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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Ask the Matriarch - Seminarian's Spring Cleaning Edition

It's time for Spring Cleaning...and for a seminarian who's about to graduate, there are some important decisions about what to keep and what to throw away...

"You Win Some, You Lose Some" wrote about a therapeutic round of spring cleaning that she tackled and the reasons why it was a good thing.

It got me to thinking about what I could do proactively to clean out some of the stuff that I've collected as a seminarian. I graduate in May, and while I don't anticipate moving, there's SOOO much stuff from 90 credits of graduate school -- KWIM?

SO I was wondering what you think is worth keeping, and what I should just go ahead and sell/toss or recycle.

For instance -

- great outlines from OT and NT professors on various books of the Bible? Powerpoints included -- would I use them? EVER?

- research papers (gag - IS there a reason to keep them?)

- Books, books and more books (some text books, some just books I wanted to read on a subject

- reference books

- Biblical language texts - OK it is a snowball's chance in hell that I am going to go for a degree that requires I reconstruct all of the Greek and Hebrew I learned (and now have already seem to have forgotten). So -- keep them for pounding myself with guilt at not reviewing them? Or just let it go, and buy a really good electronic lexicon?

What do you wish you had kept/tossed? Or does it matter?



The happy seminarian. :)

Jennifer, who blogs at an orientation of heart, got right to the point:

I’d keep anything you think you might use for a year, and then reevaluate. I think where one is serving would have a lot of bearing on whether one would use academic resources regularly.

And Ruth, who blogs at “Sunday’s Coming!” adds:

I was ordained in 1993 and only got rid of some of my files of papers two years ago in a house-move – so maybe I’m not the person to ask. And perhaps it depends on what kind of note-taker you are – but I realised after 15 years that I had NEVER used the notes at all. For me, I tend to half-remember something & then go scuttling off to a book (or, increasingly, the internet) to remind me exactly what it was. Which brings me to books. At first I kept them all, and I still have most of them. At one point I ‘culled’ some of the more academic ones I felt I wasn’t using – and, inevitably, two weeks later I wanted one of them. I went to a library & borrowed it: the sky didn’t fall in. On the other hand I have other books I know I need a lot and like to have on the shelf – hard to find things, really useful things, stuff I have found useful to lend out to other people.

In summary – someone once suggested it’s best to ask yourself not ‘could this someday come in useful?’ - answer almost certainly yes! - but ‘what’s the worst thing that could happen if I threw this away?’ (or gave it or sold it!) - if the worst thing is you have to go out and buy it again, you may want to keep it: if the worst thing is you spend 2 minutes finding it online – then let it go!

And finally, as a busy minister I’d just say that it’s not just good to have something, it’s vital to be able to put your hand on it when you want it. I am rather disorganised, but I have a friend who is great at saying – ‘oh yes I have a research paper on!’. If you can organise the stuff you keep, you’re winning the battle!

I wish you joy!

Do you have some advice for our happy seminarian? Use the "Post a Comment" function to add your two-cents worth!

Next week Earthchik will be your hostess, as I will be among those enjoying BE 3.0.

May you live in God's amazing grace+


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  1. Re: Biblical Language Texts

    A couple years ago I taught Biblical Greek to a group of mostly future pastors, and they asked me to bottom-line the indispensable resource that would be the best investment of their limited funds. I hemmed and hawed, because I'm such a bibliophile I was having a hard time bringing myself NOT to insist that they NEED the big hardcover BDAG lexicon. But I will tell you now what I should have told them then:

    For use in an actual ministry context, BibleWorks (or something like it, but BibleWorks is one of the best and definitely worth the pricetag -- plus, if you order it through your school before you graduate, you may be eligible for a group discount) is far and away your best bet. A good electronic resource will help you continue to use your linguistic knowledge, even if you only half-remember it, rather than beat yourself up for not keeping it up like you "should."

    If it were me, I would also keep a few core reference texts on hand, if you've already made the investment. I do consult my behemoth lexicon with some regularity for sermon prep or Bible study (generally, unless you spring for the expanded module, which costs as much as another copy of the lexicon itself, the built-in lexicon in even the best softwares gives you an abbreviated treatment). A reference grammar *might* be worth keeping on hand if you've learned your way around it enough to find it useful. Instructional textbooks I've rarely looked at again.

  2. Thank you for this question! I'm in the same spot myself, but with very limited shelf space and a tendency to think I will use everything (clearly not true). I look forward to reading responses.

  3. I would also encourage you to think "Adult Ed Forum"... I keep everything, so this wasn't a question for me, but have been surprised at the books I thought I'd never use again that have come in handy as the basis for (or a resource for) an adult class. Who knew that people would request "the history of the church from the reformation on" as a topic? :-)


  4. I graduated with my M. Div in 2007 and was ordained and called to a church in 2008. SInce then I did refer to my profs outlines for Revelation and Jonah. So, if you have paper class notes... you might be able to part with them (and maybe even big spiral bound copies of articles (setting aside what you know you loved, of course)). As for the books, my house is the new covenant of my bank account, shed that I might never part with a book. So I'm not the person to ask. However, what have I read in the past two years... none of the books that I scooped up right before graduation "convinced" that they'd be good in the parish. Your parish context will inform your reading and if you buy them after call/ordination/installation, you may have a book allowance or be able to clam them on your taxes. I kept a few papers where the comments were helpful (or inspiring) to remind me that I was good at something and then I saved only electronic copies of other things. I don't do my own Hebrew translation, though I wish I still could, but for time's sake I picked Greek, which I was better at. So I shed the Hebrew books and picked up an electronic resource, but I kept my Greek lexicons, etc.

  5. Hi! Just popping in from my Flu-ridden exile to say that I'm flattered that my blog is inspiring others to think about spring cleaning. And also, the name of it is "You win some, you learn some" It's a small distinction, but a very important one to me.

    You can also just call me Jules.


  6. I totally agree with the recommendation for BibleWorks!

    I am probably an outlier, but I kept ALL my notes,(I graduated and was ordained in 2005) and I've used many of them. I've used church history and liturgics notes to prep for adult ed; I've use liturgics notes for liturgy planning (d'oh!); I've used NT and OT notes for bible study, adult ed, and my own use to brush up on things for exegesis and sermon prep. I've used papers I wrote, too (probably b/c care was taken to craft the assignment so that the end product would be useful in the future).

    There were a few classes in which my notes are pretty useless--funny how that relates to my experience of the course at the time!

    I have a hard time getting rid of books; certainly commentaries, reference books, and theology books should come in handy in the future. These days I find myself buying more applied books--on church development, stewardship, and the like so if you have those, hold onto them.

    Curious to see what others say...

  7. I kept almost everything. And have never regretted it. Surprising things come in handy for adult ed forums.

    On a side, slightly-related note, remember that you can get some tax benefit from claiming the cost of your library if you do so in the first year of ministry. That was awesome. All those books you bought in's nice to get some financial benefit at the end.

  8. I was hesitant to venture an answer to this question because, after 14 years in ministry, I have yet to get rid of a single book, paper, or notebook.

    I'm glad I've kept it, because some of it has turned out to be a surprisingly good resource for me, especially some of the notes I took in classes on biblical texts. In my first years of ministry, those notes helped me so much as I
    as I crafted Bible studies and sermons. I have also ended up doing congregational book studies on some of the books I used in seminary classes, so I am glad I kept them, as well as the notes I took and papers I did on them.

  9. I was ordained in 1987 and I've gotten rid of very little. However, reading this makes me think that I should do some culling, at least of papers, because I honestly have no clue what's in those files. If it's been so long I can't remember the contents, then I'm unlikely to use any of it...and I sure could use the file cabinet space!

    Ruth, I like that shift in thinking to re-frame the question; that is a very helpful idea for me in general. I tend to hold on to lots of things for a long time because I **might** need them someday.

  10. Oops Jules, I am sorry I botched your blog name. It IS an important distinction...

    Thank you everyone. I am at least going to organize my piles into something retrievable. At the moment, they are in stacks everywhere...

    The Happy Seminarian!


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