Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Soccer, Accounting and Seminary

The captain of my son’s college soccer team once said: “You have to be an honest accountant of your own game.” Is your deficit in footwork? speed or quickness? (there is a difference!) passing skills? "seeing the field"? Tell the truth, and work on the weak spots.

Seminary students do not often look to sports/business metaphors for insight, but the above image provides a good word. Not just for beginning students, but for everyone who reads and writes for the sake of the gospel. How do we communicate more precisely, think more clearly, read with greater insight? We start by telling the truth about our “game.”

A good writer/reader is self-aware and able to accurately tally personal strengths and weaknesses. What is my learning style? Am I a procrastinator? Am I too wordy? What is my academic background in relation to the expected work? Put the credits and debits in the proper columns.

You need to know your own game, and you also need to know the seminary "game." Whether you are just beginning or doing a Ph.D., there are rules and referees. You need to know the seminary catalog, the academic handbook, and the audience (mostly, professors). If you know the rules inside and out you can develop a “winning strategy.”

How do you correct shortfalls, fill gaps, improve skills? Coaches are all around: librarians, advisors, professors, tutors. There are glossaries, online writing labs, and encyclopedias. Develop a realistic plan to persistently move forward, and practice your “footwork.” If it doesn’t work, figure out how to fix, or at least improve it.

The best lessons from sports and business? If you lose, pick yourself up, dust off, and do it better next time. Learn from your mistakes and don’t give up.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Varieties of Seminary Experience

Seminaries have a wide variety of spots and stripes. Some are closely associated with a denomination and some are aligned with a particular theological position or movement. Some focus on spiritual development. Some are huge “pastor factories” with hundreds of students. Some identify themselves as “academic.” There are seminaries all over the world, on every continent (well, ok, not Antarctica). Each is unique.

Inside every seminary is a spectrum of students. Some are 23 years old and fresh from college. Some are retired and looking for deeper insight into their faith. Some are preparing for a defined vocation or a specific call; some are studying in a second language; some are hoping to go on for a Ph.D.

What do all seminary students have in common? They share a belief in the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (though some prefer alternate names). They share a desire to understand the Bible and the history of his Church. By and large, they view themselves as part of Christ’s body and a part of God’s mission of love to the world. Each one needs to read and write effectively. They must be vigilant in sharpening their academic (insert: knife or pencil) for their own development, in order to get a degree, and most importantly, in order to communicate the gospel.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's in a name?

Titles are important. A good title should catch your attention, give a hint of what's to come, and make you curious to read on. The title of a blog should be witty but not too subtle, clear but not overly obvious, and edgy but not sarcastic. A tall order, especially for a first-time blogger.

This newborn blog is for seminary students and other theological readers and writers. It is about doing academic work with integrity and improving its quality. It is about the process of writing in an academic setting. It is about motivation and how to work with professors. It needs a good title.

Here are some of the titles considered in a brainstorming session, and summarily rejected:

Reason for rejection: Requires a dictionary, makes a noun of an adjective.

"Mind the Gap"

Reason for rejection: Too British. (I do like it, though)

"Academic Tool Box" or "Help Desk"

Reason for rejection: Sounds too much like my computer.

"Insider: Seminary Edition," or "94" (credit hours)

Reason for rejection: TV show names are too corny.

And the winner is: The "A" Range: AAAAA. It has its weaknesses (too obtuse, sounds perfectionistic), but I like the way the string of A's looks like a mountain range. This title is courtesy of my brainy friend who once said in all seriousness: "I do not have to get a perfect grade on every assignment, as long as I'm within the A range!" If that's not self-awareness, I don't know what is.

So here's to excellence with a sense of humor, improvement dosed with realism, the freedom to fail and the freedom to learn from mistakes.

P.S. What do you think of this name?