Monday, May 21, 2012

Theological Dunderhead

It is a happy long weekend Monday around my house.  My phone has not been ringing off the hook today, even though my husband is at home, so I have accomplished a ton of work. A day uninterrupted and voila, the house is cleaned from top to bottom!  YAY!!

To occupy my mind while doing these tasks I started thinking about where I am at right now spiritually.  Some things have changed for me over the past 2 years.

In our last town I had many folks that I met just hanging around downtown, or while riding the transit buses, who wanted to know about Jesus and why I choose to try to follow him.  None of these people are theological scholars, some are so illiterate they would have a difficult time dealing with the liturgy in my denominational services, some are mentally ill and struggling just to cope with each day.  I fell in love with these people. All of them were lonely and eager to chat, some were in quite desperate life circumstances.  It was very easy to talk to them about Jesus and to tell them about him so simply.  Basic Sunday school theology was all that was required for most of them.  Over a period of several years some of the conversations we had actually bore solid spiritual fruit.  It was an amazing time of ministry and making new friends I would have never chosen under different circumstances. 

But now my husband has returned to full time double Masters degree  seminary.  We have moved away from my dear street friends and I have not connected in my new town with people who are anything like them.  That is okay, it is time to do other things and I am enjoying the things I am now doing.  

However, new ministry for my husband has me surrounded by theologians, and Masters and Doctorate level conversation once again.  That is a good thing, I continue to learn wonderful scholarly things, but I find I am not participating in many conversations with my husband and his pastor/professor friends.   It isn't that I don't understand their conversation:  I audited the classes and read the textbooks. But because I don't have those letters after my name I am afraid to participate, and to have to admit to my lack of immersion in the theological studies they dearly love.  As soon as these people find out I do not have a degree at their level I am usually immediately written off as having nothing to offer, and perhaps they are correct.  I likely don't.  But sometimes it hurts to be written off so thoroughly by people who are making rather large assumptions about me when they don't know me at all. 

When my husband was still in seminary he invited 2 pastors, new to the area, to have dinner in our home. The lady pastor walked in my door, greeted me, asked me what degree programme I was taking and when I said I wasn't taking a degree programme, her response was to say, "oh..", turn around and not say another word to me in my own home for the rest of the evening. She and her husband wrote me off in that instant and we never did really connect on any other level over the several years we were aquainted. It was the first time that had happened to me, but it certainly was not the last.

Some people are very impressed by their academic abilities and others equally impressed by their own ignorance, and darned proud in both cases.  Is there some kind of middle ground person who isn't satisfied with the usual Sunday school theology taught in many church services and also isn't afraid to talk to the least academic folk around?  

Does it so often have to be a "them" and "us" mentality and practise between those who are well educated and those who simply haven't the same knowledge for whatever reason?  Is it not possible to get together at least occasionally with people of differing interests than our own and attempt to carry on some sort of meaningful conversation?  Can neither side expand their own minds to accommodate the other once in awhile?

Do uneducated people have to behave as if people who are educated automatically think they are  better quality  people, and worthy of scorn?  Do they have to assume that academic knowledge automatically precludes pragmatism?

Do well educated people have to behave as if having a conversation with the less well educated is going to taint them in some way?

I realize I am talking in sweeping generalities here. There are wonderful people on both sides of the academic vs non-academic issue who are capable of relating to a broad swath of other human beings, but those on each side of this particular issue sometimes seem all too capable of looking down on each other and not taking each other seriously.

When all the people involved are part of the Christian community it is a problem! We often find the grace to love the "unlovely" when we are part of different social communities, but when our paths cross in the church community both sides can become somewhat uppity!  

I feel that my own spiritual life has suffered in the past couple of years because I am  too afraid to attempt to participate more often in the academic discussions. I find myself refusing to be drawn in now even when the opportunity is presented.  I need to get over it!  Just because I enjoy street people (and often prefer them) doesn't mean I am some kind of stupid person.  I have to stop acting as though it does.


chris e. said...

Oh could i write at length on this one!!! Having no university degree myself and then marrying into a family where 'education is everything,' i've been treated like an intellectual bumpkin for the last 30 years. I'm ignored at best, belittled at worst. Even if it's a topic i know more about than the rest of the conversants, i'm still treated like an ignoramous.
It's not limited to family either. One quite close friend, after probably 5 years of friendship, learned that i had no degree, and after that had to pause whenever she used a word of more than two syllables and ask if i knew what the word meant. The fact that my vocabulary was far bigger than hers didn't seem to register.
Know what? There's nothing you can do to change them. Read that again. Learn it, know it, live it.
All you can do is keep your mouth shut till you can find friends who accept you for what you are. Although it might not hurt to point out that the phrase 'Kingdom of God' isn't a euphemism for the Mensa Club.
Oh, and in my no book learnin' opinion (for whatever that's worth), you're ANYONE'S intellectual equal.

Susan said...

It seems I struck a chord here with a few folk on both sides of the issue. Yikes! There are a lot of walking wounded both of the educated and not so educated folk. Well, on to more positive things in the next post.

Leah said...

Funny! I've always equated:

Sue = wisdom


Susan said...

Awwww shucks ma'am....y'er makin' me blush!!
haha Well, Leah, that goes both ways. I learned so much from you when we were all on campus together~sure glad we are still in touch!

Jo Anne said...

Because I am not that theologically intellectual, I can't tell how you rate on that scale.
However, when it comes to putting into practice the teachings and example of Jesus, you get a 150%.

In the end, that is what counts.

Love Jo

Susan said...

I didn't post this entry to seek personal affirmation, really I didn't. but thanks for your comment Jo. It and the others are very much appreciated. It is such good friends like you that keep me going through all the tough times. Bless you.