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Scalpels and Torches

I’m finally coming up for air after a few weeks of significant research/writing, and have come to an important conclusion.

I am not good at being an academic.

Or, perhaps more accurately, I should not be an academic.

I enjoy it. I certainly grow through the efforts. However, it takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort for me to make very little progress and, more alarmingly, it seems to feed some of the worst monsters in me. The last few months have been a fascinating accidental sociological experiment as I saw what happened to me as I worked. It literally began to effect my view of people and Scripture.

Drilling down into one issue within Scripture with hyper-focus, reading scores of articles of people arguing various sides, had an unintended side effect.

I began to slowly, subconsciously, label and categorize people as, “those who hold that view,” and perceive them as one-dimensional—defined by their position on a single issue rather than seeing them as a whole person. It becomes shockingly easy to forget that people are all a messy bundle of ideas, beliefs, experiences, and loves and that, in every one of us, those things often combine in illogical or inconsistent ways that produce misguided conclusions. If I choose to erroneously define you by one view that I disagree with, I miss, or dismiss, all the other true and beautiful things you have communicated. The result is a dehumanization. We both lose.

The gravity of our culture pulls us toward this. Labelling and polarization is easy—lazy, in fact—because it frees me from having to engage with a real person to better understand them. Contempt is easier than listening and learning. I want to intentionally choose actions/habits that pull in the other direction. Paul, writing to Timothy, warns him how to recognize the teacher who does not agree with Jesus: “he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people…” (1 Timothy 6:4–5 ). I would really like to not be that guy.

The other, much more dangerous problem I found myself in was losing my delight in Scripture. Wordsworth wrote, “We murder to dissect,” and I have seen the wisdom in it time and time again. Going at the living Word with a scalpel to dissect and analyze puts us in danger of draining it, and ourselves, of life. Does it truly respect the intent of the original authors, or the Spirit who inspired them?

When I suddenly realized what I was thinking/feeling I set all my books and articles aside and just read the Gospels. Once again, Jesus saved my soul. I felt like I was at the table with all of the other apostles arguing about who is the greatest, and suddenly caught Jesus’ eye at the other end of the table and I felt simultaneously humiliated and comforted. “Just look at me for a while…and you will find rest for your soul,” he tells me, and I believe him.

I’m not saying being an academic is wrong, or that you cannot do it without loosing yourself. Far from it. I personally know several who are incredible people who love God and people passionately.I love learning from them and the Church is better because of them. That is a gift I do not have, or a skill I have not yet learned.

There are people who can juggle flaming torches just fine…but if I start tossing them around, I have fire alarms and skin grafts in my very near future.

I’ll leave it to the experts.

Enough of Science and of Art;

Close up those barren leaves;

Come forth, and bring with you a heart

That watches and receives.⁠*

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