Dear Liberal Arts Education (LAE),
This is my official thanks to you for the bittersweet symphony you have made out of my early 20s. You met me under fluorescents and footnotes, putting all authority under microscope. I am convinced that is a very good thing, except that my soul is in knots: I can’t use my one voice without five others telling me I’m full of it.
It wasn’t always like this.
It began, you see, when an eighteen-year old punk arrived on campus. He loved Jesus and was haplessly convinced that nobody was following Jesus like he was. As far as he cared, Jesus was Master, the Bible was true, and love was an uncomplicated legacy worth leaving. He’d take walks along Valentine late at night, confident about what a life was and why it was to be lived.
Seasons changed, and slowly you tied the knots in me. Words and thoughts, once an opportunity for intimacy, became full of split ends. Love is still a journey, but now I only see potholes on the road and, well, forgive me if every next step feels wrong. Jesus is still Lord, somehow, but I took a walk along Valentine recently and the only thing I felt was a frump in my eyebrows. I think it’s where I store my questions. It’s throbbing.
See, LAE, I’m a youth pastor now. I am the guy who gets reimbursed for buying 24-packs of Mountain Dew. Now, I can’t lie to you: that’s still hilarious to me. But I’m also giving the sex talk eventually-- you know, like you do when you’re a youth pastor-- and that’s just south of terrifying. LAE, you sound the alarm on how not to talk about things, but I need help learning how to talk about them. You can’t just move my stuff out, get in your hatchback, and leave. That’s bad friendship 101.
Don’t get me wrong, LAE: you and I aren’t totally enemies. Grabbing half-price apps with my old high school buddies is all the better now that I can utter phrases like ‘cognitive dissonance’ and ‘microagression theory’ while I drench my wings in Ranch dressing. I can now explain why I only drink fair trade coffee, even if there’s a split second where I stare into the blank, wondering if I just said that because I’m afraid of telling the person across from me who I actually am then and there.
Maybe you will call me anti-intellectual. I hope you don’t misunderstand me, LAE. I like big words, being right, and quoting from obscure C.S. Lewis books. And beyond the pride, you have made me a little less proud. And that’s no small thing, considering I came here actually believing I wasn’t a hot mess.
But forgive me if you find me briefly distracted under the fluorescent lights this year. It’s just that I’m in my senior year now and I’m just starting to glimpse little flashbacks of what truly shaped me. It feels stupid writing it, honestly, but it’s little things.
It’s the department chair who listened humbly and chuckled joyfully during Welcome Week when I wondered if the Bible shouldn’t be the place where we get theology. It’s my advisor, who has untied knots in my life simply by being available longer than it took to clear me for registration. He wears a Hawaiian shirt most days, I think he owns a half-dozen pairs of leather sandals, and I have never seen him drinking the same bottled tea. I love him for it.
It’s my missional theology professor who wasn’t afraid to show up tired and haggled because he was deeply committed to the idea that ministry was more than a savior complex, but instead a sharing of space between vulnerable persons. I’d hate ministry if it weren’t for him, and that’s actually not an overstatement.
It’s the professor who owns a dog named Freckles and calls a regular meeting his friends “Lords of the Roundtable.” It’s the Bible professor who prayed for me every class period while I was hospitalized with pneumonia. It’s the church history professor who regularly cries about Jesus’ resurrection, self-knowledge, and the way women have been oppressed by the church over two millennia.
LAE, as you crowd me with voices and question all things, these people have been simple clarity. I might even call them gospel. They have not untied all the knots, but they have waited with me in the tension. They have shown me that faith and doubt are secretly best friends, and out of their friendship comes simple beauty.
They have shown me that it’s good to believe the Good News and even better to actually wait on it. But above all, they have shown me that Good News is something that we are, toward each other and the world immediately in front of us. Through our fragile selves and amid our imperfect community, we hint at a Jesus who is actually making all things new.
photo credit: mwah