[NOTE: Having returned to the blog after a long hiatus, I found some quirks in the blog theme I had been using. We will probably be trying a few other designs over the next couple of weeks, so please forgive the aesthetic shifts!]
On 15 August I handed over a 105,328-word document to someone behind a welcome desk in Durham University’s Palatine Centre. It was a rather unceremonious act in form.
Not in reality. And the good folks at Flat White Coffee supplied a memorable scene that was ceremonious enough (note the “receipt” of my submission next to the espresso drink).
As my wife pointed out—with a bound copy of the PhD thesis sitting between us on the dining table—that PDF is the most expensive thing we own… at least in a sense. Our lives have been hinged to the conviction that my vocational service to the church includes an academic slant. Multiple moves and costly degree programs have defined our past decade… along with the adventure of rearing 4 precious children amidst the pressures.
A “viva”(oral exam) still awaits. And yes, I am nervous about it. But for now, a few brief thoughts…
The Bio of the Book
I will post more on the topic and arguments of the thesis later. For fun, though I would just like to point out that 17 years ago I was sitting at a desk in the O’Callaghan house reading John’s Gospel and noticing a few threads that seemed worthy of further exploration.
14 years ago I started checking out PhD programs from the computer lab at Beeson Divinity School.
8 years ago I made my first (of two) exploratory trips to Durham.
And then a few weeks ago I turned in my third “book.” (Thanks for indulging the historical sketch).
A PhD is often a Pyrrhic Victory
I wrote once here at HR that the Christian vocation can often feel like a Pyrrhic victory. This is from that earlier post :
Pyrrhus was a Greek king who soldiered valiantly into the might and muscle of Rome in the 2nd century BC. After a brutalizing series of particular engagements, the battle dust began to settle and someone gave him the news that he was the victor.
Pyrrhus did not feel very victorious.
In fact, he felt messed up, broken down, and demoralized. To gain this “victory” he had sustained massive losses. Though most of the 15,000 corpses lying across the outskirts of Asculum belonged to the Romans, the Greek body count was grievously high (and the Romans had been much better resourced).
A Pyrrhic victory is one in which the gains are roughly commensurate with the losses. From the annals:
“Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one more such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders….” (see here for Plutarch’s biographical sketch).
I have been a bit of a drama queen over the difficulties of pursuing the PhD. (Please forgive me). But to be absolutely clear: it is miserably hard (though the academic stuff was often less difficult than the circumstantial).
A “Victory,” Nonetheless…
Though a keen sense of the sacrifice in writing that these certainly accompanies its submission, I am delighted to report that over the following days it gradually occurred to me that breathing was a bit easier (figuratively), as if I had been sucking in air for years with a boulder on my chest only recently lifted. The increased oxygen supply has been wonderful. Unburdened by the thesis, my lungs have been able to expand a bit.
Amidst sleeping a bit extra and reading fiction mostly guilt-free, I am now in quest for a job. And the viva looms nearer each day, for which I feel I must have John’s Gospel memorized in the Greek, along with all the writings of Alexandrian theologians in the first few centuries of the church. These scholarly endeavors are impossible feats, of course (at least for me).
But overall I am pleased to report a general sense of relief, and possibly an increased degree of sanity.
I feel almost 105,328 words lighter.