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learning to learn


The school term has started with a bang.  I am armpit-deep in scripts, playwriting texts, performance theory, and theology basics.  I am taking courses in the theatre department this semester and it is humbling and stimulating at the same time: humbling because I am pretty much the most theatrically-illiterate person in all my classes and stimulating because theatre (which is basically showing instead of telling) is inherently incarnational. 

I read Shakespeare's Hamlet yesterday; it is quite a different experience to see a character act out revenge than to read a philosophical, psychological, or theological exposition on the desire for justice through retribution.  When I see something "in the flesh," I seem to comprehend it at a much deeper level and to more complex and nuanced degree.  It gets inside me, to some extent, if I let it.  As Hamlet indicates, a play has the potential to capture our consciences, to prick our hearts, and to show us things that reason simply cannot. 

Yesterday I met with one of my classmates from the playwriting course to prepare a short presentation for this week's class.  Our discussion wandered through many topics including a question that has been on my mind for many years now and is coming up again in my studies:  how does one pass on wisdom, values, perspective, knowledge, and insight from one person to the next without coercion?  In other words, how do we make real disciples?  There are a few methods that are used to facilitate this transfer:  formal education (schools), apprenticeship (working with a master of the craft), internship (learning by working in the field), formation and modeling (parenting and mentoring), and self-instruction (through practice, research, or exposure to a subject).  This is not an exhaustive list, but it represents many of the ways we acquire knowledge, skills, and values. 

In the course of our discussion, my classmate mentioned that she practiced the Baha'i faith from 6 - 12 years of age.  We both acknowledged that beliefs we are taught when young can be very influential in our formation (my Christian heritage certainly was), but at some point, we all ask...Why am I doing this?  Do I go to a Sunday church meeting just because that is what my parents did?  Do I read the bible just because my pastor said it was important?  Do I sing worship songs just because that is the practice of my community?  To begin with, yes, but effective discipleship means that even when the teacher/mentor is no longer present, the students take up the mandate.  This is what Jesus modeled.  He taught, he showed, he explained, he answered questions, he called people to walk with and work with him, he challenged ways of thinking, and much much more.  Many followed him, but not many stuck with him.  Many were intrigued by his teachings, but not many lived them.  Many came for the miracles and the food, but not many could stomach the suffering.  But in the end, he had some faithful disciples that he trusted to carry on his work.

I am not Jesus and I can't just "do what Jesus did."  I have yet to develop the ability to turn a few loaves and fillets into a meal for thousands.  Just as there is no simple formula for being a great artist, there is no 5-step plan for living a creative and holy life.  I do, however, have the spirit of God to guide me, the stories in the scriptures to show me what it looks like to belong to God, and an encouraging community of saints (those who have chosen to follow the Holy One) which together provide everything I need in order to develop into a whole and holy person. 

I guess what I am learning right now is that I am always a follower, always learning how to be a disciple.  And this is perhaps the best qualification for teaching others:  to be taught every day by the Master Teacher.

the photo:  A bench at the nunnery in St. Andrews.  One can sit in the same place where others learned and practiced devotion to Jesus centuries ago.

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