Contributors to our blogs are faculty, alumni, and students of Seminary of the Southwest sharing their reflections from the context of a community of faith. We hope you enjoy reading, and we invite your comments.
Tonight we gather to welcome newcomers into our midst, to offer them membership in this community, to cast our gaze over the year that is ahead of us, and to remind ourselves of what we do and why we do it.
So first, a warm welcome to our students and families, to faculty, staff, and board members as we begin a new academic year. Welcome especially to our new students, who embark today on a journey of learning and formation. Welcome also to Dan Joslyn-Siemiatkoski, our new faculty member, who embarks on his own journey with a new community of colleagues, students, and friends. Welcome to Irit Umani, whose remarkable journey we celebrate this evening.
As I was preparing for this event I made a typo in an email, referring to this evening as “ma-tribulation” rather than “matriculation.” I assume this newly coined word was some mash-up of “my tribulation” or, perhaps, “more tribulation”—and, though Freud might think otherwise, I am convinced that my typo is no harbinger of apocalyptic doom. Exam anxiety, workload worries, relationship drama, soul-searching—yes; but all-things-coming-to-an-end kind of suffering—very unlikely.
It has been a pleasure to read all the various blog posts welcoming me to Southwest and offering advice on how to deal with the summer heat. As a former doctoral student noted, it really is a very warm and hospitable welcome that I think speaks well of Southwest’s core values.
Given that at the moment we are currently a one-car family, I have been taking the bus to work from where we live in Brentwood. No matter which route I take, I generally have to walk just under a mile either on the way to the school or back home. This has given me a lot of time to walk in the Texas heat. And as it happens when one walks, the mind tends to wander. Here I offer a Top Ten list of random thoughts about transitioning from cool, foggy summers of Berkeley to the blast furnace that is Austin.
Pausing for the Labor Day holiday gives us a chance to reflect on what this special day means for our seminary community. Labor Day traditionally symbolizes the end of summer. The day we commit to sweat out of our bodily systems all that barbecue consumed over the summer. The time we rise up from our prone and immobile positions to pray and read the Bible again in an upright manner. Labor Day presents an occasion for bemoaning or exulting the kickoff of the all-consuming college and professional football seasons. It’s the last moment we can enjoy our freedom from systemic discipline before a higher authority imposes on us a more regimented structure of classes, chapel, meals, study, and prayer.
Our Dean has said: “The Jesus Prayer may be said while immobile.”
Anyone who has studied the Prayer Book knows the difference between a permissive rubric and a strict rubric. The Jesus Prayer may - or may not - be said while immobile. The important thing in the summer in Austin is to remain immobile some of the time. The Jesus Prayer is optional. Other things you could do while immobile: someone could bring you a Shiner in a CamelBak, so you could suck your favorite cold beverage through a straw, without moving. Icees work, too. Just lie there and let someone bring it to you. Mmmmm.
Luckily for everyone, the prone position has fallen out of fashion in liturgical observance save for a few rare moments on Good Friday. Whew! But I think perhaps “reading the epistles in a prone position” is the Dean’s way of recommending an afternoon siesta. The siesta is a fantastic way to avoid the sweltering heat of the afternoon – unless you have a three hour post-lunch elective. Then it is sweet torture to fight against the drooping eyelids as you daydream about that quiet and cool basement corner of Booher library.
The world’s top scientists maintain that 89% of the human body is composed of water.1 What comprises the remaining 11%? While academics in the rest of the world still heatedly debate the answer, researchers at one of Texas’ top universities have irrefutably concluded that, for the subspecies of Texans known as “Austinites,” the primary ingredient in that elusive 11% is simple: it’s Shiner beer.
Sven von Ulrichson, a lead researcher in anthro-alchemical science here in Texas, writes in a recently published paper on the topic, “In my home country of Sweden, people have adapted culturally to deal with the cold. But in Austin, it appears that people have adapted biologically. It is not that Austinites are immune to heat, or that they sweat more efficiently than other Texans. Rather, the high frequency of Shiner beer occurrence allows Austinites not to care about the heat as much.”
In a concerted effort to prepare our new Church History professor for the rigors of summer in Austin our esteemed leader Dean and President Kittredge inaugurated this effort by providing a list of suggestions to keep cool in the summer. As our new professor moves from the moderate climes of the San Francisco Bay area and into the rattlesnake, cactus infested environs of Austin where air conditioning is a basic human right, we thought we would all pitch in with advice that helps us get through the heat of summer (May to October).
In particular, Dr. Kittredge offered this advice about cars: Never leave anything in your parked car: sunglasses, laptops, cell phones, boxes of chocolate, pets. Between May and October, no sleeping in your car.
This is all true. A metal box does not protect you from the heat, regardless of its color. However, what she failed to mention are the benefits of your outdoor oven, or as you may call it, your car.
I once heard a former dean of this Seminary describe Austin’s local catchphrase “Keep Austin Weird” as “America’s Least Necessary Municipal Slogan.” The truth is Austin is the kind of place that prides itself on its local color and local culture. It’s easy to find, but also easy to forget in all the hustle and bustle of modern life.
As I remember it, when I was growing up in Buffalo NY every summer had at least a few days when the temperature soared to the high 80s or more, a real heat wave, the dog days of summer. In those pre-Cambrian days when no one, at least not in my neighborhood, had air conditioning and life ground to a halt, motherly urges to go outside and play fell on highly resistant ears, or we went, slowly, with the journey halted on the front porch where we sat and watched the world go by.
Living next to a city park meant plenty of pick-up baseball games, and games of tag or "Mother May I" or walks to the nearby swimming pool, but we would have none of that, let alone pull out the roller skates. Even jacks seemed too demanding.
In last week’s blog, Dean Kittredge offered a few points of advice for the incoming professor of Church History. While I found most of her points to be colorful takes on staying cool in Austin, I must say that I feel like she got at least half of the first point wrong.