Now I understand.

[Photo is our incoming MDiv Class.]

Graduate school is intense. These professors are intense. This life is intense. I don’t feel very smart, now, but I suppose that was the whole reason that I came here in the first place: to be further educated.

It takes a real mind-paradigm shift to put myself back in this world again. Over the past two weeks I’ve been engaged in some really deep conversations, some really serious debates, with people who I share my house with. International House is a really fantastic place to live: the people here have experiences from all over the world–and more than that–an understanding of those experiences that come with a rigorous level of inquiry. In my first week, I attended a 9/11 panel discussion offered by professors that I knew previously only in name, people whose arguments I had used to prove a point. Now they are real people, sitting (in my own house) offering events on topics. Yesterday I attended a “public conversation” (ie, two old men laughing at each other in front of an audience) given by Justice John Paul Stevens here at ihouse. I waited in line for an hour, but I got a decent seat here in the auditorium.

Although these things are pretty spectacular, I can’t help but say that I am indeed quaking in my boots. Over the past week and a half I have read more scholarly work than in perhaps two years, memorized the historical period, genre, major characters, and talking points of the entire Hebrew Bible (the professor I have for this class is the most intense of all) and become unwillingly familiar “Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.” Oh, and learned how to read, speak, and conjugate not-so-simple sentences in Koine Greek.

They expect us to be super heroes here. And I don’t even have a job yet.

On the up-side, I am becoming more and more excited about the prospect of a dual degree with the School of Social Service. I was wavering on the fence for a while about Public Policy OR Social Service, and I was also concerned about financial aid, but Social Service seems to have a very serious practical aspect to their courses: community organizing, educational policy in practice, these types of things. The U of C also published recently an article about a young and recent graduate of SSA who was elected Alderman here in Chicago. Now regardless of how people seem to feel about politics, I am a firm believer in “if you see a problem, FIX it, don’t whine,” and that is how I feel about just about all aspects of power in this country. So, it is gratifying to see that the education one recieves from this degree (ie, the SSA degree) leads to immediate power to change and succeed in implementing ideas. (Because in the end, ideas are useless if not implemented publicly.)

So here I am, I suppose, in the period of my life which I have to cultivate my ideas, by learning other people’s ideas, forming my own thoughts, learning the basics, learning myself… The next three or four years are all about ideas. My heart is very reluctant to let that happen. I am impatient. I am hungry. I like the tangible and I have felt the way that the simplest of ideas can make the deepest of impacts. I am also terrified of letting the complicated thorny mess inside my own soul out into the open. Scholarship in this way inevitably leads to that, and in that way, out of fear of letting “out” my demons, I think I am probably sitting here reluctant to let myself succumb to this–saying instead that it is silly, useless, high-brow, and full of pretentious pride. I have a sneaking suspicion that my mind is pushing that narrative for me so that I do not have to think about, in all of its complexity, the last four years of my life. However, here I am–essentially committed to nothing but ideas and their cultivation for the next three or four years (good God that is scary), and as soon as I quell the terror of it, I will be able to grasp the outcome as spectacular.

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