Thursday, June 18, 2015

On Maps And Guides

For today's #tbt, we are going back almost 11 years, to the last class I took for my undergraduate degree at Nazarene Bible College, "Congregational Development."  When people post images on social media for #tbt, they are often, but not always, happy memories. The things we want most to share are usually the things we remember most fondly, so that makes sense. But we often long to share our deepest hurts and regrets, as well - it's just that we somehow feel less secure about doing so in public spaces. There are certainly appropriate and inappropriate times and places for what we share with other people, and with whom we share it.  I say this because in looking back to my final class at NBC, I think more of regret than I do of happy memories.  There are a few reasons for this. 

First, it is a deep regret in my life that I did not finish my undergraduate degree at a traditional Nazarene college/university.  I attended Olivet Nazarene University in 1994 and 1995, right after high school, but only completed the first year and a half.  I regret that I did not complete my undergraduate education right then and there, at Olivet.  There are a myriad of reasons for this, well beyond the scope of this post.  Barring that, I regret that I never transferred to and attended Mount Vernon Nazarene University as I could have a couple of years later (again, for a myriad of reasons way beyond my purposes here).  I also regret an all too short experience on ground at Northwest Nazarene University, where I did attend for one semester of undergraduate work. 

Second, I have regret because I know that I was a plenty good enough student to do well in a more academically rigorous traditional undergraduate program than NBC.  My intent here is in no way to 'knock' my undergraduate alma mater.  There were many wonderful people - students, professors, staff - at NBC, I learned much there, and I am thankful for the opportunity they gave me.  I have good friends that are also NBC grads, and I am in no way diminishing the value of their, or my, educations.  Were it not for NBC, and their pioneering work in on line education, the way life actually did turn out, I might never have finished my Bachelor's degree.  And that really would have been tragic.  But the truth is the truth:  I have always felt a little embarrassed that I didn't finish school in a traditional undergraduate program.

Finally, I have regret because, speaking of embarrassment, it took me three attempts before I actually passed the relatively simple class, "Congregational Development" - it took me so long to do this, in fact, that I had already been graduated for a year (2003) before I finished this class up (2004).  And the final attempt was a fiasco in itself - a story for another day, perhaps.  Nevertheless, I did finish up, with the crowning achievement being a paper titled, "A Personal Philosophy of Christian Educational Ministries in a Local Church."  To which I now turn for #tbt.

In my paper I wrote, "it is imperative before embarking on any journey that you have a map to guide you to where you want to go- you also need to know exactly where it is you are trying to go in the first place or else the map won't do you any good."  Reading it over, I fancied my paper as the map, apparently (and since I was done with school and had learned all there was to learn, of course, this just made sense, right?).

So can older me #hashtag this out with younger me?

Older me says this:

A map can't tell you where you are supposed to can only tell you how to get there, once you know where you are going. But even then, depending on where you are, and where you are going, and what other places along the way you might want to visit, it is only a guide for the plethora of possibilities that exist. 

I should have known this by that point in my life...having started out at ONU only to leave before I was even halfway done...driven right on by MVNU, and stopping for a cup of coffee at NNU.  But I still thought I could craft a vision that would be so compelling that everyone would just have to follow it.  To the letter.  Because I knew better.

Except I didn't know better.  I know better now.  But in saying that, I have to throw in a word of caution to myself (and to you, the reader):  Just because I know better now, doesn't mean I know best.  There is always more to learn, there are always new ways to grow in wisdom, knowledge, understanding, in life, and in our hearts and spirits.  Neither you nor I have a corner on the truth.  Our posture should always be one of a humble learner.  Which, by the way, is much different than the posture taken by one who is abused and oppressed.  But that is also a subject for another time, perhaps.

In the conclusion to my paper, younger me wrote this:

"When we take the task of Christian education seriously and lay out a structured philosophy to guide us we can be as productive as the Holy Spirit enables us to be.  We do not have to wander around aimlessly wondering what to do next."

Older me has more problems with this than I can deal with in this post.  But instead of endlessly hashing all those out, I think I will utilize the fact that I mentioned Holy Spirit.  When it comes to maps and guides, I will let Jesus do the talking as recorded in John's gospel:

"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when the Spirit of truth comes, the Spirit will guide you into all truth.  The Spirit will not speak on the Spirit's own; the Spirit will speak only what the Spirit hears, and the Spirit will tell you what is yet to come" (John 16:12-13).

Holy Spirit is not described as a map, but a guide.  I think we would be wise to view God, and also the scriptures God inspired, in this way. 

Earlier in the same dialogue, Thomas says to Jesus, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" (John 14:5)  Jesus famously answers, "*I* am the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6).  Jesus also says much earlier, when speaking to Nicodemus, "the wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). 

Jesus does not offer Thomas or Nicodemus a map.  Jesus does not chart a very specific, rigid course for the disciples.  Instead, Jesus offers himself to be their guide, their partner, a co-creator and co-worker in redemption through the work of Holy Spirit in and through them.

So I think I am done living by maps.  I want to be led by a Guide who knows the way - and who is the Way.  No matter where I've been.  No matter where I am.  And no matter where I may choose to go.

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