Skip to main content

thesis defense

I had my thesis defense on Monday. It was a good experience, a very good experience, for me. Not at all the scare-fest I thought it would be. When I first began my master's degree, one of the things I was sure I didn't want to do was defend a thesis, and that was why I chose the project option. The idea of standing in front of a committee of learned scholars and being grilled was a scary thought that made my stomach lurch in nasty ways. I would rather eat sushi (for those of you who know how much I dislike the Japanese fast food, this is a rather strong statement).

I have moments when my mind goes blank. I struggle to remember names and dates. For some reason, my mind likes to file away important, general information in a storage facility where it is very hard to access at short notice. Also, I have been known to easily get distracted and lose my train of thought. All of these can be deadly in a defense situation where one needs to be able to respond quickly to challenges and questions in order to demonstrate a broad knowledge as well as insightful depth regarding the subject of their thesis.

About a year and a half ago, one of my professors challenged me to reconsider doing a thesis. He is a very persuasive man and what he said made a lot of sense, so I gave it some serious thought. Shortly after that conversation, I was watching the movie Invictis and had an epiphany about not making choices based in fear (you can read a bit about it here). I realised that I had taken the project route because I was afraid to defend a thesis, and as someone who desires to live life without fear, I saw clearly that I had to change my course of study. So I started down the thesis road, a road which is ended on Monday.

To my surprise, I had no fear going into the defense. I was well-prepared, I knew my topic, and I knew I was in a room with friends. The kind of friends who are rooting for you, but who challenge you, who gently point out your mistakes, and who won't let you get away with doing less than you are capable of. I love all that these teachers have brought to my life in the past few years. And love is always stronger than fear. The three professors who questioned me were not trying to trip me up - they were giving me a chance to prove to them and to myself that I had mastered a subject. Of course, there is still plenty I don't know, and when the questions ventured into territory that I was unfamiliar with, I stated as much. Knowing where your knowledge ends is as important as knowing what you do know. And I surprised myself with how much I did know and was able to articulate not only clearly but with confidence and conviction.

In a preliminary thesis proposal that I presented in December, I made the claim that if I could learn to love Evelyn Underhill (my thesis subject), then I could understand her and learn from her. And I believe this is my strength as a student and a somewhat unlikely theologian: I learn by loving. Because I have found that love enlarges not only your heart, but your mind and your capacity to understand.

This is a photo of one of the books that I cited in my thesis.

By the way, my favourite book of Underhill's is The Fruits of the Spirit. It is a short, easy read that demonstrates her remarkable ability to fuse profound spirituality with everyday life. Plus, you get to experience her distinctive early 20th century, middle-class London style of writing. Read it sometime if you can.


One of Freedom said…
You rock Matte. I love your project of learning to love your subject. The whole reason I undertook my own subject is that I fell in love with the possibilities I saw for German Political theology in my own life as an evangelical longing to love and serve my Savior. Because I am trying to speak comprehensively to evangelical theologies I read a lot of stuff I don't love - but every now and then I find the jewels in there that remind me why those men and few women were loved by evangelicals in their time. I think you have encouraged me to be more deliberate about loving my subjects.
steven hamilton said…
that's so encouraging! Thanks for sharing...
Shelley said…
I'll have to look her up! I think you are absolutely right about love...

I know it is difficult, if not impossible to learn anything from someone who I feel I must hold at arms length.
Cynthia Orr said…
Wow! Some people find thesis defence to be nerve wreaking, but you really are different for finding it interesting. Yes thesis defence can be hard, but it would really put you in the position that you really know and have the right information and knowledge for your area of specialty.

Popular posts from this blog

what does the cross mean?

Words which we use a lot can sometimes become divested of their depth of meaning. In the Christian tradition, we talk about the cross a lot. We see visual representations of the cross in prominent places in our gathering spaces, we wear crosses around our necks, some get crosses tattooed on their bodies. The cross is a ubiquitous symbol in Christianity, so lately I have been asking myself, what exactly does the cross mean? For the most part, the cross as portrayed in contemporary Christianity is a beautiful thing, festooned with flowers and sunsets and radiant beams of light (just google cross or cross coloring page). But in the first century, the cross was a symbol of disgrace. To the Roman empire, this ignoble instrument of death was for those who were traitors and enemies of the state. We are many centuries removed from this view of the cross as the locus of torture and death and shame. The fact that Christianity has made the cross a symbol of hope and beauty is a good thing, but p…

stained and broken

Recently, I was asked to speak at another church, and the passage of Scripture which was assigned to me was John 1:6-8. "There came a man commissioned and sent from God, whose name was John. This man came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe [in Christ, the Light] through him. John was not the Light, but came to testify about the Light." (John 1:6-8, Amplified Bible)

The first question I usually ask when reading something in the Bible is this: What does this tell me about God? Two things are immediately obvious - God is a sending God and God wants to communicate - but there is a third which merits a bit more attention. Though God could communicate directly with humanity, sending truth and love to every individual via some divine mind-and-heart-meld, God chooses to send messengers. Not only that, instead of introducing Jesus directly to the world as the main event, an opening, warm-up act appears as a precursor. What is the point of incorporati…

the songs we sing

NOTE: I am going to make some pretty strong statements below, but understand that it is my way of taking an honest, hard look at my own worship experience and practice. My desire is not to be overly critical, but to open up dialogue by questioning things I have assumed were totally fine and appropriate. In other words, I am preaching to myself. Feel free to listen in.


When I am in a church meeting during the singing time, I sometimes find myself silent, unable to get the words past my lips. At times I just need a moment of stillness, time to listen, but other times, the words make me pause because I don't know that I can sing them honestly or with integrity. This is a good thing. We should never mindlessly or heartlessly sing songs just because everyone else is. We should care deeply about what we say in our sung, communal worship.

At their best, songs sung by the gathered body of Christ call to life what is already in us: the hope, the truth, the longing, t…