THE LUXURY OF THINKING

It was the first week of my residency at college. I was test driving the library to see if this would be my venue for evening studies. I remember posing this question to myself. Now that I am here, what do I want to accomplish?

Getting here had been a bit of a challenge. I remember the “deer in the headlight” look my parents gave me when I announced I would be attending a private Christian liberal arts college. That look in their eyes changed first to dollar sings and then to an instant video replay of my life coping with the physical trials associated with my disability. The college was costly, and the location for the campus, the foothills of a mountain, would represent a considerable physical challenge for me. My parents realized that their financial help would not be sufficient and that I had destined myself to four years of traipsing up and down that foothill to attend classes. I knew I needed to take this financial and physical investment very seriously. That realization precipitated my question that evening in the library. What do I want to accomplish during my tenure at this college?

My first thought was, I want to learn to think for myself. My parents raised my siblings and me in a healthy, happy environment. They introduced us to conservative evangelical thinking and lifestyle. My parents and their close friends lived what they believed. Now that I was a liberated college student, a child of the 50s and 60s, I reflected on my desire to expose myself to other perspectives and ways of thinking. My father had relatives who were Mormon. Mom enjoyed a close friendship with a woman neighbor who was Catholic. Our next-door neighbors were Ukrainian. They had escaped the Nazi threat. At times my parents would talk about certain relatives who attended a “liberal” Baptist church. I knew by their facial expressions and tone of voice that this was not good, but I never understood why. Growing up, I did have limited exposure to other ways of thinking.

* In my quest to think, I discovered that thinking is a pathway to wisdom. Ultimately, wisdom is a pathway to a wholesome life. James Taylor, Professor of Philosophy at Westmont College, states that general learning “lies at the heart of a Christian liberal arts education, which I characterize as learning for wisdom.” The Professor maintains that there are “three kinds of wisdom: theoretical, practical, and productive – wisdom about what’s true, what’s good, and what’s beautiful. … wisdom about what to believe (involving reflection); wisdom about how to live (leading to action); and wisdom about what to make (facilitating creation).”

LEARNING FOR CIVILITY, VIRTUE, AND WISDOM
James E. Taylor, Professor of Philosophy
Westmont Magazine Fall 2018 – Vol. 37 #2 (p.34)

Wisdom applied creates a wholesome life. There is a sense of wellbeing enjoyed when I understand what I believe, order my life based on my beliefs and create as I live that life.

My college experience did not disappoint. I majored in Sociology. My favorite Sociology Professor had been on the review board tasked with sifting through the paperwork of college applicants the year that I applied. He believed that the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores carried more weight than one’s high school Grade Point Average (GPA). My high school GPA was high, 3.85 out of a possible 4.0 GPA. My SAT scores were, let’s say, less than stellar. According to this Professor’s estimation, I did not measure up to his standard. Happily, I was admitted and must humbly boast that in my case, I proved him wrong. I received top scores from him in all his classes in which I enrolled.

One of the reasons I value this Professor is that he taught his students to think for themselves. For him, performance on a test was less important than participation in classroom discussions. In his upper-level classes, he rarely gave tests. We were assigned to read books and then write papers interacting with the author and theme of each book. As this Professor read our essays, he took the time to interact with what we wrote, making notes on our text. He assigned a grade based upon how well we had grappled with the thinking represented in the book.

I have carried out the principles of this practice throughout my career as a vocational minister. The Pastor has a responsibility to preach and teach one’s understanding of the truth in the Bible. I determined to step out of the conservative evangelical echo chamber and think for myself. This task required time. To re-echo what I learned growing up would not take such a time commitment. This determination was not without its challenges.

As a Pastor, I discovered that congregants had many “emergencies,” which allegedly required my immediate attention. At the risk of disappointing, evening angering some I made myself unreachable in the mornings. Contact from close family members and responding to “real” emergencies were the exceptions. Otherwise, I engaged in the personal disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, and contemplation during those morning hours. This practice became one of the luxuries afforded in my ministry.

This determination also required me to overcome me. We all have personality traits that are either positive or negative, depending on the context. As a polio survivor, I had cultivated a polio personality. Psychologists refer to it as a Type A personality. I enjoyed pushing myself to overcome obstacles, physical or otherwise. This personality quirk served me well in my vocation, especially as I started traveling internationally to not-so-accessible nations. A sincere desire to not be lazy or to appear to be lazy, motivated this quirk. Being still felt like being lazy. I worried about what others might think, particularly those who were providing financial support to my ministry. I had to overcome that feeling and anxiety. Even now, as I sense my body slowing down with age, I face the same internal challenge. I do not plan on retiring from ministry. Realistically, I realize that I will not be as physically active in ministry. Intellectually, I know that the absence of physical activity does not necessarily equate with laziness. But, it feels like it. Overcoming me remains a significant challenge.

As I scanned a recent blog, these words caught my attention,
“Hurry Slowly: Challenging the Cult of Speed — We live in a world of scarce understanding and abundant information. We complain that we never have any free time, yet we seek distraction. If work can’t distract us, we distract ourselves. We crave perpetual stimulation and motion. We’re so busy that our free time comes in 20-second bursts, just long enough for us to read the gist and assume we understand. If we are to synthesize learning and understanding, we need time to think.”
newsletter@farnamstreetblog.com
Brain Food No. 331

Throughout the history of the church, there existed contemplative orders. Some members felt called to separate themselves from the affairs of everyday life. Others separated themselves in limited ways. Some contemplative orders invite nonmembers to participate in short term residencies. A key lesson from this historical model is that we all should afford ourselves the luxury of time to think. We need to reserve time in our busy schedules for the personal disciplines of prayer, study, meditation, and contemplation. The fruit for us is growing in wisdom and a sense of wellbeing.

*Addendum
The study of wisdom in the Bible is a worthwhile endeavor. Below I have listed some of the words linked with the word wisdom in Scripture. I have also noted the number of verses expressing the link.
Wisdom and understanding (54)
Wisdom and knowledge (31)
Wisdom and teaching (10)
Wisdom and instruction (5)


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