Graduation from Yale Divinity School (or rather, walking and a degree IOU)

Family and friends

For the terminal days of my New Haven time in life, my parents and brother were able to make it out from our home in northeast Ohio (my sister was on week 3 of her new job, her first salaried gig after graduating college, so she rightfully stayed home and kept her new job!).  My parents took a few days of work off, and drove down with a U-Haul trailer to whisk away most of my crap to the house, for my later perusal.

My parents and I

My parents and I

My brother actually participated in the Tough Mudder on Sunday in Ohio, at which point he got the mohawk to help raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project that shall be seen below:

Steven with his Tough Mudder haircut, and I

Steven with his Tough Mudder haircut, and I

I owe my parents a lot for the entirety of my life and their support throughout; and my brother for his friendship and then being willing to walk up and down the big hill with the Divinity School, to take photos with my camera (even though he was rather banged up from the Mudder)!  More generally, it was just fantastic to be with my family again after having last been home in March – and so with their arrival Sunday night, it was officially time to Gradumicate.

Marching down town for the Overall Yale Event

Preparing for the march down the hill do the Old Campus

Preparing for the march down the hill do the Old Campus

The first event of the day was the gathering of all of Yale’s various undergrad and grad schools, to the largest quad on Old Campus, to have the deans each approach the president of Yale to get the Yale Corporation’s approval for the graduating process to come.  The Divinity School processed down the hill, led by some sort of elderly hippies with drums and tamborines, and the intended joyous spirit (which caught up some of our peers) also looked really unprofessional and out of place at Yale’s graduation to outsiders:

The hippie folk who played loud drums in front of our procession and further tarnished the reputation of YDS in the eyes of the rest of Yale, yay!

The hippie folk who played loud drums in front of our procession and further tarnished the reputation of YDS in the eyes of the rest of Yale, yay!

Thankfully, I walked with friends like Chris, who share a very suspicious opinion (at best) of the sorts of choices like the above, made by many of our peers from YDS in representing YDS.

Instead, Chris and I are of the church of the Batman:

My good friend, Bruce "Chris P" Wayne

My good friend, Bruce “Chris P” Wayne

We were seated on the quad according to when each school was founded – and given that Yale was founded as a seminary, we had the best seats in the house – both for the actual stage and then for the largest screen in the quad, so we could see details of the Yale-King’s actions:

The Yale-King used his Yale Scepter and officially made the Divinity School graduate.

The Yale-King used his Yale Scepter and officially made the Divinity School graduate.

The best part of the whole experience down town, in my opinion, was when an honorary doctorate was given to Ralph Stanley, a very frail elderly man who was a key player in the development of bluegrass in this country for some 50 years.  As the president reached the end of his brief bio, the School of Music players and their dean began to softly play on a banjo and accompanying music, and the volume got louder for a brief bit of time – and it really seemed to touch Stanley’s heart, and had a similar effect on the assembled crowd.

Our seatmates behind us were school of architecture folk, who had all sorts of angry atheist things to say when there was an invocation, benediction, and three separate hymns sung – but as the school is older than the United States, it is unlikely those traditions will change any time soon.

The Divinity School’s smaller gradumacashun

We hiked our way back up the hill (with some of our peers and indeed the faculty stopping at the ubiquitous food carts to get food prior to the next event), and eventually processed up to the chairs set out in the quad before the Marquand Chapel.

Processing up to the seating in the Sterling Quad, for the final graduation event

Processing up to the seating in the Sterling Quad, for the final graduation event

We were rather blessed to have such lovely weather, albeit slightly windy – but it made a beautiful setting for a much-anticipated end to this chapter of my life.

The good dean, dean'ing on the gorgeous day we had

The good dean, dean’ing on the gorgeous day we had

Eventually, I got to walk my way up those steps and shake hands with the dean, to get my photo taken and have officially walked at Commencement #313 for Yale…

I officially got a thing...

I officially got a thing…

… but, given that my summer of 2014 will be spent doing my internship requirement for the Master of Divinity degree (as the Fall 2013/Spring 2014 internship I had set up ended up falling apart because of my shoulder injury and the accompanying surgeries and healing), I got a slightly different piece of paper in my sleek Yale-branded folder:

... but as you can likely tell, I still have the summer 2014 internship ahead of me, prior to fully graduating.

… but as you can likely tell, I still have the summer 2014 internship ahead of me, prior to fully graduating.

Can you tell which one is mine, above, if you didn’t read the names?? 🙂

A lovely day, all told

As the afternoon deepened, I realized how exhausted I was, and I knew my family was as well from their trip – and we were also all rather hungry!

Matt, myself, and Chris - the three Lutherans who did a Visiting Student Day over 3 years ago, and we made it through the experience only partially scathed!

Matt, myself, and Chris – the three Lutherans who did a Visiting Student Day over 3 years ago, and we made it through the experience only partially scathed!

I said some goodbyes to my closest friends of the past three years, and slowly made my way down to the sidewalk and thus towards the car.

My good friend Emma and I doing a non-acted "this is how we really feel about this place" photo, for posterity.

My good friend Emma and I doing a non-acted “this is how we really feel about this place” photo, for posterity.

I wanted to take my family to Plan B Burger in Milford, a place I have referenced here before, and we went forth and had a delicious meal indeed.  During the course of the meal, the 2 months without a break finally hit me and I realized – the afternoon spent packing my remaining belongings I had planned was simply not viable.

My dad and I, on our way off the quad and towards a celebratory meal

My dad and I, on our way off the quad and towards a celebratory meal

What did the House of Repas do, then?

We had a great meal, and all vacated New Haven for their hotel, wherein we all passed out by 6:45pm and slept through until 7am or so, to prepare us for the (longer than expected, it turned out) day of packing ahead.

My mug shot made the wall, so it is official (even if I have an internship yet to do, to fully finish the degree)

My mug shot made the wall, so it is official (even if I have an internship yet to do, to fully finish the degree)

All told,  then, I am very thankful to have had the opportunities I had and the like, but (as I shall explore in the post after this one), the school and town alike were not especially good fits for me – so graduation day, even if only to get my official-looking Yale Divinity School IOU “degree,” was a happy day indeed – a day to celebrate the good things received and learned over three years, but especially to celebrate the end of one chapter of life and the start of the next!

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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:

An academic inauguration – Spring 2013, the 4th semester at Yale Div

Ever onwards, ever upwards

So, after the whirlwind Christmas and Gettysburg experiences over the past month, I find myself back in the ‘Haven, facing a series of upcoming challenges and tasks, and even a handful of triumphs tossed in as well.  To follow the pattern of previous semester, methinks I will go for a state of/intentions for model, looking at all the most important areas of my life:

Health

Intentionally listed first, I am pleased to report that although I didn’t get NEARLY enough sleep over the past 5 weeks and was in fact sickly while at home, I only gained 3 pounds since I departed New Haven in December.  Given Christmas time diet and then two weeks at Gettysburg Seminary (a *Lutheran* institution in the *heart* of Pennsylvania Dutch territory… makes for a LOT of cream of mushroom soup-based meals, quite the rich diet), this is nothing less that the REAL Christmas miracle.  As I compose this post, I stand at my desk stretching and feeling like a million bucks (or, adjusting for inflation and fiat currency, 100 billion bucks) as tonight marked the first time I got to krav maga in almost exactly a month.  My body has been YELLING at me in its own way, for having not been able to go for so long, and it is congratulating me (by means of endorphins and soreness) for having restarted the fall’s five-attendances-per-week insanity properly.  Additionally, my food plan remains somewhat similar (protein shake for breakfast, lunch from a Yale dining location so I can use my meal points, dinner after krav being the DELICIOUS heated buffalo chicken and garlic cheddar sammich with hummus), and this is conducive to saving money while also eating healthy.  All told, this is shaping up to be another EXTREMELY busy and often stressful semester, but during which I am truly committed to health first.

This is the distance (and comparative geographic size) I walked in 2012 while wearing my Fitibit.

This is the distance (and comparative geographic size) I walked in 2012 while wearing my Fitibit.

Academics

Although less important according to the New Mike Repas Hierarchy of Priorities (TM), I am too much of a perfectionist and academic to not put work into my courses!  The list of what I will take, with short explanations, is as follows:

New Testament Interpretation II: taught by Adela Collins, just like the first course in the progression this past fall, this class will examine the Pauline epistles at length, while also considering other writings (like Revelations). As Adela is now my advisor for coursework, I am excited for another excellent foundational bit of coursework with her!
Pastoral Leadership and Church Administration: a sort of “visiting professor,” Martha Highsmith, she is actually one of the Vice Presidents of Yale!  She comes to the Divinity School to help impart her extensive knowledge of the intricacies of administrating complex organizations (and, as people everywhere know, churches are often the MOST complicated of organizations).  The syllabus for this class looks absolutely delightful!
Theological Predication and the Divine Attributes: Taught by John Pittard, a lecturer at YDS who taught the fascinating “Does God Exist?” course in the fall, I am looking forward to this class as well, as it looks into the viability of different sorts of attributes being attributed to God, why they are allowable, and in fact why they are more reasonable/compelling/viable than other options.  Abstract as all hell? Yes.  Exciting? Yes!
Rationality and Christian Belief: also taught by John Pittard, this should be an informative experience – for half of the class with him last year, I thought I had pegged him as an atheist based on the way he spoke about things, but then I ended up seeing him in chapel and asked him later… and found he was a Christian!  Given that he is in the Philosophy of Religion, and deals with rather formal proofs and the like, I am excited to see him teach something of his own approach to the religious texts and beliefs of the Christian faith through this course.
Lutheran Student Colloquium: to be entirely honest, I actually do not yet know the topic of this colloquium, but I am looking forward to time spent with many of my best friends at the Divinity School, fellow Lutherans, once a week on Tuesdays. [Edit: taught by Dr. Audrey West, the colloquium will be looking at the Social Statements of the ELCA.  Should be interesting indeed.]

A busy schedule, yes, but a good one, I should think.  Finally, this is the beginning of the second half of my education at YDS, so I will have a “mid-degree consultation” with professors, pastors, and the like in April.  That should be an interesting experience, as it is meant to bring together people who know me well and do not know each other, to try and elucidate better how/why/to what end I fit into the faith, and what that might mean in terms of my career and the like.

Professional

Continuing the previous half year of rather enjoyable work for Yale Law School IT, I am again employed at the Student Help Desk… but have the chops and trust of my bosses to go and help faculty and staff, as well.  What this translates into is a completely unpredictable set of shifts during the week, 20 hours total, which will be a combination of lots of walking and heavy lifting (extra exercise!) alongside lengthy periods of helping students at the desk itself… and then long periods of downtime in between, to be able to work on schoolwork.  Last semester saw me set up a server in my house, and one of the most useful things to come of it has been my own secure network storage (Google Documents is nice, but also they have my content on their servers, and being an untrusting SOB, I am, well, untrusting).  Finally, given my probable need for a car come August (when Ryan moves out IF he doesn’t get into the Yale PhD program and/or gets into a different PhD, and takes his car/my only means to get to krav maga with him), I am going to be working as many hours as humanly possible… and then some, into the realm of the unhealthy (here’s looking at you, final month of Fall 2012), in order to try and save up for a used Volkswagen Passat station wagon I have my eye on….  More on that as it develops.

Fun

Last and certainly not least, I must speak to the continuing War on Funlessness.  Last semester saw the atrophying of Game Nights and instead the slow screening of Game of Thrones (our housemate Nicole is not a big gamer), and while we loved the show, the lack of active participation in screening GoT definitely got to us.  To that end, this spring shall see Saturday nights set aside for gaming sans drinking, to ensure everyone is competitive, and then Sunday nights shall see the screening of GoT and/or other shows and movies.  Given that Ryan is no longer applying to PhD programs, and my stress over applying to the School of Management is gone (having not gotten in), this spring could use the overdose of fun that the fall saw eaten away.  Unrelated to those, Ike the Bearded Dragon continues to grow in appetite, size, and cuteness.  I am looking forward to setting aside some time in the near future to get the damned sensors talking to the light controllers, a project that has been on hold due to time constraints for MANY moons.  Beyond that, I have my eye on some really awesome aquaponics projects that I would like to eventually implement in a home I own (perhaps in Virginia… though that too is a story for a later date).  Towards that end, I will try and dedicate some of my sparse free time to getting more involved at the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, to learn and/or hone the skillsets needed to make my own aquaponics setup a reality, some day.  All told, the spring should be a good time.

Photos

No photographs were taken to pair with this post… but this image simply felt right, in a way:

Soon.

Soon.

‘What I have written, I have written’ – finished with half of this Master of Divinity

Pontius Pilate washing his hands, stained glass at the Monastery of the Flagellation in Jerusalem

Pontius Pilate washing his hands, stained glass at the Monastery of the Flagellation in Jerusalem

Washing my hands of plans both realized and denied; and of assignments  finished

Sitting here in the relative calm and quiet of my Command Center at Yale Law School [editorial note: I started writing this weeks ago from work, and thought it set the right tone for the remainder], I am surveying the tattered remains of my sanity and health after a brutal set of weeks spent finishing up my third semester at Yale.  To be entirely certain, the vast majority of the past months have been a boon to my health, well-being, and flourishing; from the inclusion of electronics projects to keep me involved in practical problems and their solutions, to my mostly-perfect record of attendance at krav maga (and the delightful physical benefits thereof), to enjoying my job at the Law School and mostly enjoying my coursework, this fall has been a very good thing.  The past few weeks have been extremely difficult, for a series of reasons, but even having been working on final papers and preparation since the end of October, the past weeks have been super busy (to be fair, this is related to multiple consecutive voluntary 40-hour-weeks at work, working towards the money to get a used car this coming summer).  In the aftermath, I can now write that I did indeed pass all the courses I took, though the final exam in one course and the paper in another were… not the best I have ever done.  It is a marked sign of personal growth over years that I can relate – aside from the echoes of the old perfectionist about “WHAT IF I DON’T GET THE BEST GRADES AHHHH” I was actually pretty alright with how things turned out.

Christmas, NYE, relaxation

The semester over, I was delighted to begin the long AMTRAK ride home, which was quite nice and calm – I slept a great deal.  My time at home this break was focused on two main tasks: spending as much time as possible with my family, and then a long-needed, much-avoided Great Cleaning of my bedroom in my parents house.  To make a long story short, I got in a lot of excellent time with family (and also with friends in town), and though it fell to the end of my break in a flurry of activity, I did indeed clean a GREAT deal out of that bedroom, leaving it looking rather nice.  The two weeks I had at home were not nearly enough time off, but in the spirit of the Repas and Wittmann family traditions, I made the best of what I did have and turned it into something better than should have been possible.  I look forward to the next time I get home, which isn’t nearly often enough.

Photos

Finally, a smattering of photographs from Christmas break:

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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