Surviving Seminary

Living in (Academic) Community

  1. Library Citizenship [October 26, 2012]
  2. Reality Check [January 18, 2013]
  3. Effective Note-Taking [January 25, 2013]
  4. Fundamentals of Intellectual Property [February 8, 2013]
  5. Civility [February 15, 2013]
  6. Building a Pastor's Library [April 5, 2013]
  7. Copyright in the Local Church [April 12, 2013]
  8. Documenting Your Ministry [April 19, 2013]
  9. What Bridwell Library Can Do for You after Graduation [April 26, 2013]

Library Citizenship [October 26, 2012]

With the first crunch of the fall semester over, the time seems ripe for explaining some of Bridwell Library’s less transparent procedures, so that you all can fulfill your potential as conscientious library citizens. For example, most everyone understands that it is much better to highlight a photocopy of a reading than to highlight in the actual library book. But many might not realize that removing Post-It notes before you return a book helps save staff time and also prevents long-term accumulation of acid residue on the tagged pages.

A lot of confusion also arises over the question of whether patrons should re-shelve the books they have pulled from the shelves, or simply leave them out. The answer is that books should be left out or placed in “to be shelved” areas. Our student staff circulates through the library every hour and scans each book before they re-shelve it to capture usage statistics that help staff with collection development. They have also been drilled in the intricacies of call number order and are obliged to strive for accuracy in re-shelving. So the best method for insuring that you and your classmates will be able to find a specific title again is to leave the shelving to staff.

Finally, with larger paper assignments coming due, tensions begin to run a little high. Please respect the need for everyone to have equal access to the resources they need. Promptly return recalled books, and spend only as much time as necessary with the KIC scanner and lab computers.

Reality Check [January 18, 2013]

Sadly, a Stradivarius does not make a better violinist, a Porsche does not make a better driver, and K2’s do not make a better skier. Elite equipment requires elite skills and can sometimes cause those who are not ready for it to perform more poorly than they would with appropriate choices. The goal is to have equipment that is suitable for one’s skill level but provides room to grow. It takes time, discipline and dedication to excel at any skill. The same applies to academic skills. Unfortunately, we humans are prone to magical thinking and sometimes marketers exploit that tendency. So let’s review a few realities:

  • The Bible database loaded with hundreds of versions including the textual apparatus tracking every known early manuscript of the Biblical texts is not the best place to start the journey to becoming a better exegete and preacher. All that whiz-bang can mislead and overwhelm you if you don’t have the understanding and exegetical skills to exploit it. Learn to do exegesis step-by-step with manual tools so that later you will know how to contextualize and spot any shortcomings or oddities in the results the software presents.
  • The computer has yet to be designed that can improve your writing for you. A word processor may help you manage tricky things like formatting footnotes more quickly and easily but it is only a tool to make the process of writing more efficient. It can’t do anything for you that you cannot do for yourself. Software does make mistakes and you have to have the smarts to catch them. So choose hardware and software that you are comfortable working with and not what the tech geeks think is cool.
  • Owning the finest scholarly editions won’t help you if you don’t read them or can’t understand them. The librarians and faculty at Perkins are eager to help you develop your understanding and theological sophistication but they understand that it is a process best taken in manageable steps. Most faculty members provide bibliographies of suggested reading in their course syllabi and librarians can help identify tools such as introductions, guides, lexicons, translations, and synopses to aid understanding. Both are more than willing to help you identify tools that address your needs.

Yes, you should aspire to elite tools but don’t expect the tools to do the job. That’s up to you. Keep in mind that you will be better served (and probably save money) if you invest in tools that fit you now. Don’t worry. You’ll outgrow them faster than you expect.

Effective Note-Taking [January 25, 2013]

Note-taking is personal, idiosyncratic, and determined by whatever format works best for you, whether you are writing on paper or entering information into a word document, a personally designed table, or a bibliographic software program. Any system you are comfortable in using consistently will do. What follows are a few ways to improve whatever system you are using already:

First, unless you plan to go back to summarize and refine the passages you have marked, it is best to avoid highlighting. On its own, highlighting has proven less effective than almost any other kind of note-taking because it helps least in the processes of understanding and retaining information. And, be honest, how often do you ever return to review highlighted text?

The fundamental factor in achieving good notes is to shove in your clutch and engage the gears of your brain while you read or listen to a lecture. Contrary to what you may have observed, you cannot read or listen effectively while browsing Facebook, so step one is to pay attention. As you read/listen, determine what information is truly relevant. Look for key concepts, themes, and terms.

Clues to concepts and themes can be found in your syllabus, where your professors have painstakingly typed their overall goals and themes for the course. Ask yourself how this information fits into the overall direction and emphasis of the course.

Another clue is that writers and lecturers use repetition for emphasis; anything worth saying is worth saying twice.

Finally, your notes should summarize with concision the key points of a lecture or reading; they should not be a verbatim transcription. Summarization not only keeps your notes manageable, it also quickly reveals which points you understand and which you do not. Translating the subject matter into your own words becomes remarkably difficult when the concepts are murky.

Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts to learning. There are, however, efficiencies. Efficient and effective note-taking are perhaps the best investments of your time that you can make.

Fundamentals of Intellectual Property [February 8, 2013]

We have been warned about “academic honesty” and the necessity of proper “attribution.” Let’s take a step back and think a bit about how ideas work in human society in conjunction with the concept of “intellectual property.”

In human society, we deal with ideas. Ideas work something like viruses. Once someone shares one with someone else, they are “infected.” In some sense, the idea is theirs as well, although they didn’t originate it. Some ideas become so pervasive that they form part of our culture. They can feel so innate that we don’t even think of them as ideas anymore. In some sense, an idea isn’t really an idea until it is expressed and thus shared with others. New ideas are built on the foundation or in reaction to existing ones. All of us who work in ideas stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.

Some ideas have material value. They can lead to a product that is marketable and make money. Since at least the nineteenth century, laws have been created to protect the rights of the one who originates an idea or at least puts it into formal expression so that she can legitimately profit from the idea, from her “intellectual property.” These include copyright and patent laws. However, even these laws protect the originator’s rights only for a limited time because they recognize the nature of ideas and that in order for new ideas to be developed, we must be able to use existing ideas freely.

Even when an idea has long since passed into the “public domain” or even if the person who formulates the idea wishes no compensation for using the idea, we have a moral obligation to give credit where credit is due. So when we use the ideas of others in our own work, particularly when we use the exact expression that they created, we need to acknowledge that it was someone else’s work. This is why we cite the original when we quote a text. Even if we are retelling another individual’s ideas in our own words, we should acknowledge the person we are paraphrasing. Perceiving when this second type of attribution is necessary can be a tricky discernment, so we need to be seriously attentive to our sources when we work. Attribution is both a form of honesty and of courtesy to our intellectual forebears. One we hope our successors will extend to us.

Civility [February 15, 2013]

According to the co-founders of the Institute for Civility in Government (http://www.instituteforcivility.org/), Cassandra Dahnke and Tomas Spath, “Civility is claiming and caring for one's identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else's in the process.” I would push that definition further by revising it to say, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs while respecting those of others in the process.” In academia, we must engage in discussion of charged and controversial topics in order to grow in knowledge and understanding. That can prove challenging and uncomfortable and if we do not take care, we risk wounding other members of our community whose ideas differ from our own. Particularly in a Christian context, we must be mindful of how the way we use words and ideas will impact others. Practicing civil discourse here at Perkins is also good preparation for dealing with controversial issues in other settings, including the church.

Practicing civility in controversy is not easy, especially if we have a deep commitment to our own positions. Here are some starting points:

  • Recognize that the purpose of the discussion is to understand and to be understood, not to change the people we are in dialogue with. This may seem counterintuitive because the point of argument is often persuasion but at least in the academic setting, it is more important to understand the various positions and why people hold them than to “win” the argument. The more charged the topic, the more true this is.
  • State your case in terms of your own experiences, observations, beliefs and convictions and explain why you find them compelling and how they differ from those you hear being expressed by the others in the discussion.
  • Avoid labeling either people or positions by using pejorative or negative terms. Attacking a person rather than a position (You only say that because you’re a man!) is known as an ad hominem argument and is unacceptably flawed in multiple ways. Never respond in kind if you are the target of an ad hominem attack.
  • Cherish the privilege of membership in this open and diverse community where debate is encouraged. Few people worldwide enjoy this freedom.

This is the barest introduction to a critically necessary set of skills. To learn more about civil discourse, see:

Building a Pastor's Library [April 5, 2013]

It’s never too soon to begin building your professional library, and since the majority of our Perkins students intend to enter either the ministry or academia, it’s actually essential to do so. Books, journals, etc.—regardless of format—are the tools of your chosen trade. You need to select them wisely, with a minimum of expense and a maximum of deliberation. Not every resource deserves a spot in the (probably) limited real estate of your shelves or hard drive. Certainly not every resource deserves to accompany you on every move.

If you plan on doing a lot of exegetical work in your future, then Bibleworks is a product you should consider. Imagine the whole biblical studies section of Bridwell’s Reference Room reduced to one compact disk. It is relatively expensive (over $300) but student discounts are available, so you might consider a purchase prior to graduation. You can test drive it on one of Bridwell’s computers to see if you like it. Be warned, though, it does not work or play well with Macs; for Apple products try Accordance.

Other electronic products for which individual subscriptions are available include Ministry Matters (try it first through SMU’s Online Resources) and the Alban Institute. For the busy pastor who may find listening to a book easier to schedule than reading one, Audible.com is the standard source for downloadable audio books. While its catalog is not deep in theology, it is improving and more theological publishers are producing audio editions. These resources are especially helpful if your church budget will cover the annual subscriptions. If money is an issue, consider forming a group of alums or other pastors to share resources after graduation.

Finally, for print materials check out Abebooks.com. It features a wish list that sends you an email alert when the title you want, with the attributes and the price you have designated, becomes available. This system is far superior to Amazon’s wish list. For those who have grown fond of Half Price Books during their sojourn in Texas, the chain has recently created an online store with an advanced search engine. These are also good options for current materials that you may have seen reviewed in Christianity Today or other professional publications. Later this month we will discuss resources that will be available to you after graduation, including full-text material (like book reviews) from the ATLA Religion Database

Copyright in the Local Church [April 12, 2013]

Did you know that the law does not exempt churches from copyright compliance except in very limited ways? This unattractive bit of news has worse implications: As ministers you, too, will have to be familiar with copyright law. Sound like a headache? It can be!

“Copyright” is a set of rights assigned by law to the originators of creative works to protect their ability to benefit from their work. Copyright applies to virtually any creative work that can be recorded in fixed form, including texts, music, photographs, films, and videos. While relatively simple in concept, copyright becomes complex in reality because copyright holders can sell or license specific rights, which makes knowing who owns copyright for a specific work a challenge. Also, the period of copyright is limited but the law permits copyright of derivative works such as musical arrangements, so knowing what is and what isn’t available for use without permission can be a real conundrum. While nothing prevents you from infringing copyright, the rights holder can bring suit for damages (not to mention that morally, it is a form of theft).

Unfortunately, many common church practices are potentially illegal, that is, they infringe the copyright owner’s rights. For example:

  • Making multiple photocopies of a printed musical piece for choir rehearsal and performance
  • Using photographs from the Internet as part of a slideshow for a sermon
  • Making and distributing DVDs of worship services that include musical performances and/or images taken from copyrighted sources

For most local churches, the practical solution is to use commercial licensing services such as Christian Copyright Solutions (http://www.christiancopyrightsolutions.com) that permit local churches to contract for copyright permissions for specific uses from a number of organizations representing copyright holders. However, copyright is a complex matter and it is worthwhile to understand both your rights and your obligations under the law. Here are some helpful resources:

Copyright Law for Religious Organizations / Pitts Theology Library, Emory University: https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/scholcomm/copyrightandpublishing/copyright-and-religious-organizations/ Copyright and the Church / The United Church of Christ: http://www.ucc.org/music-arts/copyright-and-the-church.html The United States Copyright Office: http://www.copyright.gov.

Documenting Your Ministry[April 19, 2013]

Guest Author—Timothy S. G. Binkley, Archivist, Perkins School of Theology

For many (if not most) church leaders, doing ministry is most important. Documenting your ministry is an afterthought, at best. While documenting is not more important than doing, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage members of the Perkins community to make thoughtful recordkeeping a natural part of their ongoing professional service.

Why document your ministry?

  • For transparency. Many church members wonder what pastors actually do with their time. Quantifying ministry activities can help clarify the value of your ministry.
  • For accountability. Some ministry records may be needed as evidence of meeting denominational or legal requirements.
  • For job satisfaction. Do you ever think you are not achieving anything in life? Look back at the records of your service to the church, community, and denomination each year. You have undoubtedly touched more lives than you realized.
  • For family history purposes. Your children may not be interested in the details of your ministry, but your grandchildren are likely to find it fascinating!
  • For religious and local history purposes. As a historian, let me assure you that ministers are history makers! Your ministry makes a difference.

Where to start

  • Begin with intentionality. Decide to add recordkeeping to your daily routine. It will save you time and angst later.
  • Collect data in formats that you find comfortable. If you are keeping written records, use blank journals, create a special binder, or look for pre-printed forms. If you are saving records electronically, back up your data regularly.
  • Keep your records in a secure office and/or locked cabinet, protected from direct sunlight and temperature and humidity extremes.

What to document

As you review paper or electronic records for archiving, ask these questions:

  • Do I need to report this data to others?
  • Might I need this data to advance my career?
  • What details about my ministry might I want to remember in the future?

Here are some examples of the kinds of records that you might want to collect, preserve, and utilize:

  • Local ministry details such as baptisms, confirmations, weddings, funerals, visitation, sermons preached, classes led, and writings published;
  • Community, regional, and denominational ministry statistics;
  • Evidence of fulfilling your fiscal responsibilities at the church (i.e., the caring fund); and
  • Personal records such as diplomas, ministerial credentials, business and personal correspondence, photographs (with names, dates, and events noted), memoirs, and your own funeral service plans.

What Bridwell Library Can Do for You after Graduation[April 26, 2013]

Many of you will be graduating in a few weeks. Some of you are wondering what you will do for library resources once you move out of the city, the county, or even the state. Bridwell Library has some programs for our graduates that might take the sting out of saying good-bye.

First, Bridwell Library will always be your library. Feel free to call on David Schmersal, Jane Elder, or any of the rest of the library staff at any time. We are always happy to help with your questions, and we are always delighted to hear from our graduates. You can contact us via email (bridref@smu.edu), phone (214-768-4046), or even Facebook (David at Bridwell Reference or Jane at Bridwell Reference).

Next, Bridwell Library offers graduates a free service called ATLAS for Alums. ATLAS is the full-text component of the ATLA Religion Database, meaning that you will have access to all of the full-text articles ATLA offers. You can register for this free product on the Bridwell Library web site by using this form: http://www.smu.edu/Bridwell/Services/BorrowRenew/PerkinsAlumni/ATLAS Once we receive your request, your alumni status will be verified and you will receive an account name and password via email.

Next, if you have become addicted to OCLC WorldCat, we invite you to try their public interface at http://www.worldcat.org/. It will not provide you with picayune bibliographic details, but it will help you locate items that you need. Try out the zip-code feature, which tells you how far from your specific zip code the item you want can be found.

Finally, if you plan to stay in the area, you can apply for an Alumni Library card. This is another free service that gives you a three-week loan period for up to ten books at a time. A full description of the program’s policies is available at http://www.smu.edu//Bridwell/Services/BorrowRenew/PerkinsAlumni.

If you would like to receive information about future Bridwell exhibits and events, please join our mailing list at http://http://blog.smu.edu/bridwell/join-our-mailing-list/. We look forward to continuing to serve you in your future ministry!