Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Having a REACTION?

Seminary is Graduate Education, but it is different than other master’s degrees. It is exponentially more personal.

We come to it with baggage, lots of it, full and heavy. We come packed full of experiences, opinions and feelings: about the church, ourselves, and God. We come with our convictions, traumas, and family histories.

We sit in classes, listen and read. We bump up against contextual theologies, other denominations, other perspectives. We meet and have discussions with our peers - who may be pacifists or military chaplains. Our deepest commitments about the Bible and the church can be challenged by our classes and our classmates.

It is important, in such a highly charged situation, to recognize and control our own tendency to REACT to ideas and persons with whom we disagree. Instead, we can weigh carefully what we see and hear. By openness to listening and learning, we are not compromising our principles, or selling out our commitments and ideals. We are moving toward objectivity. We are building our understanding with data and the integration of new ideas into our former systems of thought, belief and experience.

Everyone can tell the difference. When blood pressure goes up, so do walls. Clear thinking gets gummed up by all that adrenaline. Harness your passion into careful work. Your writing will improve as you begin to critique and respond, rather than REACT.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Insider Jargon

Carpenters make things plumb, lawyers do pro bono work, dating couples have DTRs, and cooks deglaze their pans.

Biblical Scholars discuss redactions and the Apocrypha.

Theology has its own jargon. So does church history, pastoral care, and missiology. Seminary has multiple sets of insider jargon, because its classes are coming from distinct academic disciplines. Lucky you.

Perhaps you were prepared to study vocabulary words in Greek and Hebrew, but who knew how many new words there would be in all the other classes? Part of a wise schema-building strategy is to crack the vocabulary codes of each discipline. That means learning what all those new words actually mean.

Here are some ways to find, or make lists of words and their definitions:
  1. Make your own list. As you read and listen to lectures, write down the words you don’t know. Look them up and write the definition.

  2. Look in your syllabus. Your professor may suggest a pertinent glossary, or define key concepts for you.

  3. Look in your books. Some have glossaries in the back. Copy them and have them next to your book as you read.

  4. Look in the reference section of the library for a “Dictionary of . . . (Bible, Theology, Church History)” Use it/them or buy your own.

  5. Use reliable websites. Two good ones for Biblical Studies are: (more serious) A Basic Vocabulary of Biblical Studies for Beginning Students http://www.wfu.edu/~horton/r102/ho1.html and (hilarious, but still solid information) Bible Dudes http://bibledudes.com/biblical-studies/

If you load vocabulary early on, you will start to understand and communicate like a true insider. It will help you understand obscure seminary jokes. Maybe you can even figure out how to translate the jargon for your future congregation!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why You Don't Remember That

Ahh. You have just done your assigned reading. The words on the page made sense at the time, but you can't really remember what you read.

Maybe you should have eaten breakfast, or gotten more sleep last night. Maybe the writer was too wordy, or maybe your arteries are starting to clog. It could be any of these things, but more than likely it is a case of SCHEMA DEFICIENCY.

What is THAT? It is a common malady. It means that you didn't remember because your brain had no place to put the information. Your memory works by making connections to your prior knowledge and experiences. The stronger the connection, the easier to remember.

If you know little or nothing about what you are reading . . . (hermeneutics, anyone?) you will have trouble retaining the information.

There is no pill for this deficiency, but you are not without options. You can look over the reading before you start and figure out how to connect it to what you know already. You can ask questions of the reading, and try to shape answers. You can read a bible dictionary (or Encyclopedia Britannica) article on the general subject before you dive in. You can build a SCHEMA (think scaffolding) so your reading will be able to attach itself to something in your brain.

A bit of prep will keep your new-found wisdom from landing in your memory's landfill.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Read Before Reading: The Syllabus

It’s early February and many schools are beginning new classes. The documents (syllabi, bibliographies) distributed during these first days are critical to effective reading and writing throughout the semester. Savvy students have printed them a month ago . . .

Professors spend weeks creating their syllabi, which address the objectives of the course and the curriculum. Some are very long and give detailed assignments. Some are shorter, with details supplied later.

A quick glance at these documents will give you the basic timing of your reading and writing assignments. It will help you plan your calendar to allow for longer assignments. It will give you an idea of where the professor is headed by telling you the approach and "interest" of the course.

A deeper analysis of the documents can put you in control of your reading and writing in more profound ways. As you examine the assigned readings over the course of the semester, ask yourself how they relate to the topics of lectures, or to other tests and papers. How do they connect to your prior knowledge of the subject?

Will you need to write a paper in response to the reading? Answer questions on an essay test? Can you combine the reading and writing in ways that compliment your interests or goals? Can you build on something which interested you in another course? Could you later develop one of the assignments into a sermon, a bible study, or an article for a journal?

If you begin the semester by asking these sorts of questions, you will feel greater control and better understand the intentions of the professor. You will be able to remember more of what you read. Your writing will address the presuppositions of an assignment. The syllabus is your friend. You might want to become better aquainted.