Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Stateside

One week can be a long time in politics. So far Shed in Princeton hasn't been the catalyst for any revolutions - apart from the revolution in his own life, perhaps.

I'm writing this from my top floor dorm room in Alexander Hall, Princeton Theological Seminary, on my brand new Toshiba Satellite Notebook. Ten days ago I was working on an old IBM desktop pc (Windows 98). I was in my little flat in Glasgow. Here I am today in the US, and finally in the 21st century with my laptop an' all. Part of me feels I've arrived - maybe it's just the jetlag still affecting my emotions.

It's going to be a great year. I've already started to make some good and interesting friends. I'm already fascinated by all things American. The huge 'Welcome to the United States of America' in the lobby at Newark Airport was matched by a huge advert for Accenture that used Tiger as an all American hero. Newark is the first airport I've been in where I had to pay for the use of a luggage trolley... but, New Jersey is the first place where I've seen baby changing facilities in male restrooms. One of those things must be progressive I guess.

For the last week I've been settling into Seminary life at PTS. About 25 international students are being oriented in all things necessary to survive 9 months here. I've been impressed by the care and thought that has gone into the program. We have been well looked after. For example, the canteen was closed over the weekend, so we each got $70 petty cash to spend on food (effectively, to cover only two meals, because we got breakfast boxes both days, and we were at two bbqs too.)

The seminary is pretty cool. The campus is smaller than I thought it would be. Opposite is me standing in the heart of it all, with Alexander Hall in the background. At the moment the place is pretty quiet, but it will get busier next week when all the normal students return to read Barth and stuff. I've already met some returning students, including my dorm deacons (Hudson and Jeff). These folks all seem fairly cool, young and sorted. I'm going to have to work real hard to fit in - but I'll try, even if I stop short of smoking a pipe. (Yes, that seems to be the cool seminarian thing to do!)

The place is just full of history. Perhaps I'm just too familiar with some of the figures of that history. But I get tingles when I read plaques with names like Hodge, Warfield, Green, Alexander, and Miller on them. I'm just not sure how many people here really understand or appreciate that legacy. Early days so far, but I've yet to meet anyone who really knows the work of these guys well.

Today is 9/11. In the last two days I've started to really notice stuff about the US. I had hoped to write about that in this first post, but I'll have to leave it until later. I'll leave you with my experience of church on Sunday morning. I heard a stirring sermon, critical of the powers that be, making mention of Iraq, Katrina, 9/11, lies, slavery. It was the first 'liberation' sermon I've heard where a really important question was asked, even if it was only in a passing comment: 'Who might God be against in our time?'

I think liberal and conservative preachers alike need to preach on this theme to recapture a prophetic spirit. 'Justice and peace' Christianity doesn't preach God's judgement on oppressive powerful people in our world. It tends to be hopelessly weak because it is tied to a universalism that guts its message of any relevance. All is ultimately pie in the sky for everyone, so why bother about today.

On the other side, conservatives are too concerned with saving a lost cause (the church in the West) to really speak the gospel message to a desperately needy world. If they gave up that cause they might find that people started to listen. After all, conservatives and liberals love to use the same prophetic texts - texts that speak of judgement, justice, hope, peace, and love. These texts speak about God too - I think most people have forgotten about him though - they certainly don't like to refer to 'him' - God is slowly becoming a concept rather than a named, personal being who feels, thinks, responds and acts because he cares. I will probably have to think again about the inclusive language debate, the gender question, and all those tiresome issues that strangle the spiritual life out of most of us in theological studies.

One conversation illustrated all this for me. After the service on Sunday morning, a man turned round to greet me. He asked if I knew anyone in Scotland with a peculiarly Scottish name (McEwan). This man himself was a McEwan. His family had come from a plantation in Tennessee, and the owner had been a McEwan, from Glasgow... The Scottish influence here Stateside is mixed, and it is still fermenting. I think I'm going to learn loads of stuff over the next 9 months, about history and theology, about the US and about other countries too, but mostly about myself. You have all been warned!

7 comments:

C G said...

Dave

Wonderful - can't wait for the rest!

C G said...

Hey Shed - enlarging the photo, I see I've got the same t-shirt!

Danny said...

In that case… Dave, I would strongly recommend customised t-shirts as your first step towards looking “cool, young and sorted”– something more in keeping with the trendy glasses!

Great post, lots of things for me to take issue with in the second half (given I’m such a girl!) Enjoy week two… but don't fit in too much!!

Simon Varwell said...

Congratulations on making it across, and I hope you continue to settle in. You're getting Americanised already if you're talking about being "oriented" rather than "orientated"!

Jonathan said...

'Images of perfection suntan and napalm'.

Have fun!

P.S. Did you also happen to notice that all airport staff in America have one thing in common? 3 guesses.

Cool - groovey - morning - fine

Am only (partly) teasing :-)

What church did you/ are you attending?
Did you get a placement sorted in the end?

Tips: In the USA (I have learnt this over the summer) they use punctuation quite differently. So remember to put quotation marks after periods in some cases....
Oh, and also switch from '...' to "..."
You may already know all this but typing it here makes me feel brainy anyway.

Tip 2: Cut back on sarcasm and irony. We found it funny, they won't.

Tip 3: Work out the correlation between pipe smokers/tobacco chewers at PTS and those who vote Republican on principle.

I am off to get a shower and continue my job of transcribing lectures on the Westminster Confession. Today is Chapter 17, 'Perseverance of the Saints'. It beats McDonalds anyway.

Take care.
JH

Keith Edwin Graham said...

it sounds brilliant - fascinated to see how it compares with Trinity, Glasgow.
Get reading the Barth - it's the only thing that will save you!!

Simon Spencer said...

Hi David, I'm glad that you are setting into seminary life at PMT. Just one question - what exactly do cool young seminarians smoke in their pipe?