General Terms and Conditions

Reports and musings from a seminarian at General Theological Seminary, New York City.

Friday, September 22, 2006

One day at a time

It was a month ago today that partner and I left Indianapolis in our U-Haul truck. It is hard to believe it has been only a 31 days. I now find myself fully into the joys and struggles of seminary.

After much thought, and after soliciting the advice of many wise people, I decided that I should drop my Biblical Greek class. The professor said I was doing fine, but I felt that I could not give enough time to study for that class, especially in light of the time I need for the two foundation classes I am also taking, Old and New Testament. In addition, I find myself still adjusting to full-time graduate school -- learning how to study and to take notes, and how to get a LOT of reading done. I hope I will be able to pick up Greek at some other point. But this is not the right time.

I have also found myself sneezing and congested since Monday. I think it is just allergies, but it could be a cold. Not feeling well, I have been tired and cranky all week. Let's hope I get over it soon!

This weekend's study includes preparation for an Old Testament map quiz (we have been given 100 cities, rivers, areas, and other geographical landmarks to place on blank maps; the quiz will be to find and mark 25 of these places, randomly chosen), a 6-10 page paper of theological reflections on the book Silence by Shusaku Endo, reading for next week's classes, and discussion notes on Paul's Thessalonian correspondence. I also need to clean the apartment in anticipation of my parents' arrival to visit on Wednesday (yea!)

Which brings me to the title of this post. All I can do is just keep moving, and know that it will all get done, one way or another. I've just got to keep studying and keep praying...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

A Night at the Opera

Last night I took off in the drizzle with a new friend (and fellow classmate) to Lincoln Center to see Handel's Semele, performed by the New York City Opera. What a great evening!

The impetus for attending was that soprano Elizabeth Futral was singing the title role. Elizabeth sang the lead in my master's degree project, an opera called The Face on the Barroom Floor. (I paired the work with Hugo Weisgall's The Stronger for a night of barroom opera.) Her career has really gone places -- as much or more than anyone else who was in the IU School of Music during the years I was there (1985-87).

The work was labeled by Handel a "secular oratorio." (An oratorio is defined as "a muscial setting, for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra, of an extended story of religious or contemplative nature, performed in a concert hall or a church without scenery, costumes, or physical action.") Strange choice, therefore, for an opera company. The production fully acknowledges this anomaly, beginning the production on a set depicting the organ/choir loft of a concert hall -- large organ and pipes and choir risers, before a stage set simply with four chairs behind music stands. The performers enter as though in concert -- concert dress and somber looks intact.

But at the point in the story (based on Ovid's Metamorphoses) when Jupiter's presence is felt with lightning, an earthquake, and their attendant debris, the story is itself metamorphosized into the late 1950's, and Semele becomes Marilyn Monroe, Jupiter John Kennedy, and the jealous Juno (wife of Jupiter) Jackie Kennedy. The story moves on with papparazzi, secret service, and other hangers on.

The updating serves the story well, with Marilyn/Semele portrayed as beautiful but lost, looking for something more than what she has: She wants to be immortal like her lover Jupiter/JFK. Jackie/Juno is jealous, and contrives to scuttle the affair between the lovers, leaving no fingerprints. The staging was clever, hip, and rarely seemed to get in Handel's way - it served the work.

But more than any of that, the singing was beautiful. Elizabeth sang divinely - how skilled she is! I was proud to be able to say I knew her when. Mezzo Vivica Genaux, in the double role of Semele's sister and Juno also sang with a rich and flexible voice, a joy to hear. All the rest were skilled, and seemed to enjoy their roles. I entered the theater worried that three hours might be a challenge, and left wanting more.

The icing on the cake was a visit backstage to greet Elizabeth. She was gracious and charming, just as I remembered her. What a pleasure to see that the years have only deepened her skills and her character. I was honored to see her again. And my classmate was wowed by the chance to go backstage and meet the lead singer. Again, it was a great evening.

Now back to studying - but with a song in my heart!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine

I woke this morning to the sad news that Texas Governor Ann Richards has died.

As a native of Texas and a resident of the capital city through the mid-nineties, I have a particular affection for her. As many of you know, Partner worked for Ann for 10 years, six years in the State Treasurer's Office, and four years in the Governor's office. In fact, our courtship coincided with that 1990 race for the Governor's Office. For many, many reasons, it was a magical time.

Like many successful politicians I have had the opportunity to meet, Ann had a larger-than-life aura. Her bright eyes, brilliant white hair, and (most of all) her sharp wit were all used to great effect. She did many great things for the people of Texas, but I will agree with something she said in her last days in office. "One of the greatest things I have ever done," she is reported to have said, "was to get [Partner] out of Waco." I couldn't agree more.

Another outstanding memory for me was election night 1990. Partner suggested we go by the campaign office before going to the election party at a local hotel. As we arrived, campaign wonks were at desks throughout the offices crunching numbers on the latest returns with expressions of glee. Then, to everyone's surprise, Ann arrived. She joked with these insiders, everyone scarcely believing this moment was happening. Then we turned to the TVs littered throughout the offices to hear reporters predict her victory. (There is a photo commemorating that moment, in a book by photographer Ave Bonar about the campaign. Partner stands next to Ann at that moment of watching the TV reporters announce her election. I am cut out of the picture, but I know I was there!)

Many times during that political season Partner said to me, "Don't get used to this -- it doesn't usually happen this way!" Of course, he was right. Rarely do we have elected leaders of her quality. In her wit, her drive, and most of all her ideals, she was unique.

Rest in peace, Ms. Ann. Rest in peace.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

[Title of Post]

Last night, after a full day of reading a dense New Testament text, I treated myself to a show. Through the Theater Development Fund's (TDF) ticket program (providing cheap tickets to students, arts administrators, and clergy) I got an inexpensive seat at [Title of Show] at the Vineyard Theatre.

The premise of the muscial was two guys who read that the New York Musical Theatre Festival is coming up, and decide they want to make a submission. The problem is they don't have anything. So they decide to just start writing, and then, at the deadline in three weeks, submit whatever they have.

This premise provides the platform to explore current conventions of musical theater, the creative process, and the life of young creative types in New York. It is spare (the set is four chairs, an electronic keyboard, and an answering machine), witty and irreverent. It contained lots of inside musical theater references, which most of the audience did not catch ("but, of course," he said in a superior tone, "I did") as well as TV references. It also had some inside New York City/Chelsea jokes, which I wouldn't have understood three weeks ago; now that I am a seasoned New Yorker (note tongue in cheek) I laughed along with the rest.

The evening was entertaining, and again showed the depth of talent that walks the streets of this city. It was a great diversion. And a great gift from the theater and TDF. Thank you for making it possible for someone on a student budget to enjoy some of the art that this city offers. How lucky I am.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Classes Begin

Finally, it really begins - I have started classes! Allow me to tell you what I'm taking, and one interesting thing I learned in each class:

Introduction to New Testament: The First Century Churches and Their Writings
Almost all of the NT writers did not write with the intention that they were writing "scripture" - i.e., something with the status that they gave the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). It was an experiment: "How do I express what we are experiencing?" As such, these are writings in process - they don't have all the answers.

Introduction to Old Testament: Pentateuch and Former Prophets
It was noted by Kierkegaard that Christianity could have no other religion that Judaism as a foreground.

Elementary New Testament Greek
This class may well not be the torture that everyone expects it to be -- it may be fun!

The Tutorial Seminar
(A sort of introduction to graduate school, theological thinking, and integrating the various types of study undertaken in seminary)
God gave us the gift of language. To be human is to be creatures of narrative. We tell our stories in light of the divine story.

Introduction to Music
Musical recitation is used in the church because it was an effective way to project the voice (pre-amplification); other liturgical benefits of chanting are that it slows one down a bit (helping with perception) and it dresses things up a bit.

In addition, I have been invited to join the Schola, the seminary's choir. I think it will be fun.

I'm having a grand time -- despite already having PILES of reading to do. Time to get to work!

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Sidewalks of New York

This morning I decided to take a walk. I started out going west from the Seminary on 20th street, across 10th and 11th Avenues to the Hudson River Park, which runs along the river all the way from something like 56th St. to Battery Park City at the southern tip of the island.

I didn't have a plan for how far I was going to walk, and I found myself being propelled south. Suddenly the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island stood on the horizon--I can scarcely believe I live only a few miles from Lady Liberty! I kept walking, avoiding rollerbladers and bikers, enjoying a beautiful day. I passed water parks, grassy areas for sunbathers, and many piers for sailboats, yachts, and kayaks. Moms with strollers mingled with young couples and shirtless joggers. Everyone seemed to be out enjoying the "last day of summer."

Mindful of the fact that I was getting farther from home, I simply couldn't turn back. I was so enjoying walking in Manhattan, not as a tourist, but as a New Yorker! Soon I found myself in Battery City (a really beautiful multi-use development along the river's edge) with Lady Liberty closer than ever.

FInally I decided to turn east and north to find my way home again. I found myself at the World Trade Center site -- still a large gaping hole, although now (unlike the last time I saw it, from a distance in December 2001) it is tidied up. The subway and rail lines that once were under the towers now lay under simple tin roofs, a testament to trying to a city trying to get back to normal even at the bottom of the very scar that marks that horrible day. It is strangely antiseptic -- simply looking at it, one cannot fathom the suffering of that day, nor the struggle to move forward for even the resilient folks known as New Yorkers.

I decided that I must move on, however, and so I began to make my way home. Wanting to travel light, I had not brought a map -- and lower New York, being the first part of Manhattan settled by the white man, does not follow the orderly grid of most of the island. I found Broadway, and decided to walk along it, knowing it would get me to familiar territory, although perhaps (indeed) on a slightly out-of-the-way route.

After passing St. Paul's chapel (which had an exhibit on 9/11 which I will revisit another day) I walked through the edge of Tribeca, the heart of Soho, and finally into numbered street territory. I was starting to feel like I knew where I was. At 14th Street I turned west, and wound my way back to the seminary.

And so, after a good 2 1/2 hours of walking (I don't know the distance exactly, as my pedometer was acting up) I returned to the peace and quiet of my apartment, feeling a bit more like I belong in this overwhelming, gritty, wonderful city.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Me, Myself, and I

Partner left this morning - flying back to Indy - which leaves me here alone. I am very sorry to see him go. He has been so wonderful, so helpful. All day yesterday he worked hard to help finish the move in -- getting curtain rods up and curtains hung, as well as hanging pictures. Then he swept and mopped and got all the laundry done. What a gift! I am so lucky to have him in my life - even if it is at a distance for the next months...

I must admit that I am kind of excited to finally experience what it is like to live here on my own. After I got him off on the bus to LaGuardia, I went walking and did a bit of shopping. I put on the pedometer and noted that I logged more than 13,500 steps. This is the exercise I hoped to get. The trick will be to find the opportunity to get this many steps in every day.

The weather is beautiful today. While yesterday was full of the rain and wind of Ernesto, today is all sunshine and cool breezes. The windows are open - voices of classmates sitting on the stoop below my window float through the air. Considering that we are in the middle of Manhattan, it is extraordinarily quiet here. While car horns and alarms occasionally disturb the peace, it is not nearly as raucous as one might expect. What a great place to be.

Classes start on Wednesday, so there are still a few more days before the work of seminary begins in earnest. I have not quite figured out what I will do with my time until then. How pleasant to have unscheduled time.