"To Be or Not to Be, That Is the Question"

No, I'm not contemplating suicide like Hamlet did in Shakespeare's famous play.  I've only been at this doctorate for three weeks, and I have still to get into the real work.  Rather, I'm contemplating the QUESTION. What is my question?  Specifically, what question will my research answer?

We have been warned that we will go through many drafts of our research question before we settle on the final one.  In three weeks I have already gone through 10 drafts.  Another professor warned us that getting the question right is crucial to your success in getting the degree.  He said he believes getting the question right is one-third of your degree.  Wow, that puts it in a very important light.

So, I've been wrestling with the question.  Before I came to Research Induction School at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, my question was something like," Why is there such a lack of indigenous worship music in Songhai churches?"  After I arrived, that quickly morphed into, "Is there a culturally-appropriate, Biblically-based form of worship music (for church) that is distinctly Songhai?  If so, what is it?"  After nine revisions, the question now sounds more like this: "How can the discipline of ethnomusicology inform and speak to the issue of a lack of indigenous worship music amongst the Songhai?"  The latter question may include the two previous questions and several of the in-between revisions.  

And so the question goes on.  This one or that one.  That wording or this one.  To be or not...to be continued.....


The end of the beginning

For almost ten years I have thought, prayed, and sought advice about doing a PhD.  There seemed to be many obstacles in the way: timing, a demanding ministry, family needs, finances, doubts, objections, lack of good Internet access, a topic, etc. One by one God removed each obstacle and showed me that this was His will.

I hope I never become an academic snob.  Ultimately, this PhD has no lasting value in and of itself.  The piece of paper I hope to get (and it's not guaranteed that I will get it: I have to go through several probationary stages first) might as well be burned if I use it to show how intelligent I am or how much better I am than others.  No, it's more about obedience and doing something of lasting value that will further God's kingdom and help his people.

So, here I am off to school on my first day. 

Just kidding.

Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (OCMS) is located on Woodstock Road in north Oxford.  

It's actually less than a mile from the centre of town and the 40 different colleges that make up the University of Oxford.  OCMS is located in an old church on a busy thoroughfare leading out of the city to the north.  

Actually, OCMS is not a part of Oxford University.  It is only loosely affiliated with it.  We have no access to any of the colleges, but we do have one privilege afforded to all Oxford University students:  access to the Bodleian Library, one of only a few copyright deposit libraries (meaning the library has a copy of any book printed in the country and many more besides) in the United Kingdom. In order to gain access to the Bodleian, you have to have a membership card, and in order to get that card you have to go through an orientation and swear an oath that you will not damage or steal any books or smoke and drink in the library.  It's an old ritual, and tradition dies hard here.  I do have my membership card now and have access to over 11 million books and other electronic media available in the "Bod."  Here's a photo of one building in the Bodleian, the Radcliffe Camera building:

There are eleven other men and women beginning their journey toward a PhD with me.  Five of them are Koreans (but only one works in Korea--remember that Korea is sending out more missionaries around the world than any other country but the US).  Four are Americans (one is African-American and one is originally from the Caribbean).  In the last two, one is British and one is Indian.  I'm second to the left in the picture below.

This will be a long journey of at least 5-6 years.  I'll try to post as frequently as possible and give you updates on the road, but since I'm doing "part-time" ministry and "part-time" studies, things will get very busy for me at times.  

For now, I'm here for 11 weeks.  The first four weeks involve orientation and an introduction to research methods and using the Internet and the library.  After that it's mostly research, reading, and writing on my own with help from a mentor and supervisors--full-time for the last 7 weeks I'm here and then part-time when I return to the US.  I'll communicate with my supervisors via skype, the Internet, and the phone, but most of the work will be my own.  UK higher degrees don't involve a lot of courses.  Instead, you do a lot of reading and research on your own under the guidance of supervisors.  It's a lonely road, but OCMS tries to help you through it as much as possible.

Well, this is the end of the beginning.  I've started on a new adventure.  I predict there will be times I will wonder out loud why I ever embarked on this journey.  But there will be times of enlightenment and discovery as well.  I pray that this degree will bring glory to God and produce something lasting, something enduring for His work.  I do not want something fleeting, something that is just a piece of paper that could be burned up in the fire. Until next time.