Discovering myself in the Matrix… the other matrix.

 (This is one of two posts moved from a separate site that I began blogging on before choosing to set up my own site).

I am in the second quarter of my Ph.D. program at Fuller Seminary (I’m working in Systematic Theology with a concentration on anthropology an interest in analytic philosophy/theology). I am reminded of a matrix I ran into when studying Instructional Design at Florida State University – the competency matrix. It is a simple matrix, and I’ve no idea where it originated. It applies as easily to those going through more academic theological or philosophical work as it does to other workplace skills. One starts out in the purple box and moves around counter clockwise. In graduate school, one spends more or less of their time in the bottom left quadrant. Many of us are painfully aware of vast fields where we lack “competence”. By “competence” I mean the ability to work with a properly tuned mental map/matrix/scaffold of philosophical or theological concepts in discussions. This includes knowing parts of this mental map affect other aspects. Ideally, it would include knowing what are useful works vs current-authoritative works vs classics in the literature regarding topic X.

As one goes through graduate work they slowly move into the green (bottom right) quadrant depending upon their freedom to work, study, and use material. I assume that one reaches “unconscious competence” (upper right quadrant) after they’ve taught sufficiently long enough that concepts and ideas flow for them in a second nature fashion.

If you are a student like I am, facing your incompetence “consciously” (i.e. quadrant II) I think it is important to remind you not to hang your “self-worth” on this. That is a huge temptation to those in academic work. If possible, shift your perspective to be actively grateful for the privilege of learning, the privilege of becoming aware of a new field. Gratitude, (I believe I got this from Jeffery Schwartz who teaches at UCLA) has a powerful impact on the brain and mental health.

Quickly, as I close up, another challenge here is that in contemporary academics their fields of literature and research are so vast, that one will always be incompetent in more areas than they are competent in. This is true for all humans. (What constitutes competence is a marvelous question here.) As Christians, my concept of self should be impacted by Paul’s presentation of the “body” of Christ – that I am not a lone ranger competing for prominence with others but am instead part of a community of diverse people whose skills and strengths work together for Christ’s agenda.  My hope is to work towards competence in a few areas that I hope will be useful to others,  meaningful to myself, and most importantly pleasing to God.

Until next time!

First blog post

Welcome. Today is Thursday, August 17, 2017. I write from the first floor of the Hubbard Library of Fuller Seminary (see photo).  German class starts in a few hours… but first, lets launch!

Why this blog? Here are five reasons.

First, I’ve heard others advise young theologians to blog rather than to not blog. “Start a blog, get your ideas flowing, connect with followers who work at various schools and churches.” This makes sense. Today people expect to be able to find the information they want,  about you, your church or your product online. If you aren’t easily found online (or extremely local) it’s as if you don’t exist.  As I finish out the first year of my PhD program, and look towards the possibility of teaching or writing for wider Christian audiences, I thought that I would follow this advice.

Second, I wanted to share with my own local church family(ies) ( I teach among Plymouth Brethren assemblies) what I have been up to. Curiosity combined with an absence of information breeds rumors. It is not typical for someone to attend a seminary if they came up in a Plymouth Brethren assembly. Several do, but it isn’t encouraged. What is very rare is to go on for a PhD. What is extremely rare is for someone in my position to do so at a place like Fuller Seminary, or to pursue an MA in philosophy, as I did from 2013-2016. So I feel that I need to tell my story and do some explaining for those that I minister and worship among. I want to share what God has done, what our family learned as we moved from Florida to California four years ago, and so many other things.  For example, some people in my circle(s) of fellowship still can’t figure out why I’m in school at this age; they don’t understand what a PhD is about, and why I can’t use the idea that they dreamt up (15 seconds ago over the phone) for my dissertation topic. Along with this theme, is the desire that friends from 2500 miles away (Florida) can keep up with our family and my ministry.

Third, writing is healthy. It is cathartic. In previous generations women and men would journal, these days they blog. Furthermore, it is  an important part of one’s walk with God to be able to look back and see the way that He has led us, cared for us, etc. (See point five below for more). Without some record of passing years, one’s life easily becomes a moving spotlight, where all but the most significant memories of the past are forgotten. Alternatively, a blog gives me a place to quickly dump ideas (one can start “posts” without publishing them) so that my mind is free to focus on other pressing issues without worrying that I’ve lost a juicy realization. This aids in focus and clarity.

Fourth, I hope to have a place to put advice for others contemplating PhD work. I don’t consider myself as “the” person to go to for advice, but those who wind up doing this kind of thing (and its one of the hardest things a person can do – see here for an example) it always helps to read the reflections of those doing this sort of thing.

Fifth, I hope the site will serve as a testimony to myself (in years to come) of how God worked, led, and provided. Let me frame this with a memory. I recall learning in a spiritual formation class at Talbot School of Theology that an extremely healthy thing for adults to do is to be able to make sense of their history/story. It is healthy and receiving to be able to look back at one’s life and say “This was not good, but I learned/grew/came-to-terms-with-it.” It is healthy to be able to say, “That made no sense to me 5 years ago and was extremely frustrating, but based on where I am today, this makes good sense…. I can see God’s work.”

So with that in mind, it helps me to be able to have a place to put questions and reflections from day to day so that in years to come I can look back and see what God has down, how I’ve grown, how things were resolved.  Equally important, is to perhaps have a place where I can capture stories that I can share with my kids. I’m not sure that WordPress will be around 20 years from now, but who knows.

That is enough for now. It’s time to do German.