Saturday, April 2, 2016

in retrospect—what else is a dissertation defense?

It is an honor.

My dissertation committee (L-R): Richard Averbeck,
Daniel Block, Karen Jobes, Carmen Imes, Sandra Richter,
Marc Cortez (Photo: Michelle Knight)
Brilliant scholars take time out of their already overloaded schedules to read what you've written and to think about what it means and how it matters. They give up an afternoon to sit with you and ask you what you think and give you good advice. They push you (which means they think you can handle it) and they offer their best critique (proving that they stayed awake while reading your work) and they listen and even concede (when you've changed their minds). Dozens of students drop their own work to come and watch. Wow.

It is surreal.

My dissertation defense. (Photo: Daniel Lanz)
As a student observing the defenses of others, I assumed that it would be a nerve-wracking experience. Years worth of effort are channeled into one afternoon. Everything is on the line. But yesterday I felt entirely calm. I knew it was time. I had given my best effort with the time I had. I also knew that even a difficult defense would not mean the end of my career. It would simply mean a longer list of revisions before the diploma arrives by mail. I even expected this. Here's what I did not expect:

It is fun (sometimes).

My doctoral advisor, Daniel Block, and me (Photo: M Knight)
Ten years in seminary and graduate school have prepared me for scholarly discourse. I'm not afraid of disagreements. I'm aware of my own limited perspective and need for others' critique. I also know that I've studied this topic more than just about anyone in the world, and that I have good reasons for laying things out the way I did. I came in hoping to learn from my readers and was delighted to discover that my readers actually liked my work and learned from me. Our time together was collaborative, encouraging, and productive. We laughed together and left as friends.

I found that a dissertation defense on April Fool's Day was strangely appropriate. It reminded me of Paul's words:
"Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God — that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: 'Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'" (1 Corinthians 1:26–31)
I began this journey as a stay-at-home mom with very few connections in the scholarly world. I had spent my time networking among Muslim street vendors in the Philippines while my books were boxed in storage. I learned Hebrew (for the second time) while breastfeeding and read book reviews in the preschool pick-up line. With a great deal of effort, I finished my 2-year masters degree in 5 years. By the world's standards, I was not the ideal candidate for an advanced degree. But God does not choose us because we already have what it takes. He chooses empty and willing vessels who are ready to be filled. He called me, and I simply said 'yes.'

The dissertation defense was the culmination of this chapter of of my journey, but it is only the beginning of my 'yes' to God.

For Christ and His Kingdom!

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