Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

"Now you start learning."

A man was telling me his work history the other day. He mentioned his apprenticeship and then he said, "It's after your apprenticeship that you start learning." It reminded me of when I was fresh out of college. I started my ministry and met with a minister in a town close by. Here I was fresh from 5 years of study, with all my intoxicating new knowledge, diplomas and certificates, thinking that I was God's gift to the Church. He was nearing retirement at the time and after asking me about my training and college experience, he said simply, "Now you will start learning what ministry is all about." It kind of put me in my place. My chaplaincy boss is involving me in work with a client firm. It involves trying to sort through problems they have. I expressed concern by saying, "Am I qualified to do this? I don't have supervision training and management knowledge etc.?" Her answer was, "You have forty years experience of working with people, what more training do you need?"

That was flattering but does longevity necessarily mean I learn a lot? Do I learn heaps just by doing ministry? Do we just learn by hanging around in life doing our thing? I don't think we do necessarily. There is a tendency in life for us to want to live life like a Noddy train in the park, going around and around on the same tracks. It is good to do that, we have set opinions, set responsibilities, set roles to play and life is easy, stress free... (till an earthquake happens and there's a buckle in the track)... generally life is OK. I have seen people live lifetimes like that. Do our thing, raise our kids, be doting grandparents and then move on, with basically the same views on life that we had when we were 20. We can live and choose not to learn, not to grow. We can be like a horse harnessed to a turntable, put our blinkers on, our nose in the feedbag and keep walking our circles. Learning involves interacting with the world about us, asking questions and adjusting opinions. It involves being willing to explore new tracks, and indeed make new tracks.

As I see it, there are three "stages" that we keep going through if we are going to learn through our experiences of life. The first is "jumping off the tracks". Doubting, questioning ourselves, the world about us and people's expectations. It involves moving our stance a bit, and being prepared to look at things from another perspective. The second stage is "cogitating" or "stewing" on that. Allowing our mind to explore the implications, to see connections, to reclassify things. The third stage is adapting our life, our world view our opinions to the new learnings and allowing them to take root and grow in us and shape us. The one thing that stops us growing is, lack of courage, or lack of "faith" to use a religious term. (Far too often "faith" is seen as blind belief in a set of static metaphysical facts, when it is actually almost the opposite!) At any point in the three stage cycle, fear can stop the process and often does. I can be fearful to jump the tracks and explore new territory. I can be fearful of where it might lead to if I stop and think about the new facts emerging. Or I can be fearful of actually applying the new truths that in my heart I now know. Lord of this good creation, keep me exploring new tracks, new perspectives and new experiences. May the Spirit of God who leads us to truth and wisdom keep nudging me to be chewing on data, thinking and reflecting. And may God keep me flexible and pliable that I may be shaped and moulded by his truth. Jesus said "unless you become as little children you cannot enter the Kingdom." I hope I keep exploring new tracks and enjoying the journey.

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