I mailed out the last part of my application to seminary this week. On Wednesday, I think. I was unaware of the process of applying to graduate school before this started. I have friends who have had to take GREs and LSEs and some other nasty-sounding exams, but apparently divinity school does not require such things. I am glad.
But the application did require a certain amount of hoop-jumping. I had to request a transcript from the state U where I got my undergraduate degree (BA in General Studies with heavy concentrations in Psychology, Writing and Social Studies). I had to ask four people to write letters of recommendation for me to the school, and they had to be four people with specific roles in my life: a teacher or mentor, a minister, an employer or close work associate, and a friend. Oh, and I had to sign a cover letter waiving my right to see what they wrote. That's to encourage them to be as honest and forthright as they want without fear of reprisal or that maybe I'd stalk them or something creepy like that. I had to fill out the standard application kind of form. Address, personal info, employer, etc. And then I had to include a personal statement.
A "personal statement."
They wanted three to five typed, double-spaced pages about why I want to go to divinity school and/or become a minister.
"Beats the hell out of me" was neither appropriate nor did it last for three pages.
But really. A personal statement? Is this like that lame essay I had to write when I applied to college back during my senior year of high school and I had to write about how I wanted to be a teacher and to change the world? Dear god. It really kind of is like that statement.
A friend suggested that maybe the people at the school want to know how I came to be where I am - applying to seminary. Another suggested that a personal statement would help them to place me with the best advisor to suit my personality and program desires. Both made sense.
So I sat down and wrote a statement. It was pretty good. I considered who would be reading it and what kind of people they might be and what would appeal to them. I want to get in, so I was catering to my audience. I showed it to a handful of friend and got some supportive feedback. Then I showed it to my minister, who read it and proclaimed it lame and limp. Or something like that. "Where are YOU in this thing?" she asked. Oh. Well. Um. Yeah.
I had written what I thought my audience wanted to hear, not what was really going on inside me. I tucked the first version aside, opened up a new document and began typing. I got it to the approximate right number of words, then rearranged some of the paragraphs, and printed it out. This I can be proud of. This speaks in my voice. This is not namby-pamby bullshit. This is me. If they reject me because of this statement, then I would not have fared well at the school. Better to learn that now than after two semesters of hell.
So here is what I sent. I'll let you know what happens with regards to interviews and such. Stay tuned.
22 March 2010
I want to live life like my dog – at the very end of her leash and straining to reach more. I want to get everything I can out of life, to suck out the marrow, to get at the pith like Thoreau, to reduce it all to its basest elements and dwell there at its roots.
I write and I speak and I preach and I organize and I rouse rabble and motivate people and inspire them to action. On my best days, I can march them in the direction of justice, and together we can accomplish great things. On my worst days they storm the castle with torches and pitchforks.
I am a political activist and organizer. I am driven (some would say pushy) and I like to get things done. I work for justice in the many forms that takes and I expect that whatever ministry presents itself to me will incorporate those things into the work I am to do.
I feel things with intensity that others somehow do not. I crave to understand how things operate and why and I strive to develop methods to make them work better. I was the kid who took apart toys and clocks and machines to see how they worked. I was the one who understood the psychology behind the team mentality in high school sports. And rejected that mentality as flawed.
I am the sixth of my mother’s eight surviving children, born illegitimate in a time and place when that status mattered a great deal to a lot of people. That label framed what I learned and how I felt about myself and the world as I developed. I grew up Catholic and Irish in a small Massachusetts town where everyone knew everyone’s secrets and shame was considered a valid behavior modifier employed by teachers and parents alike. I developed a keen sense of outrage at injustice and hypocrisy early on and as a young adult became involved in activist work that solidified my feelings into deeply held personal philosophies. I have little patience for models and systems that perpetuate oppression – of any kind -- particularly out of duty or habit or tradition. If a philosophy or policy cannot be defended in a rational and humane argument, then it has no moral weight and ought to be abandoned for more useful pursuits.
I approach things head-on. I throw myself whole-heartedly into the things I attempt. I don’t know how to do anything 90 percent. Some people are said to wear their hearts on their sleeves. I wear my heart on my whole outside. I feel every sting and ding and scratch and scuff, but I believe that Nietzsche was correct when he said “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Each hurt adds a layer of strength externally and a layer of empathy internally. I know what it means to be vulnerable, to get hurt, to lose. I also know what it means to survive in spite of hurt, and to sometimes win. I see seminary as a crucible of sorts, a thing that will forge me into a minister and teach me what I need to know, or it will flush me out with the slag.
I do not understand how some cannot care about injustices in the world. I cannot wrap my head around the thought that a person can say “oh well, not my problem” when faced with poverty, hunger, ignorance, suffering, prejudice, hate, and violence. We are each a part of this huge global community. What affects one affects us all. When one is hungry, we all suffer. When one is bound, we are all imprisoned. Is it not the job of ministry to comfort the afflicted? And occasionally to afflict the comfortable?
My heart is in the fringe elements of society. I suspect my ministry will include populations that polite society rejects: queerfolk, glbti folk, poly, trans, kinky, the folks who express their gender and sexuality in ways that make others uncomfortable. I don’t know what shape my ministry will take, but I know it will involve these souls.
I know that my interest in areas of sexuality and ministry might require me to take some courses at another campus and transfer my credits in to my program, and I accept that. I plan to attend General Assembly this year in part to make the necessary connections so that I can do that kind of work and study. I also know that Bangor Theological Seminary will offer me a solid foundation upon which to build a ministry, no matter what shape that ministry might take.
I hold myself and the world to extremely high standards. Both often disappoint. But I would rather aim for perfection and achieve above-average work than aim for above average and achieve mediocrity.
I could be your ideal student or your worst nightmare. Instinct tells me that I will be neither, but somewhere in the middle. Wherever I land, I will give all that I have to this endeavor.
Submitted this 22nd day of March 2010
By Dawn F.