Tom Clancy, the great novelist, once said, “Life is about learning; when you stop learning, you die.” Our early lives focus around family, church, friends, and school. School equals a child’s work hours; they’re working to learn, and that learning will build, year by year, making successful adults who can function well in the world today.
Of course, school can be a bummer; ask just about any child. It would be so much more fun to be out playing with one’s friends or curled up in a chair with a favorite book instead of having to fight through spelling and grammar and math. But now and then, there’s a child who really gets into this idea of learning. Anyone who’s ever been a teacher can remember cases where they have had children like these in their classes, and what a joy they are. The child’s eyes glow when something new is presented and they realize it’s something of value. They get excited and they want to dig deeper. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s absolutely beautiful when it does.
Learning is an activity that is not necessarily confined to the walls of an educational institution. I learned things from my parents and my sibling, I learned from my neighbors, most of whom were much older than I, and definitely wiser. I learned from teachers and professors, and I learned from books. Most of all, I learned from just being in the world, watching how things changed, how people work together or have broken ties with each other over differences of opinion. I still learn every day.
There are moments of “AHA!” or new insight, moments when something suddenly becomes clear that perhaps I have never considered or a shift in thinking about a certain topic or a certain characteristic or even a plan of life or vocation. These need to be fostered because it’s all about learning, and about what those new thoughts and insights mean to the individual.
An insight that I’ve gotten just in the last day or so is that all of us need training in various things. Granted, if one gets a new job, there’s going to be a training session or class where the person must learn new procedures and new skills. It’s a learning curve. For new parents, it’s learning by doing, usually with a lot of helpful advice from grandmothers and others, on how to raise this new being who didn’t come with an owner’s manual or directions on how to grow a perfect, healthy, successful child. It’s about experiencing through living, making mistakes, enjoying successes, and most of all knowing what to take from both successes and failures to make us better at what we’re trying to do.
One of the places we definitely need training in is being Christian. It’s not enough to be able to quote scripture passages off the top of the head as if one were playing Jeopardy. It’s not about just a learning that this means that in the Bible or this verse amplifies that verse in this book over here, it’s learning what life was like in the Bible times, and how did the environment in which the early people lived affected what they thought, believed, and did. The church has an enormous history stretching back 2000 years and its roots much earlier. We need to learn about that history so that we understand how we got to be where we are and how are beliefs changed throughout the centuries.
We need to learn to think about where God is in all of creation and where are we? What is God doing or not doing, and what we are doing or not doing? What purpose do we serve in God’s kingdom? What is our place in the world as Christians? What was the message God has given us in the Bible, but framed with the culture of the Bible at the time, then applied to the modern day? Many times, we don’t learn these things in Sunday school, but rather in living in a world that’s multicultural, as well as multi-faith. We need to know these things and not just accept that Church A has a very welcoming reputation whereas Church B is more closed and exclusive. The answers all come down to training, and training is just another word for learning. It’s something I’ve come to believe is very important for all, whether infants, children, adults or even elders. None of us knows it all, but we can sure learn a lot more than very possibly what we’ve been taught before.
I applaud churches that don’t just have Bible studies but have studies of the Bible and its world, a world very different from ours and one which, once we understand the culture that produced the Bible, we understand better what it means. Does the Shepherd lead the sheep, or does he follow the sheep and whack them with a crook? That’s only one question, but it’s a place to start thinking.
I hope I keep learning as long as I live, because I am insatiably curious about so many things. I’m curious about my life as a Christian, and how I reflect that Christian belief in my everyday activities and contacts. I know a lot more than I did, and I continue to learn, not just facts and dates and people but about the intangibles, the things that form opinions, or things that make me go “Aha!”
Each of us needs to continue to learn not just so that we can repeat verbatim a passage or verse but that we understand what that first meant to the first people who heard it and to those who came after them. We can’t isolate from the origins of that sacred book. We can’t isolate from the culture in which Jesus grew and taught and was executed. We can’t understand the miracle of the resurrection unless we understand what went before. It all comes down to training and learning. We need to be trained to see beyond the modern-day interpretations that impose 21st century culture and understandings on first-century or earlier writings and stories. We need to be more educated Christians, as well as more dedicated.
Never stop learning. It’s worth the investment.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for two Education for Ministry groups, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and a homebody. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She is also owned by three cats.
Image: Incandescent Light Bulb, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Author: Zarnivop.