Fighting the good (technique) fight; the semester’s course is locked in, now to travel it

Chronos moves ever onwards; no word on kairos as of yet

As this semester has settled in to a set schedule and the ever-mounting exhaustion that accompanies it, I figured I would compose a brief update while I am still lucid! [Editorial note: the posting of this was delayed by the blizzard]

A smattering of course content

During the course of an average week, I often get a question from a family or friend about what I am learning these days.  A complex question, as it comes standard with a complex answer.  For the ease of collating my responses, consider the following:

On the one hand, I have a series of very interesting glances at important practical aspects of managing a church or church-like body (from my Church Administration course), with such details as how different leadership styles can and do get rather messy when the parties involved do not recognize that 1) they DO each have a style and approach and 2) it IS alright for other people to do things differently.  I also have the New Testament Interpretation experience of traveling through the Pauline epistles, which often yields nuggets of wisdom about the theological meaning of a passage due to the high octane critical historical scholarship we are being taught by the lovely Adela Collins.  The Lutheran student colloquium promises to be good, as we are discussing the Social Statements of the ELCA this semester with a lady who is a Lutheran professor who WAS on the path towards becoming clergy and  then realized that was not right for her, and remained a layperson (an interesting approach for me to keep in mind over the coming days and months).

Then, we come to the pairing of philosophy of religion courses, taught by the excellent John Pittard.  They are 2.5 hours apiece, and they are weapons-grade headache-inducers.  For instance, a formal proof we encountered in “Theological Predication”:

        1. You don’t know you’re not a BIV (Brain in a Vat)
        2. If you don’t know that you’re not a BIV, then you don’t know that you have hands.
        3. Therefore, you don’t know that you have hands

Another good one from “Theological Predication and the Divine Attributes,” this is a formal proof that is mighty difficult to demonstrate to be flawed, and yet we deeply desire to do so:

      1. Let S be any belief source
        1. You are justified in holding beliefs whose only source is S only if you are justified in believing that S is reliable
        2. You are justified in believing that S is reliable only if S (including the parts of S) is not the only source of your belief that S is reliable.
        3. Your cognitive faculties, taken as a whole, are a belief source.
        4. Your cognitive faculties are the only source of your belief that they are reliable.
        5. Thus, you are not justified in believing that your cognitive faculties are reliable. (from 2-4)
        6. Thus, you are not justified in holding beliefs whose only source is your cognitive faculties (from 5 and 1)
        7. Every belief of yours has your cognitive faculties as its only source.
        8. Therefore, no belief of yours is justified (from 6 and 7)

So, all told, you know that you can neither know if you ACTUALLY have hands, nor belief your so-called “senses” if they tell you anything at all, about anything.  ~~Divinity School!!~~

Krav Maga: now officially proficient for Level 1A!!!

Having beaten the odds (and more accurately, the tombstone punching pad held by my partner who is named Ryan but is not my housemate) last weekend at the grueling Proficiency Testing, I am rather excited and proud to report I am now a yellow belt in krav maga, having passed Level 1A and all its components.  The warmup was brutal, involving a full 59 continuous burpees (jumping down into pushup position; jumping to your feet; doing a jumping jack), designed to exhaust us and stress us out very early into the 2 hour testing.  Immediately thereafter, stretching and then one skill after another.  I knew I had done fairly well on the 1A stuff; I also tested on the 1B stuff, but I simply didn’t have the skills down pat yet, so I will test the ones I didn’t do properly next time (in April, I believe).  As per the photos, though, proficiency testing days and regular class alike can (and consistently do) give me some serious bruises!

Planning ahead: continuing to negotiate for the car I would love to have by summer’s end

Through my good friend from home, Tom, I have been put in touch with a gentleman in Illinois who has the car I would love to have for my very own – a 1996 VW TDI Passat B4 wagon… which is a long way of saying a diesel engine that gets ridiculous good mileage (40-50 mpg highway, upper 30’s for city driving).  A picture of the car I am looking to try and acquire:

The 1996 VW TDI Passat B4 wagon. Gorgeous.

The 1996 VW TDI Passat B4 wagon. Gorgeous.

We shall see how it goes, but given all of those attributes, I am really hoping and praying I can make a deal on this.  Updates if/as I get them, shall be posted here.  Possibly alongside joy.

Photos

Finally, a couple of shots of the action of this semester:

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The Divinity School Strikes Back: the beginning of Year the Second

In describing this fall semester’s intended content, bear in mind that I am listing them in their order of importance to me, which is an important message in itself!

Maintaining and improving health

The post previous to this one here on my blog goes into detail about krav maga, the martial art I have taken up for the coming years.  That said, there are other components to my continuing plans for maintaining and further improving my health.  I lost 30 lbs this past summer due to hiking and eating carefully; but I also recognized that I need a more balanced workout for my core and upper body as well.  This is why I enrolled in krav and will stick to it (soreness, exhaustion, partially broken glasses this morning, and all!).  Beyond that, I will continue using  my Fitbit to log my steps per day and quality of sleep, as well as logging food consumed into MyFitnessPal; for me, that continuing data is a massive motivator over the short term, and is actually rather interesting to look at in retrospect, over the long term.  This loss of weight has necessitated the (lovely) problem of being too big for many of my clothes; as the one example in the photo section will show, I have slowly gathered Nerd-Shirts to tide me over until I reach the next size down as well.

Intended academic coursework

Coming in a at second tier importance, I can mention my intended coursework for the fall (thankfully, no longer including Elementary Koine Greek, which was, shall we say, not the right fit for me):

1) New Testament Interpretation I – taught by world-renowned NT scholar Adela Yarbro Collins, this is the first portion of a 2-class series giving an overview to the entire New Testament.  I expect it will be very similar to the Old Testament intro courses of my first year, but with a smaller corpus of work, there will be concomitantly higher degrees of specific information and analysis for each given text.
2) The Lutheran Confessions – one of my favorite professors at YDS thus far, William G. Rusch, taught us about Martin Luther’s life and thought this past spring; now, we are studying the Lutheran Book of Concord with a dual focus (understanding the 16th century context of the texts incorporation, and the meaning and significance of the work today).  My close Lutheran friends and I in the course are very excited about it!
3) Does God exist? – taught by John Pittard, a lecturer in the philosophy of religion, this course seeks to have several of the most important arguments for and against the existence of God get examined in their logical form and flow.  It seems that John is non-theist himself, but is striving to present a precise and accurate snapshot of the varying arguments strengths and weaknesses, so  this class should be fantastic.
4) Theology, Ethics, and Ecology – immediately after the headache-inducing “Does God exist” on Wednesdays, I go sit with Professor Willis Jenkins, in a joint Divinity and Forestry course that seeks to examine core issues surrounding Christianity’s different approaches to the natural world around us.  I am excited for this course as it should prove to offer solid conclusions about theology in the realm of the green’ing of our world and our buzzwords (both equally important, I have been told).

Computer-whisperer: continuing to work at Yale Law School IT

At the same time, rounding out my already-full schedule, I will be working part time at Yale Law School doing IT work, just as I did full time over this past summer.  The work will shift, of course, to predominately focus on assisting student computer concerns, but I will still be involved in working with staff and faculty.  While I hope to avoid any additional close calls with the watery depths at work in the future, it seems like the job should be quite conducive to my thriving – I can (and will) do homework when not helping students; I get to work with a great team of IT folks; and the tasks involved are engineering’esque (I get the task, can finish it, and then move on to the next one)… which is important to me, as I do much better when there is measurable progress to a job!  As such, I will continue to do what I seem to do quite well – speak with whichever agitated spirit(s) inhabit the laptops of law students, and coax them back to working order.

The  final score for the fall

The fall is extremely busy five 1-hour krav courses per week; 20 hours of work per week at Yale Law; and then 4 graduate courses which are all fairly reading-heavy and their attendant assignments.  Even so, I am moving forward upon a solid foundation of good (and getting-better) habits alongside schedule commitments I enjoy that involve people I love being around.  Finally, I will be sneaking in a post or two on my blog as I manage to sneak an electronics project or two into my life; from a phone server to a scratch-built home security system, keep your eyes out for the details as time goes on.

For more information on good habits being important to thriving, there is a concise and instructive case study entitled “Picking the right foundation: comparative benefits and weaknesses to home construction on rock, sand, and other surfaces.”  Words worth considering, if my positive changes are any indication!

Photos

A couple of random shots, from foam LAW-HAMMERS at work, to my Health Habit Allies, to one of the many Nerd-Shirts I now own and wear proudly!

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Before and After: A Mike’s Tale of the First Year

Greetings and salutations.  I am aware that this is a very, very long-overdue update, so I will stick to specific interests in short (editor: APPARENTLY NOT, looking back on this miles-long post…) sections, coupled with  a commitment to stick to posting more often in the coming months!

Academics

After a rather lengthy semester, I can currently report on all my course but for one, which is as-yet ungraded: those other courses were all passed with fairly high marks, particularly considering how stressful the second part of the semester was for me this spring.  The courses themselves were all rather informative in a variety of ways, but I learned an unbelievable amount of content from two of them in particular: Old Testament Interpretation II, during the course of which we covered almost all of the minor prophets and writings of the OT; and Martin Luther’s Life and Thought.  In the latter case, I rediscovered a piece of software from Logos.com, which I used to purchase the entire 44 volume set of Luther’s Works (the American Edition) for an unbelievably low price: given that I got an electronic copy and they didn’t need to print anything, the thrift of the sale makes sense.  Even better, and a big part of how I got so much out of that class stems from that Luther’s Works set being completely electronically searchable; additionally, they are hyperlinked to each other, so if I am curious about what Footnote 2163 has to say in Volume 13, I can click to open it in a new tab.  The list of features goes on, such as highlighting and note-taking and the like, but suffice to say that I am extremely pleased with my purchase!  When combined with the exhaustive Google Document notes I took for all my classes, my opus from the Divinity School is becoming formidably large indeed.

Somewhat separately from the spring’s outcome, I was initially planning on trying to take intensive Koine Greek this summer at YDS.  Then, several summer plans changed, but not least of all I learned from several primary sources that the “intensive” in “intensive Greek” is Serious Business, with every waking moment of those nearly 2 months spent in class, working on classwork at home, or sleeping in between the other two working sessions.  Given that I had a stressful enough spring as it was, and recalling prior commitments made on this blog to choosing health over workaholism and the like, I decided against doing Greek this summer.  Not sure if that will mean Greek this coming fall (concurrently with New Testament I, which I wanted to avoid if possible), or next summer, but I will of course keep you posted.

Health

Speaking of health, a brief set of updates is necessary to previously mentioned goals and ideals.  I did indeed order and receive that Fitbit Aria wireless scale, and have been using it to great effect to help me keep playing the data game; when combined with my new pattern of using a tape to measure my body for greater precision and my months-long habit of religiously entering my meals and exercise into a fantastic free Android app called MyFitnessPal (the app uses the phone’s bar code scanner to make adding foods almost too easy, and thus I have an ever-growing set of data to help me figure out what bad patterns happen and why, towards the end of improving them), I seem to have an ironclad plan for continuing these good habits I recently kick-started anew at the end of a stressful spring.  This also sheds more light on the benefit of not taking Greek this summer as well as the below explanation of my new job: the low stress plan for the summer will allow me to really cement good habits and patterns prior to the fall, methinks!  Additionally, I have been walking the ~1.8 miles home from work daily, and am going to soon restart my daily after-work lifting up and setting down of heavy objects at home.  Perhaps somewhat odd to see on this list, I am making a concerted effort to be much more calculating in my frugality, chiefly with the assistance of the free financial aggregation web browser service called Mint; if you’re interested in seeing all your online financial accounts displayed at once, are trying to rein in your spending, or just revel in the simple joy of data tracking with graphs like I do, I would strongly advocate looking at Mint.

Fun

Closely related to the issue of health is fun, a necessary part of mental health and generally being whole!  One of my favorite activities, reading non-academic articles, was revived over the past month or so, and I am delving deep into the frightening but compelling corridors of H.P. Lovecraft, the horror writer who has influenced most of that genre after him.  I have been keeping up the good (great!) work when it comes to board-gaming with the housemates and guests (including Parmly and Dylan, old friends of mine from the District, who came up to visit a few weekends ago).  New additions to the game library include an out of print copy of Avalon Hill’s 1979 classic Dune, as well as a tactical card game called Space Hulk: Death Angel.  My landlord Whitney was so pleased with all the work I did on the basement thus far that he ended up getting us a free billiards table for the basement (my roommate Ryan and I had a reaction along the lines of this documentary recreation of the moment we discovered it sitting in the basement).  That said, the legs of the pool table were broken off en route, so much like the gaming table I rebuilt and we have enjoyed using since, I have already started the plans for constructing some prosthetic billiards legs.  After raving about it for a semester to Ryan, I have convinced him to screen Battlestar Galactica with me over the course of this summer (I don’t usually like television programs, but I watched all of the series in about two weeks back in February, having become instantly addicted!).  All told, it promises to be an enjoyable and (as a direct result) healthy summer ahead!!!

Work

Finally, we can turn to the other aspect of life that is perennially here: working in the non-academic sense.  For the past two semesters, I was employed at Yale’s Office of Sustainability, involved in paper reduction efforts.  While it was a great office, with wonderful coworkers and a vital mission, it was too high a stressor to continue being involved with, given my unyielding focus on health as primary concern.  For the summer, I am employed full-time at Yale Law School, working in IT to assist students, staff, and faculty with all manner of technical problems (as a matter of fact, I am doing work on 4 separate laptops as I compose this post!).  It has been an excellent experience thus far, with delightful coworkers and an awesome boss – the students I have helped have always had interesting stories to share as I worked, and I have been privileged to learn about Yale’s IT infrastructure from the inside.  Given what has been a highly successful experience thus far, I seem to have found the right mixture of low-stress, high-pay, flexible hours, and enjoyable work for the next several years while I attend Yale!  Best of all is the object lesson inherent to this particular occupation, a lesson I find myself needing to learn and relearn anew: as much as I like to envision a future making huge differences for wide swathes of people through more ethical development work, a healthy sense of scale is necessary to cultivate: after all, my fixing an otherwise-useless laptop and saving a partially-finished final exam means the WHOLE world to that particular student, even if it was just another customer helped at the job for me.  More pondering will be done on this, but any and all people willing to yell at me into believing what I just typed would be much appreciated.

A Brief Summary of Year 1 at YDS

All told, what might I say about my first year at Yale Divinity School, now many moons behind me?  I made friendships with a wide variety of people both at the Divinity School and downtown; I got involved in the administration and IT sides of Yale via employment that have broadened my perspective on understanding this academic institution as a whole; and I have really gotten to know parts of New Haven outside the realm of normal Yale graduate student life (living in Newhallville, which I wouldn’t trade for anything).  On an academic level, I have learned enough things to make my brain consistently sore and stretched in good ways, and am again experiencing that odd admixture of excitement and apprehension at having to pick a small finite set of courses from all of the fascinating offerings for the fall.  I have been blessed with housemates who are amongst my best friends in New Haven (Ryan, Amber who will be staying, and Shawn who is departing for a lengthy trip to China), and am hoping and praying that the incoming Divinity student who ends up as our new housemate is equally friendly and fun.  Perhaps most importantly, and beyond the space constraints of this post (editor: no kidding), I would simply point to my having done a statistically significant amount of growing over the preceding handful of months: as with most growing, it hasn’t always been pleasant, planned, or preferable; instead it has been rather painful at times, prone to being unexpected, and not especially predictable as per ever.

Yet I would like to mention that this period of growth and learning has been fruitful in ways I couldn’t have predicted.  I have a favorite book, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (which you should all go read as soon as possible.  Potentially consider pausing the reading of this post in favor of that book, but be forewarned it is not a tale of fairies and sunshine rainbow smile-flavored Skittles), and my favorite line in it regarding the extremely difficult experiences of the protagonist also led me to my favorite verse of the Bible:

“Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine,” Vincenzo Guiliani said quietly. ” ‘Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your father knowing it’ “

“But the sparrow still falls,” Felipe said. [pg 401]

For a long, long time now after some rough and tumble experiences abroad, I have had trouble gaining comfort from the former part of the verse and found Felipe’s quip rather inescapable.  While I cannot claim to have a full answer to it at this point, I can honestly say that I have discovered that the best lessons are learned via hardship, which is perhaps tertiary wisdom (I am still nowhere close to the primary wisdom that is the Socratic level of ἓν οἶδα ὅτι οὐδὲν οἶδα hèn oîda hóti oudèn oîda).  In a lot of ways, this semester has made me embrace my Lutheran heritage quite a bit: our denomination has a particularly good handle on both acknowledging the hardships of life here and now, while holding to an eschatological hope for the future.  No theological treatise or dissertation here yet, just some thoughts I wanted to record here and now, for posterity).  As per ever, more on this rather complicated thought process as it grows.

Even still, I would just basically point out that if “God works in mysterious ways” (which I encountered over the course of this semester), and knowing for certain that I work in mysterious [inexplicable, sometimes infernal] ways (also encountered a fair amount over the course of the semester), this wacky pairing should lead to… an exciting new episode in Mike’s Time at YDS.  Tune in next summer for the full report on the Second Year!

Photos

And finally, a rather eclectic photo section ranging from cleaning up the room post-semester, to organizing the board game stash, to rebuilding a billiards table (bear with me, these will be added over time as I have the chance):

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Settling in for this spring semester

As the semester progresses and becomes more settled (in terms of schedules, be they academic, work, or personal), I wanted to toss some of the important details out there:

Spring schedule update

Overall, I am actually extremely excited with my schedule.  The specifics as I have  begun to discover them are as follows:

Martin Luther – his Life and Thought, taught by Professor William G. Rusch, this class has thus far proven to be a fascinating lecture about Luther, interspersed with a variety of details about the historical, sociological, religious, and other contextual details which play a major role in truly understanding both Luther as a person, and then Luther the theologian.  This class is one of my favorites this semester, if the first two weeks have been any indication.

Old Testament Interpretation II, taught by the fantastic Professor Robert Wilson, has already demonstrated itself to be the best part of my week, every week.  The professor is extremely brilliant, and works in some POWERFULLY dry humor to his lecturing, which is just icing on the cake: he is teaching us about the Prophets and the Writings of the OT, and he has gone out of his way several times to warn people about shoddy interpretations, which really resonates with me (the best one being an introduction to Amos, used most powerfully by MLK, that included a call to NOT fashion ourselves prophets, as we really don’t grasp the level of commitment that entails).

Transitional Moments in Western Christianity II, taught by Professor Clarence Hardy III, is the second half of this past fall’s class, meaning it is a history course spanning ~1650 until the present day.  Professor Hardy focuses on African studies, and so this class will certainly present an enlightening view on history from a different perspective from mine; additionally, the professor is quite hilarious, so the 8:30am time slot will hopefully be survivable.

American Religious Thought & the Democratic Ideal, taught by Professor Andre Willis, should prove to the course closest to my AU experience thus far here at the Divinity School.  It is a hardcore philosophy course, wherein we are going to read a wide swath of the literature which directly or indirectly contributed to the formation of the American sense of pragmatism and its odd relationship to the faith we all seem to have in democracy (the untested kind of faith; the “we were raised believing this works” kind of faith).  The pattern of discussion is particularly interesting, as each week involves one person writing a 5 page argument about the readings; a second person writing a 2 page response to the first; and then they team-lead the discussion, all of which conspires to make for a discussion that really tests our understanding of both the concepts at hand alongside the overarching importances of that week’s readings in understanding this sort of civil faith around democracy that exists in the US.  Let’s face it: a class that starts by reading John Winthrop, Roger Williams, and Thomas Jefferson is Change I Can Believe In.

Lutheran Student Colloquium – Social Justice & Spirituality, taught by Pastor Heidi Neumark,is going to be an interesting foray into the world of community organizing and how it fits into the Lutheran church.  While not everyone in the course is looking forward to the content per se (most folks in there want to be a pastor full-time and encourage their congregations to organize the community, not organize themselves), it is actually rather refreshing to be amongst Lutherans in the otherwise ecumenical Div School community; as one friend put it, its like we have a shared language of sorts, as we all have similar enough faith outlooks to be able to be ourselves more comfortably.  As part of this semester’s Lutheran Overdose Tuesdays (as this course is after the Martin Luther class, and before Tuesday night’s Lutheran weekly vespers), it should be good.

Health update

Two major details here alongside a minor one, in the time since last I posted on the subject:

-Working hard in the basement, as previous posts here have showcased, has actually borne fruit: both of the improved-house variety, as well as the in-better-shape-as-a-result-of-6-consecutive-days-of-working kind of way.  This is a start, and a good one, but it will need to be maintained; that is partially why the next point is exciting:

-I continue to shore up my Good Habits Defenses for the coming midterm and finals seasons, which consistently makes my bad habits arise anew.  Towards that end, a new product was just put out for preorder that pairs with my Fitbit; it is a wireless scale called the Aria that does weight and % body composition, and then wirelessly syncs the data with my existing Fitbit account. As someone who responds pretty well to hard numbers, this should be a good purchase (when it eventually ships out in April or so).

-As the photos should continue to demonstrate, I have indeed been taking advantage of the free time, the space in the house, and Ryan’s interest to continue making a great deal of time to play games a bunch.  It has, I am excited to report, done great things for my health: I don’t feel any stress whatsoever, which is a peculiar state of being, for me.

Odd things learned

-Having an uninsulated laundry room is a bad thing. A bad, bad thing. While it doesn’t break any records for cold air temperature, our washer’s water pipes  froze (not entirely unexpected). What was rather unexpected/never even considered before is that laundry detergent has a gelling and then freezing point. So, I sort of have a load of frozen laundry with frozen gobs of laundry detergent sitting on it, waiting for our landlord to buy and install an automated pipe heater on the washer later this week.  Never a dull moment.

-Old Testament II is already paying off in unexpected ways.  Besides being thoroughly entertained and learning a lot, I am also making peculiar connections between Biblical ideas and the modern world.  For instance, Yale’s motto is “Light and Truth,” rendered both in Latin (‘Lux et Veritas’) and then present on the opened book, in Hebrew (‘Urim ve’Thummim’).  Light and Truth are fairly common goals for academic institutions, and so those words are often used; the  Hebrew, however, is actually referring to the Old Testament references to the divine game of lots played by Israelite high priests to determine God’s yes or no answers to prayers.  A very different (and altogether more interesting) kind of motto to have.

Photos

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My Second Semester at Yale Divinity: a plan, a purpose, and preparation

Introduction

As some of you may recall from a prior blog post and my increasingly-frantic Facebook statuses, this past fall semester was another jewel in my Mike Crown of Taking On FAR FAR FAR Too Much.  I am basically an old man at this point, so this crap can’t continue.

A Plan

So, first (as is almost always the case with me), there is a plan.  In this case, the plan is simple enough: cease doing anything and everything that leads to my wearing myself down and missing out on the more enjoyable parts of life, while still maintaining an acceptable minimum (luckily as a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist, that minimum will not be lacking, [un]fortunately enough).  As a secondary but integral part of this plan, I am writing out the specifics here so 1) interested parties can use whatever works for them, but far more importantly 2) I have the accountability of people knowing my intentions.  After all, I wouldn’t want someone who reads this to later approach me and say: “Mike, you wrote a good faith proposal to stop taking on too many things… sadly, the proof in the pudding over this past semester demonstrates that when it comes to your written proposal, IT’S A FAKE!  Consider the preceding example sentence to be a free invitation to make me keep my word(s) below.

A Purpose

The above plan can only work with an overarching purpose: I have finally, totally and completely decided to forestall EVERYTHING other than school and work, in order to focus on my own health (mental, spiritual, physical, et al.).  As a matter of fact, I am going to re-implement last semester’s intention of health being more important than school, which is more important than work… except this time, I am going to implement that policy with an iron fist.

Preparation

The above gives a general sense of what I am setting out to do; what follows are some of the key specifics:

Health

Fitbit: This neat little device was my graduation present to myself from my American University undergrad experience, and while I have used it off and on for the past few years, I will be getting my money’s worth out of it this semester and beyond.  This tiny little bit of tech is a pedometer, accelerometer, sleep monitor, and calorie counter all in the same package.  The sleep monitor works by wearing it on your wrist at night (and is great for helping you figure out if you’re actually sleeping soundly or not, thereby tipping you off to the potential of something stressing you, etc).  The calorie counter isn’t quite to Star Trek levels yet: while I cannot say “Computer, add a 12-inch Subway chicken breast sandwich to my daily calorie count,” I can indeed manually input the foods I eat in a day, thus keeping an online private set of records of how many calories, my percents of daily values consumed, and eating patterns in general.  This calorie count is even more useful when combined with the pedometer/accelerometer – this pair enables the device to know when you’re walking/running versus in a moving vehicle, and only counts your real steps…. AND it is capable of detecting when you’re going upstairs, and thus logs those steps as having burned more calories.  Between all of those pieces of functionality, I have all the tools I will need to quantitatively badger myself into keeping up good habits.  I honestly cannot recommend this product highly enough to anyone – the price is great, the shipping was quick, and the customer service is up there with the giants (Amazon and Newegg).
Kettlebells: A Ukrainian invention that won the Soviet Union a WHOLE bunch of Olympic Gold Medals, I purchased three different sizes of this exercising demi-god a few years ago.  As my experience last semester showed me, using them for no more than 20 minutes, 5 days a week (and combined with some incredibly easy calisthenics) gave me enormous amount of muscle gain as well as losing a bunch of weight quickly.  It was almost uncanny, and as the next item in this list will explain, was also partially due to the diet I was and will again follow, but the fact remains: I have kettlebells and a floor mat and thus can work out on the landing outside of my bedroom door, at any hour, in any weather, without a problem.  I am well-prepared for the coming exercise storm.
4 Hour Body: This book, by Timothy Ferris, was recommended to me by my doctor from home of all people.  While I do not agree with every bit of advice put forth in the tome, I can attest to three things: 1) his years of experience with the necessity of quantifying health habits was the tipping point to make me want to use the aforementioned Fitbit as the amazing tool it is; 2) the exercises I did and will start anew (and kettlebells in general) came recommended AND explained from his book, and work like a charm; and 3) the diet he proposes, basically the cessation of sugar intake for 6 days of each week followed by a day with a lot of sugar, enabled me (when combined with those exercises and sleeping enough) enabled me to lose 28 lbs last semester over the course of a few months.  As per usual, finals stresses thoroughly ruined most of those improvements, but that is why I am doing this post: I intend on achieving them anew, and then some, and then maintaining that state of being.  Assuredly, this diet is tough to pull off (protein is expensive, I don’t have a lot of time to cook, and I have many, many sweet teeth), I did it before for a time, and I will do it again.  This time, for as long as it takes to get down to a healthier state of being, and then doing a modified version of it to stay healthy.  While I know the dangers of the no carbs –> to –> eat lots of carbs after the diet changes, I will put this forward as a counter-argument: the Mongolians ate pretty much only protein, fought numerically-superior armies of grain-fed Europeans, and won so effectively that they decided to turn around as their foes weren’t advanced enough to be worth their time.  In a sense, I guess this means I am partially engaged in this diet procedure in order to be able to fend off any number of Horse Lord invasions, but more seriously: I have found that a more protein-heavy diet leads to better sleep, highly-improved capacity to concentrate, the cessation of spikes/drops in hunger from carbs, and generally being better-enabled to take care of business every day.  That preceding sentence sounds like moves in the right direction for my overall purpose of health, so I will embark on this journey, and from time to time post updates on the blog.
Attending a local Lutheran church regularly: while the ecumenical environment of Yale Div has been excellent, and I have found many good friends amongst the Lutheran student community with whom I have enjoyed weekly Lutheran student vespers, I find myself missing the experience of attending a regular church, specifically a Lutheran one.  As such, I am going to do my very best to attend one somewhere in New Haven weekly. More on this as I explore the options/I am not awake past 7am on a Sunday writing this post.
Having more fun: As I once mentioned, when I attended my Lutheran Candidacy Committee interview as part of the process of seeking to become a diaconal minister, one of the Committee’s chief expectations and hopes for me was to do less work, and have more fun. I am fully embracing that command, and this will likely manifest itself in a lot of gaming with my housemates and friends here in town (as the past few posts should indicate, I am already geared up for this process!)
Rekindling the greatness of my saltwater reef: sadly, the reef tank got neglected far too often last semester, when in reality it is extremely relaxing and satisfying to watch the ecosystem in play after a hard day’s work.  As such, I am going to strive to keep the tank up to a higher level of care, and also to set aside pennies here and there to add some new denizens (first up, and soon: multiple peppermint shrimp, to start dealing with the pest anemone explosion that started last semester). More on this as it happens.

Work

While my work schedule started off way above an acceptable number of hours last semester (due to my own choosing, and with my boss’ hesitation), she was the biggest supporter of my scaling them back.  I fully intend to both keep that lower number of weekly hours, while also ABSOLUTELY AVOIDING scheduling any kind of massively important meeting during finals prep week (say, like I did this past fall).  Also, expect more updates on the blog about work, as plans and projects move forward… this spring should be exciting at my office in general, and with paper reduction efforts specifically.

Scheduling spring classes

Finally, I thought folks might be interested in hearing my intended spring schedule.  It is not especially different from the fall, as I am taking three Part 2’s, so here is the list:

-Transitional Moments in Western Christianity II (English Reformation to the present day)
-Old Testament Interpretation II (the Prophets and the Writings)
-Systematic Theology…. II
-American Religious Thought and the Democratic Ideal (this course sounds eerily similar to what I tried to produce back when I wrote my undergraduate thesis at American University, but with more of a focus on religious outlooks, so I am VERY excited!)

To the general tone, timbre, and content of the above, I pledge my life and sacred honor, &c.  -Mike

Photos

As will sometimes happen over the coming months, I find myself compelled to include some action shots of various board games played in the house.  First is a fantastic game that was Game of the Year for nearly 10 years, and is currently #3 – it is called Puerto Rico (simply put, this game involves creating plantations on your own section of the newly-discovered island of Puerto Rico in order to score the most victory points via several methods).  Second, you’ll find an old favorite of mine, a card game called Citadels (which is a card game where players attempt to add the highest-valued districts to their corner of a medieval castle, while attempting to forestall other players’ attempts to do the same).

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Advent season at YDS

Christmas < Advent

As my second of two sequential entries written and posted after the fact, I wanted to quickly write about my experiences at the Div School around Advent, as they were enjoyable and noticeably different than much of the rest of this semester.  First and foremost, I would like to again offer my thanks to the good people of my DC congregation, St Paul’s Lutheran DC, for the delightful care package I received on/for Saint Nicholas’ Day (put simply, the European celebration of Santa’s practice run) – the cards I received from some of the kids were especially thoughtful and are featured in the photos section.

On another note, Advent at YDS was a rather interesting season: liturgies and homilies all made HEAVY use of the notion of Advent as the 4 weeks of uncertainty waiting for something good to come as opposed to the 1 day of Christmas.  For finals- and stress-laden students, this message of surviving interminable waiting and struggle resonated well.  Check out the photos section for a look at the Common Room all decked out (halls included) for the Advent Party, the other big event of the fall when most of the believers at the school all go to church after the last class ends on a Tuesday in December, and then all go to get very, very drunk (but in a catered, classy way) afterwards prior to finals.  Similarly, my office at Yale’s Office of Sustainability was also decorated and quite enjoyable – check out the photos!

Finals Season – a truly eschatological, End Times experience

Speaking of finals, I wanted to end by summing up the entire semester and specifically focusing on how finals went; a sort of look at how my whole semester went!  The schedule at the end was insane, as it ended up stacked (and yes, here in writing, I fully admit that I voluntarily took on too much, as I am wont to do).  For me, my final papers were due up until the Monday that was the second-last day of class; a photo finish on the last one, finishing a 6pm deadline at 5:58pm.  Classes ended that next day, Tuesday – the aforementioned Advent party was that night but I had to skip it in favor of preparation for the following.  The biggest meeting of the semester, with my job coordinating paper reduction for the Office of Sustainability, was scheduled for that Wednesday afternoon – the meeting itself was a slam dunk and was great, but preparing for it and not knowing how it would go was fairly nerve-wracking up until it.  Then, due to being an idiot, I had schedule the GMAT for that Thursday morning, which went fairly well for no sleep, high stress, and only cursorily glancing at study materials (it turns out that after 7 years of no use, my immediate handle on the rules for exponents wasn’t at high capacity).  Though I am going to retake the GMAT in the future, that initial experience was actually rather valuable: first, as a benchmark for how I did taking the test cold and thus how much I would need to study in the future; second, and perhaps far more importantly for the strength of my application: it was enough, when combined with the extremely positive outcome of that work meeting (and its implications for my participation in paper reduction and thus cost-savings for Yale over months of implementation) to convince me to delay my application to the School of Management until next fall, so it will be as strong as possible.

On to the Crucible they call “finals” themselves – all told, it wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t managed to strategically overschedule myself to an absurd degree (on the other hand, everyone is good at something; I am just sticking to what I know!).  Armed with the knowledge, though, that I was busy until Thursday afternoon (and realistically, I was completely sleep-deprived and utterly mentally-destroyed after the GMAT in the morning, so Thursday night was a mental health night of some 1978 Battlestar Galactica 😀 ).  Therefore, I had all of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to prepare for a triplet of 3 hour-long finals: 9am Monday Old Testament exam; 9am Tuesday Systematic Theology; and 2pm Tuesday Transitional Moments exam.  All told, my study friends (it is a long story, but one nickname for us is “Team Rhetorical Violence”) and I all spent a great deal of time sequestered away in a lovely little room at Yale’s Hall of Graduate Studies (which, we all agreed after examining, is the poster child for what Hollywood makes us expect Yale to look like).  Our Old Testament study guide was upwards of 40 single spaced pages; the Systematics final was on a full 12 theologians (both identifying quotes from all the readings and their author; and also extended essays on 2 thinkers) and so preparation was limited to talking out summaries of the ideas and then trying to skim passages which might be helpful; and finally the Transitional Moments final was a whole bunch of term preparation (we thankfully had the entire list of terms we needed to know, so that only left the short answer and essays as unknowns).

Though as of Christmas Day 2011 I have not seen my grades yet, I am hopeful that I did well this initial semester at Yale Divinity School.  In the aggregate, I am extremely pleased with my choice to attend YDS, have made friends with a great bunch of peers and professors, and am looking forward to several more years of experiences which I hope to share the highlights from here!

Photos

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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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