Friday, January 4, 2013

Verrry interesting . . .

     I took a course in graduate school on Greco-Roman papyri.  We were not reading bits of sacred texts, although we had opportunities to do so.  These were records of everyday bits of life:  tax records, receipts, etc.  Each of us in the class was given a specific papyrus to translate, read and share with the others in the class.  The course was taught by a very exacting, old-school professor, John Oates.  He wanted precision and careful scholarship; he wanted no stone left unturned.  It was a wonderful class and taught me a lot.
       But Prof. Oates' demand for precision could take some uncomfortable turns.  Pity the poor student who hadn't done enough research; he* was in for some brutal grilling.  One particular incident was burned into my memory (although happily I was simply an observer).  A student started into the results of his weekly research, and began a sentence with "It's interesting that . . .".  He got no further before Prof. Oates jumped in angrily:  "'It's interesting'????  Who thinks it's interesting?  I don't know if it's interesting or not! Did God make it interesting, and so it's self-evident?  A scholar doesn't say "it's interesting"; a scholar will provide facts and analysis that will pique the reader/listener's interest."  Targeted student melted.  The rest of us wished we were invisible.
       So, twenty-plus year later, I can't hear anyone say "It's interesting that . . ." or even "I find it interesting that . . ." without recalling that uncomfortable class and the lesson I learned about careful scholarship.  But it goes further than that.  Prof. Oates challenged us to ask deeper questions, to look within for the answer to the question:  "Why do I find it interesting?"  If I can articulate the answer to that question, then maybe I'll have a better chance of making my point to others.  But I may also derive some deeper insight into my own circumstances as well.
       I recalled this life-lesson earlier this week while listening to a recording of a Christmas sermon.  Twice, in short order, the preacher said "I find it interesting that . . ."  My hackles rose!  He never said WHY he thought it was interesting, but I could read (hear?) between the lines that he was raising a critique of a particular theological world-view.  And I could only think that if he had been clear to his congregation why he had been interested in what he had found, he might have led some of his listeners down a very productive line of reflection. 
       Turned inwards, this is a semi-scholarly version of the ancient greek aphorisms "Know thyself" (variously attributed) or "An unexamined life is not worth living" (Socrates, in Plato's Apology).  And, so, it's not only a good reminder to this teacher/preacher at the beginning of a year/quarter when I'll be standing in front of groups of people to convey MY interest.  It's also a good reminder to spend some time in introspection about what it is that I DO truly find interesting, and why.

I hereby resolve,

Chaplain Gary

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