Monday, June 05, 2006

Life is like Math class

This is my June column for our diocesan newspaper "ChurchActs".

I still feel sorry for my math teachers. How shall I put it? I was not a gifted math student. In fact I had to struggle every year right into college with math. Eventually I got it to the point that I passed all of those classes but it took lots of work. I had to go over things and over things and over them again. It must have been frustrating at times for those teachers.
As I read the Gospels I'm sure that Jesus must have the same feelings. How many times does he have to explain something over and over to his disciples? How many times does he realize that that they STILL don't get it? It must have been hard on the disciples as well thinking that they've finally “gotten it” only to have Jesus take them back over it again.
In the end that's a reassuring thing for me though. Because Jesus DOES go back over it with them. He tries to find new ways to explain the same concepts And he never gets fed up and just orders them away. His greatest concern seems to be not that they need things repeatedly explained but rather that he only has so much time to try and get the concepts across. There aren't years and years and years of time to work it all out. In the end he knows that he can't finish the work and that there will still be learning for his disciples to do after he is gone from this world. They'll stumble and struggle and work their way toward the lesson all their lives. Along the way they'll have to repeat lessons over and over again with the folks that will come after them. It's a never ending cycle.
And that is the good news. We live in an age that wants certainty. Answers should be clear and concise. Everything needs to be fast and bite sized and not take up too much of our time. Unfortunately I don't think that's what the Gospels teach us is going to happen. We should expect a long process of learning, we should expect that we're going to get some of it wrong and that we'll have to set aside our easy answers for more hard questions. Out of that uncertainty we will be required to allow a little extra room for the others that are trying to follow the same path. What may look like a swerve off course may turn out to be the next turn that we needed to take.
In our national life and our faith life we meet lots of people who have decided that they've “got it”, that they've nailed it completely. I'm willing to grant that it might even be possible but the history of humanity argues against it. Too many times we've declared that we know all there is to know on some subject only to have it thrown back into our faces. That desire for certainty comes very often from our need to order our world the way we want it. The recurring lesson of the Gospel is that we need to be open to how God has chosen to order the world.
As we head into the summer take a moment to remember whatever subject you struggle with, where you have to go over and over till you “get it”. Remember that God is patient and is willing to work with you till you get it. Then transfer that patience to folks all around you. They're struggling just like you trying to figure out how they are supposed to live their lives.
I never thought I'd say it, but life is just like math class.


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