I love to learn.
Which means I’m an observer. I watch people, birds, the sky, my neighbourhood. Just the other day we had some dear friends and their boys over for a cookout and some passionate conversation. After some gentle verbal pushing and shoving, I learned some things about the mom and what makes her tick that will help me support and love them as a couple over the long haul.
Get to the bottom of people, and you’ll find their mantras, the foundational principles or maxims they use to navigate the maze of life. Sometimes these are dead wrong, sometimes partly true, sometimes profoundly insightful. In any case, you can learn a lot by unearthing a personal mantra. One of my dad’s mantras is, “Everyone has something to teach me.” While I aspire to live that way, he actually does. One of my mantras is, “If I’m not learning, I’m dying.”
One of my favourite websites is TED, a site full of free videos which highlight some of the best thinkers and innovators on the planet sharing their latest discoveries with the world. I’ve learned about gecko tails, the future of computing, social science, and pushing musical boundaries. If you haven’t visited TED before, or recently, you really are missing out.
Reading is also important. This summer I’ve been reading Rooms, SuperFreakonomics, All Marketers Tell Stories, and Getting Things Done. Just yesterday I sat down and prayed through gleanings from a recent web article about the success of Apple, Inc, and drew out some wisdom I can use in pastoral ministry. I’m convinced that while God can and does do miracles, he normally likes to get things done using the way the world actually works. That means as a minister of the gospel it’s up to me to understand how the world works so I can be of better use to him.
Another important classroom, I believe, is the movie screen. Movies worth watching are asking a question of life, and then trying to answer it. While I do filter movies based on language, sex, and violence to some degree, I think it’s far more important to get to the bottom of this question. My family just stopped watching Percy Jackson and the Olympians, for example—not because of the sex, violence, or language, but because of the fundamental question: What if the Greeks were right? What if there are many gods, and what if they are just as petty as we are?
Often times world religions are accused of fabricating gods that are more a reflection of themselves than actual facts. Greek myth is definitely one of those inventions. The fundamental assumption of Greek “theology” is this: Our world is screwed up because the gods are screwed up. Life’s chaos is a direct result of spoiled gods inflicting their soap operatic tantrums on each other at our expense. In other words, sin isn’t our fault, and the best way to make life work is to either appease or confront the gods by taking things into our own hands and cajoling them to do the right thing. Sure, watching the first half of the movie (before I stopped it) generated some good family discussion, but wow. Not the kind of world view I want slithering its way into my kids’ consciousness. Especially since the series aim is to make it all plausible in today’s real world. As a youth pastor, I might have used it as a springboard to teach orthodox theology to high school students (aren’t we glad this isn’t the way things really are?) but for impressionable children? Nope.
And I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love to open my Bible and learn something that has the power to change not only my life, but the lives of others through me. Glimpses of Jesus. Encounters with the Holy Spirit. Principles for living. Faith. Hope. Love. Boo-ya!
There’s another mantra I hold dear, one that makes all this possible: The idea that I am at least partly wrong about almost everything. All the knowledge in my life can be organized into four boxes.
Box #1 is for things I know. Things I’m actually right, not just sure about. This is smaller than you might think.
Box #2 is for things I think I know, but don’t. I have no idea what’s in that box, though there are things I’m beginning to suspect might just be in there. What I do know is that I think everything in this box is really in the first box, and if I went rummaging through box #1, I’d be shocked to discover it isn’t in there.
Box #3 is for things I don’t know. Not only do I not know what’s in that box, I don’t even know how big the box is. What I do know is that it’s far bigger than the other three boxes combined.
Box #4 is for things I think I don’t know, but do. Again, if I were to rummage through this box, I’d be shocked to find things I’d sold myself short on. I know both far less, and far more, than I think I do.
And every day is a gift from God, an opportunity to explore all four boxes, do some repacking, and most importantly, to move closer to living the life God had in mind for me.
Yup. I’ve decided: I’m a lifelong learner. As long as I’m learning, I have something to teach.