Posts Tagged With: graduate school

The Serious Matter of Play

Play.  How does it to connect to following Jesus or to graduate school?  Both are serious matters, right?  We don’t want to mess up with either, so play should be the last thing on our minds.  Or should it?

UC Christian Grads started their series of monthly table talks with a conversation on this topic.  Not because I play well and have a lot of wisdom to share, but because I’m pretty bad at it.  I’m often putting off seeing a movie, contacting friends, or just taking time to rest and read because work needs to be finished.  It turns out that several people around the table also admitted to not often including play in their lives – or feeling guilty because of it.

Our jumping off point of discussion was David Naugle’s short essay on “A Serious Theology of Play” along with Marilyn Chandler McIntyre’s chapter on play in the book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies.  Both writers explore how play is a natural part of life.  We see it in God’s act of creation, in the actions of children, the practices of Sabbath and festivals, and even Jesus’ lifestyle.

Throughout the conversation we attempted to define what play is – does it have to be separate from work, does it need to include a purpose?   Or, maybe play is play because there is no end goal?  We also mentioned how play can be and is abused in society as it becomes a cathartic event following pressured work patterns.  Anything is acceptable as long as that steam is let off.  Of course, students mentioned how difficult it is to play in the world of the academy – though some did see part of their work as play.  In the end, everyone affirmed that play and some type of rest is a vital part of life’s rhythm.  Though, because it can be difficult to practice, several students  affirmed that it’s necessity to plan time for play and rest.

Looking back on it, this conversation was its own form of play.  Sitting around, enjoying a meal, and relishing community, it was an evening to rest after a week of work.  It was also a place at which participants could trust one another and throw out ideas without the fear of needing to be right.

As we closed we shared what we were looking forward to this weekend and then read Psalm 98 together – providing yet more images of play within creation.  Without formal prompting many in the group even planned a time of play for the following day – frisbee golf and walking in a local park.

Naugle ends his essay stating

“If God is a God of play, and if human play is, indeed, rooted in divine play, then we, as humans, ought to develop our abilities at play and cultivate a spirit of playfulness. This is both our gift and our responsibility in a often-serious world. Whatever forms of “play” you may pursue—whether it be music, reading, sports, furniture restoration, gardening, photography, or drag racing—do it heartily unto the Lord, as a reflection of a rarely recognized aspect of the divine nature. Your life will be an answer to H. L. Mencken’s stereotypical puritan who worries about people having fun, and your example will testify to the Friedrich Nietzsches of the world that, indeed, there is—and that you know—a God who dances.”

I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that UCCG danced that evening, recognizing and sharing in the life of a God who does the same – and it was a real joy.

Where and how do you play?  Is it part of following Christ?


Categories: Campus Ministry | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places – Including Graduate Research Projects

Faulkner, eco aesthetics, supercomputers, lizards, solar energy, trade routes, North Korean prison camps, water colors.  What could these subjects have to do with one another?  For one evening this unnatural list came together as a group of graduate students gathered to share their research projects.  In an academic world that is often separated by discrete colleges and disciplines, it was a treat to see these individuals talk about their work, and even make interdisciplinary connections.

I didn’t expect a student studying trade routes in and out of the ancient city of Antioch to make a connection with a student studying solar energy use today.  However, she immediately connected his discussion of passive solar energy use with practices in the ancient world.  Every presenter received similar comments relating their work to those in other fields.

However, this wasn’t merely an academic exercise.  Within the sharing it was possible to sense something larger – God reflected in his marvelous tapestry of creation.  This was a picture of God as Gerard Manley Hopkins describes in his poem As Kingfishers Catch Fire.  

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

How often do we see the many faces of God before us?  This research fair was a great opportunity to see that God is at work on, through, with, and connecting many planes – whether directly or indirectly.  There is something about seeing God in all of our work – not just at church and or in Bible studies  – that breathes life into this faith we profess.  I can’t wait to see next semester’s unnatural list reveal even more.

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Meeting the Ugly Reality of Writing in Graduate School – and Beyond

Many graduate students step into the world of research because of a sincere interest in a topic and the belief that their work will forge new paths in their respective fields.   Though such a drive may prompt people to start the pursuit of a doctoral degree, it can often subvert the creation of that final piece of doctoral work – the dissertation.

When the ideal in our heads doesn’t readily make it to the sheet or screen it becomes easy to wait – wait until we’ve read one more article, talked to one more expert, put together one more outline.  But we eventually face the inevitable and must write something – and it never looks as good on paper as it does in our imagination.  So, we wait longer.  If we find the right process, everything will go smoothly.  Maybe it just needs a few more days, weeks, or months to age and then it will come out all right.  Like a perfect bottle of wine.

In her article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Rachel Herrmann (My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Dissertation) brings us back to reality and the mess that research is.  She emphasizes that it’s much easier to edit a terrible dissertation than it is to edit a nonexistent perfect one.  Obvious, yes.  However, in the midst of wanting to develop that ideal dissertation it’s easy to forget and difficult to accept this common sense statement.  Meeting this reality brings students to a humbling awareness about academic work. Our best efforts many times begin with an ugly draft.  Yet, in the process of writing, and discussing with others, this ugliness is transformed.

In this journey we come to see that writing is not merely a means to share our well-defined ideas with others; the process of writing actually provides insight into the research itself.  Our initial efforts might include a series of outlines – maybe some in colored pencil or with a images drawn throughout – to help pull the pieces together.  They may include a bunch of free writes that explore ideas and questions we want to test.  Maybe some writings are responses to readings – not in a formal essay, but in the words of a casual conversation.  These meanderings eventually come together to take shape in  cohesive paragraphs, sections, and even chapters.

Maybe some people can accomplish such work in a more linear fashion (and several comments to the referenced article indicate this – just write, create an outline, etc.), but many students I encounter take the more round about way.  However, these writings are more than a means to get started.  Just like serendipitous side-trips on vacations, they can take us to places we would have never gone if we would have stayed on the original path – or followed the first outline.

My own experience of putting together a dissertation wasn’t very pretty most of the time. Spurts of writing here and there eventually came together – and then apart.  The disdain for sitting at a desk grew so severe at times that I had to leave, and almost trick myself into writing by doing so in parks, libraries, and museums.  At times I laid out the drafts on the floor, trying to determine a reasonable narrative to help explain the research on the pages and still in my head.  Then, as I was drafting yet a new version, insights emerged or questions arose.  Eventually it came together – and the side-trips often became the heart of the final product.

Now this formally ugly dissertation is starting a new journey into a book.  Again I’m fighting the desire to have a finished piece of writing immediately.  So, I’m doing a lot of waiting.  But Herrmann’s article encourages my post-dissertation self that it’s time to take these writings and start drafting a terrible, no good, horrible very bad book.  It’s time to go.

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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