Wednesday, February 11, 2015

England

As promised, here are a few photos from my time in England a couple of weekends ago. England is a beautiful country and, in particular, York and Durham are two beautiful English cities.

My time in each was very short, but I got a small taste of both. You’ll see from the photos that the sun decided to shine during my time in York and retreated during my time in Durham.

This is York Minster, another stunningly elaborate European cathedral.

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York is home to one of the most photographed streets in the UK: The Shambles. I do it no justice with my photography, but neither did it inspire me as one might suppose it would given its popularity.

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The Old City of York is beautiful, though, and a place I would enjoy spending more time exploring.

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After leaving York I caught a train north to Durham, where my supervisor served as an Anglican Bishop in his previous life. The weather was horrid less than pleasant during my six hours in the town, so I spent quite a lot of time sitting in and exploring the cathedral. It was a good thing it was a Sunday. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside. This is the view from the rail station. My short time there was enjoyable, despite the weather, and not least due to its connections to Professor Wright.

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Here’s one shot of the Old City streets of Durham when the sideways rain had stopped for 30 seconds.

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The United Kingdom really does have some gems in it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Land of Leprechauns

Thanks for all the emails and messages of congratulations and well-wishes!

In less exciting news, I’ve done a spot of traveling recently. After submitting the thesis I made a quick weekend trip to England, and then last Wednesday, one week ago today, I added country #27 to my slowly expanding list: Ireland. (You know life is good when traveling to a new country is less exciting than something else!) Along with leprechauns, gold, and four-leaf clovers, Ireland is the home of two strikingly handsome cousins: Levi and Luke… and their parents Justin and Jessica. We Goransons have some pretty great genes, wouldn’t you say? 

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Because I’m still here, I’ll make this post about my time in Ireland and do a subsequent post with some photos of England.

I’ve been in Ireland for one week today and, sadly, will say ‘goodbye’ to my newly introduced cousins tomorrow. But it has been a great week, filled with all kinds of adventures: from exploring ancient monastic ruins and touring Dublin to re-entering the chaotic magical world(s) of toddlers. Forget the pot of gold; here in Ireland and in this home, silence is golden.

Here are a few sights/experiences from my time here in neighbouring Ireland:

Other than meeting my wee cousins for the first time and reuniting with Justin and Jessica, one of the highlights of my time here came on the first day. I managed to squeeze onto a tour of three significant biblical papyri, P45-47, at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin. These three papyri, which are (respectively) the four Gospels and Acts, the collection of Paul’s letters, and sections of Revelation, are some of the oldest extant manuscripts of the New Testament texts, dating back to c. 200-400 AD. That’s nearly two thousand years ago, people. Two thousand. Pretty cool. Photos weren’t allowed, as you can imagine, but here’s a link to the website if you want to see what they looked like.

This is St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It is smaller than most, but the  banners overhanging the choir stalls and the tiled floor add a colourful dimension not often found in Europe’s cathedrals.

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One of the many bridges of Dublin at sunset.

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This is at Trinity College, where the Book of Kells—a Latin copy of the four Gospels—resides. It was  created in c. 800 A.D. by monks on Iona, one of the western Scottish islands, before being moved to various places in Ireland when Viking invaders crushed the monastic community on Iona. Photos weren’t allowed, but trust me when I say, the Book of Kells is a stunning masterpiece, especially considering the when and where of its creation.

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This is the Old Library at Trinity College. There were old books, old books, and more old books.

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One of the stained glass windows at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, which is otherwise unworthy of mention.

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My hosts have graciously taken me on several smaller outings during my stay here, but the big outing of our time together was last Saturday. It was, weather-wise, one of the most beautiful days of my time here across the Irish Sea. With an un-Irish early start, we wound our way to Glendalough (‘Valley of Two Lakes’), a village nestled in the Wicklow Mountains just south of Dublin. There a monastic community was formed some 1500-odd years ago, part of which still exists, at least in fabric if not in function.

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Graveyard and chapel with Glencalo Valley in the background.

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Lower Glendalough Lake

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Goransons reunite!

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I’ve had a wonderful time here in the Land of Leprechauns, reuniting with family and meeting some of its newest—and certainly wildest—members.

Stay tuned for some sights of York and Durham next!

Friday, January 23, 2015

of faithfulness and graciousness

The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds (Psalm 145:13b).

Twenty years ago this year I became a Christian.

Sixteen years ago I was baptized.

Fourteen years ago I started at Crown College.

Ten years ago I moved to Kyrgyzstan.

Nine years ago I started at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

Six years ago I became the pastor of Mount Republic Chapel of Peace.

Four years ago I started at the University of St Andrews.

This year I will be twenty years a Christian and will complete the PhD.

And in all of it, the one lesson I have learned, which I have carried with me these twenty years and which I carry still, is that God is faithful and gracious. Upon beginning each new adventure, I never knew where it might lead to, but I trusted that God himself would lead me into it. Over the last fifteen years, God has led me on some pretty remarkable adventures: from Minnesota to Lithuania to Kyrgyzstan to Massachusetts to Montana to Scotland, with shorter travels to and adventures in 26 other countries and 40 states in between. I wouldn’t change a minute of any of it.

And now, on the twenty year anniversary of my Christian faith commitment, God continues to lead. He continues to show his faithfulness and grace to me in ways unexpected, surprising, and previously unfathomable.  Most recently, he has done so by giving me a glimpse of my next great adventure: the beginning of the rest of my life.

As you know, I spent the month of November applying for jobs, doing Skype interviews, and even an on-campus interview at the start of December. The majority of these labors end in rejection for students like me; there are just too many PhD-holders and too few university openings. The academic job market is grim, to say the very least.

But God has looked on me with grace.

He has unfolded the map of the next leg of my life’s journey. And not only has he graciously told me what I’ll be doing and where I’ll be going, but both the what and the where are more perfect ends to my goals than I could ever have imagined.

Whitworth Winter

Come July 2015, I will be an Assistant Professor of Theology (Biblical Studies) at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. 

I know. Crazy, right?

My time there at the beginning of December went swimmingly, and from day one, Whitworth and Spokane felt like home—the kind of long-term, earthly home I long for. The theology faculty felt like a family, and the students reminded me of myself at that age. Throughout the three days, as I interacted with faculty, students, and administration alike, I had the overwhelming sense that God could use me and the gifts he has developed in me in that place. I prayed that he would do so; and, as he has done these twenty-plus years now, God heard and answered that prayer.

Whitworth University is an undergraduate, liberal arts institution with approximately 2,300 students from a variety of countries, states, denominations, and even faith backgrounds. It prioritizes the education of students’ minds and hearts, academic freedom to ask the difficult questions currently plaguing the Church and scholarship, and, with faculty from diverse denominations, it seeks to uphold and embrace Christian unity among diversity. The ecumenical but evangelical values of the institution make Whitworth a rather unique Christian liberal arts college. ‘For the 15th consecutive year, Whitworth was ranked in the top 10 in U.S. News & World Report's rankings of the 120 best private colleges and universities in the West’. It is truly a top-notch university, and one that I feel honoured to be invited to join.

Whitworth University’s campus is beautiful, with red brick buildings under the canopy of towering Ponderosa Pines.  It is situated on the very edge of Spokane and, on a clear day, Mount Spokane is visible in the distance. Among other things, its location and atmosphere fit me perfectly. And at only 8.5 hours away, it is one of the closest Christian Colleges to Cooke City, which means that some of you will now never be rid of me. That, in my mind, equals success! 

I am still in a state of shock. To think that God has blessed me with a job before the PhD is even finished, and at such a school and in such a location as this, is mind boggling. But I am so grateful to know the next step, and to know that it is a step that will bring with it the opportunity to put down roots, to build long-term community, to teach, mentor, and be part of scholarship, and finally to have a place officially to call ‘home’.

Thank you for all of your prayers. The Lord heard them and answered them. I know he did mine.

The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds (Psalm 145:13b).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nearly Finished

Something big happened today.

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That ‘little paper’ I’ve been working on for the last three years… I officially submitted it to Registry. It was 226 pages long (1.5 spaced!). Just think… 226 pages on 1/3 of a verse! And there was so much more that could have been written.

So what does ‘submission’ mean? Am I done yet? Well, not quite. ‘Submission’ means that I can no longer make any changes to the dissertation before my viva, the oral exam, which I’m anticipating will occur sometime in March. It means that the dissertation I submitted today will be sent to my two examiners, one here in St Andrews and the other who lives in Edinburgh. They have 6+ weeks to read it before they conduct my viva. I’m still waiting to hear about an exam date.

Until then, there is much to be done, beginning with taking a short holiday! I’m heading down to England for a quick trip this weekend, and next week will head West to Dublin! My cousin and his family moved there this autumn, so now’s my chance to visit them. When January is over, so will be my break. I’ll spend February preparing for the viva, which will primarily entail re-reading what my examiners have written and re-learning what I wrote in the dissertation. Shouldn’t I know it all already? I did write it, after all. Probably. But there are thousands of unimaginable details, people, and I need to be prepared to talk about and defend them all.

So now I wait for the viva. Waiting seems to be the game I’m forced to play these days. Hopefully I’ll have updates in the next week or so on anything that might come after the viva. Hoping and waiting, and waiting and hoping. I’m learning that I’m not nearly as patient as I think I am. One of the many lessons of life we’re forced to learn.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What I’ve Learned

Over the last few days, I’ve learned a number of things. First, campus interviews are exhausting. Between the meetings, lectures, lunches, dinners, tours, and formal interviews, one after another after another, there is little time even to notice the fact that your body clock is still adjusted to 8 hours ahead. I woke up Wednesday morning feeling rested and ready to perform, only to be taken to the airport to return home. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, however, were spent in a cloud.

From this campus interview, I learned that the school is everything I had hoped it would be. It offers diversity amidst Christian commitment and freedom of inquiry amidst orthodoxy. The students whom I met are all enthusiastic about the school, the community, the faculty, and are grateful to study there. The administration is supportive of the faculty and are strong visionaries for the school. And the faculty, particularly the theology faculty, seems to be a body of believers dedicated to collegiality, mentorship, scholasticism, and their role as theological educators. They are all brilliant professionals (cue ‘imposter syndrome’), and yet seem as gracious and kind as one can get. I would be honoured to serve the school and the department with them if they offered.

I learned that the location of the school is in a region which fits me and would be a place that I could put down roots—literally and metaphorically.

There were also confirmatory lessons. My love for undergrads, the liberal arts, teaching, and mentoring were confirmed. After both lectures, one on the missionary journeys of Paul, designed for undergrads, and one on my research, designed for a broader audience, both students and faculty commented positively on both the content and my style and ease of delivery. The experience confirmed for me that I do, in fact, belong on a college campus such as this.

I’ve also learned that campus interviews can be too enjoyable. By this I mean that an interview can go so well that the candidate can easily be too confident. My three days of all-day interviews went very, very well; so well that I need to remind myself that another candidate is still to interview and the job is not yet mine. No matter how good the interview went, I cannot get attached, either to the school, the people, or the place. I need to keep the school and the possibility of serving there at an arms length. In this case, this will be difficult to do.

And now I wait. The final candidate does his/her thing early next week, after which the search committee will make their decision which they will pass on to the administration to make official. I’m told that I should know before Christmas, assuming that the administration doesn’t do what administrations are known to do: drag their feet.

Thank you all for your prayers. They were heard and felt. Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday each had God’s blessings written all over it, and, in part, that’s thanks to you. I will pass on any news when I receive it. Until then, there’s a PhD to finish!

Friday, December 05, 2014

Fingers Crossed

If you’re reading this sometime on Saturday, then I’m probably currently sitting at 30,000 ft. on an aeroplane heading West, perhaps somewhere over the Atlantic. I’m heading to my first on-campus interview. Fingers crossed, it will be my only on-campus interview. This is the result of one of two interviews I had back in mid-November. I continue to await the results of the second (though I’m not terribly confident that it will amount to much).

The school to which I am headed is a top-notch school, and one that I would be honoured to serve at. I hesitate to say where it is just yet; I do enjoy a good surprise. Let’s just say though, that, according to the information I’ve been able to glean about the school and the location, it seems to be a great fit, and I can imagine myself being there for many years to come. What a novel idea!

So, if you’re a prayer, say your prayers for me on this upcoming Monday and Tuesday, December 8th and 9th. On Monday I will give a lecture to an undergraduate group of students and on Tuesday I will present a public lecture on the topic of my research here. Throughout the two days I will also meet with the President, Provost, Dean, Chaplain and a slew of other people. And every moment of every day I will be assessed.

Pray that God’s sovereign plan would be fulfilled. Pray that that sovereign plan would include me landing a job at this school. Pray that my heart for teaching, mentoring, and challenging students of diverse backgrounds and experiences will be evident to all. Pray for confidence and for clarity of communication. In a week’s time I will either be an upcoming Assistant Professor or be back at square one. Pray that God would prepare me for either outcome.

Friday, November 07, 2014

An Update or Two

Has anyone ever asked you: ‘If you could have one super power, what would it be?’ It’s often one of those ‘ice-breaker’ questions posed at tables or in small groups at various gatherings. Right now my elected power would be to have mastery over time, the ability to slooowww doowwwwnnn time and the ability to speeditup. The ability would be particularly handy these days—these days that are, blimey, now called ‘November’.

The weeks here are simultaneously long and short, and 9 times out of 10 are marked by rigid routine and an overwhelming sense of the mundane. The mornings are dedicated to completing the PhD and the mind-numbing process of dissertation revision which accompanies it. My dissertation has seven chapters in total: an introduction and conclusion plus five main chapters. The introduction and conclusion are completed, as  are 2.5 of the 5.  Given this progress, The Supervisor and I have recently started discussing potential examiners for my viva (oral defense) in the spring. It’s a stage I’ve only imagined until now. The end is in sight.

The afternoons are dedicated to my continuing role as the University of St Andrews Study Skills Tutor. From 2-5 each day I meet with students 1-on-1 to discuss proper formats for essays, lab reports, and critical reviews. Sometimes we chat about time management skills, how to read effectively, or how to take good notes. This semester my role has expanded to leading workshop sessions in the School of Medicine and in Professional Development courses designed for the undergraduate body.  It’s a good thing I’m already somewhat used to having fifty heads looking at me; though those Sunday mornings at MRCP are gradually beginning to feel like a distant life. Tutoring and leading the workshops is enjoyable work and helps me to buy my weekly lentil supply. The down side, however, is that 15 hours a week does add up and, if I’m determined to meet my PhD submission goals, it means these hours must then be made up for at night. The ability to slow down the days would certainly be quite handy just now.

These days are further characterised by the ever-looming job hunt. Between getting groceries, cleaning, cooking, churching, fellowshipping, and, oh ya, relaxing, my Sundays are spent writing applications for various open positions around the country. And, yes, for teaching jobs you ‘write’ applications. There are no fill-in-the-blank, one-page applications: there are cover letters and Curriculum Vitae’s tailored to each school, 1—3-page essays on faith statements and how your goals align with that institution’s mission and values; there are teaching philosophies, evidence of scholarship potential, evidence of good teaching, writing samples, and anything else under the sun about which the search committee might want to know. It gets a little ridiculous, especially since (1) the search committee members don’t have the time to read it all; (2) the applicant doesn’t have time to write it all; (3) the majority of the applicants whose CV’s go straight to the bin (for many reasons) won’t even have their essays read.

Fortunately for me, a couple of the schools to which I’ve applied have read my letters/CV/essays/etc. and have advanced me to the next round. This past week I had a Skype interview with a top-notch university on the West coast and am now scheduled for a follow-up (aka much longer) Skype interview with them in mid-November. Likewise, the school to which I applied last winter but which had to suspend its hiring process has now resumed the search. They, too, have requested a Skype interview in mid-November. Both universities would be excellent places of employment. I’m still a long way from having the job and still have a significant amount of competition, but it puts me leagues ahead of the chap whose CV (and thus essays) went straight into the bin. At this point, I have no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing one year from now, but I trust that God does and that he’ll direct my steps through open doors.

‘But what do you do for fun?’ you ask. The answer: not much. Somehow finishing the PhD and getting a job seems far more worthy of my time than having fun. Not to worry your pretty little heads though; I do rest and I do enjoy life; I do find time to have coffee and lunch with friends. To ensure some element of ‘fun’ in my life, I’m forcing myself to ‘bake through’ The Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes Cookery Book that I found on Judith’s shelf. It was compiled in 1960. They didn’t need instructions back then like we seem to need now.

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Thus far I’ve made a Treacle Tart, a Rhubarb Charlotte, and my first steamed pudding: Carrot Pudding. (Note: I’m not talking ‘Jello-O’; ‘pudding’ here denotes ‘dessert’.)

My Treacle Tart

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Steamed Carrot Pudding

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Judith had to walk me through the steaming process…

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The highlight of every week remains a Skype date with The Soldier. He’s doing well, particularly now that the desert heat has lowered from the constant 105 F average to the mid-high 70’s. Other than a last minute day trip to Baghdad the other week to repair a broken auxiliary pump (don’t ask me), his days are about as mundane as mine. If it were a competition, we’d be neck and neck—a sad thought, given that we both live in foreign countries just now!

All in all, life is good. The work is progressing, the future is drawing ever nearer, and God remains as faithful as ever. Not much to complain about, really.