Deciphering Boston

As of this evening, I've completed week one of my two weeks here in Boston. While it feels longer, general busyness has also made it feel like I just arrived; I'm thoroughly enjoying the experience. So to let you know how I've adjusted, here are five observations for a Sunday night. 1. It's downright pretty around here While friends at home were sweating out summer-like temperatures, spring is just taking root here; the temperatures haven't left the mid-sixties. The climate accompanying the rich green foliage releases the beauty of this place. The seminary where I'm taking classes is located on Boston's North Shore, so I even snuck over to the Atlantic Ocean one night. It was absolutely gorgeous. There are little beach towns dotting the shore, but they seem more refined than those in Florida. I snapped some pictures that I'll try to post online once I can snag a camera cord.

Also, I keep telling Kelly that it just "looks" like New England here. I wasn't sure how to clarify this (and I'm not sure I still do). The seminary is in a suburban/rural area where the towns just look like a postcard. But I think I've nailed down the classification to wooden houses (very little brick), with an abundance of greenery and natural stone walls. I'd love if someone else could help my clarify what I'm talking about.

2. Driving is different Boston drivers are cordially rude. I've been cut off more in a week here than I've been in the past two years in Cincy. But my guess is that the layout of the roads contributes to this situation. On-ramps are much more abbreviated here so, if you don't cut someone off, you'll never make it home. Also, the design here significantly reduces the number of left turns. For example, to get into my hotel parking lot, I'm forbidden from turning left. So I have to pass the hotel and circle around an expressway ramp to get on the correct side of the street so I can make a right turn into the parking lot. There is no explanation for how annoying this is. I'm sure it causes fewer accidents, but it does so at the cost of making me lose my mind. Major dislike.

3. The food is similar I have seen practically every chain restaurant imaginable including (shocker) Boston Market. Apparently roast beef is the Boston equivalent of Skyline Chili. I don't get it, nor have I tried yet. I figure I've eaten roast beef many-a-time in my life and can continue to survive without sampling this cultural staple. We'll see if I sample some before I leave town.

4. It's more Chicago than New York This is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the US that I have never visited before. I was wondering what can of "vibe" it would transmit and it's still a pretty small town feel. When you walk the streets of Manhattan, you can't help but feel a closed-off attitude. But the people here have been genuinely kind. As I walked in downtown Boston the other day, I had numerous people on the street say "hi." It's big, but it's not obnoxiously big. I'm fascinated by it all.

Plus, the cost of living is just ridiculous up here. I continually wonder how much money people around here make, because practically everything up here (except gas) is ten cents to a dollar higher than it is in the Midwest. Specifically . . .

5. About fountain drinks This is just an example of where one of my foibles intersect with this city. Since I first arrived, I kept looking for a place where I could nab a fountain Diet Coke. I stopped in quite a few gas station convenience stores and there where none. Since I came up zeros, I resigned myself to stopping in at a Burger King to get a large fountain Coke. The price: $2.50. Unbelievable. I asked some locals who said they just don't drink it as much.

Fortunately, however, this is the week that McDonalds started their summer pricing of $1 drinks, so I just might make it after all. But this served as confirmation that I would never be able to live here. It's just inhuman the way they operate.

One week to go, but I'm feeling like I'm getting the hang of it. And since I'll do this again in the next few years, maybe I'll get even better at Boston. We'll see what I learn.

Steve's Not Here

So why are you in Boston? Good question. Thanks for asking.

About a year and a half ago, I was (still) taking classes at Cincinnati Bible Seminary. I was thinking of getting another Masters degree (three's a charm?) and then decided to explore my options. In the theological realm, the Master of Divinity is THE professional degree. At the time, it was a 90-hour degree and, even though I had over 60 grad hours, it would've taken me even longer than 30 hours to complete the degree. So that wasn't a realistic option in my book.

The highest professional degree in the ministry field is the Doctor of Ministry (it's like the J.D. for lawyers). In order to get into these programs, the MDiv is the prerequisite. But many of the doctoral programs I examined had MDiv equivalencies—shortcuts if you will. I just had to prove that I had enough ministry experience to warrant the shortcut, listing all of the conferences and learning experiences I've accumulated in the past 15 years. It worked. I was accepted into the DMin program at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, located just northeast of Boston.

I flew out here Sunday afternoon and I'll be here through next Friday. It's a twelve days of residency, which I'll repeat in 2012 and 2013. If I make it through, including my massive thesis project, I'll earn my DMin in 2014.

So for me, I return to, "why?" I'm quite the homebody. I love being around Kelly and Kaelyn; saying goodbye to them at the airport on Sunday broke my heart. So why in the world would I leave them unless I had to? Why am I embarking on this journey? Here are my reasons (and I promise it's not just so that people will call me "doctor").

1. To continue to strengthen our church. The rest of my life will be intertwined with Echo Church. I know that there are things that I need to know that I don't know that will help our congregation. This course of study will be foundational to the work I'll do with Echo in my forties, fifties, and sixties. To better minister to our community and our city, I need to be here now.

2. To assist me in the classroom. I've thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity I've had to teach at Cincinnati Christian University. Through teaching, however, you begin to realize how much you really don't know about a subject. I know that I'll be involved in some aspect of ministry preparation throughout the rest of my career. If I'm serious about teaching, I need to do what's best for my students and know more than I already do.

3. To keep sharpening my skills. I like to read. I like to learn. I believe I'm a master of self-education. But when left to independent study, we tend to neglect our weaknesses. Academics provides a means of testing myself—against systems, against students, against my shortcomings—that I would not experience on my own. It's obviously more work, but it forces me to be disciplined.

So I'm here, away from my girls, away from my church, away from my friends, but it's important that I do this. Tonight I spend three hours in one of America's coolest cities typing a paper on my laptop. Sexy, eh?

But it'll be worth it.

X'd Off My List

I graduated from Xavier today.

Didn't go to the commencement ceremony, though. I've been there and done that and had no desire to do that again. The Xavier registrar called me yesterday afternoon to tell me I could walk and I said I wasn't. She sounded disappointed. I hope she gets over it.

Yesterday afternoon I had my thesis defense. It went very well. The professor in whose class I received my worst grade was one of the readers. The first words out of her mouth were that mine was the most compelling paper she's read since she's been at Xavier. That made me feel good [and vindicated?]. All the readers suggest that it should be eventually published and perhaps the topic of a dissertation. Again, I felt very good. Sometime this summer, I'll post the summary of what I wrote about on the blog.

Overall, my experience at Xavier has been quite positive. One of the main reasons I went to school there was to be challenged— both academically and philosophically. I've emerged from the other side emboldened, better prepared to do the work set before me. I interacted with a diverse collection of views and individuals and appreciate what it's meant to me.

Thanks to all for the encouragement you've given me throughout this experience. And a shout-out to my brother-in-law Josh who received his Masters degree this weekend as well.

So now, a little breather, then back for more this summer. As I said earlier, I'm returning to Cincinnati Bible Seminary to begin work on yet another Masters Degree [I figure third time's a charm]; this time, I'll be exploring Church History. Never thought I'd be going this far in academics, but I feel like I'm hitting my stride. And I love being an adjunct professor, so the more education, the better opportunities I'll have to keep teaching. In the immortal words of Billy Madison, "Back to school. Back to school, to prove to Dad that I'm not a fool. I got my lunch packed up, my boots tied tight, I hope I don't get in a fight"

Napster, Titleists, and Faith

Let me ramble for a bit.

This past Tuesday night I started teaching a new class for the alma mater. This time, however, I'm up at their extension campus on the southside of Indianapolis. It's an additional three hours in the car for the next four weeks [and I've signed on to do this again up there in the Spring] but it seems to be a really great group of students and well worth my while.

I'm teaching Ethics— I know, I know: how do you teach if you don't have any, eh? As a discussion starter for the first session, we discussed illegally downloading music. I'll admit that in those early days of Napster, I downloaded songs on my work computer until I began to realize that it was essentially song theft.* Later, as I confronted others about their music piracy, I would hear the most creative attempts of justification; chief among is that was that file sharing was a victimless crime, harming no one except for the billion dollar recording industry that could well afford the loss. I expected to hear a few more excuses during the class discussion. But there were none: all my students held that stealing music over the internet was wrong.

Still I wonder if their not necessarily a reflection of their pre-established ideals or instead a visceral reaction to the way I presented it. I inadvertently used terms such as "theft," "stealing," "illegal," and "piracy"— all words that they already perceive negatively. As I discussed with them later, whomever is able to frame their argument in terms of their own choosing usually ends up being the victor. When I teach this course again, I think I'm going to have the same discussion while deliberately avoiding those terms to see if it affects their viewpoints. It's much easier to take a moral stand when you already have a clear delineation of right and wrong in front of you.

Anyway, I was still chewing on all of this the next day when I read the story of J.P. Hayes. His story is fascinating as Hayes is a pro-golfer who lost his PGA tour card and was forced to re-qualify via tournament. On one hole, he inadvertently played a prototype Titleist ball that was accidentally left in his bag and played it for two shots. When he realized this, he told an official that he played a wrong ball which automatically cost him two stokes. But the next night, realizing that the prototype might have been illegal, he again reported himself. It, indeed, was not an approved ball and Hayes was thus disqualified from the tournament and losing his place on the tour.

Golf is interesting like that. Whereas every other sport has officials that police the rules, golf insists that the player police himself. So when you attempt to violate the rules, you do so at the risk of your own integrity as judge. And if you try to justify your misdeeds through well crafted arguments, you are already well aware that you are, in essence, cheating.

I love that Hayes matter-of-factly responded that any other golfer would've done the same thing. After being lauded for reporting himself after a similar rule break, the legendary Bobby Jones remarked, "You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank." Basically, the ethics of golf are unshakable because a judge is always watching. 

I believe that this technological era allows more opportunities than ever to commit unseen transgressions. As a result, our personal ethics will become more and more crucial in the year to come. But if we really hold to the concept of an omniscient God, then absolutely nothing is different, except our own delusions about personal integrity. We'll need to take on the attitude of people like J.P. Hayes, staking a claim on integrity, even if it's to our detriment, until it becomes commonplace.

In summation: someone is always watching, so don't do it.


*Three additional thoughts about this that didn't fit the above thought flow:

1) I am gambling that the RIAA doesn't have enough information to nail down my indiscretions during my Napster days, but with the constant ineptness of my employer's IT system, I think I'm safe.

2) My ignorance surrounding the legality of file sharing in those early days can be attributed to the fact that I seriously assumed record artists wouldn't care if I downloaded their tunes. I never burned CDs of any of those songs I downloaded. If I really liked those songs, I went ahead and bought their album.

3) When I was younger, we would "file share" with each others' cassettes. In fact, I believe this practice is the reason why they began selling stereos with dual cassette racks [what other purpose could dual cassettes serve?]. Where was the RIAA 1980's big hair bands were losing cash?


I'm wrapping up my second class tomorrow night and I still haven't detailed my new role as Professor Carr.

Overall, it's been a great experience. I love teaching and I think that, as an urban minister, I have an interesting perspective to add to the process. Preparing for the lectures, however, has been laborious. And even though I'm excited to be teaching two more classes this fall, they are new one for me, meaning that I have even more preparation before me. I've read some interesting books, reminded myself of many facts I'd forgotten, and forced myself to think even more systematically than I have been.

I'd say the only thing I'm not to crazy about is the homework. You'd think the power-trip associated with grading would be addictive. Not so much. Perhaps it's because I have yet to find a red pen that fits me suitably. But I'd say it's more a result of the weekly assignments associated with intensive courses. It's a lot of homework to grade, and so far I've had some smaller class sizes. Still, I'm absolutely lovin' it; not enough to have wanted to do this vocationally (no offense to those teachers out there), but definitely enough to keep at it in an adjunct role.

What's really bizarre is that after finishing teaching on Tuesday, I start up classes at Xavier on Thursday.

For someone whose favorite part of school was recess, I'm amazed at the amount of time I'm now spending in the classroom.

I Don't Feel Tardy

I had to manually log-in to the blog tonight. The site will usually keep me logged-in if I post within a couple of days but not so after a week respite. I know it's been awhile since my last post when I see the check-box on the log-in page that appears to ask, "Remember me?"

We had a crazy week, starting off with Time-Warner Cable hijinks. Great week at the North American Christian Convention. I have much to post on, but it still might take me awhile to get back into the swing of things. I have another project I'll be devoting some time to this week:

My life as an adjunct professor.

Beginning this week I'm going to be teaching some classes for my alma mater's degree completion program. They are five-week intensive courses that meet in the evenings. It's something I've wanted to do for awhile now but was never able to do; I do think completing the second Masters at Xavier helped. The good news: I have three other classes I'll be teaching this year. The bad news: they're all different classes which means my preparation level is high.

My first course will be on Worldviews. It's interesting subject matter, but it covers a wide-spectrum of information so I'm having to work hard on the course plans. Still, I'm looking forward to the opportunity. There's not a lot that my religious degrees empower me to do, so I'm just excited to be able to use my knowledge.

When I graduated high school I was voted "Most Likely To Return To Teach At The Alma Mater." I'm still curious as to why my classmates voted for me in that category. Perhaps it was somewhat misguided clairvoyance as they knew I'd teach at my college.


Time to deplete the checklist.

Tonight I wrapped up another class. Barring unforeseen savage grading, I should get an A. Not to brag [um, that's not true, I think I am bragging] that's all A's and an unjust B since restarting graduate work. Also, this leaves only two courses to complete towards graduation next spring. The learning experience has been worth it, but I'll admit that I always feel better when it's over.

Additionally, we finally wrapped up our study of the books of Samuel at Echo.* Again, while I've enjoyed working through these Old Testament books, especially the lessons learned from the life of David, I'm always up for a new challenge. For the rest of the summer I'll be teaching through the New Testament Epistle of James. If you have a Sunday night open, I invite you to come and join us.

So hopefully I'll finally get around to posting some things I've had in mind here by the end of the week.

*If you want to catch up on any of the teachings from Samuel, you can get them off iTunes via our website.

Kant Do It

Ready to wrap up another Xavier class. As of May 6th, I'll be a mere three classes shy of graduation. This class has really killed me. I have yet to figure out the professor's grading system. I just don't share the same passions as she does theologically and its bringing me down. I'm trying not to sweat my GPA, focusing more on what I can learn.

I have a paper due next featuring, among other people, Immanuel Kant. If you've ever read Kant, you know it's kinda like working a Rubik's Cube while blindfolded [was that guy on Beauty and the Geek?].

Anyway, I'm still lumbering through Kant, just not successfully.

Back To School

Started new session of class tonight at Xavier. Quick hits:

  1. My week-and-a-half break wasn't nearly long enough. I'm really pushing to get through this program so I keep telling myself that the time will fly by. I think I get a month off for Winter Break, so there's a bonus.
  2. Holy crap is it crowded! After a quiet little summer of taking classes the campus is now filled with college kids. I had to park about three hundred yards further out than I normally do. It even took me a couple of minutes to find my car; they need those Kings Island cartoon characters to help you remember your space. Note to self: it sucks wearing sandals while walking half a mile.
  3. I guess I had no idea how slutty college girls dress nowadays. There are probably some examples I could share with you but I won't. But it was shocking enough that I felt the need to admit it here.
  4. It's scary to look at a syllabus and realize the current class will take you through Christmas. I'm sitting there in shorts while reading about assignments due in December. I guess I should start my shopping.
  5. My Buddhism class is very promising. The professor lived over 20 years in Japan has written numerous books and articles on the topic. My current knowledge of the philosophy/religion is very limited so I look forward to further exploration.

Speaking of Viagra . . .

. . . as I typed the word twice in my previous post, I guess I subconsciously dropped the reference because I spent three-plus hours tonight talking about sex. My current class at Xavier is about sexuality and Biblical interpretation.  This means that we end up discussing a whole spectrum of issues that leave me feeling a tad icky by the end of the night. Although I've preached many times about sexual issues, it's still an embarrassing topic of discussion for me. Contrary to what you may think, we didn't sit around the dinner table in the days of my youth doing Bible studies on Ezekiel 23 [admit it, you looked]. One of my textbooks has pictures of ancient p0rn in it. Kinda creepy. For some reason my internet filter isn't blocking it.

And, no, I didn't choose this course-- it's the only one being offered right now for my program. But don't get all judgmental on me because it's in the Bible, so suck it.

On second thought, forget I even wrote this.

The End Is In Sight

Finished up my final essays yesterday after spending a few hours in the Xavier library. Then, after my class last night, I knew I'd have to revise some of my thoughts to fit in the new content the professor added. So now I just have to brush up for my oral final. Never did that in over forty graduate hours, but it should be fun.

By 6:00 tomorrow night I'll be smiling at the thought of ten days to read what I want.

Quiet Around Here?

I have my first final this Wednesday, a few essays and an oral exam. For some reason, I'm sorta looking forward to the orals. I like to think that I can BS talk my way through any situation. Never, though, has my grade depended on it.

I'll try to post some short tidbits during the next few days, but nothing to deep.

Think Red

So here we are in Reds land, still looking forward to the fall when this season will mercifully come to an end. Every time we think the teams has this thing back on track, they blow a six run lead, offering the tie in the notorious eighth inning, only to lose it in extra innings. So what to look forward to now? Two words:

Homer Bailey.

The young starting pitcher, the promised Messiah of Reds Nation, appears ready to be called up from Louisville to finally join the Major League club. We've been waiting for this for over a year now and, finally, when there's no way he can help the club out, they're going to bring him up.

That's fine. But when should they do this?

Business smarts would suggest to do it on a weeknight when they're playing a sucky team so they could increase the potential for ticket sales. Heck, I'd pay to go see this guy pitch his first game. But as it appears now, they'll bring him up this weekend when they're playing against Cleveland, a series that usually sells out here, without the appearance of the club's Savior.

This is where I'm at: I still have hope in the Castellini group to turn things around here in Cincy, but this season has me doubting.

Wanted: Valet

Class is going well. Thanks for asking. I'm reading a lot of weird, wacky stuff. Thus far, there is only one problem that I have:

I'm parking two zipcodes away.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm all in favor of a healthy walk. I'm always take the stairs when I get the opportunity. And when I used to do hospital calls for church [not that I've stopped doing them; I just need more people to get sick at Echo] I would park further away for the extra exercise. But when you get out of class just before 10pm, you aren't thinking about the extra cardio, you just want to get in your car and go home.

And I can't do that. First, I have to get my sherpa, gather the appropriate supplies, and then make the trek back to my vehicle. Fortunately I live only a couple minutes from campus. Otherwise I would make it home in time for breakfast.

I know there has to be a better place to park. So if you're familiar with Xavier, I have class in Alter Hall. And I'm currently parking by the Cintas. Show me the way and let me know where I should leave my Ford Exploder.