I had a lot of fun on Monday night during Dr. Charles Arand public lecture on the relationship between Christianity and creation care. If the Star Trek reference in the title wasn't enough to get me excited (Beam me up, Scotty) the rest of the night certainly was. With the help of penguin themed graphics to help illustrate his point, Dr. Arand spent the hour weaving his way through the history of the human relationship to creation. Overall he divided the history into two categories: views of the relationship based on alienation and views based on kinship. The stories of alienation from nature ranged from the Christian desire to escape from the earth to heaven to the Manifest Destiny concept of conquering nature. On the other hand, stories of kinship ranged everywhere from giving nature's its own value to preserving it as the only truly pure way to experience God. All in all the night served as an informative look at the past in order to explain today's ecological movement.
What really fascinated me the most about the lecture was all of the Honors course resources Dr. Arand pulled in. Though I wouldn't put it past the Honors Program, I highly doubt Dr. Arand went through all of our syllabi to find out which readings we had done, what theories we had explored, or anything like that. And yet they kept popping up everywhere. Francis Bacon, whom we read about as the founder of the Scientific Method, was mentioned as the proprietor of high ethics centered on controlling nature. The Tocqueville reading we worked through was drawn on to illustrate his desire to experience true wilderness. The Lynn White article we read discussing the historical, which he deems Christian, roots of our ecological crisis was discussed as a component of today's view of ecology. Now I know the Honors Program is meant to be interdisciplinary, but it was so cool to see all of the work we had done throughout the year come together around our over arching ecological theme. And it wasn't just all of the science readings or all of the history readings that were drawn together. Instead aspects of our literature, science, theology, and history readings all merged together around the topic. For me the lecture moved beyond an educational experience about ecology and into an appreciation for the type of learning we get to do in the Honors program.
Though Monday night's lecture was only the first half of Dr. Arand's talk, I really took a lot away from it. Seeing ecology presented as such a complex topic, with roots that stretch through so many traditions, generations, and concepts was pretty eye opening. As Dr. Arand pointed out, today's concern with ecology isn't the current fad that will pass away in a few years. Instead it is a deeply rooted issue that has left people searching for various answers for many years. All in all I'm thankful for the plethora of information Dr. Arand provided on the topic, and the appreciation he helped inspire for interdisciplinary learning.
On Tuesday night Concordia University students, and anyone else who happened to hear about it, had the pleasure of listening to Garrison Keillor lecture on "The Art of Comedy Writing." Or at least I think that's what we got to hear him lecture on. After jokingly explaining that Concordia had given him no guidelines regarding the topic of the lecture, he was free to pick his own topic. And he chose futility. Over the next hour he wove his way through countless life experiences explaining the futility of them and leaving the audience laughing in his wake. To Keillor parenting is futile because children never listen, and school is futile because you don't remember any of it. At the end of it all he concludes by saying, it could be worse. This may sound like a rather disheartening lecture on everything we seem to be pursuing as young adults, but the perfect blend of sarcasm and sincerity allowed the harsh blows to roll past and the humor behind the situation to sink in. Besides, Keillor didn't ride absolutely everything off as futile. On the contrary, he was proud to say he remembered one thing from his education. It was a sonnet he had memorized in high school, speaking of love that transcends all else. If love sticks with us, maybe life isn't so futile after all.
Though his stories were humorous and thought provoking, I would have liked to hear Garrison Keillor talk about environmentalism. Would it have fallen just as easily into his futile category? After laughing along with him that night, how seriously would we be able to take the rest of our conversations on the topic? I doubt Keillor meant for any of the topics he joked about to be discussed as earnestly as we've been discussing ecology, but I think it's an interesting idea. It is not too difficult for me to have a serious conversation about Christian stewardship one minute, joke about it the next, and then get lost in a sea of futility in a third. The relationship between Christianity and environmentalism is so complicated, with so many vitally important implications it's easy to get overwhelmed by the idea. Where is the line between not of this world and dominion over the earth? Maybe, as Keillor might suggest, the only approach is to do our best, realize and laugh about the futility of our efforts, recognize that it could be worse, and trust in the love and grace of God who is in control of it all. I'm sure that's not the most environmentally responsible approach, but it may be the Lake Woebegone method of ecology, and I think I kind of like it.
Keillor's trip down memory lane also got me thinking about what I might remember from my education years down the road. Considering the current state of my memory, I seriously doubt I'm going to do much better than Keillor at recalling the lessons from my school days. So if only one lesson, like Keillor's sonnet, is going to stand the test of time, which will it be? Will it be the characteristics of modernism and postmodernism, and the implications those have for Christian Education? Based on the amount of difficulty I have keeping that straight now, I kind of doubt it. Will it be the paper I'm writing on striking a balance between the print and electronic worlds? Since most of the technologies I'm writing about will most likely be out of date before I finish writing about them, I again doubt it. Maybe I haven't learned the lesson yet, and it will come in a future course. Regardless, I hope that one day I can look back over my life with the same sense of humor, recognizing that it could have been worse.
On Sunday the Honors classes had the opportunity to attend the History Theatre's presentation of Adrift on the Mississippi here at Concordia University. What an awesome experience it was. As someone who knows very little of history, and even less about Minnesota history, considering I'm not from this neck of the woods, it was great to see this unique piece of history come to life on the stage. The story follows a preacher in Missouri as he joins with other slaves fleeing the state. They wind up on the Mississippi River, hiding by day and traveling by night, headed north towards freedom. When they arrive in Minnesota the group goes on to found the first Baptist church in the state. In addition to seeing the performance we also had the opportunity to participate in a question and answer segment with the writer after the performance. While the play itself was a great learning experience, speaking with the writer also revealed new insights not only about the play itself, but also about the process of being a historian and presenting discoveries to an audience.
Last semester we spent a fair amount of time talking about history and whether or not it is an art, a science, or something unique to itself. After reading several examples of the fallibility of the human memory and the resolve that accompanies opinions, I truly began to understand how fragile the whole concept of history is. During the discussion with the author, he spoke about how little information he had to piece the story together from. There were no journals from the time on the raft, the names of participants were inconsistent, and those who were identifiable had few descendants. How could one hope to piece together history from so few resources? I'm not sure he could have hoped to accomplish such a task, but I do believe he accomplished something quite significant anyway. Instead of calling the play a historical reenactment, the author instead described it as historical fiction. The purpose of telling the story wasn't so much to recount facts, but instead it was to connect the audience with the valley lows, mountain highs, and completely uncharted territory that the characters encountered along the way. Though Adrift on the Mississippi told the story of one particular group of people, it helped connect the audience to the overall experience of life in Missouri for a slave. Regardless of its fact by fact accuracy, the play was able to connect the audience to that experience as a way of knowing. Based on our discussion in Honors, I think that is one of the most significant roles history can play.
Overall, this play was a great learning opportunity for me. Through an exciting, powerful, and at times humorous play I was able to learn a little more about the history of the Baptist church and its establishment in Minnesota. I also learned about the process that accompanies weaving such a tail together from the bits and scraps of history that remain. Most importantly, I believe this play served as a prime example of history acting as an aesthetic way of knowing. Though there wasn't a lot of historical "fact" (that is, if you can really call any part of history fact) to base the play on, the audience was still able to gain understanding about a specific experience this group of people shared. By connecting us to these emotional experiences, history can serve to remind us of the terrors of our past and the hopes we might have for the future. I believe history in this sense is vitally important, and this play helped serve as a reminder of that for me.
Throughout the last semester of Honors we spent a large amount of time discussing the five ways of knowing. On Sunday, at the Flying Forms Baroque Chamber Ensemble performance, I was able to experience firsthand aesthetics as a way of knowing. Through five pieces played on a combination of violin, harpsichord, cello, and viola de gamba, the musicians captured the authentic Baroque style and were able to carry the audience with them on a trip to the past. The variation in technical difficulty, mood, and overall style created a clear window through which the audience could observe traditional Baroque music. Down to the gut strings on their period instruments, the performers were committed to their craft and their dedication rang throughout their performance. To find out more about their music, visit their website.
As I noted before, this concert was a great example of aesthetics as a way of knowing. In our art unit we discussed, quite extensively, how art, music included, has a way of connecting us to deeper understanding, often times an understanding that is beyond words. To demonstrate this in class we listened to a piece of music and wrote a story about what we heard. Though the characters, settings, and plot lines varied to a point, there were key moments, climaxes and turning points, which stood clear in most of our stories. We were each writing unique stories, but the music that served as our inspiration helped connect us to a deeper meaning. It would have been interesting to carry out the same exercise during the Flying Forms performance. I don't mean to say that each piece lead every member of the audience to the same, clear understanding. I do believe, however, that based on the skill of the performers and the feeling they put into their music the majority of those experiencing it would have felt moved the same way. As one who is rather reason-bound in their thinking, being able to see an artistic performance such as this reminded me that aesthetics are, in fact, a powerful way of knowing.
From this experience I gained not only an appreciation for the Baroque style of music, but also an appreciation for those who devote so much of who they to their craft. Each of the performers holds a doctorate degree in music or performance, but their connection to their music goes beyond academics. For one of my ministry classes I'm reading the book The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer. In it he challenges teachers to connect with their inner selves, and the subjects they teach, in order to be a truly effective teacher. The Flying Forms ensemble was a great example of that for me. Though they weren't necessarily there to teach the audience, the passion and connection they had to their art was enough to educate us about more than Baroque music. As I continue on in my education, and my life, I hope I can live and teach with that level of authenticity.
Okay, I'll admit it. I'm not a Johnny Cash fan. If you are, more power to you, but I can only handle so many rings of fire. Nevertheless, I can't help but relate Three Cups of Tea to the idea of walking a line. Throughout this book the reader followed Greg Mortenson through the lands of Pakistan and Afghanistan as he worked to bring education and an overall improvement in quality of life to the people who dwell there. What started out as an attempt, and fail, to honor his sister's memory became a lifelong devotion to the people who cared for him at his lowest point. In the midst of a wrong turn Mortenson laid eyes on the "classroom" the children in the village of Korphe were subjected to, a teacher-less outdoor area with nothing but dirt to trace in, and he found a new direction to take his life in. From there he began working to overcome obstacles as tall as the surrounding mountains in order to bring education to the previously forgotten children of those lands.
As I should know to anticipate by now, my initial opinion of the book was changed pretty significantly by both in-class discussion and the outside of class discussion that happened around our dinner table. With the exception of the fact that the author uses the terms "Jeep" and "Land Cruiser" synonymously, which, for the record, is incorrect, I really enjoyed the book. I thought, and for the most part still do, that it was a pretty incredible story about a man that was able to carry out amazing, life changing work in part of the world that can really use it. This changed a little bit, however. I don't mean to say that Honors crumbles all of my resolutions, but it's not uncommon for my professors and classmates to introduce new ideas that cause me to reevaluate, and often abandon, those which I previously held. For example, during our end of the semester Ways of Knowing presentations my thoughts on Science as a way of knowing changed rather significantly. Though I had spent the semester thinking about the ways of knowing and had put together my own presentation, listening to my classmates caused me to reevaluate my beliefs. Though I'm still a fan of science, the aspects that most of my classmates identified as its merits were those that I actually disliked the most. I came to realize that my actual use of this way of knowing was significantly different than what I originally imagined. The same thing happened during these discussions of Three Cups of Tea. The things I admired most about the book, and Mortenson's story, came to be those that left me the most unsettled.
The problem didn't arise until I had to think about what I would do in Mortenson's situation. To be honest, I probably wouldn't have survived. Ignoring the fact that I see the stairs to the top of Meyer Hall as slightly daunting in the early morning, and therefore would never dream of scaling a mountain, I don't think I'm perceptive enough to observe, adopt, and be accepted into the customs of the people Mortenson visited. Though I like tea, it would probably take significantly more than three cups for me to be accepted into a Korphe family. Mortenson's ability to connect and bond with the people he encountered greatly benefitted his work. Even so, and even if I had this ability, I don't know that I would adopt his same strategy. For the most part I was perfectly fine with his methods, until it came to faith. The most significant example of this uneasiness came during his kidnapping. It's hard to know what his motives were exactly, and in such an exteme situation I may have acted the same way, but Mortenson seemed to take on a religious persona, "worshipping in the Sunni way in this Sunni land," hoping to gain leverage in the situation (168). The author even used language that suggested strategizing, noting that Mortenson wondered "if his plan was having any effect" (168). Bringing Christianity into this situation may have been foolish, but trusting in God would not have been. Throughout the book Mortenson's religious tolerance progressed from respect, to acceptance, even to practice. As potentially the only Christian, or the only person seen as Christian, these people may ever meet, what did Mortenson's actions say about Christianity? Do we practice other religions alongside their believers? Or do we believe that Christ is the only way to salvation? When it comes to serving the least of these, at what point should your devotion to Christ need to outweigh your devotion to people?
I don't mean to sound judgmental of Mortenson. These are the things I would struggle with if I was ever put in his situation, I don't mean to think less of his work because of them. His story is an inspiring one, and it helps raise important questions for all people of faith. From this discussion I came to see that things are rarely straightforward in the life of a Christian. What seems like great work on the outside may be missing the most important piece. How important is humanitarian work if it can't include Christ? When it comes to this relationship, I walk the line.
Oh, and in case you were wondering,
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail Dr. King, Jr. gives a description and explanation of many of the issues that have risen from the civil rights movement. Many of these issues have been around for centuries and some still exist today. As a result, Dr. King, Jr. is not the only one to have expressed his opinions in these areas. Throughout the semester the Honors class has looked at the writings of several other individuals who also studied those same issues. Throughout this paper the ideas of Martin Luther King, Jr. will be compared and contrasted with those of Socrates, Kant, and Rouseau in regards to religious faith, civil disobedience, and militant non-violence.
One of the key points Dr. King, Jr. makes in this letter is his disappointment with the church. Religious faith is obviously a large part of his life and his ideology. His writings, including this letter, are wrought with Biblical imagery. From his strong faith, however, he notes his dissatisfaction with the church's role in the civil rights movement. Speaking "as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church," King writes that he expected support from it (5). He felt he would find an ally in his fight but instead found an opponent. Based on Rouseau's writing in Social Contract Book IV, it seems as though he (Rouseau) would not expect anything different. In his discussion of Christian societies Rouseau argues that though it is said that a Christian society would be a perfect one, difficulties would still arise (4). Since "Christianity as a religion is entirely spiritual, occupied solely with heavenly things," a truly Christian society would not care about the happenings of the world, but would instead have its eyes fixed on heaven and spiritual things (4). Though one could by no means call the church of King's day, or any day really, a perfect Christian society, the struggle between civil and spiritual obedience has always existed. What does suffering in this world matter if one's true home is in another? Because Rouseau holds such a strong opinion about the focus of Christian societies it seems unlikely that he would expect the church to participate more strongly in the civil rights movement.
Another area that King spends a significant amount of time addressing is the area of civil disobedience along with militant non-violence. He makes several points about determining whether or not a law is considered just and what one is to do in response to unjust laws. He quotes both Augustine and Aquinas as saying, in summary, that a just law is one that aligns with the moral law of God, and that any law which does not follow this guide is unjust (3). Though King is opposed to using violence to reform those laws which are considered unjust he does note "that [He] is not afraid of the word 'tension. . .' There is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth" (2). It would seem that Kant, specifically in his work "an Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?," would agree with this philosophy. Throughout this article Kant is working to define the idea of enlightenment and issue a charge to those who wish to be considered enlightened. At the very beginning Kant defines enlightenment as "man's release from his self-incurred immaturity" (1). It is not too great a leap to suggest that King's disappointment with the moderate white who "is more devoted to 'order' than to justice" is also a disappointment in their lack of maturity in the matter of civil rights (4). Kant continues on in a discussion of the necessary restrictions on private reason and the necessary freedom of public reason. He notes that in many ways freedom is restricted. Clerics urge belief, tax collectors urge payment, and, in King's case, leaders urge oppression rather than argument (1). In response Kant answers, "The public use of one's reason must always be free" (2). While it is important to work within the bounds of private reason, one's use of public reason must never be limited. This is the reason one would use to challenge the unjust laws of the society they live in. Kant would see King as an enlightened individual who is exercising his public reason to question and reform the unjust rules of society. In doing this however, he is continuing to work within the private limitations on his freedom by resisting violence and following the laws, such as the requirement of a permit for a parade, that he sees as just. Therefore the philosophies of King and Kant align quite well, and they both issue the same command of informed thinking to their audiences.
A third philosophy which aligns quite well with that of Dr. King is the philosophy of Socrates. In his work "The Parable of Cave" Socrates weaves an informative tale of a man who has been brought into the light of reason and returns for those who remain in the darkness. It can be said that Dr. King was one who was "brought into the light" about segregation and discrimination and was chosen to help the rest of society realize they were still in the cave. Socrates notes "if anyone tried to loose another [from the cave] and bring him up to the light, let [those in the cave] only catch the offender, and... put him to death" (2). King's journey towards enlightening society was very similar. Though he was not alone in his efforts, the "cave dwellers" were much more eager to destroy his cause than to follow him into the light. Regardless, Socrates would have agreed with King's philosophy and would have encouraged him to continue in his efforts. Life outside the cave is the only true life and one must strive to reach it against all odds.
Overall the philosophy that King presents in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one that would be mostly agreed upon by those who have been studied this semester. In some cases the reactions that caught King off guard would have been expected by others, but for the most part his efforts and the ideologies of many before him were well aligned. In his effort to eliminate discrimination through religious faith, civil disobedience, and militant non-violence, King produced a philosophy that would have been supported by many.
The topics of faith and reason are often surrounded by much debate and disagreement. Whether one chooses to look to the Catholic Church's strong opposition of Galileo's heliocentric universe or to the lack of God in the Big Bang Theory it becomes clear that faith and reason have not always coexisted peacefully. In his Summa Contra Gentiles Aquinas makes several arguments for the existence of harmony between faith and reason. In the seventh chapter of this document, titled "That the truth of reason is not in opposition to the truth of the Christian faith," He refers to the first principle, of non-contradiction, and the first condition, the ability of the mind to know truth, to help support his position.
In regard to the first principle, Aquinas makes both explicit and implicit use of it in this section. In one instance he states, "Now contrary opinions cannot be together in the same subject" (334). Here he explicitly states the first principle and continues to build his argument upon it. The principle becomes vital in concluding a logical progression of thought relating to nature and the beliefs and opinions God made innate in His creation. After accepting that truths cannot contradict one another it is only logical to assume that the truths God reveals to His people will not contradict the truths that can be obtained through nature. God is the author of nature and that which He reveals, so, being products of the same creator, it would be illogical for the two to contradict each other. Aquinas reiterates this point by explaining the impossibility of contradiction between that which human experience has deemed true and that which God has revealed (333). Certain things have been proven to human nature so thoroughly that they cannot be false. On the other hand it is entirely incorrect to deem anything from God as untrue. Therefore it is beyond the bounds of reason for the two to oppose each other. Aquinas also acknowledges the tendency of contrary arguments to hinder the advancement of truth. He notes that it is impossible to attribute the hindering of knowledge to God so, therefore, no contradiction must exist (334). In this short section Aquinas weaves the first principle around, over, and through all of his arguments.
Even with all of the evidence and support Aquinas provides none of it would be significant without acceptance of the first condition. If the mind were not capable of knowing truth it would not only be irrelevant to find contradiction amongst truths, it would be impossible to explore their relation at all. By setting out to explain the relationship between faith and reason Aquinas is fully leaning on the belief that truth can be known by humans. It is within this condition, however, that Aquinas goes on to discuss the relation of faith and reason.
Earlier in the Summa contra Gentiles Aquinas notes,
Just as a man would show himself to be a most insane fool if he declared the assertions of a philosopher to be false because he was unable to understand them, so, and much more, a man would be exceedingly foolish, were he to suspect of false hood the things revealed by God. (330)
In this instance Aquinas is almost using the first condition in reverse. Instead of ending the condition with the ability to understand truth he furthers it by suggesting that something is not untrue simply because one does not yet understand it. He revisits this point in chapter seven by connecting it to the relation of faith and reason. Though the truths of the Christian faith often exceed the capabilities of human reason it is incorrect to count them as false (333).
He continues by saying, "Nor is it lawful to deem false that which is held by faith, since it is so evidently confirmed by God" (333). Here he is arguing that the process by which one comes to know the truths they are capable of knowing is not entirely relevant. He is not, however, saying it is irrelevant. Though he probably would not go as far as postmodernists in distrusting truth it seems as though Aquinas would test the sources and methods he used to obtain information to ensure their validity. He is instead stating that truths which come from faith are just as valid as those contrived by human reason.
In this chapter, and in the rest of the Summa contra Gentiles, Aquinas strives to validate the relationship between faith and reason. By basing his arguments on two of the self evident truths he is able to unravel criticism and arrive at logical conclusions about the affinity of reason and faith.