Back to School: Reflections on Learning Important Tools and Rules

When I went to Oxford college my intention was to prepare to become a pharmacist. During the summer of my sophomore year, I was called to ordained ministry. The opportunity to help in social healing and pastoral care I witnessed across the counter at Connely’s Drugs; this was my true passion. (I wish I had figured that out before qualitative and quantitative chemistry and calculus.) I changed majors to Sociology and Philosophy in contrast. While acceptance into seminary did not require a specific degree, I finally learned that my broad exposure to several disciplines prepared me for ministry.

[Side note: With the epidemic of students who 1) believe they must go to college and 2) procure a degree in a field that will not yield a vocation in the field of study is on a steady rise. And while colleges continue to 3) increase the cost of degree programs and are 4) adding programs with agenda-driven degrees that will never be used for gainful employment outside of that same agenda pools, students spend precious time and money 5) being indoctrinated with social and political focus, rather than  6) using the time to broaden one’s reason and expanding understandings. It is no wonder that analytics is one of the top five careers that are needed in our world today.]

At the time, I questioned the usefulness of Sociology and Philosophy for any meaningful vocation, but it ‘fit’ well enough for seminary. Over time I have grown to cherish the tools and guides of studying people’s social behavior and how that influences society, family as well as the church.

In my senior year, I felt burdened with the classes in Analytics. But here is the point of my reflections of over thirty-years ago. Our society, for the vast amount of information and data available to us, thrives on feeding simple “Happy Meals” that are cheap and quickly digestible. So rare is the questioning of sources, comparing variables and learning from opposing ideas. The world is not to be understood by the simplicity of thought.

As we listen to social and political conversations these days, we give an assumed weighted value to one variable at the expense of all the other contributing variables.

Never is a story to be leveraged with assumptions and conclusions only one factor, such as race, gender, socio-economic, culture, politics, theology, or any other single measure. There are typically eight or more significant factors that actually give a more healthy understanding of any given topic. The rhetoric of news and social media focus on one and use one factor to affirm an agenda as fact. That is a grave danger to us all.

Sociology never deals with many facts, but always with variables that are in continual change. We live in a time that polarizing topics must be explored for more than one bullet point to rally around. When words such as ‘racism, gender, and class can neither be the solution or the one thing to measure. We are complex creations of God with the ability to do both wonderful and horrible things. Our challenge is to be faithful to God for the world.

Philosophy studies gave me the opportunity to study a variety of thoughts even though I did not agree with them all. It is a gift, that strengthens our own beliefs, to learn from the thoughts of others. We live in a culture that is more concerned with being on the correct. If weaknesses are learned it for the purpose of devouring our enemies rather than learning how to reach out with them to share God’s heart and hope. Philosophy reminds us that we have been struggling understanding ourselves and the world for thousands of years. Time does not always yield a better answer, some times we repeat the brokenness of the past rather than learn from it.

I am thankful for my work in the areas of Sociology and Philosophy even though it took a decade or more to see the connections. When you hear words of ‘fear,’ ‘hate,’ and even ‘love’ around words like ‘race,’ ‘gender,’ and ‘guns,’ know it is NEVER that simple to make the judgments, agendas, and pronouncements that are ranted and misused.  One piece of legislated morality will not stop evil. God gives us each the choice to trust what is good or evil.

So where is the cross? God’s love for us through Christ and the Holy Spirit is the great witness of what gives our lives and cultures meaning. When society tries to lift up some other cornerstone, or even the idea that no cornerstone is possible, we have an imperative call to both find our strength in being united in God’s word and community of the People of God and to transform the single-minded and self-minded voices that distrust God’s heart and mind as the model for our own.

When you hear the assumptions of blame ask those around you if that is leading us to God’s heart or drive a wedge of judgment, fear, and hate between the people of God’s handiwork. As the church, our agenda is the heart of God, even if that means the world calls some things unfair. God works through Grace and not Fairness. 

As bad as the news might be today, the days are short in revealing even greater evils in our world; we need to be ready to rely on God’s heart and not our own understanding. Those who do not hunger and thirst for the love and goodness we find through Christ and the Holy Spirit are building foundations that will not last. These are the days to be living examples of faith and not participate in the fear-making and brokenness of the world.  The weeks ahead will reveal great misuse of power and trust in our country and around the world. This is not a time to be divide, rather united in the heart of God. Our unity is not for our sake, rather for the witness of God.

If we rally under some other adgena or guiding thought other than God’s, it will shift and fade as every socially created entity rises and fails. God Almighty is our hope, our strength and our place to stand. Be prepared for the ugliness of truth. Be ready to repent and reconnect with God. Make possible the ability to forgive our enemies and neighbors in grace. We don’t know it all, but God does. We don’t always to what is best, God does. We do not always love, God has, is and will. In times of fear and doubt, cling to God who loves us most and never lets us go.

See you Sunday.

John

 

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