Archive for academics

A Typical Bedtime in the Life of a PhD Student


SCENE: 11pm. Amanda has changed into her pyjamas,  turned out the lights, and has snuggled under the covers. Her eyes close and she looks forward to drifting off to sleep.


Manda’s Brain: Conway’s ameliorative punishment is significant because x, y, z. And its influence can be seen in a, b, c.

*Manda’s brain continues to recite an entire paragraph that would be perfect for Amanda’s paper.*

Amanda: Grrr. Really?! Now?

*Amanda rolls over and tucks the cover up over her head.*

*Manda’s brain begins to formulate the next paragraph.*

Amanda: Fine!

*Amanda throws off the covers and fumbles for the light switch, and with squinting eyes, opens up her laptop. Type, type, type.*

Amanda: There. Done. Now I can go to bed.

*Amanda shuts the laptop, turns off the light, and crawls back into bed.*

 brainManda’s Brain: You know, while we’re at it, here’s a beautiful paragraph for that other paper you’re writing.

Amanda: No. I’m going to bed. It is time to sleep. Be quiet.

Manda’s Brain: But this is really good.

Amanda: I don’t care.

Manda’s Brain: Yes you do care.

Amanda: Fine. I care. I’ll care more in the morning.

Manda’s Brain: No you won’t.

Amanda: Yes I will.

 Manda’s Brain: You know that abyss in “Inside Out” where thoughts and memories are annihilated?

Amanda: ….yeah…

 Manda’s Brain: That’s where I’ll punt this beautiful paragraph if you don’t get up right now and write it down.

Amanda: You wouldn’t do that. You’ll file it away, nice and safe, and I’ll remember it in the morning.

Manda’s Brain: Oh, I would so totally do it. You’ll be asleep. You won’t be able to stop me.

Amanda: I don’t care. I’ll come up with an even better idea tomorrow.

Manda’s Brain: Are you sure about that? Where did I put that writer’s block?

*Manda’s brain begins softly whistling.*

Amanda: You wouldn’t.

Manda’s Brain: Tomorrow’s your writing day, right? No classes. Just writing. You have big plans to get lots accomplished.

Amanda: You wouldn’t sabotage that! There’s only two weeks left in the semester!

Manda’s Brain: Found the writer’s block, now to set an alarm so that it activates at 8am and lasts til…oh I don’t know, how’s 24 hours?

Amanda: NO!!!! Fine. I’ll get up and write it down.

*Grumpily, Amanda throws off the covers, fumbles for the light switch and opens her laptop.*

Amanda: You know, I really hate you sometimes.

Manda’s Brain: You know you love me.

Amanda: Okay, what was the paragraph again?

Manda’s Brain: …oh wait…um…

Amanda: REALLY?!

Manda’s Brain: Hang on…I’ve got it…Oh right. Here we go!

*Amanda types out the paragraph, hits save, and shuts the laptop.*

Amanda: Are we done? Can I go to sleep now?

Manda’s Brain: Yup. All done.

Amanda: Are you sure? If I climb into bed, close my eyes and you start jabbering again, I’m going to ignore it. I don’t care if the idea ends up in the abyss of forgotten ideas to be annihilated.

Manda’s Brain: I’m sure. Go to sleep. I’ll be fine.

*Amanda turns off the light, climbs into bed, pulls the covers over her head and closes her eyes.*

Manda’s Brain: Hey Amanda.

Amanda: ….

Manda’s Brain: Do you worry about what people would think about this?

Amanda: You mean, do I worry about what people may think about the fact that I have internal arguments with myself?

Manda’s Brain: Yeah. What would your husband, the psychologist, say?

Amanda: *laughing* Are you kidding? We’re completely normal compared to him. At least this conversation is happening internally. When he’s in writing mode he paces back and forth and has the argument out loud. We’ve got nothing to worry about. Good night Manda’s Brain, I love you.

Manda’s Brain: I love you too. Good night.

The Latest Craze

Shhh. There’s a new thing that all the cool people are doing.

Have you heard about it? It’s all the rage.

But shhhh, we don’t want it to be publicized too widely because once the world hears about it there will be nothing but armchair moralizing by people who have never done it, or tongue-clucking by people who had done it years and years ago but have managed to forget how complex the ritual is.

This ritual happens all year round, but there are swells of participation usually clustered around the last week of November and first couple weeks of December, and again around the last week of March and into the first couple weeks of April.

Most often this ritual is done individually, without a partner, but what appears to be a lonely exercise is actually a synchronized activity performed by thousands of individuals simultaneously.

It happens in tiny cells that each consist of a desk, a bookshelf if you’re lucky, and an uncomfortable bed that looks older than dirt and feels even older.

It happens in tiny wooden carrels tucked at the ends of row upon row of narrow corridors, with walls plastered with signs that say “this is a quiet zone. No food allowed. Only drinks with tight-fitting lids permitted. Please silence all cell phones.”

It happens in coffee shops, where, for only a couple of dollars, you can sit for hours nursing a hot beverage that gives you the energy to perform this ritual into the wee hours of the morning, while making use of an essential prop called “free wifi” (which the coffee shop offers because all the other coffee shops offer it, but secretly they curse because it means that you stay for hours on end).

It’s a rather dizzying and tiring display of bluster, clumsy false starts and, more often than not, tears.

Two steps forward. Three steps back. One step forward and a couple of shuffles to the side.

Repeat the pattern, only not necessarily exactly the same. And this time, you make sure to keep an eye on the clock as its tick-tock rhythm forces you to complete the sequence of steps more quickly.

Two steps forward. Two steps back. Three steps forward and one shuffle to the side. Faster!

One step forward. Your breathing becomes laboured.

Half a step back. You can’t feel your hands or feet. Faster still!

Two shuffles to the side. Your vision begins to blur.

One twirl, a backflip and, finally, collapse into an over-dramatic bow.

It’s called the Paper Writing Waltz. #PhDYrOne

10 Reasons Christians Shouldn’t Read The Patristic Fathers #TBT

10. They’re boring. They don’t talk about anything interesting. Ever. And they are polite and never ever disagree with each other.

9. People were baptized naked. Yup. Naked. Oh my victorian/evangelical sensibilities!

8. What do you mean there were women in leadership in the early church?! Church Mothers? Desert Mothers? Everyone knows that the only biblical model for women is one where the woman is at home in high heels and has supper in the oven.

7. We may have our view of communion challenged. What do you mean they celebrated communion weekly? Everybody knows you should only celebrate it monthly otherwise it becomes stale and rote.

6. The Reformers read the Church Fathers and look at how badly that turned out for Christianity.

5. They wrote in Greek (which is too hard to learn) and Latin (which is a dead language).

4. If we read the Patristics we may come to find that the heroes weren’t always noble and honourable and the villains (heretics) weren’t always the bad guys.

3. Everyone knows that “communion of saints” only refers to this current generation.

2. Their issues are in no way our issues today. All of our issues theological and ecclesiological are brand new and have never been experienced by any other generation of Christians.

1. Karl Barth was heavily influenced by the Church Fathers and everyone knows that if Barth liked it it must be wrong!


This post was originally published 5/11/12 and is re-posted as part of #TBT (Throwback Thursday).


I received word that I got into my top two choices for PhD programs. After much prayer and discussion I have accepted the offer of admission to the conjoint PhD program in Theological Studies at Wycliffe College and the University of Toronto. In my admissions research proposal, I expressed my desire to continue my research on Karl Barth, specifically looking at his lectures on the Gospel of John (In my MA thesis I looked at Barth’s exegesis of John 1:14 and compared his original exegesis in these early lectures to three places in the Church Dogmatics where he once again exegetes this foundational verse that gives shape to his entire Christological method). As a result of that proposal, my PhD supervisor will be Dr. Joseph Mangina. I am excited and thankful for this opportunity. It’s going to be an interesting season of life as I embark on this new adventure.

Prayers would be appreciated as plans and preparations begin. As well, pray that I may get adequate funding. I received a scholarship that will cover my tuition but I still need to fund my living expenses (dorm, meal plan, flights back to Saskatchewan, etc.)

Wycliffe College Here I come!


Graduation Blessing: A Husband’s Prayer For His Seminary Wife

Grad letter and writers blockToday the seminary held a “Blessing of the Grads” chapel service. Each grad was honoured to have a blessing read out from a loved one. What follows below is Charles’ letter to me. I am so thankful for  a husband who has supported and actively encouraged this educational journey.


Amanda, as I have watched you tackle the challenges of graduate study while dealing with the challenges of work and home, I have been continually reminded what an privilege it is to be your husband.  You have been and continue to be a blessing to me and to our children.  My prayer is that God will open doors for you to develop the immense potential that we see in you.  My prayer is that our children will learn to understand what an amazing mother they have, and will look to you as an example of what a powerful woman of God can be.

Lord, make Amanda an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let her sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.


O Divine Master, Grant that she may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.



Adventures in Thesis Writing



I’m halfway through a two-week intensive thesis writing spree. Here are some of the things that I have observed about the thesis-writing process:

The EBSCO e-book reader sucks. I’ll say it again: The EBSCO e-book reader sucks. Sure it’s okay if you only need to pull a plum quote or two, thumb but if you want to read an entire chapter, or, heaven forbid, the entire book, the EBSCO reader is clunky, ugly and very user unfriendly. Yes, it does have a function where you can export sections to a PDF for convenient reading, but this usually only covers 15-25 pages. So you’re stuck reading the book on your laptop and the interface is so ugly that you usually get a headache from reading the book on the computer screen. And when you’re in the e-book reading and the system decides that you’re taking too long to read, if another person decides to read the e-book, you get booted from the system. It would be like if you had taken a book from the shelf and started to read it, and someone comes along and takes it right from your hands. What makes it worse, most libraries will not allow a patron to fill out an inter-library loan request to get a physical copy of the book if it is available as an EBSCO e-book.  After a day of complete frustration, I finally caved and ordered a copy of the book I was needing on Amazon. It should arrive in a week or so.


I’ve come up with the next episode of Castle: death by library stacks. The BR-BT section of the McMaster library (basically the Bible-Biblical Studies-Theology section) is on these moveable library shelves that all squish together when not in use. So what you do is you find the row that you need, press a button, and the shelves move so that you can walk down the row to find your book. Each time I walked down the row, I kept thinking that at any minute the system was going to reset itself, and I’d get squished between Christology and Hermeneutics. Death by stacks. Yup, definitely a good opening for an episode of Castle.


“Just one more source” becomes a great way to procrastinate from writing. Oh, I should look up just one more source before I start writing. Okay, now I should look up just one more source. Six hours and twelve “just one more sources” later means that not a single sentence was written. Are those “just one more sources” helpful? Sometimes. But those six hours could have been spent writing a page or two with the material already collected.


The writing chopping block looms over my shoulder constantly. My greatest fear is that when I submit this chapter to my supervisor he’ll say that I’ll have to reduce all that beautiful hard work, that took hours and hours, to one single footnote and then start again.


The more highlighters you have the better. I think I now own every single colour of highlighter ever created. They can turn the most boring source into a beautiful rainbow of whimsy. Trust me, this is important, because, oh my, some (most?) of these academic tomes are so dull they make normal dull look sharp and sparkly.


For all the hard work and stress that it is, I’m actually really enjoying the thesis writing process. Oh no! I’m doomed!




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Upcoming Barth Project

Jessica DeCou is working on a book on Karl Barth’s trip to the United States in 1962. She has launched a Kickstarter project to help fund her travel expenses to several library archives.

“A Fantastic Affair”: Karl Barth in America, look 1962 (a.k.a. “KBUSA” – under advance contract with Fortress Press, ISBN: 978-1-4514-6553-2) provides the first detailed chronicle of Barth’s sole visit to the U.S. in 1962. Barth arrived at a tumultuous moment in American history and found himself embroiled in some of the nation’s fiercest conflicts: touring prisons and inner city neighborhoods and meeting with communist groups, State and Defense Department staff, civil rights activists, business leaders, and White House officials – just to name a few. The book, therefore, will not only shed light on Barth’s later life and work, but also provide a snapshot of American culture in the early ‘60s – from the highest levels of government to the tourist cultures built along with and alongside the developing Interstate Highway System; from Seminary campuses to high security prisons; from Napa Valley to East Harlem.

Of course, completing this project requires extensive travel to various institutions around the country where relevant archives are housed. Research funding in the humanities can be difficult to come by these days, but I will not let that stop me!!  I’m turning to Kickstarter in the hope that, with your help, my research can continue unabated in order to meet my publication deadline (Summer 2014).

There are gifts for those who contribute to the project (yay for gifts!). You can pledge your support for this project here.


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On Writing a Thesis

thesis prayer

Your thesis proposal has been approved. You are now officially writing a thesis. You sit at your desk and the worries and doubts begin to overwhelm. All of the emotions and frustrations that you laughed at when reading PhD comics are suddenly no longer funny. How are you going to survive the next year of thesis writing?

1. Find some accountability. Maybe it’s about setting specific due dates and deadlines for yourself. But more useful is finding someone to sit down with once every couple of weeks, health who will ask you straight out “what you have done this week?” This person will most likely not be your supervisor. It could be another student who is also in thesis mode, cialis or someone who has previously written a thesis.

2. Just write something. The most paralyzing thing is a blank computer screen. The idea does not have to be fully developed before you put it on the screen. Even if it’s a half-formed thought, putting it on the screen (or on paper) will help get you started. Remember there is plenty of time to edit, re-write and rearrange (especially when your supervisor takes a red pen to your submitted chapter and slashes it to smithereens).

3. Stop researching. Sometimes research stops being useful and instead becomes a procrastination tool. Do you really need to track down one more book? Probably. But not right now. Get out of the stacks and start working with what you’ve already researched. You can, and will, get back to that “one more source” and you’ll have no problem incorporating it into what you’ve already written.

4. Print off and read what you’ve written. This is especially helpful if, like many people, you only have a few days a week devoted to thesis writing. By printing off what you wrote the session before, it is easier to pick up your train of thought and start jotting down notes of where you want to take your argument. It also can serve as an encouragement, “hey, what I wrote last week isn’t half bad.” And, there is something about reading your work on the printed page rather than off the computer screen that changes how you understand and respond to your writing.

5. Go for a walk. Sitting down with your thesis for eight hours at a time isn’t as productive as it sounds. Your body will need a break from sitting at the desk, and your brain will need a distraction. Break up your day by going for a mid-morning walk or by spending an hour at the gym. The exercise will clear your head allowing your afternoon writing session to be more productive.

6. Keep a notebook. It will be inevitable that on the days that you’re not working on your thesis, your brain will spin out the most brilliant argument that you just have to include in your chapter, usually at the most inopportune time like in the middle of family dinner, in the middle of a good night’s sleep, or while you’re at work. By keeping a notebook handy, you can jot down the idea so your brain doesn’t have to try to desperately remember the idea until your next writing day. Trust me, the brilliant thought you had on Monday will most definitely be forgotten by the time you sit down to write on Wednesday unless you write it down.

7. Turn off the Internet. A quick “I’ll just take two minutes to check my email, Twitter, news feed” inevitably becomes an hour…or two…or three.

Thinking About a Theology of Scholarship

No matter how my calling eventually gets worked out, sovaldi whether I end up continuing in my academic studies and going on to be a teacher of theology (either in a college or in the church), treat or whether I end up pursuing my theological passions through creative writing (either fiction or non-fiction), I know that my vocation is oriented towards a life of scholarship and research. I value, affirm and encourage Christians to pursue a “life of the mind”,[1] wherein we are called to think and meditate deeply on the Gospel of Christ and its power to transform not only individuals, but also communities, nations and cultures.

Christianity is smart, and it is mysterious, and serious theological reflection and scholarship allows a Christian, to paraphrase from Gregory of Nyssa, to participate in the never-ending ascent to God.[2] And so, I want to suggest that scholarship, especially theological scholarship, is inherently cross-shaped; it has both vertical components, those aspects that orient towards God, and horizontal components, those aspects that orient towards other people, both scholars and non-scholars alike. The three vertical components are scholarship as a response to God’s action, scholarship as a gift of grace, and scholarship as an act of worship. The horizontal component is scholarship as service to and within the community of faith.

In Evangelical Theology, Karl Barth writes that theology, and by extension, the theologian and Christian, respond to the work and event of the Divine Word. This response is not the same as the Word itself, for the human response of theology is always in light of the event of the self-revelation of God. As such, theology is totally dependent on God’s living Word.[3] The theologian, scholar, or teacher, cannot reveal or uncover God through the human striving of academic inquiry. It is because God has chosen to reveal Himself first that the theologian is able to even pursue contemplating the nature and existence of God. All theology, no matter which discipline (Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, etc), responds to the object of theology, which is God. This relationship between God and the theologian is inherently Chalcedonian. Both God and the theologian are bound together, united-but-distinct, each with their own task, wherein, God “commits, frees and summons the theologian to notice, consider, and speak of Him.”[4] This relationship is irreversible; the theologian cannot do what God does, and vice versa.[5]

Second, the work and call of the theologian is a gift of grace. Barth writes, “To become and be a theologian is not a natural process but an incomparably concrete fact of grace.”[6] And while some may say that this idea lends itself to a sort of arrogance, as if the theologian has been endowed, Barth is quick to point out that this gift of grace is a mystery, for “if anyone supposed he could understand himself as such a receiver of grace, he would do better to bid theology farewell.”[7] The response to this gift of grace is a response of gratitude. With this comes the need for humility. All of our theological presuppositions are grounded, not in the logical consistency of the theologian’s argument, but in the “reality of God’s self-communication to us in Jesus Christ.”[8] As such, theological statements “are true only in so far as they direct us away from themselves to the one Truth in God” and that Truth is Jesus.[9]

Third, theological scholarship can be, and is for many scholars, an act of worship. Research becomes not only a way to learn more about God, but also a way to delight in and praise the work of God. A life of scholarship is not a tedious choice, nor is it merely “busy work.” Instead, it is a way to marvel at the person and work of Christ, as well as to get “lost” in the amazing depths of Christian thought throughout the centuries. The act of research and scholarship not only shapes the mind of the theologian, but also orients and shapes the character, spirit and whole person to a position of humble worship in the presence of the Almighty. It is for this reason that the liturgy, that is, the rhythms and routines associated with scholarship and study, from the initial research, to painstaking formulation of a thesis, to publication, is important.[10] Of course, if the adage is true that “we worship what we love”, there is a danger for Christian scholars to begin to worship the act of scholarship itself, rather than the object of said scholarship. Scholarship is the liturgical tool that assists in worshipping God and not the god that is to be worshipped.

On the horizontal axis, scholarship must be done in and for the church. As T.F. Torrance notes, “The church constitutes the social coefficient of our knowledge of God” and as such theology “cannot but be a church-conditioned and church-oriented theology.”[11] It is impossible to do Christian theology apart from the community. The theologian must participate in the messiness and beauty of the church. As Barth notes, the theologian, as a member of the community of faith writing from within and for the church, “participates in its schisms and in its longing for unity, in its obedience as well as in its indifference.”[12]

It is this emphasis on the role of the community of faith on the life and work of the theologian that I am currently wrestling with as I contemplate future academic studies. There are few confessional schools within Canada that offer doctoral programs in theology. So the question becomes, can theological scholarship be done in a secular university?[13] And even if I can study theology under the guise of “Western Religious Thought” at a secular school, there is still the realization that theology cannot be abstracted from the life and service of the church. Torrance emphasizes this reality when he writes: “the matrix of Eucharistic worship and meditation upon the Holy Scriptures and evangelical experience in the fellowship and mission of the church” are where the “empirical and theoretical components in our knowledge of God are fused together.”[14]

Ultimately, the question becomes, what is a Christian scholar, or what does Christian scholarship look like? Christian scholarship is a life and a body of work that is grounded in, finds its identity in, responds to, and submits itself to the self-Revelation of God through the event and person of Jesus Christ.


[1] See for example, Richard Hughes, The Vocation of a Christian Scholar: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005).


[2] Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, trans. Abraham Malherbe and Everett Ferguson (New York: Paulist Press, 1978).


[3] Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, trans. Grover Foley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1963), 49.


[4] Ibid., 90.


[5] Ibid. This fits with Barth’s overall Chalcedonian pattern, for in the Church Dogmatics Barth emphasizes that the relationship between the Divine and human is one that cannot be reversed. That is, we can, and rightly do say “The Word became Flesh”, but we cannot say “The flesh became the Word.” See Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. Translated by Geoffrey Bromiley. Vol. I/2 (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 136.


[6] Ibid., 73.


[7] Ibid.


[8] Thomas F. Torrance, Reality and Evangelical Theology: The Realism of Christian Revelation (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 1982), 23.


[9] Ibid., 123.


[10] See, for example, James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), chap. 2.


[11] Torrance, 46.


[12] Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction, 80.


[13] Space is limited, but with this question comes the question of the inherent difference and conflict between Christian virtues and the virtues prized by the secular academic culture. See, for example, George Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 107.


[14] Torrance, 49.

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Evangelical Theological Society — Some Concluding Thoughts on the 2012 Conference

I have arrived home, cialis sale and have mostly recovered from the travel lag (slept 16 hours on Sunday). Thankfully the trek home wasn’t nearly as stressful as the trip down to Milwaukee, malady with only a 90 minute delay for my flight departing from Denver to Regina. As a way to wrap-up my series on my experience at ETS, no rx I wanted to offer some final, not necessarily connected, reflections.

First, I am very glad I went. It had been eight years since my last ETS conference, and it really is an amazing experience. Downtown Milwaukee was delightful, and I found some great (cheap) restaurants to eat at (which when you go to conference isn’t always the easiest thing to find).

Second, being as introverted as I am, I didn’t meet as many people as I probably could have, but those few that I worked up the courage to introduce myself to, were amazingly gracious. I was happy to meet Leslie Keeney, Jennifer Ellison and Marc Cortez from the blogosphere. And while I didn’t actively meet too many people, I did enjoy playing a fantastic game of “spot the scholar”.

Third, over the last couple of years there has been discussion about the lack of women in attendance at ETS. Indeed, Leslie and I both blogged about encouraging women to attend this year’s ETS. From what I observed, there were more women in attendance at the paper presentations then I have seen in the past. There were only a few papers that I attended in which I was the only female, but more often than not there was at least a handful of us, and given that some of the presentations I went to often had no more than a dozen in attendance, that’s saying something.

Fourth, and most importantly, the decision to have paper presentations Friday afternoon was a very bad idea. Many (if not most) people had left by noon Friday to get down to Chicago for SBL/AAR. I felt sorry for those who were presenting. In fact one paper presentation I went to Friday afternoon had only 2 people in attendance. As well, two papers I had planned to go to were canceled because the presenters had to catch a train down to Chicago. Hopefully this is only an issue this year, as ETS and SBL were held in two different cities. Next year both conferences will be in Baltimore, so  those presenting on the last day won’t be as abandoned as they were this year. (Does anyone know why ETS was in Milwaukee and not in Chicago?)

Given that I’m on a student budget I probably won’t be able to attend next year’s conference, but I’m planning to attend again in 2014 (in San Diego). And while several people have suggested that I flip to SBL, I really do like ETS. Maybe I’ll be able to take in both at 2014, but I wouldn’t trade ETS for SBL, at least not any time soon.



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