May 21, 2013
I’ve been thinking about my next blog post for some time. I have had many ideas. For example, I read about Kathe Kollwitz in late April. Kathe was a peace activist in Germany during both the first and second world wars. She died in 1945, just a few days before the Armistice. I thought of reflecting on how we work for the “kingdom,” often having no knowledge of the fruits of our labor. Similarly, we remember Oskar Schindler on his birthday, April 28, the man known for being both a scoundrel industrialist in Nazi Germany, and the one whose efforts saved the lives of hundreds of Jews. I found myself reflecting on his life and on the notion of redemption. I’ve also participated in two major events recently, both of which provide a great deal for reflection and sharing … the GEMN/Province IX mission conference which I organized and managed, and diocesan convention. But what I find myself interested in sharing is something a bit more mundane and a little more personal.
Last week I joined my bishop, The Rt. Rev. Francisco Duque, who was a law professor before his election to the episcopate, in attending a very interesting academic lecture series on social conflict in Colombia and the role of religion in social and cultural change. There were three speakers, a sociologist, a religious philosopher, and a political scientist. The lecture was at La Universidad de Los Andes, one of the premier institutions in Colombia (their Harvard), and the auditorium was filled with university faculty, students, and various professional visitors like us. I also found it interesting to note that many of the people with whom I’ve become friends in the ecumenical community in Bogota were present … maybe that says something about “like minds.” There were no vacant seats, and there were several students standing around the perimeter of the room.
There was no microphone, making it difficult for me to hear. And, of course, I also struggled with some of the language, especially since my limited Spanish was taxed by academic jargon. But I found myself paying close attention, understanding more than I expected, hanging on points I fully understood, and fascinated by the presentations along with the post-presentation dialog with the audience. I was in academia and it felt great!
I have always enjoyed the intellectually engaging part of academic life. My favorite professors were those who led intellectually provocative and engaging classroom discussions. In school, I was the geeky student who loved to attend extra-curricular academic lectures on interesting and controversial topics. I was the guy who would go to openings of new exhibits in the university museum. I would spend hours in the stacks in the library with books piled all around me; I was like a dog with a bone when an issue intrigued me and I wanted to know more. Visiting other cities, I always seem to find the local used book store, getting lost for hours digging through references particular to the region. I was the guy who picked up tickets for the art films, or attended a film followed by a lecture/discussion with the director. I used to buy season tickets to attend the series of international art films at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Sitting in that auditorium I found myself experiencing feelings I hadn’t felt for quite some time. There was an excitement and an energy. I felt engaged and alive. I started thinking back to the classroom. I could picture myself giving one of the presentations. As I left the auditorium, looking around the library at all of the students, I wanted to ask if I could sit down and join a discussion. I kept thinking how nice it would be to go out for coffee with a couple of the students and hear them reflect on their impressions of the lectures we had just heard.
I think I was a bit surprised by my feelings. It’s not that I don’t like my work in the church or that somehow I feel unfulfilled by it. I’m completely happy leading worship and working in the church, and am energized by the possibility that my work might be making a difference for the diocese and in the lives of the poor who we serve. But that doesn’t mean I’ve completely abandoned the other parts of my life. While I may be a missioner, I’m still all of those other things I carry with me from past experiences.
I hope I will always have a love for learning. I’m confident I will always be a museum junky. As I shift into the world of digital literature, I suspect I will also always enjoy a library or a used book store. And I hope I will never lose that feeling of entering a university lecture hall and experiencing the awe of a college freshman attending his or her first university class.