Sunday, September 27, 2009

"Dear Northwestern"

Dear Northwestern College,

I am writing to you because I am angry with you.

You will take note that I graduated and moved away. Thus, the sentiments that I express this Sunday morning in September will likely be wholly unoriginal, as I imagine that a great deal of the letters you receive expressing one's anger are from those who have graduated and moved away. Either that or from sophomores in their fall semester who have not yet figured out how they will ever find a calling at a liberal arts school in Orange City, Iowa.

The thing is, Northwestern, is that those of us who graduated and moved away thought that we did figure out our calling. We pushed past our sophomore anger, found a reason to not transfer, and we stayed. We stayed because we found reasons that no longer allowed us any room to doubt that Northwestern was exactly the place we were supposed to be.

Perhaps, Northwestern, you know where this is going. That place that was exactly where we were supposed to be? You prepared us to leave it. That whole education for our whole lives that you gave us made us pursue what we thought were our dreams--the kind of dreams that when we said them aloud made us sound driven and passionate. And so after saying these dreams out loud so many times, we got in our cars and we drove to seminary, to law school, to the Americorps program, to begin that job among the trees of California. Maybe some of us did that slow, creepy drive around campus five times before we could finally turn on to the road that would take us out of Orange City for good, but we left it nonetheless. We left the tulips, the loud Christian music on Sunday mornings in the caf, our usual pews in the chapel, and the Conoco sign advertising the "cheapest cigarettes in town." We left our churches where that kind man looked into our souls when he said "Peace." We left our department suites where everything in the world felt right when we were in them. We left the coffee shop after the last farewell coffee date. We said goodbye, and we drove away to our dreams.

Now, Northwestern, perhaps my tone seems careful and calculated right now. Perhaps nothing I've said so far seems a cause for anger, but I am. Angry, I mean.

Having arrived at our dreams, we unpacked and realized that no matter how tightly we grip our Northwestern College travel mugs when we're around our new friends, they will never really know where Orange City is or why we always have to preface our college stories with: "My college town was a really small, crazy, conservative, Dutch town." Nor will they ever understand how or why, over the years, we fell in love with that small, crazy, conservative, Dutch town.

So we decided that it is not integral to our identities for our new friends to know our stories about walking down the middle of the road in inflatable sumo suits before we really had any homework freshmen year. It is not essential for them to know about the moment when we discovered our vocare. It is not even really that important for them to know how living within that community of people who were all trying to figure out how to live the Christ life changed us into who we are today.

We decided this in our heads, but then we pulled on our Northwestern hoodies to help us remember who we are, and we remembered--"Wait, there are people who know all of those stories and understand who we are because of those very moments and years we spent together."

And there we sit, on some hard floor, in some new town with bugs and flavors of soda we've never heard of before, wearing our Northwestern hoodies and remembering those who knew us and those who understood our dreams.

Northwestern, what if we only had those dreams in the context of those professors and friends and bosses who cultivated them? I'm not sure you ever told us that they would have to be our own dreams. As we strolled outside on Friday afternoons to the sound of Heemstra's music, amidst the comfortable sights and sounds and smells, our dreams made sense to us. They made so much sense to us that we filled out those applications to our new programs, and we drove away.

Yet now, Northwestern, we're not really sure what we're doing. We're trying to make new friends, we're buying travel mugs with the name of our new institutions, and we're trying to make a home here. If we did it at Northwestern, we can do it again.

And yet it has been 4 months since graduation, and none of the things we have tried thus far have done anything to fill the void. The forced interactions with our new companions do not fill the void. Getting our first compliment on our work does not fill the void. The chocolate brownies and gin and tonics do nothing to fill the Orange City shaped void. And so we look at any of the bits of Northwestern memorabilia we brought to our new lives, and our hearts ache.

Northwestern, I carry around my new syllabi in a red and white Northwestern folder, hoping that my intentional syncretism will turn what I have now into that which I came from. The thing is, we haven't figured out how to move on when what we came from was exactly what we always needed. We go to our new classes, and all we think about are our old professors. We go to our new churches, and all we can think about is how much we miss our old churches. We hang out with new friends, and all we can do is miss our old friends.

Do you understand why I'm angry, Northwestern? I am angry because you prepared me for the future, and then the future came. It is true that this anger is not really anger at all. This anger manifests itself in teary eyes and an aching heart. But it is easier to call it anger than it is to name it for what it is--sadness, grief, despondency. This is not the kind of anger that will keep me from being a good donor, Northwestern. Rather, it is the kind of anger that makes me hope every day of my new life for the phonathon kid to call today so that I can talk to you. I don't want to write a note to the Classic expressing my anger; I just want to sit on my hard floor, in the new town with the weird bugs and sodas, and talk to you so that I can remember my dreams.

Northwestern, we want you to tell us that our dreams are still relevant even though we drove away.

Northwestern, we want you to tell us that our dreams didn't only make sense in the world of poffertjes and too many churches.

Northwestern, we need you to tell us that our dreams, and us, can remain in our Orange City stories, but can also extend into new stories.

Northwestern, we are really not angry with you at all. We are simply trying to figure out how to live in a world where our dreams are really our own. We are trying to figure out how to apply our whole education to our whole lives. You will please forgive us if we feign anger to control our sadness. You will please be patient with us as we figure out how to keep you with us even though we have moved on. You will please know from our anger how grateful we are to have known you.

But for now, Northwestern, as we still transition into our new lives, we will wear our hoodies, clutch our travel mugs, pin up our tulip pictures on our walls, and we will miss you.

I think, Northwestern, it'd be best for you to just give us more time. But please, Northwestern, have that phonathon kid call soon.

A Northwestern Graduate

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"But we are at WATER camp."

Dear friends,

I want to acknowledge that my blog is narcissistic, and then I want to move on to the very interesting things that I did and thought about throughout the week.

Point of interest: Duke was ranked the 2nd douchiest school in America in the September issue of GQ. Now you don't get to say that every day eh? "Hey, how's Western Seminary treating you? Good? Too bad you guys didn't make it on to the douchiest schools list."

As of late, I have been noticing the things that you must do if you want to be a proper grad student. I studied in a really pretentious coffee shop on Saturday and mostly did nothing but study the dynamics of the people in the shop. But first a story about my drink purchase:

[earlier in the day] Sara to roommate: "I would like to drink a delicious latte so badly. I don't think I've had a delicious latte since my last day at the coffee shop on August 8th."
[now at coffee shop] Sara: "oh my goodness, I am so excited to drink a delicious latte."

Sara to friendly barista man: "I would like a soy caramel macchiato, please."
[Friendly barista man promptly places a 1 inch tall cup on a miniature saucer alongside a miniature spoon.]
"Oh no!" I think, "that is most certainly not what I want. But it's too late now. I must deal with the repercussions of my order."
[Casually] Sara: "So this is not quite the Starbucks macchiato eh?"
Well meaning but pretentious barista: [shakes head with smug smile] "I don't know what a Starbucks macchiato is. This is a true italian macchiato. It's pretty strong. Would you like me to make you something else?"
Sara: "Oh no! Of course not. This is fine. It's just...I worked at a coffee shop and our macchiato was a layered drink with the caramel on the bottom, then steamed milk, then the espresso on top. I was just curious as to the components of your macchiato."
Barista man: "A real macchiato has no milk in it. It has 2 shots of espresso, splashed with caramel, and topped with foam. I could make you something more sweet if you'd like."
Sara: "No, not at all. I just don't wish to be ignorant about what I'm drinking. I can handle my shots, don't worry."
Barista man: "Your 1 inch tall drink is $2.10."

At this point, I turned and made one of my normal angst faces in my roommate's direction and went to settle in a pretentiously dark corner of the pretentious coffee shop. I immediately attempted to capture the smallness of the drink with my camera phone so that I could regale my old colleagues with my new espresso tale.

[Well meaning but pretentious barista man walks up to my table while I am in the midst of sending a text (his presence had that air that let me know that people with real angst don't have friends...or pink cell phones.)] Barista man: "How is your drink? Have you tried it?"
Sara: "oh yes, it's quite fine. Thank you."
Barista man: "I just wanted to make sure it's not too strong. Some people like their drinks sweeter, you know."
Sara: "Oh yes, I know. No worries. It's just fine."
Barista man: "Okay then, let me know if there's anything I can do."

Suffice it to say, this man cared about his customers and their orders just a bit more than I ever did. If, for instance, a 15-year old, skinny, blonde, Dutch girl came in while I was working and ordered a sugar free, Slim Satin Doll cappuccino, you better believe that I made them a real cappuccino, even when I knew that what they really wanted was a latte.
"What's that customer? You don't want a drink that is half foam? Then I suggest you don't order a cappuccino."
Maybe I wasn't always so kind, but the customers needed to learn from their mistakes.

Anyway, as I spent the day in that pretentious coffee shop, called "Francesca's" (of all things), I realized that I am never going to be a proper grad student:

Reason #1: I really honestly am keen on the color pink. I mean, I know that I never have any joy in life or anything, but pink is really my favorite color. When I was a little shmuley, someone told me I couldn't wear pink because it clashed with my red hair. Then, probably somewhere around the time that I learned that North is not always in front of you, I also came to a saving knowledge that people with red hair could like pink. However, this is now highly unfortunate because proper grad students do not like pink. Proper grad students do not like bright colors. Bright colors are reserved for people with feelings--for the people that make Duke the second douchiest college in America.

Reason #2: I do not have a rustic-looking, brown leather satchel that hangs neatly alongside one's blazer, flannel, or "gray t-shirt that lets everyone know you have no emotions." I, in fact, have a black and red, Eddie Bauer backpack that usually extends about 2 feet from my back. It is not cool at all. Proper grad students will likely never strike up a conversation with me if they see my backpack. Because of my backpack, I will never be cool. I feel as though this is very unfortunate and unfair because I simply cannot comprehend how those people can carry all their books around. I mean, c'mon. I would use a rolling backpack if it wasn't social suicide, and now you want me to carry all my books in a bag that is big enough for a notebook? Seriously! [douche word]

Observations such as these make me echo the sentiments of my previous blog: I do not have an identity. I really feel as though I don't fit into the douche category [at least the defined douche category], but nor do I fit into the pretentious grad student category [at least not the defined pretentious grad student category.] Also echoing the sentiments of my previous blog, it would be so much easier to have an identity if I were a man. All I would need to do is roll up my pant legs, grow a beard, carry a rustic looking leather satchel, and smoke cigarettes.

That would be so easy.

As it happens, I am not a man. I do not have an identity. And furthermore, no one here understands any of the things that I say. As in, none of the sentences that I say seem to make sense to anybody but me. This perturbs me greatly. The following story illustrates how I feel every day here:

The summer before 10th grade, I went to church camp just as I did every summer, this time with my friend Brittnee, and this time to water camp. Specifically, the theme of the week was Jackie's Blue Water Fun. We were to commence a week of swimming, canoeing, water games, and tubing. The point of the week was to spend time in the water (and to find Jesus--whether in the water or not).

Now, on the first night of camp, one of the things that every cabin group does during the first Bible study is make a cabin covenant. These covenants usually consist of a variation of the same 10 things: "Practice the Golden Rule, be quiet when others are sleeping, etc." So when my cabin group settled into our room that first night to make our covenant, similar guidelines were suggested. At this point, wanting to both contribute and introduce my sense of humor, I suggested the following rule for our week together. "Don't go in the water." Hilarious right?

Are you kidding me? It is hilarious when you are at water camp, and you suggest that a rule be that no one goes into the water.

Nobody laughed at all. No one even tried to temper the awkwardness of the moment by acknowledging my statement. We all simply waited in silence until the next kid threw out her suggestion, "Be respectful." Really 10th grade campers? Really? I make a hilarious joke and all you can come up with his "be respectful?"

The point of this all is that I feel as though every time I open my mouth to say something to a conversation partner here, it is like I am constantly saying, "Don't go in the water." My conversation partner then breaks eye contact with me, looks confused, and thinks, "Eff! What are you talking about? We're at water camp."

I never know how to recover from these situations. Sometimes I simply remark, "I don't think there is much point in continuing this conversation." That never seems to go well either.

So, in a desperate attempt to have an identity, I applied for a job at the pretentious coffee shop. The one with the pretentiously dark corners and the well-meaning barista man with a smug smile. The one where I got checked on after I had tried my drink. I saw a sign that they were hiring, and there was just no way that I could have stopped myself. This is always how I have tried to find my identity, ever since I've been of working age. One time I told a high school teacher that my mediocre, part-time jobs defined me. "Your jobs do not define you," she told me. "Yes, my jobs do define me," I told her. "No, they don't," she said, "that would mean that if you took your jobs away from you, there would be no Sara," "Exactly," I told her. "Exactly."

And this is why I need more jobs. I know I ended my last post by talking about how I had turned down the high-paying, resume-boosting job because I didn't think it healthy for me to have 3 jobs. That is a lie. It is unhealthy for me to not have more jobs. I think I just didn't want the job tutoring children because it would have required me to invest myself. I need jobs where I can succeed at doing meaningless, tangible tasks and thus convince myself that I have abilities. I have the ability to scrub the sticky Torani syrup off of the coffee shop counter. I have the ability to arrange the jelly packets in perfect rows. I have the ability to arrange Rod's white toast in the same perfect pattern every morning.

At school, I do not have meaningless, tangible tasks. I have meaningful, not tangible tasks that lead me to realize that I no longer have the passions I once had for learning. I don't know where they went. The purpose that I once had--the path toward which I directed my learning and thinking and ambitions--has dissipated. What I am trying to say is that I think I know deep down that I am not supposed to get a PhD. I am not supposed to teach. My skills lie elsewhere. I feel as though if I were to admit this--really admit it--I might be liberated from the self-deprecation that binds me so tightly right now. However, I fear so much that it might be the self-deprecation that has talked me out of the PhD and future of teaching. So now here I am, in divinity school, without a real reason to be here.

And that is why I need jobs where I wash dishes and punch little buttons on cash registers. I can complete those tasks, and I can succeed at those tasks. And that, my friends, is also why I will never be a proper grad student who spends their free time reading Rousseau or teaching themselves Coptic. That, and because I cannot fit all of my books into a rustic-looking, brown leather satchel.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Faithbook: What's Your Status?"

Dear friends,

I wholeheartedly wish I were a man. This is a commonly lamented phrase on my part, as my former roommate Danielle can attest. I do not mean this in the sense of: "you might see me someday on a TLC special with a large number of gauze bandages." What I do mean is that I think everything about life might be better if I were a man.

A lot of the time, I think this when I observe male teachers. I have never had a strong, influential female teacher in my life. Yes, I have taken classes from strong female teachers, but not a large enough dose to have any sort of significant influence on me. I think, this is one of the reasons I am vastly insecure about my capacity to succeed as a potential female teacher. It seems to me that the strong female teachers out there are often beloved because they are quirky and cool in a way that most of us wish we could be, but cannot. Cue Lauren Winner.

Herein lies the problem. I am not a man. I do not wear trendy rhinestone glasses. Thus, I am destined for failure. "Gosh that's unfortunate, Sara, couldn't you just pick up a pair of glasses?"

When I worked at camp, I worked with a guy the first summer named Ben. Ben had presence. He had control. Once during FOYB (feet on your bunk/flat on your back, etc), one of his boys was being a naughty, undesirable camper. So, Ben marched him out of the cabin, sat him on a bench, and stared him down until the boy supposedly broke down and repented of his transgressions. This is an ability I do not have. I (perhaps thankfully) could not break a child down by staring at it.

The same was true of my male teachers in high school. Their mere presence commanded respect, while the demeanor of my female teachers provoked the students to raise questions regarding their sanity. I found this to be less so the case in college, but still more likely the case than not.

These are things I think about on a regular basis. Would I be more confident and easy-going if I were a man? I was recently reading an article called "Perfect Girls," and I feel as though it is more characteristic for females to seek perfection in all aspects of their lives. Perhaps this is an untrue and unfair generalization. Nonetheless, I feel as though if I were a man, I would probably be 20x more chill than I am now.

[I need to point out that if I heard another woman talking about these same things--about how she has these thoughts about female inferiority--I would be appalled. Nonetheless, I can't help but have the thoughts myself. And I don't know what to do with that.]

In other news, looking at the buildings on campus keeps me grounded. I look at the architecture of the chapel and the divinity school and think, "I spent 4 years worrying about how I would get in and pay for grad school. Everything worked out beautifully. How can I now have the audacity to want to go home?" There are people who would do anything to be here, and I instead want to be in the VPH, drinking a white chocolate, coconut, hazelnut, vanilla mocha with 4 shots, and feeling accepted. I miss these things because both the VPH and lattes remind me that I had an identity. Indeed, in the religion department and at the Hoek, I was "Sara Moser," and my name connoted an identity. If I wore a Christian T-shirt, I didn't have to explain to people: "I'm not really a girl that wears Christian t-shirts. I am just fascinated by Christian pop culture."

The other day on campus, I wore the t-shirt I got this summer at the youth event I went to: Against a bold dark brown, white and blue letters proclaim and demand: "Faithbook: What's your status?" As I walked up the chapel steps, a girl I have had 2 conversations with was sitting with a group of other friends, some of which I sort of knew. "Sara, I like your t-shirt." "Thank you!" I said, and then attempted to launch into a discussion of how I actually felt really self-conscious because "I'm not actually the kind of girl who wears Christian t-shirts." In the midst of my disconnected, awkward ramblings, one of her friends, a girl in my Old Testament precept, remarked: "I have that t-shirt." "Ahh hellz. I think I had just better stop my explanation and never wear this shirt again." But then I continued to wear it that night when I went to work phonathon, and I became "that girl who is the only graduate student doing phonathon, who goes to the divinity school, and who wears Christian t-shirts."

"Dear secular pagans, please do not judge me. I am not crazy. The shirt is funny, I swear."

I know that in order to have an identity, I need to perhaps talk with people from time to time. I need to speak up in class. I am going to start forcing myself to say at least one thing in my precept groups. Kind of like on that MTV show, 'Made,' where the introvert wants to become the prom queen so her Made coach makes her talk to 20 people over the lunch hour. Maybe I could find my identity by pretending I am in a competition to become prom queen. Gosh, that's a horrible idea, but still.

So, although most aspects of my personal development are spiking downward as of late, I just yesterday did something that was both really good and revolutionary for me and really dumb and terrible. Yesterday, I was supposed to have a job interview for a program called America Reads. If I would have got the job, I would have tutored children in area schools, and I would have been paid twice the amount I make at phonathon to do so. However, because I am a daft fool that is actually not assertive at all, I am absolutely incapable of quitting a job. I have tried. I tried multiple times to quit A8, and it just never worked. I think I have issues with not wanting to let people down. What this means is that because I started phonathon and looked the phonathon supervisors in the eyes, I already feel deeply bound to them and thus unable to quit. Furthermore, they started telling me that my pledge rates were amazing and that I was doing a great job. My pledge rates had darn well better be amazing, considering this is MY SEVENTH SEMESTER DOING THIS JOB, but I feel as though now that they have affirmed me, I am obligated to stay.

So, I canceled the interview for the high-paying, resume-boosting job because I am a daft fool that cannot quit a job. But the thing that is really good about me canceling the interview is that I did so because I knew it is not in my best interest right now to have 3 jobs [I am mentoring the football player as well]. I don't know how or why I am always crazy and get so many jobs, but I think it was a big step on my part that I canceled that interview.

Well, I need to go and study for my first big test. I think the last test [excluding language tests] that I took was Vonder Bruegge's Galatians exam. That was probably last September. I hope I remember how to take a test successfully.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"It's too bad I forgot to wear my bunny ears and spandex leggings to the football game"

Dear friends,

Welcome back to my exciting life.

I am now in my third week of classes. Much to my chagrin, I have not been to a Waffle House yet, but I have visited some of the above ground libraries. The main above ground library is superb because IT IS OPEN 24 HOURS Monday-Thursday. Who does that?!? Apparently real people at real colleges. I am of the opinion that this library is better than the Bodleian at Oxford because it is bright, it has comfortable seating options, and people don't clack around loudly wearing boots with wooden heels.

What may come as a surprise to some of you is that I have not been constantly indulging in crazy, social engagements. However, after a lonely Friday night with my friend Gin, I decided to accept my roommate's offer to go to the Duke football game on Saturday night. I did this for 2 reasons: 1.) I absolutely needed to get out of the house and 2.) I got a job as a mentor for a freshman football player, and I wanted to be able to tell him that I had gone to the game. So, I looked for a Duke t-shirt that I do not own, did not find one, realized that I needed to work on the whole school spirit thing, and headed to the game.

As I walked through huge crowds of people, who were dressed up as Pocahontas, pirates, and sluts, I thought to myself, "Why in the hell am I at a football game?" The logic of my decision escaped me. Nonetheless, my roommate found us some friends to sit by, and we sat and made idle small talk about how since we're females, we had mostly come just to eat a delicious ball-game hot dog.

That was mostly my football experience then. The hot dog, I mean. I did enjoy the overall atmosphere a bit and maybe made a bit of a friend, but I don't know that Duke football games will be part of my regular repertoire of weekend activities.

In other news, today I overheard a Wheaton grad say to his Wheaton grad friend: "If I hear another person say some arrogant, pretentious comment, I am going to throttle him/her." I smiled in their direction as I went past them. I don't think I would at all categorize the overall environment here as arrogant and pretentious, but the vast majority of the first-years seem to be in an overly pretentious phase right now because of everyone's vast insecurities. I haven't yet been privy to anything I would deem an organic, genuine learning experience, and I find this to be vastly unfortunate.

I know you're not supposed to ever speak negatively about people or groups in a blog, but whatevs because I would say these same things to anyone in this specific group. So, I have precept groups for my Church History and Old Testament classes, which just means that once a week, instead of going to the 200-person lecture class, I go to a 12-15 person discussion class. In so doing, I have found that my Church History precept is absolutely the most horrifying, terrible discussion group/learning experience that I have ever been forced to be a part of. It's even worse than D-group at Northwestern (jk! kind of...) Anyway, there are some incredibly combative people that speak in harsh tones but don't know they're speaking in combative, harsh tones. I have problems with these sorts, especially because I know they don't realize that their tone is harsh. Then there are people who continually insist on chiming in with cute anecdotes about why they think what they do because of their fundamentalist background. This wouldn't be so bad, but then the incredibly combative people try to make the fundys look stupid. Oh golly, it's just maybe the most terrible group setting I have ever experienced. Furthermore, I am not prone to speaking up in a discussion group that I think is incredibly pointless and terrible, and then I get all stressed out about whether I'm going to get my damn participation points. Eff.

But to change the subject entirely, I'd like to talk for a bit about Chick-Fil-A. If you have never heard of Chick-Fil-A, it is a fast food restaurant that apparently serves up delectable chicken treats. People here are obsessed with Chick-Fil-A in an entirely frightening way. They talk about it all the time. For instance, whereas I would used to walk past a random group of friends at Northwestern discussing God's plan for their lives, I now walk past random groups of friends discussing Chick-Fil-A and how much they would like some. I guess that Duke students' God-shaped hole is maybe more strangely reminscent of a crispy chicken sandwich.

Other things about Duke are really quite different from Northwestern. For instance, a sign at the entrance to the student center yesterday advertised in large lettering: "Free HIV testing." It was in the basement. I considered going to see if I had received the HIV when I gave plasma this summer, but I decided that I would feel uncomfortable placing my HIV results in my folder next to my Christian Spirituality handout on Benedictine Monasticism.

I also found a flyer on a table one day that talked about what clubs and frat parties undergraduates should go to. One bit of advice given was: "Have two drinks-make a friend; have 4-6 drinks-make a mistake; have 10+ drinks-make a walk of shame." It is at times like these when I realize that I am no longer at a Christian college. I always slightly yearned for a real college experience, so I guess I can now be privy to what bits of life at a real college can be like.

In other news, I have been a bit angsty lately. Not about classes really at all, but about Christian things. The fact of the matter is that I think it is time for me to learn how to be a Christian, and it is stressing me out so much. Because I have made this blog so public, I don't feel like saying anything more right now. Probably later. I just wish that a magic spiritual director would pop in and teach me magic things that would be genuine and not complete bullshit.

Also, the process of finding a church is the most stress-inducing thing I can imagine. The church I went to this past Sunday encouraged a great deal of slamming of one's hands together while bee-bopping to worship. I do not make a regular practice of slamming my hands together while I bee-bop to worship, so I almost popped a vein during this portion of the service. I wanted to die. I don't understand why things like this stress me out so much. I think I just need to go to an Episcopal church. The thing is, no one wants to come to the Episcopal churches with me, and the thought of going to new churches alone makes me want to die. This would be one good reason to have a husband. Then you'd have someone to go to church with.

I am slightly baffled by how much my intravert, misanthrope ways have intensified over the years. I have always been shy, but I have not always been a misanthrope. I actually had a raging social life my freshman year of college. I don't understand what has happened to me over the years. Also, when I know people and like them, then I freaking love people. Here, though, when I am in groups of unknowns and I am pressured to speak with them, I feel as though my flesh is going to pop off. It makes me uncomfortable.

Duke is surely not the most comfortable place to be. It is big and I am faceless, and that is so not my style. But maybe in the future I will have a face. I guess only time will tell.

Well this needs to be all for now,


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

"They don't pass out free condoms at Christian colleges."

Dear friends,

Welcome to my divinity school blog. You'll notice that I cleverly switched "Pubs and Underground Libraries" to "Waffle Houses and Above Ground Libraries." How very clever of me.

So I am in Durham, North Carolina. It is hot here. Very, very hot. I spend all of the time I'm outside dwelling on this. Aside from the temperature, though, Durham is decent and Duke is great. I haven't gone around Durham too much, but it seems just like a normal, but not beautiful, city. As for Duke, though, the campus is absolutely gorgeous. It reminds me of Oxford everyday, but is much better because I actually like it here. I wish I could bring you all here and have you walk around with me so that you could see how wonderful it is each day. And although the campus is disastrously large, all of the places I need to be are right next to each other--the divinity school, the chapel, and the library. However, anytime I need to go somewhere else, I just look at a map and pant heavily in fear. And then I yearn for the smallness of Northwestern and Orange City.

So, I currently have 5 classes and 5 friends. I feel as though it is a huge accomplishment that I have 5 friends, considering that in Oxford I had no friends ever. I get the sense that I could, and maybe should, have more friends by now, but I don't much care. I am happy with whatever I can get. The 5 classes that I have are as follows:

-- Hebrew w/random doctoral student that randomly grew up in Sheldon, IA and went to seminary at Western. I haven't listened at all during class thus far. I'm that pretentious jerk who does her homework during class. However, I do this to prevent myself from being that pretentious jerk who answers questions because she already knows the answers.

-- Christian Spirituality w/Dr. Lauren Winner. I want to be her. I think everyone does. I bought all of her books and want to go sit in her office and have her teach me how to be a Christian and how to not do dumb things.

-- Intro to Old Testament Interpretation w/Dr. Stephen Chapman. He is super nice, but is still no Dr. Mead. I'm hoping that this might be the one class that might ignite some passion in me.

-- Early and Medieval Christianity w/Dr. J. Warren Smith. Thus far, a pretty BA class on church history. However, Dr. Smith is a crazy robot man who talks very fast and never says a word that is not important.

-- Greek reading w/random doctoral student who is super nice and competent. We are currently translating Sirach.

Thus far, I have noticed one very terrible thing about Duke. There are no biblical languages required here. At all. "What Sara? You don't have to take any languages at all to graduate?" "No, no I don't." You are strongly encouraged to take one of the languages your first year, but many of the people I have talked to are not doing so because they insist that they are "not language people." I think all of this is abysmal. And I didn't know that it would be this way until I arrived. Apparently, Greek and Hebrew are not required here because the Methodist Church doesn't require you to take languages in order to be ordained. Boo Methodists! My bestie, Blaine, who is at Denver Seminary, has to take 8 semesters of language within the 6 semesters that he'll be there. I wish I had that.

On a positive note, though, my academic advisor is Richard Hayes, B.A.M.F. He seems to be a delightful man. I'll meet with him individually before registering for my classes in the spring. The other day, I thought about this individual meaning, and I had that overwhelmingly anxious feeling sweep over me. I'm going to probably pass out on his office floor when I go to meet him. I'll tell you how it goes. He'll wake me up with pleasant smelling oils, and I'll murmer softly about listening to his Da Vinci Code debate with Bart Ehrman at least 30 times the summer I worked my hellish maintenance job. Then he will file my name away, and remember that he needs to write a stellar recommendation for me in the future.

Speaking of the future, I feel very confused and kind of purposeless right now. I mean, being in school has brought purpose back into my life, but I feel increasingly less sure about my decision to pursue doctoral studies. None of my classes are terribly interesting to me right now. I don't have that passionate feeling that I had my junior year, but haven't had since. I don't know what this means. And I should do nothing in the realm of ministry, so I might have no reason to be at seminary. This distresses me. It really does. I feel distressed.

Today I had a mandatory writing assessment with a tutor. She thought my essay was pretty and told me what I did well. Then she looked at me and said: "Are you okay?"
I said, "dangit, is it my face? I have very poignant facial expressions. That's just the way my face looks. I really am just fine."
She said: "Oh, you just look like you're going to cry."
I reiterated: "People ask me questions like that all the time; it's just the way my face looks."
Then I left doing that thing where you smile and mutter to yourself for at least a good 2 minutes about how awkward of an experience it was. Then, people see you and think you are even more crazy. Oh well, I only have 5 friends so at least no one knows me.

There are 2 more cool things you should know about Duke for now:

1. many people in the divinity school are very conscious about using gender-inclusive language and specifically, not using masculine pronouns for God. This is very good.

2. The toilets have green handles and 2 flushing options.
- Up for #1
- Down for #2

So cool.

Well this was a relatively uninteresting blog, but I will try to do better in the future. I am out of practice. Also, I am fairly content here, which provides less good material.

Needless to say, I do miss Northwestern, Orange City, and Iowa very much. I miss having theology and biblical studies classes that are not directed at turning me into a practitioner. Seminary is a weird beast.
I also miss the Hoek with all of my heart and wish I was there dearly. I also miss delicious, custom-made cheap coffee.

I would really like to try to be intentional with this blog, because I know that if I don't update, you will stop reading it. I hope to fall into a weekly routine.

For now, all the best, and I'd love to hear from you.