I've Got a Lot to Learn
While childhood has so many virtues—boundless energy, curiosity, and trust to name just a few— the young among us still have a lot to learn about the world. So we expect our children and young people to be educated. They need both formal schooling and life experience to teach them.
It follows that if we are to be the children of God, we should also expect that the Lord will need to provide some comprehensive education for us as well. To paraphrase John Calvin, “If we are meant to live for eternity, then we are all currently preschoolers in the school of God.” Yes, I love this idea! I’m happy to admit that as one of God’s kids, I don’t know much yet. I’ve got a lot to learn.
Part of God’s curriculum for us takes place in the school of Scripture. In the Bible we learn about the nature and character of God and about his involvement in history and his love for us in Jesus. Another huge part of God’s curriculum takes place in our expanding understanding of how the world works. Therefore as Christians, we can pursue everything from Astronomy to Zoology in Jesus’s name. To this end, my Alma Mater, Calvin University, puts on an annual set of lectures called the “January Series” to cultivate deep thought and conversations about important issues of the day to inspire cultural renewal and make us better global citizens in God's world.
At Elmhurst CRC, we have the good pleasure of being a remote site for the “January Series” from 11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. each weekday through the end of the month. I’ve had the privilege of being stretched and provoked each day and wanted to share some of the big ideas that walloped me earlier this week. Here’s a summary of the smorgasbord along with a short word of application for church life:
Monday, January 10: In a talk called “The Gravity of Joy,” Angela Williams Gorrel spoke about the paradox of how pain, sorrow, and deep joy can coexist in a good life. One profound insight that she shared was that the “Bible isn’t about why we suffer, but about what God does with our suffering.” Her central theme was that joy is the leading fragrance of Christ and of Christianity. The implications of just that for Sunday worship are staggering!
Tuesday, January 11: Gregory Jones, president of Belmont College, spoke about the growing problem of institutional distrust. “One reason for the failure of our institutions and for our own unhappiness,” said Jones, “is our lack of imagination and our unwillingness to take on risks in a world filled with multiple and seemingly endless challenges.” Just like the ancient Israelites who were unwilling to enter the Promised Land, most organizations (and churches!) have an informal Back-to-Egypt committee that tries to resist change. When it comes to struggling or failing institutions, the solution isn’t NO institutions, but rather healthy, reformed, and renewed institutions. It takes courage, trust, and cooperation for a whole community to build.
Wednesday, January 12: Authors and podcasters Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers spoke about how to have grace-filled political conversations. Unlike the politics of right vs. wrong, win vs. lose, their stated goal for all things political was simply to live together in community. To that end, they promoted the perspective of process; that is, that we are always a people on a journey. Both our personal characters and public policies are always in process. It works that way not only in politics, but in spirituality, too! Thank God that he doesn’t require us to have “arrived” before sharing his light, love, and grace with us.
Thursday, January 13: Reuben Miller, a sociologist and chaplain in the Cook County prison, spoke about how the parole system is structured to keep classes of Americans impoverished, unstable, and disenfranchised and leaves men, women, and communities fighting dynamics seemingly designed for them to fail. Miller called us as Christians to recover a view of the criminal justice system that was linked with rehabilitation and redemption while remaining fiercely un-naive about human nature and criminal behavior. We are so blessed as a congregation to have a front-row seat for the amazing redemptive work that has taken root at Angola State Penitentiary in Louisiana. We are blessed to have a Prison Ministry at Elmhurst CRC that is pushing to bring light to this brutal corner of our American life.
Grace to you. May God continue to stretch the walls of your mind, heart, and spirit!