Saturday, April 05, 2008

new life at the cemetery

i spent yesterday afternoon struggling through dr. x's exegesis of the poets and prophets class. up to this point, almost every class period has been littered with inane statements (e.g., "we know very well that the Lord doesn't redeem societies, but he redeems individuals all the time!"), utterly worthless lectures (if you need to know more about scholastic perspectives on trito-isaiah, please ask, but if you want to know something about the socio-political conditions that gave rise to isaiah's poetry and prose keep your questions to yourself) and vain attempts to circumvent the wicked network system that allows my laptop to register a wireless signal but refuses access to the internet.

in the midst of those classes i am often eager to take a piss and yesterday, yet again, dr. x provided me with a golden opportunity. while delving into yet another excursus in a class that has been defined by such meaningless little jaunts, dr. x shared a story about a time when a visitor to his local congregation took him aside and "gave me a word from the Lord." according to dr. x the "word" that the visitor gave was ripped completely out of its biblical context but, sure enough, the word spoke directly into his life. almost apologetically, dr. x said that he was "sure that some of you might not be comfortable with the word of God being used in this way, but that's what happened."

seeing what i sensed was a golden opportunity, i raised my hand and told him that i loved his story. further, i suggested that his story was a perfect example of how evangelicals can find commonality with and create collaborative mission with liberal christians and non-believers who completely agree with the function of certain biblical texts (e.g., the biblical callings to justice, compassion and mercy), but have widely divergent views on the origins of scripture (e.g., they question mosaic authorship of the pentateuch, consider isaiah and micah to be post-exilic and may not believe in any kind of inspiration). for this reason, i suggested, a living and active christian life could well be built upon our response to the biblical text rather than upon a foundationalist theology.

i suppose, in the interest of full disclosure, i should tell you that this was not the first time i have tried to, um, what's the word, truck(?) with the professor. in years past we have argued about the existence of institutional sin, the significance of racial sensitivity and other topics that i am surely forgetting. thus, although i do believe the truth of what i suggested in the comment above, i didn't offer it with constructive intentions, but said it merely to extend the logic of his pietistic little story to an absurd degree and so produce another lecture about how Christians are saved by denying the existence of deutero-isaiah.

however, as soon as i finished my comment the prof nodded his head thoughtfully and said that he saw the importance and significance of finding whatever common ground we can with Christians of all stripes so that we can continue fulfilling the work of God. moreover, he admitted that "because of my position within the seminary and the church i haven't had much reason to engage with and serve beside liberal Christians or many unbelievers. however, i agree with you that it is essential that we seek out common ground."

in that wholly unexpected moment, i was struck by two things.

one, i learn best in an environment that is open to, and to some extent encourages, conflict. at s.h.i.t. i usually feel like i am am floundering in a sea of well-intentioned, but poorly fleshed out icthuses who are committed to silently swimming along in their safe little schools where all they have to do is follow the leader. when i'm stuck in the midst of those schools my tendency is to strike at the fish around me and angle at the leader if at all possible. the more i've thought about it, the more i realize that my learning style simply does not square with the pedagogical intentions of this institution. the resultant dissonance i feel (almost) every time i'm struggling through a class at s.h.i.t. is probably more my fault than theirs. i should have done my freaking homework while looking for graduate institutions or, failing that, i should have listened to my heart and stayed at l'arche

two, i really am an asshole. although, in the past i have had legitimate differences with this professor, i have often ignored evidences of his gentle spirit and servant's heart. yesterday he had to teach me again that a gentle word turns away (my) wrath. i've read my Bible a time or two and i've been around the block. i should have known that already.

i could go on by telling you about the intriguing conversation i had throughout, and after, class with a pastor who came into s.h.i.t. as a full-on, fundamentalist calvinist, but is somehow leaving as a four-square missionary and continue plying you with the rewarding conversations i've had today with old classmates who have shared their unique journeys and have been genuinely interested in my own. i could tell you more, but i won't.

sola Dei gloria.


Smee said...

This was an intriguing update, Jeff, because at times I knew almost exactly what (I think) you were saying, and yet there were alternating moments when I had/have absolutely no understanding of the words you were using and what you were saying... Thanks for the mental "workout"! ;-)

slowfo said...

That was classic. I caught myself laughing all the way through and just wish I could have seen the look on the face of the prof as soon as your hand went up for comment. If it's true that this isn't the first time you've jacked with this dude, I'd have to believe that he's surely biting his tongue from time to time about how he'd like to respond to you.....but alas, his comfy tenure probably keeps him from doing so. Plus, the fun fact that you get your own jab from academia with their devilishly created, impenentrable no-internet bubble.

I guess there was that moral of the story at the end that we could all apply to our lives.....but the interchange with the prof was a serious highlight.

And what the hell? You had the chance to be at l'arche and didn't take it??

g13 said...

hey beck, thanks for hanging with. as i mentioned in a previous post, my obtuseness is evidence of ego.

slowfo, nice pic of j-low. i'm not sure there was a moral and i definitely spent time at l'arche. many of the people in those pics are my peeps.

Smee said...

Welcome! I like your blog! :)

Will you be adding mine?

g13 said...

ask and you shall receive!

it's about time i updated my sidebar a little.

enjoy your sunday.

Agent B said...

Thanks for sharing the snapshot of your classroom time.

I'm glad someone like you is embedded in that environment and can bring up good questions & topics, whether sarcastic or not. I don't have that ability.

I'd get slaughtered and labeled a dumb-ass indefinitely.

Kieran Conroy said...

Jeff, know your journey has been bumpy, but I just want to say how wowed I was by your post.

Is it just me, or does the fact that I'm regularly defending the viewpoints of evangelical Christians at the "bastion of Liberal religion" and you're defending liberal Christians at the "bastion of conservative Evangelicalism" not just hilarious and/or wonderous?

Its great not to fit into boxes, to keep talking to people on all sides, and (regularly) discover more things in common than you ever expected.

I'm sure it will keep confusing the heck out of people established in those systems, but if there's one gift Emergent's can possibly bring, its to keep talking to as many people, across as many boundary lines as possible.

We've got some pretty good company there. Like, I don't know, Jesus?

PS- finishing up my post, btw, hope to have it by this eve.

PPS- I think I told you, but Harvard's prof of Evangelicalism just won best teachers award by students. How's that for breaking boundaries? :)