidacy process

So as an interlude to the various construction-themed posts of late, what follows is a brief account of a different aspect of my education here at the Divinity School than I have usually spoken about: spiritual formation. Put simply, this is the combination of all things spiritual which I do, from studying to praying to contemplating to service work, and how these as a whole are helping to shape me into a Christian leader (specifically in my case as a candidate for the Lutheran diaconal ministry, this translates into enabling me to properly try and model the Christian life, while working to bring the Word of God and the work of the church out into the world).  It is strongly suggested by YDS for MDiv students, and many of us have taken this suggestion to heart.  At the same time, however, the Lutheran church and the candidacy committee expects me to do a fair amount of this formation process before I am even a third of the way through the candidacy process; as such, it is a good thing that I have set all of this up so early (that next candidacy meeting is October 21, so it is quickly approaching!).

Many individuals take a different approach to spiritual formation, as one must work with a director who they click well with, and with whom they can be very open.  In my specific case, I am working with the pastor for the Divinity School campus, Julie Kelsey.  We have a lot of similar outlooks which enables us to discuss well, but she is also an Episcopalian priest, and so brings enough of a different perspective to this process that we are able to learn from one another in the process. Her office is lovely (check out the first photo below, which is of the gorgeous pair of wooden carvings about which 0 is know, but which everyone desires knowing about so they can buy their own set; myself included!), and the plan is that once per month, for approximately an hour, we meet and discuss spirituality as it is, has been, and seems to be going in my life.  We are both disinclined towards a strongly rigid system (so we do not have a book or guide to the specifics); instead, we meet and speak as we feel called to do so.  Thus far, we have spoken in depth about my fairly rough and tumble experiences abroad, and how this has and continues to affect my sense of faith; very fruitful discussions, to be sure.  In between the meetings, I have homework, of sorts; basically, to try a little bit more planning in my prayer life.  Specifically in my case, she has suggested and I have found quite useful two things: waking up slightly earlier and praying prior to showering (which for me wakes me all the way up and disallows me to easily clear my mind); and making use of a candle to focus on when meditating and praying.  These have both been quite useful to me; as a strongly Type-A personality sort of person, I am benefiting a lot from prayer which is planned to help counteract my overactive analytical mind that can make the true centering of one’s self quite difficult.

I am also participating in the Annand Program, which is put on by the Episcopalians here at the Divinity School.  Quite different from my experiences with Julie, this is a process which revolves around small-group meetings 8 times during a semester, all led by a person (clergy or not, which I found intriguing) who has agreed to run a group.  In my case, our leader is a woman named Dawn, who is a somewhat recently-ordained Episcopalian priest, and she is very excited to be there.  Although we have only had one section, the basic format is threefold: an initial aspect of the meeting where we share what is joyful and disappointing in our lives at that given moment; then we hear aloud a piece of writing of some sort to consider; and finally close with a guided mediation and silent prayer combination.  It was a delightfully peaceful aspect to my otherwise crazy Monday schedule, so I look forward to these over the course of this semester.

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Finishing the basement #3: THE WALL-PAINTING IS DONE!

Short and Sweet

As this section header suggests, the written potion of this blog post is going to pull off both a short and sweet flavor in the same scrumptious bite. This is mostly due to my feeling sick (and progressively more so since this past Thursday), and also due to a nasty (but entirely predicted) confluence of deadlines and work-expectations this coming week.  In short, after a series of work days (many more than 3; the titles of these basement-related posts often compress several days of effort together), we have finally finished all of the water-sealing of the walls for the basement in our home.  Next up: after we discuss the specifics with the owners of the house, we are going to also paint the floor of the basement (as well as continue to repair the wholes and divots in it).  All told, a busy month, but a HIGHLY productive one on the Winchester House improvement front.

VITALLY IMPORTANT STATISTIC: it took 16 gallons of Drylok to water-seal the walls of our house’s basement (The More You Know!).

SPOILER ALERT: Ryan and I have pretty much settled on a theme for our basement.  Stay tuned to learn and (eventually) see more!

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