Classy

On Thursday morning, I had an interview with the head of admissions at Princeton. I had forgotten that this was going to happen. I thought about being nervous, but even though I don’t and never have interviewed very well, the prospect doesn’t make me that uptight anymore. As it was, it seemed to go pretty well, except for the part where she asked me what books I had been reading lately and what had impacted me about them. For some reason I drew a total blank, even though I have been reading, despite taking a semester off classes. Probably too much Dr Who in there. How embarrassing.

After that I went to sit in on a youth ministry class taught by Kenda Creasy Dean, some of whose articles and talks I have encountered before. I like what she has to say, so I was kind of excited to get to visit a class of hers, but it turned out the Admissions Office had not been apprised of some room changes in this, the first week of classes at Princeton. By the time I figured this out, the class had begun and was a 15 minute walk away, so I went and sat in on a “precept” for a Christian Ethics class. (I did get to meet Professor Dean at lunch time, so that was pretty cool.)

I’m not sure I totally understand the Princeton “precept” concept (or why they call it a precept), but it seems to be some sort of smaller-group seminar that meets to discuss the lectures that have previously been given by the professor of a class. It meets during classtime and it sounds like as the semester progresses, the students take it in turn to lead the discussions; I don’t know if they have lectures one day a week and precepts a couple, or what exactly (not one of the questions I thought to ask Whitney until right now). But anyway, I kind of liked sitting in on this, because, since it’s still the beginning of the term, everybody was still getting to know each other, so I got to sit in on the introductions and hear something about specific members of the student body. Also, since I just took a Christian Ethics class, it was kind of interesting to hear the beginnings of a different way of teaching such a topic. I suspected there would be more views in this class with which I disagreed, but that there was also more freedom for disagreement and dialogue about it.

After chapel and the tour and lunch and the ninja bathroom, I went to a class which one of the students waiting for it to start called “Indiana Jones 101.” The actual title of the class is “Archaeology, Iconography, Symbology and Theology,” and I could see some good reasons for invoking Indiana Jones, except that this professor (Dr. James H. Charlesworth) evidently loves snakes. (Also, he lacks a cool hat.) It has something to do with his being confronted by a king cobra in the Everglades at age 14–maybe sorta like Batman and the bats, only if Professor Charlesworth is afraid of snakes, I don’t think even he knows it. He’s written a big book about snake symbolism, which creeps me out a little bit and which is way too long, but which I kind of want to read now; I wonder if I can get it through interlibrary loan . . . and read it before I have to start taking classes again . . . if I ever figure out where I’m going to take them . . .

I had been warned by various evangelical family and friends that I would find Princeton unfriendly to my own evangelical leanings, but, just like I didn’t notice anybody being particularly snobby, I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent amount of openness. One friend had told me of some Korean students who had applied to PTS and been told, in the application process, that if they believed the Bible to be the inspired, infallible word of God, they were going to be wasting both their own time and that of Princeton by attending there. I have no doubt there are influences at Princeton hostile to that view, just as I observed the existence of campus student groups that foster views that are pretty much anathema to me. However, there are other campus student groups which promote ideas and practices with which I am fully in favour, and in this one symbology class, I learned there were two Wheaton alumni, a Gordon College alumnus, a Calvin College alumnus and a Messiah College alumnus. (Charlesworth had never heard of Messiah College, but never mind.) I suppose not all of them have the same view of the inspiration of Scripture as each other or as I have, maybe, but I think it indicates the presence of at least some evangelical pockets within Princeton. At any rate, I was sold on Charlesworth (if not all of his ideas) when he said–a number of times in the class–that the most certain event in history was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He said, with some fervour, that ideas don’t resurrect, people do, and that the resurrection wasn’t something that happened to the disciples, but something that happened to Jesus. There were some nods and grunts of assent, if not outright amens, so I felt pretty well at home, and actually like I had just heard quite a good sermon.

Also, Charlesworth’s other required text for this class (next to his tome about snakes) is the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, edited by one of my beloved Literature professors from undergrad days, Dr. Leland Ryken. I was his TA when this book was in the beginning stages, and I researched some of the symbols. I don’t know that I was very helpful; I didn’t put in as much time on it as he had wanted me to, and I’m not entirely sure I took the angle he wanted. Having looked it over in the bookstore this morning, I note that my name is not among the listed “Wheaton College student assistants” (nor are the names of any of my contemporaries), but I still feel a connexion to it. Charlesworth’s syllabus says, about this book, “Encyclopedic and may be too conservative for liberals; needs to be supplemented but valuable, if dated.” Whatever. He’s still using it. It works for me.

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