Category Archives: Technology for Academics

Helpful tools I’ve found along the way to make the scholarly life more efficient and sharable.

My Dissertation Blunder and the Geek Bliss Fix

I defended the dissertation last Friday. That was an interesting experience. It was, for the most part, a very life-giving and affirming event. There were a couple moments when I felt like I was getting punched in the gut, but, I guess that’s part of the process. (think Klingon pain stick ritual)

The three members of my panel each played different roles—a sort of Trinitarian thing. They were all very affirming to begin their statements, but then each played a different nuance of the grill-the-Candidate game. I might write about their different approaches in another post.

The Blunders

thanks to Terry Kornberg for taking this photo
thanks to Terry Kornberg for taking this photo

This post is about my encounter with Dr. Keifert. He was ill, so he had to Skype in to the event. There he was, a disembodied head, appearing on three screens, two of which made his head about eight feet tall. It was much like encountering the Great and Powerful Oz. His role seemed to be the find-the-weak-spots-and-kick-them person of the Defense Trinity.

He found two glaring errors in my dissertation. Both errors expose my neophyte status in the Lutheran Tribe. The first was in my use of prepositions regarding the Real Presence of Jesus in the eucharist. The correct answer is “Jesus is in, with, and under” the elements. I put some ridiculously redundant words like over, around, above. Duh. I knew this. This blunder was the result of the pass-the-paragraph-along error in dissertation writing. I wrote a paragraph about the possible hindrances of the ELCA regarding a missional imagination in a paper that I wrote in the first semester of the PhD program, back in 2011. Remember, I was in the process of transferring my ordination into the ELCA at that time, and had not even known about the ELCA as of 2009. (Can you say “greenhorn?”) I remember, when first writing that paragraph, saying to myself, “I know that’s not right, but I’ll come back to fix it later.” Then, the paragraph got copied and pasted from one iteration of my research to the next, without ever fixing it, and was eventually pasted into the final draft. The I’ll-fix-it-later paragraph became so familiar that I was blind to it. I read the dissertation again on the night before my defense and the error jumped out at me like a little gremlin, mocking me mercilessly. Keifert caught it. Busted.

The second glaring error was one that completely caught me by surprise during the defense. Please realize that I have been profoundly impacted by Dr. Keifert’s theology and it is evidenced throughout my paper. However, I don’t think I really understand most of what he is truly saying. My error is exhibit A in this regard. What was my error, you ask? Sprinkled throughout my paper was the bold proclamation that the missional imagination was inviting people to lean into the “promised and preferred” future of God. I tossed this phrase around repeatedly throughout the dissertation. Then, in the defense, he looked at me, from three different screens, and said, “I assume that you did this intentionally. Because, you mention the Law and the Gospel, the left hand and right hand of God, but you say the promised and preferred future. The correct order of this phrase of the preferred and promised future.”

I stared back at the two giant heads on the screens, dumbfounded. I honestly had no idea that preferred and promised was code for Law and Gospel. In that moment I had to make a decision. Do I come up with an excuse? Do I try to save face?

“Well, I think what you’ve discovered,” I replied, “is that I’m a terrible Lutheran Pastor.”

Laugher erupted in the room (15 people attended).

“I am new to the Lutheran tradition,” I continued, a little red in the face, “and I had no idea that the order of these words had significance.”

“Well,” he said, “I’m actually relieved to hear that. I thought I was dealing with a Barthian.”

He moved on to critique other parts of my dissertation. I hope to meet with him to understand his critiques more fully.

Photo May 15, 7 16 34 AMThe irony is that I always copied it correctly in my class notes, but, for some dark theological reason, transposed it in my memory. See the class notes to the right.


The Fix

These blunders did not disqualify me from passing, and for that I am grateful. However, I needed to fix them. It is easy to do a find-and-replace fix in a Word document. I did that. The dissertation is better now. However, I realized that I had the dreaded “Promised and Preferred” peppered throughout the website.

What to do?

I dreaded the idea of searching through every blog post and page to fix the error. I have been working with WordPress long enough now, that my default thought is, “if I have a question of whether I can do something in WordPress, someone has probably made a plugin for it.” I did a Google search for “find and replace in WordPress,” and BAM! First hit. I found this plugin, downloaded it, and in one click replaced every occurrence of “promised and preferred” with “preferred and promised.”

Geek bliss!

The Digital Version of the Dissertation is Finished

Deep in the Burbs LogoOK, nothing on the web is every really finished. Plus, I am a compulsive tinkerer when it comes to my website. Yet, I have successfully posted every piece of my dissertation on the site, along with four years worth of research. If you would like to read the dissertation in its text-based, linear form, view the Table of Contents and click away! Otherwise, the Deep in the Burbs website is designed to let you, the reader, explore the data in your own way. Enjoy!

The Use of Digital Media to Cultivate #Missional Spaces

I had the privilege to present a paper at the Upper-Midwest Regional Conference of the American Academy of Religion last Saturday. The paper, titled “The Use of Digital Media in PAR and the Implications for Leadership in Suburban Congregations” can be viewed here.

The following is an excerpt from the paper regarding two images for leadership and the use of digital media.

Curation and Mediation

The cultivation and use of positive digital holding spaces for the local congregation requires intentional leadership. In the same way that the leader of the PAR process or communicative adult educational spaces must structure holding environments for constructive collaboration, so too must the leader structure the digital environment. I would suggest that this leadership requires two key elements: curation and mediation.

John Roberto argues that the leader of spiritual formation in the digital age must view her or himself as a curator.[1] There is more than enough quality content that already exists on the internet. Many people suffer from content overload and simply don’t know where to look to find good content. I had the unique opportunity to create my own content for the DITB project, however, this skill is not necessary for the leader of digital communicative spaces. Rather, the skill needed is the ability to (1) find quality content through trusted sources, (2) compile this content into an easy-to-navigate digital space, (3) lead people to this content and cultivate communicative opportunities for people to engage the content in their own time and space.

The second element for structuring digital holding spaces is the art of mediation. When people gather in physical spaces for adult learning there is always a risk that someone in the group may distract or disrupt the positive flow of interaction. The teacher’s responsibility is to redirect the disruptive element and seek to regain a constructive tone in the conversation. This is even more true in interactive digital spaces. One of the dangers of the digital communicative environment is the ability for individuals to hide behind the seemingly disembodied anonymity afforded by the medium and allow their normal social restraint to be unfettered. This can often lead to destructive modes of communication. The leader of digital communicative spaces must be as diligent in this regard—perhaps even more-so—than in the physical spaces. The leader is called to steward the power that comes with the role of leader and curb abusive communication. This same power should also be used to guide conversation and construct helpful questions that will open up spaces for intentional, constructive communication to occur for the mutual benefit of the community.

[1] John Roberto, Faithformation2020: Designing the Future of Faith Formation (Naugatuck, CT: LifelongFaith Associates, 2010), Kindle, loc. 2790.

How Scrivener is Helping Me Rebuild My Dissertation

I made a bold step today and dismantled my dissertation. My advisor said that the current draft is like a jigsaw puzzle. I have most of the pieces, but they need to be rearranged. I am a visual thinker, so the best way that I can think of dismantling and reshuffling a document is to use Scrivener. That means I had to strip the beautifully formatted Word document in order to bring it into Scrivener (keep in mind, this is a fully-formatted document with front matter, footnotes linked to Endnote, bibliography, etc. This process hurt, I’m not going to lie). Scrivener will help me rebuild the document, and it will be better because of it.

Here is the step-by-step process I took:

  • created a new Scrivener document
  • removed all the annotations and comments from the Word document.
  • saved the Word document as an .rtf (because Scrivener works with .rtf documents)
  • imported the .rtf document into the “Research” folder in the Scrivener Binder. The beauty of this is that all the footnotes are preserved. However, the Endnote links are broken. I will eventually have to go back and rebuild those. It will be tedious, but not horrible.
  • Highlighted each header of the document, right clicked the “Split with selected text as title” option to dissect the document into Scrivener cards, and arranged the cards into the outline hierarchy of the original Word document.
  • highlighted the entire outline in the Binder and changed the icon to a brown book.
  • duplicated the entire outline and changed the icon to a blue book. This allowed me to have a static reference of the original document–marked as a brown book–and movable pieces to place into the new draft–marked as a blue book.
  • created a new outline in the Draft Binder, based on the proper chapter structure.
  • Moved the blue book pieces of the old draft into the new chapter structure.

Now I can see all the pieces from the previous draft in relation to the gaping holes in the new draft. When it is all done, then I can hit “Compile,” save it as a Word Document, and use the Luther Template to format it to specs again.

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