Tuesday, September 16, 2008

On the Other Side of a Ph.D.

Getting a Ph.D. taught me something startling: that fixating on oneself produces isolation. It is in community, in others, that a person discovers one's true self rooted in God.

The news came via a phone call back in May: my external reader in Britain had given the nod to my dissertation. Finally, I was a legal holder of a degree that seemed beyond reach for seven years. My Ph.D. program in New Testament and Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary were years spent in a course-work residency including seminars, languages, directed studies, exams, and a dissertation. With all that filed in the past now, I have begun the journey back to God through others.

Solitude ought to be distinguished from isolation. There is nothing wrong with being alone. Solitude is a bud that must be allowed to bloom. Isolation produces a lostness, and all the time spent alone working on my Ph.D. left me without direction. Years of worry on how I was performing as a doctoral student left no space for others. Saying yes to my doctoral studies often meant saying no others. Whenever I chose to socialize instead of work on my dissertation, an Angst arose in my inner being. This form of internalization left me unable to connect with human beings. Simple acts of sharing a meal or going to worship felt machine-like.

How does life fill a struggling soul? It happens in those flickering moments of being aware of others: watching my expanding belly warmed by the life growing inside; connecting with a colleague today on theology, language, and Martin Luther; seeing my husband after work as he waited patiently for my arrival.

Locating oneself in community is to discover a joy that comes with connecting with God through others.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Scholer's Impact on my Life and Studies

The mentor relationship I had with Dr. Scholer was difficult at times. Regardless, he had a concern for me that was unwavering. He wanted no less than thorough research from me as his doctoral student. In a seminar with him, New Testament Methods, he assigned to me the topic of "Philo on Women." I had one week to produce a ten-page paper and bibliography and return to class to report my findings. All of the necessary books on Philo were checked out of Fuller's Library that week. Even the journal that had the essential article went missing from the shelf. So I set out for Claremont's network of libraries in search of material to build my paper and bibliography. The day arrived for me to present. It was hard enough being the sole female. Scholer looked shocked as he reviewed my bibliography in front of my colleagues. He said it was outstanding. I proceeded to cover the essential aspects of what Philo said concerning women. Scholer announced my 'A' to the class. Then my moment of glory came to a halt. Scholer began to search frantically through my paper looking for any missing pieces. Oh no. I neglected one major aspect in Philo's thought: the role of women according to Household Code. He announced my lower grade to the class. If my fear could have produced any sound, then it would have resembled a swarm of bees trying to protect the queen. Though a painful experience at the time, Scholer taught me the importance of being thorough and humble in gaining knowledge.