Friday, October 4, 2013

I Learn By Analyzing, Which Makes Me Look Critical

On a break in the middle of a training session I was at this summer, I chatted with a fellow participant and asked what he thought of what had just been presented. He gave a little feedback and then asked what I thought, at which point I told him I was a little conflicted (which I also wrote about here). He listened, chuckled, and said, "Well, aren't you negative!"

That line played through my head all day and for the rest of the conference. There is some truth there. I can be pretty critical of ideas, sermons, presenters... and really in the end who wants to be around someone that's always negative about everything? Those people aren't teachable. I think of the "scoffer" in Proverbs, and I wonder if that's me?

Carson Clark wrote a post that I resonate with, and I'm quoting him here:

I’m like Pavlov’s dog.
Any whiff of anti-intellectualism causes me to froth at the mouth.
I experience a chaotic,
though no longer volatile,
mess of anger and annoyance.
Thank you, fundamentalist Pentecostal background.
The point?
Don’t ever tell me to stop thinking,
think less,
quiet my mind,
or anything of the sort.
I simply don’t compartmentalize heart, mind, and spirit likes most folks seem to do.
That’s not the way I’m wired.
I synthesize the three.
So telling me to power down my mind is also telling me to power down everything.
To my ears it’s almost nonsensical.

 I don't know if it's just who I am or if it's been built in through our Western educational system, but I learn by wrestling with a topic, turning it over, picking it apart, and then deciding what to take in. You can see it in the blog header here, and in the way I think through topics by writing them out. I was the kid in high school who took topics like Calvinism and Arminianism, wrote out the points and then researched all the scripture I could find to support both sides. I remember at that age when my dad chuckled at me expressing something I was thinking about and saying, "Well aren't you opinionated!" I hadn't realized I was.

I think that tendency to really wrestle with a topic in a way that others find critical or striking opinionated has been a part of me for a long time. Thanks to college and simultaneously being taught to think and being exposed to an anti-intellectual evangelical culture, I so appreciated the breath of fresh air that was Mark Noll and his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I have grown in my faith through really grappling with something intellectually and then letting it steep into my life. The mind isn't divorced from my heart - it helps inform and guide it.

I know it's such a Western way of living and learning, though. Recently when I took communion I found myself holding the elements and thinking, thinking about what it means, this bread and wine and the incarnation and the atonement and .... those things are good things to think about. They are beautiful truths. But I realized that I was just approaching it the way I am comfortable - by thinking. And that thinking is limited by my own finite mind, the limits of my reason and intelligence, and it will never reach the depths of the mysteries of God, the incarnation, or the Eucharist.

That doesn't mean you stop thinking, simply because reason has its limits. That's what was so hard for me about this training we were at. Being told not to discuss things, not to analyze, not to critique, just to apply and practice.... that smacks of manipulation. The kicker was when we were told not to study scripture, just to apply it. What? No, think. And rest in the Spirit. And step back in worship, knowing my study will never give me mastery over the things of God. And go and apply and act.

AND think.

Because that's just how I learn.

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