Tag Archives: u of c

A Goodbye to Chicago

Three years ago, or almost three years ago, on September 17th, 2011, I packed up everything I owned into the back of a borrowed minivan and moved to Chicago. I moved into an international student dormitory, a place where I met a huge number of amazing young people who were doing amazing things.

Now, about exactly three years later, I’m planning to pack up everything I own in (and on top of) my own Toyota Matrix to return back to the Twin Cities. I have a job, you see, and it’s very exciting! More news on that once I actually start–this is a Goodbye Chicago letter. Continue reading A Goodbye to Chicago

20 things I did in 2012

Let’s take a look at all the ridiculous and awesome things that I accomplished this year. It may be a bit of narcissism but hey… I took on a lot, and came out swinging.

  1. I learned how to make fudge! In the microwave! Doable even for ME!
  2. One of my bones was on the outside of my body this year. It got put back in. I didn’t really accomplish either of those things, as someone else put it on the outside of my body, and someone else (a doctor) also put it back in. But a bone of mine has indeed seen the light of day. (Other than my teeth.)
  3. I successfully completed my first academic year at the University of Chicago!
  4. I completed a 1/4 term of service for Americorps this year through Jumpstart!
  5. I rode on a motorcycle! (An accomplishment for me only because I didn’t fall off said motorcycle; someone else was driving.)
  6. I learned how to read ancient Greek, and took a course on the Gospel of Luke in its original language!
  7. I spent an amazing summer in Chicago: Lake Michigan, rooftop patios, beaches, courtyards with fountains, drawing and a lot of Netflix.
  8. I taught children’s formation at church for the first time. And learned that it’s nothing like teaching school.
  9. I got hit by a bus.
  10. I taught–or at least helped teach–on the South Side of Chicago, met some fantastic kids, some kids I wanted to strangle–but also kind of loved.
  11. I preached a sermon! In a church! (And in a class, a few times.)
  12. I saw a lot of famous people give speeches at my house. Including Rachel Maddow, Mitt Romney, a bunch of ambassadors to important places, and David Axelrod. (Who I got to talk to. And who let us take a picture with him.)
  13. I successfully (two grades still pending) completed a term at U of C with four classes and two jobs. I also learned that I never want to do that ever, ever again.
  14. For the first time, my ‘permanent residence’ was the place that I actually lived, instead of a parent.
  15. I voted!
  16. I visited my Ma for Mother’s Day!
  17. I asked a presidential candidate a question. (And hated the answer.)
  18. I learned how to do online dating!
  19. I visited someone in the hospital.
  20. I rode my bike to Aldi at 67th and Cottage almost solely for the purpose of buying freezer pops.

I’m sorry, what? The year is over?

I can’t believe it’s done! This last month, especially, has been overly emotional and crazy–yet it’s just one more reason why I love the I-House. Let’s see…

1. The eightieth anniversary of the I-House took place over this past alumni weekend (May 31-June 1). It was a really tremendous affair. People came from all over the place. We had a tea on Saturday afternoon that was for all these couples that had met and married at the house. They all had similar stories… “I used to visit the dining hall, to get lunch, and then I lent this woman a newspaper…” or, “I was sitting in the courtyard and this young man sat down next to me.” It’s delightfully old world in some ways, to hear these stories, but it’s also really kind of magical because it’s my house, and with all this fantastic history and community that I’m a part of and I get to help build. Oh, and I found a picture of my boss in the year book from when she was a resident. Bwahahaha.

2. Saying goodbye to everyone was hard. I’ve done it before, you know–it’s not a new concept. But this time I’m the one staying, and they’re all leaving on to new things. I think maybe it was hard to get left behind, instead of being the one who leaves. My amazing Egyptian friends, who were here on a year long scholarship, left a few days ago. They got stuck in Chicago for some kind of crazy visa problem… but they might be on their way by now. I don’t know. I keep telling them that they saved my butt time and time again, when I was really depressed or angry with the way things were going in my studies, or at my school. They laughed it off, but I was pretty serious. These lovely ladies brought a joy and dedication and sincerity with them wherever they went and I’m going to miss them terribly. There were some pretty epic tears when that airport van pulled away, let me tell you.

3. I turned 25. Which I’ve heard is a great year. And the aforementioned amazing Egyptians bought me a cake and sang to me in Arabic, which just was awesome. Little paparazzi Miriam took a video and it’s on facebook.

4. I did actually finish my quarter. It was kind of low key… I turned in my theology final, I wrote my paper for the gospel of Luke… neither of which I was terribly proud of, persay, but I mean I don’t think they were absolute crap either. I’m looking forward to my book list this summer and my sketchbook, and all my processing that I will get to do. I have some epic, epic books. They are going to get the crap read out of them. Yeah.

5. Oh yeah, True Blood is back on. I haven’t watched it yet, but I will… oh, I will. And I will feel guilty because it is such a terrible, miserable, absurd and perhaps even dumb show. But I love it. And I might feel guilty but I definitely won’t apologize for it. Hah.

Happenings and non-happenings at I-House.

I love break. I always feel so free and ready to do a bajillion things. But I never feel guilty for spending all my time playing video games or writing instead, because it’s break. 🙂

Today was a pretty extraordinary day. Right now I’m enjoying a cold beer and a delightful meal that I cooked myself from very delicious ingredients: a multiplicity of cheese ravioli and sun-dried tomato chicken sausage in a leek, butter, and basil sauce. Garnished with some crunchy almonds and tada–it’s pretty dern near gourmet and I made it meh-self. Sometimes it’s just delightful to splurge on decadent ingredients and make yourself a decadent meal. Especially during break.

I’m sitting out in the I-House courtyard. It’s unseasonably warm, the fountain is on, and a delicate wind stirs the air. It’s prime writing material, but I feel happier just basking in it right now. The only thing keeping me from being out here 24/7 is the 11pm closure. Sigh. I wonder if I can argue on the basis of community building that this space should be open until 1am like all rentable I-House spaces…. I don’t think that would fly with my boss, but hey. It’s always worth a try for a beautiful, inspiring, calming space. 🙂

This morning, with about two days notice, Mitt Romney gave a speech on economic policy here in I-House. It was more or less what I expected from the republican fore-runner, a lot of talk about how bad big, useless government is, how we should get back to state government and local government, and how social security and medicare are robbing us blind. I agreed with a lot of what he said that was wrong with the country. Too many useless bureaucrats, too many regulations on small businesses, too many weird tax set ups. Unfortunately, I vehemently oppose all of his solutions to those accurately described problems, and I’d probably throw in a lot more problems to boot: a culture of greed, a culture of self-obsession, a culture of backward thinking… the list goes on.

He took questions from the audience in the form of little written cards that were passed out and then passed back at the beginning of the program. Sadly, it was a pretty scripted, serious event and so it wasn’t possible for us to ask him questions like a town-hall meeting. I wrote down a question about what his economic policy might do for young adults. As it turns out, that was the second question chosen. He answered by saying that “all young people should be Republicans, and I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want to be” because, well, “republicans want to get rid of the huge debt creator of social security and medicare, and drastically reorder how these thinks work, so that the burden of the debt won’t be on your generation!”

Now I’ve got a lot of problems with that statement.

1. Without social security and medicare, my brother and I would be solely responsible for our parents in their old age, something that is absolutely terrifying and impossible for people who have never held a full time job, never been given a chance for saving, let alone our own retirement, let alone the retirement of our now bankrupt parents! We need social security now more than ever because we can’t bail them out!

2. The burden of the social security debt and medicare debt is NOT on our generation. It is on the baby boomer generation. The debt is real, and present, and THERE, right now: the debt IS on your generation and your generation won’t fix it. I think he thinks he has a fix, and perhaps for this specific problem, in this specific box, with this specific goal as an outcome, sure this is a “fix”. But in the process of fixing it his way, he will cause catestrophic failure, I think, for people like me who are incapable of supporting their parents.

3. I asked about crippling STUDENT debt, not crippling national debt. This is about my personal debt. If you feel the need to use stories about people in personal situations, like the family that couldn’t build their home because of the EPA, or the business owners who can’t get off the ground because of regulations, than you have got to listen to my personal story too. A promise that education could set me free to do what ever I wanted–and then twenty, thirty, forty thousand dollars later, with no jobs in sight… that is the story of so many, many more Americans than you would like to admit.

So, that’s my beef with the answer to that question. I agree with a lot of the diagnosis, I detest a lot of the solutions. I agree that government and money must be more local, but it must be more personable and that will never come from a person as detached from the on-the-ground struggles of current Americans as this man.

But here I am, relaxing in the courtyard, just amazed that I now lead a life where Mitt Romney walks through my kitchen, I write questions that get asked of him, and I take a bus to downtown Chicago to “replace my sandals”, and then end up standing underneath the El tracks and just staring, listening, delighting in the roar of machine as it settles and unsettles the hundred year old iron platforms.

Trains, politics, and fountains. A worthwhile day, I suppose. ^.~

Journal of the Grad Planet (Vol 4)

So as I was writing my midterm paper for my New Testament class, I encountered an odd translation blip that I find most, most interesting. We’ve been talking a lot in class about the “Epistolary Formula” that all literate Greeks knew how to use, which had elaborate rules for opening, closing, and introducing the main topic of the letter.* One of the closing points is “a reflection on the act of writing and a promise to visit”: ie, the writer of the letter usually says something like “I have much to say to you but I would rather not write with pen and ink, but I will visit you soon and we can speak face to face.

In the English, “face to face” is a totally normal idiom. However, this is not a correct translation. If it were truly face to face, the words would be “prosoton pros prosoton” (πρόσωτον προσ πρόσωτον). But in the Greek, the idiom is στόμα προς στόμα, stoma pros stoma, or mouth to mouth. I find this hugely fascinating because it does not signal a visual reunion, but rather a connection via the physicality of speech: what is important about a meeting in person is not that they see one another, but that they share sound with one another, sound coming from breath, and breath being an enormous component of life. In 3 John, he also tells Gaius (the recipient of his letter) to greet all of his friends (and this is truly translated as friends, since the word is φίλος and not αδέλφος, or brother, which is usually used to address Christians in the early community) each by name, also recalling act of speech, rather than the act of seeing.

Knowing Greek is totally rocking. I’ve accidently used the phrase “greeking out” multiple times.

*Footnote: I consistently misspell Epistolary as epistulary because of my NT teacher’s EXTREMELY STRONG German accent.)

Journal of the Grad Planet (Vol 3)

The winter quarter has descended on us, and finally some kind of weather that also resembles winter has also descended on us. We had a delightful bout of snow here in Chicago that left us with fourish inches. I love watching the people from the southern part of the world in this.

Over these two weeks I’ve been enjoying campus life. I do enjoy having so many things at my fingertips, such a vibrant community of learners. This quarter I’m enrolled in Intro to New Testament, Public Theology, and my second quarter of Koine Greek. Greek is going well, but of course I’m not trying as hard as I should be. I’m trying to engage my mind more in that respect by also attending the Greek reading session for my New Testament course. There are about five people in the section–all of whom have much more greek and are much better at it than me–but it’s still really enjoyable to be able to pick apart the language and read the bible in its original. I feel way out of my league because the other students can translate on the fly, and know all the tenses, after being in Greek for several years. But they were very gracious and also fairly surprised that I could do as much as I could with only one quarter.

Public Theology is kind of a “thank god, finally” class. The course is the MDiv introductory course, which examines some of the most famous American public theologians, the way they engaged society, the methods they used, and how they were influential. We’re reading MLK, Dorothy Day, Heschel, and Neibur. We plowed through the Landmark Speeches of Martin Luther King in a brilliant two weeks, when I finally felt like I was truly here to get a religious education, rather than an education about religion. Now we’re reading Dorothy Day’s autobiography, which has a beautiful, detailed and novel-like lilt to it that intoxicates me with its simplicity, complicatedness, and voice. I am painfully behind in our assignments, but I totally plan on not remaining so. I like the book a lot. I’ll post some more detailed information about it later, I’m sure.

I’m also very happy with my New Testament course. The professor is older, better established, more knowledgeable about his place in a wider world–and confessedly, a Friar, so his methods are more like my own, from a religious standpoint. He is also german, and I don’t mean with a German name–he is VERY, VERY german. Everything from the accent he has, to his wide, serious eyes, to the jokes he makes… it would be a caricature if he wasn’t so intelligent. Instead it’s just enjoyable. The thing I really like about him is not that he’s “brilliant”, but that he is a professor and a teacher in the right sense of the word: he is there to teach, to give us the arguments of scholarship, to tell us about how things work, and to make sure we understand where his work is situated in the rest of a body of work. I felt like I had been missing that from my previous quarter: both professors didn’t seem to acknowledge that their thoughts or methods or even worldview was situated within many different other forms of these things. They seemed unaware of this, even. It was a constant source of frustration for me. This professor, it seems, is well aware of his surroundings, and is ready and willing to explain his surroundings.

In addition to classes, I’ve been gearing up for another quarter of hard work and events. The school’s MLK event this year featured Geoffrey Canada, a highly respected man who formed the “Harlem Children’s Zone.” I know just the bare minimum about this project, but the goal was to make a place where all children would he held accountable, loved, and respected so that they would turn into productive people. His work had significant success and he’s become quite famous because of it. In his talk, I wished he would have given me a bit more of the nuts and bolts of how his organization works. The education people I talked to also thought that, but I can see how he would want to lay down the problem that inspired his vision first, for those of us who aren’t aware. I didn’t feel like he told me anything new, but for some reason, even in a pulpit with hundreds of people in a ginormous church (I become more amazed by Rockefeller chapel every time I go inside) he made himself approachable and it seemed like he was just having a conversation with you. Either way, it inspired me and I feel really ready to start my new job with Jumpstart through the Neighborhood Schools Program. I had that interview on Friday and I’m really looking forward to starting, because I am so excited to have kiddies back in my life. Sometimes it’s great to discuss the finer nature of scripture, theology, public systems… but sometimes you just gotta teach a kid how to recognize the letter G.

So that’s the short of it, the first two weeks of Winter Quarter. Enjoying my I-House living, looking forward to new opportunities, enjoying talks and lectures, and jumping on board with my new classes.

Book Journal #2: Hebrew Bible

In the second half of the Introduction to Hebrew Bible course, we looked at some books with a different timbre: archeology, sociology, and a very modern book documenting the history of a word–philology and theology wrapped up into one.

Article: Carol Meyers “Life in Biblical Israel” in Family, Religion and Culture: Families in Ancient Israel, 1997.

“When examining the period of Israelite beginnings, the study of early Israel is nearly equivalent to the study of the family.”

Unlike the previous books on the link between literature and theology, this article isn’t about the Biblical text really at all. It’s about the people who became the Biblical characters, more or less, and how they might have lived. It is based on the function of a family unit in pre-monarchical Israel. Meyers really stresses how hard life was at that time, what types of work were necessary, and how women’s, men’s, and children’s work differed. I really enjoyed this text, primarily because it gave me a new outlook on how “women’s work” fits into a larger picture. She described women’s work as highly technical and showing a significant amount of expertise, that was different to that of men’s work. Women’s work produced things and men’s work produced quantities. Meyers brought up a point that I would not have thought of otherwise, and that is the women’s tasks of preserving food required precise chemical and technical processes. These things were passed from mother to daughter, but these skills were transferable from land to land, which meant that women’s skills could move from family to family. Men’s skills, on the other hand, required a knowledge of sensibility about the land, its weather patterns and those types of things. His knowledge was not as transferable, so he could not move easily. Meyers does a lot of inferring, which can be a little iffy at times, but I don’t think she’s entirely wrong in her direction. The most interesting thing about her argument, I thought, was the potential for taking it further. She really makes a legitimate argument that there was a women’s intellectual culture that came with women’s skills and the passing on of such skills, but she doesn’t spell it out in exactly that way. Primarily she made me look at family life and family survival in a new light and gave me a lot of interesting new ways to conceive of women’s roles in the Biblical culture–which, as you of course know, I can’t get enough of.

Article: Herbert Brichto, “Kin, Cult, and the Afterlife–A Biblical Complex”, 1973.

I’m assuming that this article is a building block for Biblical scholarship, because otherwise I can’t figure out why we would read something from 1973. I was not terribly impressed with Brichto, primarily because I think he misread a pair of texts for his own purpose. His goal is to prove the relationship between kin, cult, and afterlife, with the primary point that the ancient Israelites did indeed believe in an afterlife, and that they took significant actions to assure soul’s safety in such afterlife. One of his proofs for this are the stories of Levirate marriage pertaining to Tamar in Genesis and Ruth. Levirate marriage is when a husband dies with no children. The wife, then, must marry his brother and produce someone to carry on his name. Brichto argues that the emphasis on this means that the Israelites believed that the dead husband was existing uncomfortably in Sheol, and until he had a son, he would not rest appropriately. This somewhat mirrors Chinese ancestor worship, but Brichto doesn’t mention it, nor does he mention the fact that in the Chinese circles, unhappy ancestors tended to bother the living–which does not happen in the Biblical materials. The dead husband had to achieve immortality through the continuing of a line.

My disappointment in this text was Brichto’s refusal to see the Tamar and Ruth stories as character narratives. These stories have two powerful women at their core who single-handedly save the line of their dead husbands. However, these are not just any dead husbands–these are links in a chain between Israel and David. Brichto completely misses this, and completely ignores the fact that Ruth is a later composition. I wrote my final paper criticizing this article, because I believe Brichto read his own intentions into the stories. He didn’t consider what the purpose might be for telling stories about mothers in this very important line. So I was irked.

Philip King and Lawrence Stager, Life in Biblical Israel, 2001.

This book was worth it for the pictures, I have to admit. This is a text all about archeological finds and what they may mean about the religion and culture of Biblical Israel. It’s a hardcover text with glossy pages full of pictures of artifacts, excavation sites, drawings and maps. It’s a great text to buy and keep just for fun. The portion we read for class was on religious institutions and objects. Even though the information was really interesting, the way that they articulate it was kind of dry. I had a hard time focusing on all the fascinating material in the text, which was kind of a bummer. There’s lots of good information on statues, temple decorations, temple styles, and religious practices such as sacrifices, burial rituals, and mourning. It’s an interesting look on the physical aspects of ancient religion, which helps you to understand the smells and sounds and beauty of what ancient religion could be.

Gary Anderson, Sin: A History, 2009.

This is the last and most recent text that we read for the course. In it, Gary Anderson, a current professor at Notre Dame, discusses what happened to the concept of “sin” when the word made the transition from ancient Hebrew to Aramaic. His argument is that the linguistic shift put an economic metaphor into the concept of sin. From that linguistic shift came a whole system that changed the idea of sin as a physical burden into an idea of debt. This translated into early Christianity and then went even farther, becoming a principle idea for church of the Middle Ages. Anderson finishes with a discussion of St. Anselm.

What I found most interesting about this book is one of the statements that Anderson makes at the very beginning: that Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Persian Empire, and many educated Hebrews were thus using it in the Second Temple period. I imagine that this has lots of sociological implications for portions of the Bible that switch between Hebrew and Aramaic, and it raises a whole series of questions about the significance of using “the language of power”. And, if the transition changed the word “sin” so drastically, how might it have changed other words? A fascinating read for sure.