Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Go ahead, make my day.

You can only teach yourself. You can only learn the technique of learning. –Clint Eastwood

The memorization and regurgitation of facts has become our working definition of learning. As children we are placed in class rooms where our teacher writes a series of words or numbers upon a board, we copy them, and then we recite them when called upon. Seldom do the words connect with our real lives or have any bearing upon our reality. As children we know this. We question when will we ever need to know the value of pie, the dates of the French Revolution, or even the chemical composition of chewing gum (bubble gum is a whole other matter). The good adults in our lives assure us that we will need this information one day and we should be good students and learn what the teacher says.

As adults we then become the ones who perpetuate the myth when our children are the ones asking the question. We tell them that they will one day need to know this information, and we secretly wonder when exactly did we ever need to know what we were taught in school. Of course if we are good parents we never voice this thought out loud, because we don’t want our children to grow up to be idiots.

The thing is even in the midst of what may now seem to have been pointless exercises in obscure facts, we did learn something. We learned our idea of education, of what it means to be taught. We know that if someone is teaching us something they are to communicate certain facts on the topic which we in turn should be able to recite if called upon. We learned that education often has little to do with our real lives, that educators do not teach life lessons as much as they teach us abstractions and principles that we have a hard time integrating in our day to day activities.

Unfortunately, somewhere we adopted this model into our Biblical teaching as well. We turned Bible study into Bible trivia, and Church stopped being a place where went to experience God with other believers and became a place where we learned about God. We studied God, Jesus, and the Bible like we are going to have a test next Friday, so bring your notes. We got points for attendance, memorizing the right verses, and being able to give the proper answer when called upon.

The problem is we forgot that life is the test. You can’t cram for this one, and like it or not being able to quote the proper verse doesn’t get you a one hundred. Somewhere along the way Christianity stopped being relational and became something that happens after opening prayer but before the fried chicken. Being a good Christian became more about how many Sunday mornings you actually made it to a building and less about loving your neighbor. We turned it into an exercise and not a walk.

Maybe this is why we have a hard time with the transition from the class room of the church to real life. We don’t know how to make our faith a part of our life. Maybe when we started referring to the church as a place with class rooms and teachers, instead of as a body of believers and a family that we lost sight of the fact it is about more than knowing the right answer. Maybe when God became a school teacher and not a father, we forgot that he loves us and doesn’t just give us a grade.

Maybe this why so many people have become disillusioned with Christianity. We have presented it like a list of facts to memorize, and life is a problem to be solved. Maybe when we started teaching Christianity as an abstraction and principles instead of as a way of life, we forgot how to make the shift from information to understanding. Maybe when we stopped teaching people the technique of learning and told them the answers we bypassed an important step in our faith. We skipped the beauty and joy discovery through experience and learning.

We don’t grade relationships by the number of facts we know about another person. We don’t rank friendships by another’s ability to rattle off random thing we may have said. We don’t keep score with people we really love by totaling up their right answers to our questions. We gauge the depth by how well they understand us, by how much they affect our lives and vice versa. Everything else is a byproduct of the time we spend experiencing their presence. And we should all know that knowing about a person is not the same as knowing someone.

It is in the experience that we learn to know someone, that we learn how to learn about them. We discover how to ask a question, how to read their expression, or hear what they are saying beyond the words.

So study, read your Bible, gather with other believers, but do it so that you can experience the one who made you. Do it so that you can learn about this God who loves you more than you can imagine, but remember he isn’t an algebra problem. We don’t get to solve him, figure him out, or define him. That is not our job, our privilege is to know and experience him in this life, in this reality. The disciplines teach us how to draw near to God, being there teaches us how to learn from him.

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