Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Lamenting Labors and Legacies

I always find great pleasure when speaking with Dr. John Weaver. As he waits for the upcoming release of his latest work, Technology, Management and the Evangelical Church, he's busy thinking about his next book – all of which became necessary for him to write after learning more about the complicated tapestry of abuses within the modern Evangelical Church in the US. I love how he sets me thinking about the language that I use, his rich sense of scholarship that drives questions about the origins of terminology, and how it affects us. 

He's currently chewing on the concept of hidden curriculum, and that set me thinking about Lawrence Richards and how I became familiar with the term. We all know the concept as part of the informal rules of conduct that are a part of all of our group (social) interactions. This study becomes quite interesting in high demand or cultic religion because of the wide disparagement between the informal expectations of members (and formal contacts) and the formally stated goals and values of said group. As we all do, I became aware of the concept long before I knew of the term which was introduced to me through the writings of Lawrence Richards. John's questions sent me back to Richards' work, and that sent me thinking about my own life and work.

I'm still settling into the post-childbearing phase of life when I was surrounded by Quiverfull Movement acolytes. Changing physiology marks my journey as opposed to the typical rites of passage enjoyed by my peers. If they've returned to work when their nest emptied, they talk about retirment plans. They also speak to me about their ever-changing role of parenting adult children or the difference between parenting a child and 'grandparenting' their children's children. Parents have the comfort of the legacy that they've invested in their children, and while I include the precious work that I did as a bedside nurse, I am left with the legacy of ideas that I leave in my wake.

With that reckoning of my life's meaning now operating so often in the background of my mind, the nature of the books that Lawrence Richards wrote caught my attention and piqued my interest. He did write several academic texts, but I would say that by virtue of the number of titles, he labored to make Scripture more discernible to a very wide audience. He wrote preparation guides that Sunday School teachers could find accessible. He wrote commentaries and user-friendly types of lexicons for the laity that would help them understand the language of Scripture more deeply without the necessity of learning Hebrew or Greek. He did what I think of as the best work of home missions (as opposed to foreign missions), and he aspired to help Christian Believers develop more profound knowledge of the Bibles that they already had. And I found that humbling and challenging.

I always aspired to be a missionary, and I wonder if it's not for many reasons. My maiden name derives from the Irish monks who transcribed the Four Gospels into the Books of Mulling, illuminated manuscripts that were distributed throughout Ireland during the Early Medieval Period. Missions may literally be in my blood. The efforts of these ancestors of mine differ little from those that Richards produced, and I think about what I've contributed in my own time. What did I set out to accomplish with my life, how does that differ from what I aspire to now, and how does that differ from the evidence that my life may leave? My grand desire and highest aspiration has been to glorify God by doing just what these other men have done: to share the Gospel.

I'm then reminded of an old, old interview with Francis Schaeffer. (He made some powerful contributions to the body of modern Christian thought in a sea of anti-intellectualism, and he also had his failings. Oddly, he also had what I think of as something of a cultic following, also. How ironic! Like the Bard writes through the words of young Hamlet, 
“He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.” Schaeffer taught about how a Christian could better engage non-believers about the Bible and what it meant to live as a Christian today. He said in the interview that he would have loved to have concentrated only on the richness of Scripture, as it is the most important aspect of the Faith, bringing us closer to God as it brings man closer to Him. But that wasn't what Schaffer said that he was called to do. What he 'found to do' was more along the lines of critical review, and his work didn't directly make the Bible more accessible. But he did what he understood to be his own calling and what was needful. I'll never be a Francis Schaeffer (I'm not supposed to be one!), but I identify strongly with what I recall of that interview many decades ago.

What do I leave behind?

The works of a bedside nurse aren't tangibly remembered, and so much of the critically important work blends into the recovery process of the person who seeks healthcare. We become a part of the team that helps a person find health and wellness, and our single acts of care become like droplets of water that flow into a stream and then an ocean of what is hopefully good helpful and healing work. Really, if we do a good bit of it right, we're not remembered. That nature of the work makes the opportunities to make lasting, personal impressions with patients and families that much more precious to us. We don't get a chance to think of things that way often enough, but I think of that work as perhaps the most powerful way that I worshiped and glorified God. I did a lot of teaching of nurses, too, and I hope that I made the most of those opportunities – and that others got as much benefit out of the experience as I did.

And that brings me along to this often too pedantic blog, all words and images on the internet which make a more indelible mark in life. I would have loved to have enjoyed a life of making music and sharing the Gospel to glorify God so directly with the most lasting and most precious, life-infused and God-breathed Word. Instead, I think of this blog and feel more like the Gadfly of Athens. I'm critical. The matters discussed on this blog are far more unpleasant than directly edifying. Scandalons of stumbling stones doesn't make for warm and fuzzy laurels to enjoy in old age. They aren't well-accepted in a patriarchal culture, either. Other people's memories redefine what I understood as a work of pure faith that was meant as a voice for the voiceless into egregious, disrespectful acts. I'd much rather have sung an exquisite aria instead of a thesis that exposed uncomfortable ideas and their consequences. I've lost count of the knives in my back that resulted from the 'survivor wars.' But here I stand – God help me.

So, here's to the hope that the good I may have done at least equals those things that missed the mark. I hope to have worked on the periphery of the goal to help people understand their circumstances, especially when they struggled against and realized undue influence. And as I understand all truth to be God's truth, and that truth helps all human beings transcend suffering and evil, if I didn't communicate the words and ideas of Scripture to others, I hope that I paved the way for them to consider them. Receiving those ideas is God's work in my understanding, so I leave that and all the rest with God anyway. (Paul wrote that we were created to do go works that were prepared for us in advance for us to walk in them, and I hope that I've stayed the course well enough to do that.)

One of the Sisters of Mercy at my (then) college used to pray a prayer before a lecture that I wish now that I'd written down. It was something to the effect that “every work, prayer, and study of ours” would begin with God, but it would also return joyfully to God in its completion. While I fear that this blog may have grown from the trappings of my own human trauma, I meant for it to bear witness to the true nature of the grace of God. Grace is not a thing to be merited through good works, nor can it by definition be. It is not a list of objectives meant to pull one's self up by bootstraps. Jackboots aren't the weapons of grace, either. I hoped that it would highlight the trappings of our nature so that those who read it would have cause to reconsider where they were going in their lives of faith and whether the paths that they found themselves on were truly the best way to take them to their intended destination. (For me, that means beginning and ending the journey with my Creator.) I don't think that I could ask for a better prayer for this blog effort than the one prayed by that Sister of Mercy in the lecture hall.

Please allow me encourage the reader to visit 
some other writings that will likely be of interest. 
They are important and timely.

From John Weaver:

At No Longer Quivering:

At Becoming Worldly – Thoughts of a Former Quiverfull Daughter: