Archive for the Education Category

Fellowship

Posted in Books, Education, Rationale with tags , , , , , , on August 8, 2015 by timtrue

Sewanee fall

Elated to be returning to my alma mater for two weeks this fall!

If you know me half-well, you might wonder if I’m headed to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee to see my two daughters who are presently students there.

Or you might be wondering if I’m returning to spend more time playing Sewanee’s 54-bell carillon, a one-of-a-kind instrument I performed on from time to time during my tenure as a graduate student; the tower in which it is housed stands tall in the photo above.

Or you might be wondering if I’ve got some pressing business with the School of Theology–to attend the Daily Office in COTA (Chapel Of The Apostles) or to sit in on some especially riveting lecture or other or to press a former professor or three on some vexing theological question.

Or maybe I want to spend time with my good friends in the classics department.

Or maybe I’ll be stopping by some of the area congregations in which I served as an organist, deacon, or preacher.

Or maybe I just miss the burgers at Shenanigans.

Truth be told, that’s all part of it, sure.  No doubt I will be trying to see as many people and enjoy as many meals as I can with them, especially the two favorite people mentioned in the first paragraph–not to mention visiting the tavern a time or two too with the older one since she’s turning twenty-one tomorrow.

But none of this is actually why I’m going.  Not technically anyway.  Unless, arguably, it all is.

The truth is I’ve been awarded a fellowship to research and otherwise work on a book.

The book’s subject matter is quintessential Sewanee history–albeit with a splash of lore.  Or, on second thought, it’s quintessential Sewanee lore with a splash of history.  Ghost lore, to be specific; which is indeed a significant part of Sewanee’s history (as is angel lore).

So you know, my fellowship proposal stemmed from a desire that went unfulfilled all my while as a student.  For, as a student (who also happened to be a father struggling to make ends meet–and thus all the carillon performing, Latin teaching, and organ accompanying), I never had adequate time to explore all the ghost lore that captivated my imagination while in the old town (by American standards).  It simply would have been too difficult to write all those theology and church history papers with ghost stories on my mind.  So, while a student, I set the captivation aside, calling it too distracting or whatever, trying to ignore it and hoping it would go away.

But it didn’t.

So now, I’d like to return to Sewanee, I said on my fellowship application, to explore this ghost lore in a focused way.  I want to eat meals and drink pints in the tavern with those who have a story to tell–with those who have lived and breathed long enough in the community to have heard a tale or two enough times to have most of the details worked out.  I want to climb the stairs in the bell tower again to the carillon cabin–a bell tower with a tale or two of its own–and maybe even play a piece.  I might even want to explore one of the graveyards or any other haunt with anyone willing to explore with me–might want to go on a bona fide ghost hunt or two!

And so, yes, technically, I’m returning to Sewanee for none of the reasons listed above.  But, on the other hand, it’s kind of for all the reasons above–and many more.

So if you are a Sewaneean with a ghost story to tell and will be around Oct. 26-Nov. 6, please let me know when and where we can meet for a conversation.

And–oh yeah–Halloween, conveniently, falls right in the middle of my time there.  I’m hoping to share some of my findings in Hamilton Hall during my stay.  Who knows, maybe it will be on Halloween itself–right before a midnight graveyard ghost hunt?

Honing the Craft

Posted in Doing Church, Education, Reflection with tags , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2014 by timtrue
Preaching like Augustine?

Preaching like Augustine?

Earlier this week I had the tremendous privilege of attending a preaching conference.  I’ve attended conferences on preaching before, sure.  But this one was different.  Five of us–all priests of some sort of Anglican stripe–got to hang around one of the world’s most respected preachers for three days.  That preacher was Will Willimon (pictured below), sometime United Methodist Bishop of Alabama and present professor at Duke University’s Divinity School.

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The format was simple.  We each came to present and discuss two sermons.  An hour was given for each.  We’d listen as the presenter preached; then we’d discuss, critique, etc. for the remainder of the hour.

While not a requirement, my first sermon I’d already prepared and given elsewhere.  The other (for me) was to be a work in progress.  That is, my plan was to take time on Tuesday afternoon and evening, during some allotted free time, to write a second sermon, which I would then present on Wednesday morning in almost final-draft form.

Such was my plan anyway.

What actually happened was the three hours of free time Tuesday afternoon turned into an hour because of lunch discussion and ensuing conversations.  And the five or so hours I had set aside on Tuesday night turned into a gouda-mushroom buffalo burger, two pints of a local (to Dallas) craft porter, and conversation with my new best friend Lawrence, a priest from the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina; leaving me with only two or so hours to create (which I turned into three by staying up an extra hour, till midnight).

Point is, when it came time to preach my second sermon, “Um,” I confessed, “this ain’t anything like a final draft; it’s still very much a work in progress.”

By work in progress I don’t mean lack of length.  I had about 1,200 words, or 13 or so minutes of speaking (normalish length).  But I’d been dealing with two pretty substantive themes, both which should have their place, I’d rationalized, but was having trouble connecting them.  Etc.

Anyway, after my initial qualifications and run-through of Sermon 2, coupled with the feedback I’d already received from canned, preached-without-a-manuscript Sermon 1, the insights I received were invaluable.

I give you three that stick with me.

First, “You can preach the phonebook, Tim,” one of the priests told me, “and people will listen to you.  You have this incredible ability to draw people in just through your use of body language, variations of vocal intonations, and expression.”

Yeah, I was thinking, tell me more.

“But”–he did tell me more–“don’t rely on it.  You still need to have something valuable to say.”

Implication: what I said was lost in presentation.  Ugh!

But, really, it’s so true.  He told me this just after I’d preached Sermon 2, which really did come out as kind of a mess.  The themes were disjointed, for one thing.

“And your first theme was so strong,” Willimon added, “that I spent the second half of the sermon wondering how and when you’d come back to it.  But you never did.”

Point taken.  Clarity and concision are super important.

By the way, as I sat in the airport for two hours on Wednesday afternoon I revised this yet-to-be-preached sermon, starting by keeping the first third of my manuscript and deleting everything else.  I’m taking Willimon’s advice and developing only the first, strong theme.  I’ll save Theme 2 for another go around, next Advent maybe.

The second insight in fact comes from a theme that kept surfacing throughout the three days, culminating especially during a breakfast I enjoyed on Wednesday with Willimon himself.  Four of us were staying in the same hotel, which included an excellent breakfast (shout out to the Holiday Inn on SMU Blvd.), and as I exited the elevator, lo, there was the guru himself, sitting at a table by himself.  For my part, I didn’t even ask permission; I just sat down next to him and invaded his space.

He seemed okay with it.  Southern politeness maybe.

But then, “Tim,” he said, “you’re a musician.  So use your musicality in your sermons.  And don’t just draw parallels between musical forms and sermon forms” (which I do, by the way, and which we’d already discussed), “but incorporate crescendos, diminuendos, rests, fermatas–performance!  It will make you that much more engaging.”

Anyway, gold!

The third insight struck me like an epiphany.  This is what I needed to hear more than anything else all week.  And the coolest part is (because it shows how important collegiality is), it did not come from Willimon but from two of the other priests (albeit with Willimon chiming in).  These priests, I should add, (like Willimon) are seasoned teachers as well as preachers.  One is presently a seminary professor and the other has ten years’ seminary teaching experience.

So, it was an answer to a question I asked in one of our post-sermon discussions:

“In your mind, what’s the key difference between teaching and preaching?  You teach a thirty-minute lesson and you preach, say, a fifteen-minute sermon.  What’s the difference?”

And the answer seemed so simple:

“In teaching, we present truth, facts, points–information.  But in preaching, we’re after an encounter with the divine.”

So simple, but I’d never thought in this way before.

So now I’ve got a new goal in my sermons.  They’re not after relevance, an application for today, or increasing in knowledge and/or wisdom.  These things have their place; and they will often happen in sermons, sure.  But more important is the encounter with the divine–just prior (in Episcopal liturgy) to joining Christ at his Table for Communion with God and neighbor.

Beautiful!

Footnote: if you’re interested to see what my attempt at sermon-for-encounter looks like, stay tuned.  I will post my sermon (in manuscript form), the byproduct of this conference, on Sunday.

Dinner Conversation: Horcruxes and Adverbs

Posted in Education, Family with tags , , , , , , on February 19, 2014 by timtrue

Conversation around my dinner table is often quite entertaining.  A lot of the time it involves a great amount of noise, so great, in fact, that often my wife and I sort of zone out, peckishly attending to our plates until the teenage-daughter talk, interspersed with the interjections of a protesting younger brother not wanting to be left out, dies down.  We’re firm believers in the daily family meal, my wife and I, even if it doesn’t always result in the type of quality family time we dream of.

Tonight, however, gave us one of those quality-time meals.

Two things we all seem to appreciate are Harry Potter and grammar.  Even the boy, who is not yet five, knows the curses banned by the Ministry of Magic and the name of he-who-must-not-be-named; and, yes, even the boy gets grammar.  Recently he’s been working on a difficult rule breaker: the verb “go.”  It’s no problem to say, “Today he goes with a friend to the park.”  But why isn’t it, “Yesterday he goed to the park”?  It’s an exception, I explain.  (“What’s an inception?” he asks.  And I think, hey, at least he’s got the “a” and “an” rule down.)  Just say “went,” I say.  Yesterday he went to the park.  (“No he didn’t,” he responds; “yesterday he went to school.”  Okay, fair enough.)

So there we were, all of us, sitting at the dinner table, practicing our practice of eating a daily meal together, hoping for stimulating conversation and quality time for all, when it actually happened.

“What’s the big deal with splitting an infinitive anyway?” daughter 1 asks.

“I once had a professor answer that question by saying editors find them annoying,” I answer.

“What’s really annoying is when someone doubly or triply splits an infinitive,” daughter 2 says, smirking in only her way.

“What do you mean?” my wife asks.

“Like when someone puts two or three adverbs between the ‘to’ and the verb,” daughter 2 explains reasonably enough.

“Whahuh?” a few voices say in unison.

“Whahuh?” a 4.975 year-old voice echoes.

“Give an example,” daughter 3 suggests.

So the conversation turned to Shakespeare’s paradigmatic statement of infinitives, “To be or not to be . . .”  No split here.  But to say, “To be or to not be,” would be to split an infinitive.  This is annoying, perhaps especially for editors, but probably as well to anyone who has ever heard the statement said properly before.  I mean, really, could you imagine a stage actor saying, “To be or to not be, that is the question”?  How annoying!

Now throw another adverb in there: “To be or to just not be.”  More annoying still, yeah?  And another: “To be or to just not really be”; and even another: “To be or to like just not really be”; and you get the picture.

“Kind of loses its effectiveness,” my wife observes, “like a horcrux.”

True that!

As he-who-must-not-be-named has taught us all, to split a soul into seven horcruxes really reduces the soul’s effectiveness.  So too with infinitives.  In the end, to do so is to really, truly, actually, substantially, enigmatically, truncatingly, miserably deny the verb its inherent power.

Motorcycles, Music, and the Mediterranean

Posted in Background, Education, Family, Motorcycle, Rationale, Reflection with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2014 by timtrue

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Just imagine for a moment cruising around the Mediterranean Riviera on a motorcycle, by yourself or with friends, whatever your pleasure, with an itinerary based upon concerts.  Would you start in Rome and work your way north and then west through France and Spain?  Or are you more attracted to the east side of the Middle-earth Sea, to the Greek Isles maybe, or to Istanbul, or the so-called Promised Land?  Or, perhaps you have a thirst for the peoples of North Africa–for Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco?  Or maybe you’d do it all.  Anyway, sounds like a great vacation to me.  Now if only I could find a way to finance it!

But contrary to whatever ideas the title of this post may suggest about travel, what I really want to discuss here is another “m” word: manumission.  For each of these things–motorcycles, music, and the Mediterranean–represent a liberation for me from a burden that had become a sort of personal bondage.  Perhaps this manumission has something to do with why I continue to be so drawn to each today.  (Perhaps, too, that imagined vacation suggested above will become a personal reality someday.)

So: motorcycles.  How do these represent liberation for me?  To answer I must go back to my boyhood, to when I was twelve years old or so and I got my first motorcycle.  It was a Yamaha MX80, not sure of the year, maybe 1972.  An unreliable two-stroke motor powered the beast.  I remember that it fouled sparkplugs regularly, so I soon learned to carry a spare in my increasingly bulging portable tool kit.  It possessed all of 6 or 7 horsepower, and could reach a top speed of thirty-five, maybe–if I rode it down a really steep hill wide open and engaged the clutch!

But it provided me with a certain freedom I’d not known previously.  For my older brother, who had a much more reliable 1976 Honda XR75, and I now had the ability to explore far beyond where any of our previous pedestrian adventures had allowed us to go.  Many a time did we ride from our house to the bed of Callegas Creek, taking whatever footpaths and backroads we could to get there and to avoid the fuzz.  We fashioned ourselves as little rebels without a cause.  At least we did until another fouled plug threw a temporary glitch into the day.  But then we fashioned ourselves as expert mechanics.

On this note, I remember a day when we couldn’t for the life of us figure out how to get my steed back in working order.  We were three or four miles from home, stuck in a fairly boggy part of the creek bed, scratching our heads in adolescent befuddlement.  Long story short, one of us found a bedraggled piece of discarded rope; and, knowing how to tie numerous knots from Scouts, Older Brother towed me the distance.  To heck with non-street-legal status, we said; this was an emergency!  Fifteen minutes later we’d made it home in one piece, and we’d avoided the fuzz’s notice.

We didn’t always succeed, however, at avoiding the fuzz’s notice.  I can remember more than once riding my manumission-enabling motorcycle right past a cop driving in the other direction.  I can even remember seeing the cop’s frowning face and pointing finger, indicating his desire for me to pull over.

But I had some things going for me, and I knew it.  First off, the roads were narrow and windy.  It would be at least thirty seconds before the cop could turn around successfully.  By then I’d be a quarter-mile away.  Second, I knew these quasi-rural narrow windy streets as well if not better than he did.  There lay before me any combination of lefts, rights, and straight-aheads so that by the time said cop managed to turn his bulky Ford-Crown-Victoria self around he’d be left to guess his way forward like so many youths in the Minotaur’s labyrinth.  Ha!  And, third and finally, I could go off-road if necessary, as a last resort (which I actually did once).  What could the copper do then?  Pull his pistol on me?  Really?  Yeah, like that’d go over well in the Camarillo Daily News!  Cop Shoots Kid on 6-Horsepower Sparkplug-fouling Motorbike.

Anyway, I never did get pulled over, arrested, thrown in juvey, whatever.  Instead I always managed to defy the law (and my plug-fouling steed) successfully, high-tailing it home lickety-split, parking the bike in the garage, shutting it down, closing the garage door, and heading into the house to take a nonchalant seat on the couch as if I’d only been playing Space Invaders on the ATARI all morning long.

Manumission I tell you!

Vielle

A second liberating experience happened in college, after deciding to change my major from mathematics to music.  It happened this way.

I entered college in 1986, three months after graduating high school.  But I had no idea what to do with my life, what to declare as a major, and so on.  Long about second semester of my senior year in high school, in fact, I’d looked around and thought, “Yeah, I guess I ought to go to college.  Don’t want to end up delivering flowers the rest of my life.”  So I applied to enroll like so many of my friends at a local community college.

But that blasted application asked me to choose a major!

So I wondered and reflected and contemplated and pondered and thought and over-analyzed, as I am wont to do.  What am I good at?  What do I like to do?

In the end I checked the box that said forestry.  How cool would that be, I reasoned, to backpack around Yosemite or Kings Canyon and check the lakes to see if they’re stocked with enough fish!

But in my first year of college I almost gave up.  Flower delivery, after all, was paying me pretty well.

It was the math, really.  I’d let calculus get the better of me.

The fall of 1987 came around and I determined to get back up on that horse–or, to use another metaphor, to fix that fouled plug and ride the motorbike home.  I poured every bit of mental effort I had into my second attempt at calculus.  And I found I actually understood it, even liked it!

At the same time I was taking music appreciation and music theory courses.  These I enjoyed too.  But they were almost effortless for me.  I wrote the first coherent paper of my life, comparing Beethoven to the Beatles–and earned an A.  I devoured every musical rule I learned; compositions flowed.  So, I reasoned, because of the effortlessness these courses must not be as academic as math, somehow.

Yet I enjoyed them so much so that I shared with my engineer-dad my struggle.  “Dad,” I said, “um, well, I’m still technically a forestry major.  But I’m thinking of changing my major to either music or math.  And, uh, since you’re paying the bills and all, well, what do you think?”

“What kind of job could you get with a music degree?” he asked.

So I officially changed my major to mathematics.

Three years later I was in Davis, California, the fall of 1990, beginning what I hoped would be my final year of college.  Math was a struggle, but the end was in sight–if only I could pass analysis and combinatorics.  Everything else came easily enough for me.  But these two courses were a struggle.

Then there was music.  I was still taking music courses on the side, for fun.  But it felt somehow wrong, like dating two girls at the same time.

“And besides,” I asked myself, “what would I do with a math degree?  Teach?

“I could always teach music. . . .

“And that whole silly dream of being a fighter pilot in the Air Force, well, really, Tim, that was kind of a passing fancy, wasn’t it?

“Aren’t you really feeling more of a tug to pursue ministry?”

And so I was.

Couple this with things taking a turn for the worse in my first significant relationship with a girl–another story for another day.

So then, it all exploded over Christmas break.  My girlfriend broke up with me (on Christmas Day no less!) and faithful Music and jealous Math found out what was going on.  The gig was up.

So I again sought sage Engineer-dad’s counsel.

“Do what you want, Tim,” he said.  “But keep in mind that the money will be used up by the end of this year.  So if you end up staying on, you’ll have to pay for it.”

So I did.  I changed my major to music and stayed on–another two years.  And I paid for it out of my own pocket.  Happily!  For I’d been manumitted.

On to the Mediterranean then!

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Some years after graduating college I was indeed teaching.  Ironically it included math.  By now I was married with two daughters, ages 3 and 1.  And I was frankly disappointed in the educational prospects for my kids.  So I began to consider and contemplate and think about and ponder and over-analyze the idea of home-schooling my children if necessary, to offer them something better than the other options we were faced with–if necessary.  My question to myself, then, was where I lacked.

I began reading lots of books about education, turning first to the history of education and then to the seven liberal arts of the Middle Ages themselves.  Curiously, my education had included lots of stuff.  Serendipitously, I was already quite well-versed in the quadrivium–arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music.  But, aha!, the trivium revealed a gap.  Sure, I knew some things about grammar, dialectic (logic), and rhetoric.  But these were not taught once upon a time as we teach subjects today.  They were seen more as stages, as Dorothy Sayers points out in a rather famous essay.  Anyway, to learn the languages of Greek and Latin would reasonably fill in my personal academic gaps, I concluded.

So at 32 years of age I dived into the ancient Mediterranean pool of classical languages.  And again I experienced a sort of manumission.  For I wasn’t the only person seeing educational deficiencies in our modern culture, I soon discovered.  Lots of schools in fact were restructuring their curricula to incorporate these same ancient models, or starting up as altogether new.  And I soon found a place teaching Latin, not to mention ancient Mediterranean cultures, to students.  I found schools to which I could send my kids with a clear conscience too.  Manumission!

So there it is, really: my manumission theme and three variations.  But, before I conclude, I’d like to add a coda.

That 3 year-old is now a sophomore in college.  She is studying this semester in Florence, Italy, smack-dab in the middle of all things Mediterranean.  And she is having the time of her life.

She’s been there only a few weeks.  But already she has traveled to Rome and Pompeii, and to Ravenna.  She will be taking a field trip to, among other places, Venice.  While in Florence, in addition to studying, she will enjoy an internship restoring Etruscan artifacts.  She recently wrote me to say,

“While doing my homework this evening, I glanced at a picture of Zeus that I’ve seen in several textbooks over the years.  I then realized that this sculpture resides exactly where I do.  I think it’s finally hit me that I live in the midst of, essentially with, all the history and art that I have studied in the past several years.  I’m currently in awe.”

There’s something very liberating in all of this.

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College Advice to my Kids

Posted in Education, Rationale with tags , , , , , on November 18, 2013 by timtrue

As my kids grow I try to reduce commands and increase suggestions.  That way, in theory anyway, by the time they’re ready to head off to college, they make and own their decisions: I haven’t told them where to go; but I’ve helped them along the way–sometimes without their cognizance–so that when they finally decide it ends up being a win-win.  That’s my thinking, anyway.  And so far it’s working.  One of my kids is a sophomore already in college and another is about to finish her senior year of high school, on the cusp of embarking on her voyage into adulthood.

The Rebuke of Adam and Eve

The Rebuke of Adam and Eve (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enough on parenting styles.  What I want to write about today is the suggestion part of the above equation: what lies at the foundation of my urgings, directings, proddings, pursuadings, and hintings–my advice, in other words, to my kids as they approach the day when I bid them bon voyage.

It has to do with play (something I mentioned near the end of my last post, “Why Audit Apuleius?”) in contrast to work.  Not that these two form a dichotomy: it’s not either play or work, I know; but more of both play and work.  But picture a play-work spectrum.  On the extreme left is pure play, on the extreme right pure work.  Everything else from left to right–every tiniest gradation–is some combination of play and work, more play than work on the left half and more work than play on the right, with a 50-50 mix occurring right in the middle.  “Now if you’re like me,” I’ve told my kids throughout their childhood–subtly, and sometimes not so subtly–“and if you’re like most people I know, you’ll probably want to end up with a job that puts you as closely as possible to the left side of the spectrum–as close to pure play as possible.”

Of course, this advice requires some definitions.  For both these terms–play and work–are vague and can therefore mean a lot of things to a lot of people; or even a lot of different things to the same person.  So, okay, what do I mean?

By work I do not mean a job, as in the common use, “Honey, I’m going to work.  See you at 5:30.”  Rather, I mean more the term given to Adam and Eve in the creation account–or the fall account if you prefer.  God created Adam and Eve, so the story goes, in the divine image.  There, in that pre-fall state of uprightness they were both given jobs to do.  But it wasn’t until after they ate that notorious fruit that their tasks became the work to which I refer.  Now they were told that they would toil by the sweat of their brows and that, for Eve, bearing a child would involve pain and labor.  Here are some synonyms that go with the term then: toil, pain, labor.  This is the stuff on the right side of my spectrum.

Play, by contrast, is something more transcendent.  In pure play–on the extreme left of the spectrum–I lose all sense of time, and perhaps even some sense of space.  For instance, I compose music when I have some free time and the fancy strikes me.  More than once I have started composing something late at night, after most or maybe all other family members have gone to bed, when the house is quiet and there’s nothing to distract me; only then to realize suddenly that it’s beginning to get light outside, that birds are chirping, that I’m actually in the world of time and space again, and that I better go to bed and get at least a couple hours of sleep lest I be a grumpy wreck of a father all day.  Point is, in the act of composing I entered something of a trance during which I’d lost all sense of time, and was even transported in some sense from my piano bench to an other-worldly spot, something like the Wood between the Worlds in C. S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew.  Pure play.  Perhaps it’s the same for you.

Of course, in the world of jobs, vocations, professions, whatever–in the world of working for a living–it’s difficult to conceive of a job that allows a person to be in a state of pure play daily.  Indeed, is this even possible?  Even the author who gets lost in writing a book has a publisher to satisfy, deadlines to abide by, and the obligatory book-signings to attend.  Even the professor has students to teach, students who don’t really have any interest but are taking the course simply to satisfy a graduation requirement.  Even the independently wealthy have finances to worry about.  Even the–fill in the blank with your idealized job situation–has some type of toil, labor, and pain attached to the position.  We cannot escape work entirely–a truth that the Genesis story conveys all too well.

But we can do something about it.  Especially when we’re young, about to embark on a voyage into adulthood!  What moves you?  What engages you so completely that you lose a sense of time and space when doing it?  Once you identify this, the key is to find something that enables you to engage in this activity as much as possible.  So, for instance, in my case studying music theory and composition seemed the best option for a college major.  And even though I’m a priest now–a vocation that nonetheless helps me engage in the transcendent–I wasn’t thinking so much along these lines in college.  Too, even though I’m a priest now, I still find those occasional times to spend an evening lost in rapturous composition–an activity I honed and shaped most productively while in college.  Not to mention, my musical expertise often comes in handy now, in this vocation!

So what is it for you, I ask my kids?

I’ll tell you this: if you end up with a job that feels to you like labor, toil, and pain–on that right side of my spectrum–you’ll have a difficult time waking up every Monday through Friday; and you’ll watch the clock throughout each day, counting the minutes till five o’clock.  I once worked in a civil engineering firm that felt like that for me.  Not that it did for other engineers!  For some of them, they couldn’t wait to start work each morning; and they frequently had no idea that five o’clock just came and went.  For me, engineering was close to the right side of the spectrum; for them, left.

I’ll tell you this too.  The more I work–the older I get, the more experienced I become in my calling–the more leftward I want to move on my spectrum.  But that’s nothing to worry about too much now.  Still, you don’t want to find yourself in some dead-end job, unable to move leftward once you’ve got the responsibilities of a spouse, kids, a house payment, and so on.  (That can happen whether you have a college degree or not.)  If you ever find yourself there, have a plan to find something less toilsome and more transcendent.  (Not easy without a college degree.)  Point is, strive for play in the present moment.  And now, looking at college squarely, study what you love, what moves you, what triggers transcendence.

Of course this advice starts early: the proddings and all that.  But it must in our day and age, where kids are pressured from early on to worry about where they’re gonna go to college, what they will do when they grow up, how they will make the most money, live in the biggest house they can afford, drive the most luxurious car, and vacation at the best resort.  I don’t want my kids to worry about any of these things.  But I want them to be wise.

Here again my play-work spectrum fits the bill.  For even in pre-school my kids are encouraged to do what they love and love what they do.  But that brings us back to the beginning, doesn’t it?  When my kids are little, it’s more command and less suggestion.  That’s just about learning to love what you do.  Yet as they grow it becomes less command and more suggestion, or learning to do what you love.

A Lesson from the Liberal Arts

Posted in Doing Church, Education with tags , , on November 9, 2013 by timtrue
The Seven Liberal Arts

The Seven Liberal Arts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A modern liberal arts education bases itself on the seven liberal arts of the middle ages.  These are grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and harmony.  The first three comprise the trivium; the last four the quadrivium.  For students, mastery of the trivium was essential before going on to the quadrivium.

Today this strikes us as a minimalist curriculum.  If we were to try to categorize today’s individual academic subjects into one of the seven liberal arts, we would soon come up short.  Foreign languages could fit into the grammar category, arguably; but where would we place history, for instance?  Point is, for most schools today, even schools that advertise themselves as liberal arts schools, curricular choices are much more extensive.

Why is this?

Well, for one thing, times have changed.  Our cultural context is vastly different than the contexts whence liberal arts developed.  Or so I’ve heard.  Still, they’re called liberal because they were for the free person.  It was the education given to and received by the leaders of the next generation.  The best education money could buy, in other words.  And, while we don’t live in a society today that consists of slaves and free persons; while we see class distinctions as lines for blurring, not emphasizing; while we have a choice today of public, private, or even home education, why not offer the best education we can as a society to the next generation?  The thing is, I think we all want to give our children the best education we can.  But the seven liberal arts of the middle ages seem to many to be, well, outdated.

But there is a second reason, perhaps more significant, that we don’t consider the seven liberal arts a viable option today.  Namely, we want our kids to become specialists, experts in their respective fields–their chosen fields of preference–when they grow up.  So, now, while they’re young, the reasoning goes, we shouldn’t stifle them with so narrow an education.  Rather, we should expose them to as many fields as possible in the hopes that somewhere along the way they will be seized with an interest in something, an interest that is so passionate that they simply must pursue it for the rest of their lives.  Grammar is good and all, and most definitely should be studied.  But what if my son wants to study snake species in the Amazon?  An education that educates only in the liberal arts, so the reasoning goes, will never allow my son to discover this about himself.  Exposure to this and that and the other thing, then, is the name of the game.

But there is an irony here.  I’ve seen it happening in the schools where I used to teach and where my kids have attended.  I’ve seen it happening more broadly too, in society at large, and in the Church.

For in our desire that our kids find passions to pursue, more often than not they don’t–unless Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or gaming are considered passions.  But even when they do, the exposure to so many things, and the curricular requirements imposed upon them to complete their myriad assignments in order to convince school administrators that they are being adequately exposed indeed, they end up graduating high school not having mastered anything, passions or otherwise.

On the other hand, an education in the liberal arts has mastery in mind from the outset.  The focus is narrow.  But the product is broad, a graduate (in theory) who can adapt, learn, and grow–characteristics needed in a leader.

The key concept here is adaptability.  The modern-day approach produces young adults who have never mastered anything.  But the liberal arts approach educates students to learn a foundational mastery.  It produces adults who can grow, change, and adapt as needed; who can wear many hats as it were; who end up being good at any number of jobs, regardless of particular skill sets.

Speaking of which, in society we place a lot of emphasis on acquiring skill sets.  “What do you do?” is a question all too common at cocktail parties.  When we have a problem with a car, we take it to the expert, the mechanic.  When good leadership is needed, we call in an expert, a consultant.  When disagreements surface, we call the experts in, mediators, lawyers.  Elementary teachers, not parents, are seen as experts of child development.  Herbal remedies are seen as quack medicine; pharmaceuticals are expert.  And so on.

In the Church we want to specialize too, don’t we?  I’ve seen incredibly specific job titles for priests and pastors: Pastor of Adult Formation; Associate Priest to Seniors; Executive Pastor; Associate Priest of Pastoral Care; even Pastor of Technology.

Now, whether you agree with this focus on skills or not, it is what it is today.  (Personally I feel that clergy ought to be more generalists than specialists as they are called to be leaders of multi-faceted congregations.)  Still, even with the skill-set focus of today, and even with generalist professions becoming fewer and farther between, what seems the better way to educate tomorrow’s leaders?  Teach them to master something while they’re young, I say.  Exposure can come later.  Bring on the trivium!

I believe there is a lesson to be learned here for the Church’s leaders.  Houses of worship often try to be all things to all people.  That is, they focus on attracting people by offering exposure: the approach modern-day education takes.  Maybe somewhere in the flea-market a potential parishioner will stumble upon something to be passionate about.  But, instead, shouldn’t the Church adapt more of the mastery approach of a liberal arts education?  Churches are called to be places of worship.  Worship of Christ defines them, in fact.  Other places and organizations–not just churches–practice hospitality, feed the hungry, serve the downtrodden, counsel the psychologically needy, market what they have to offer, conduct weddings and funerals, educate children, heal the sick, and so on.  Only gathering to worship Christ is unique to the Church.  All these other things comprise parts of the Church, sure, even good parts.  And therefore churches should not stop practicing the love of Christ in these (and other) ways.  But why does the Church need pastors of outreach, technology, young families, seniors, administration, and so on to make these happen?  Laypeople can do all of these things very well–and clergy can and should encourage and enable them to do so.  But only corporate worship of Christ around the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist is uniquely the Church’s.  Shouldn’t this, then, be the special focus of ordained ministers?