Archives For Søren Kierkegaard

My wife and I are homeschoolers and we both deeply value learning.

Most homeschoolers would agree that ‘to be a teacher is truly to be the learner’ (Kierkegaard 1995:461). A part of this involves appreciating how important it is to have a teachable attitude and flexible approach towards education.

This is to say that we study with, as much as we provide teaching for our Children. Learning from one another drives education and we all thrive because of it.

We have quickly learnt that there is no room for academic arrogance in a homeschooled environment. This is because we are always working towards being ‘empathetic, a good listener and solidly present’ (Gerkin 1997:157).

From my observation, the way we engage in this environment is properly informed by a pastoral theology which understands that ‘models of care must be adapted to our changing situation’ (ibid 1997:37).

I have been embedded in the academic world for four and a half years. Throughout that time I found it extremely rare to witness the same kind of academic arrogance that I have seen on display, via some of the social media platforms I utilise. The closest I got to this in my journey through the academic maze was witnessing what happens when an ideology guides the theology of academics.

One example of this was Donald Miller’s consistent posts on twitter this week, which concerned some poorly timed tweets from John Piper. Sadly, Piper’s tweets coincided with the tragedy in Oklahoma. I appreciate both men as Christians and view them as solid contributors to their respective fields within the church (Piper’s tweets have since been deleted).

They just went too far.

The problem is that we are all tempted to impose, by varying degrees, a sense of superiority over others, especially when we disagree.

If Sir Francis Bacon was right and ‘knowledge is power’, then in a world that has wrongly rejected all absolutes, knowledge becomes KING, power becomes EVERYTHING.

The chief concern here is that bulldozing others with our knowledge represents our own insecurities. Worst still, it asserts a false moral superiority because it places us in opposition to grace and places us above the law.

Our reactions reflect how we feel about our ability to decode what has been communicated to us.

Sure, there are plenty of people who will agree, disagree and be totally indifferent to what you have to say. Fine, I get that.

For me the issue of academic arrogance is very real. It’s a potential compromise for Christians who use social media for mission, proclamation and outreach. The scripture that comes to mind here is Mt.10:16 (you know, the part where Jesus talks about sheep, wolves, serpents, wisdom, doves and innocence).

My point is this: it is necessary for Christians to keep practicing discernment. Knowing when to engage and when to disengage, when to assert ourselves and when to back off.

This means learning when to disagree openly and when to let some comments simply just fall away without incident. When we process this theologically we find a comfortable starting point with Paul’s plea to ‘speak the truth in love, like Christ’ (Eph.4:11-15).

My encouragement to you today is this: if like me, you inadvertently struggle in this area, make sure you return to your post.

Change it, delete it or mould it into something else. Don’t let the sense of inferiority that has guided the reactions of others cause you to give up.

Excellence is about giving the best we have to offer.

If that ‘imperfect offering’ (Cohen) reflects your best, LET IT SHINE. If it represents your 2nd best pull it and revise it. Do so, not because someone didn’t like it. Do it because you acknowledge that you can do better, knowing that in some ‘circumstances where we show hospitality to strangers, we may be entertaining angels without realizing it’ (Heb.13:2, ESV/NLT/MESSAGE)

Act on the truth which a lot of homeschoolers already own, that is ‘to be a teacher is truly to be the learner’ (Kierkegaard 1995:461).

When we do this the church proclaims humility through vulnerability, because we are open to correction and retraction. This shows the world that we are real, and that we are not part of an ‘elite spiritual aristocracy…that claims ‘special gnosis (knowledge)’ (Peterson 2005:61).

Our actions will show the world through word and deed, that we are part of a ‘suffering and sacramental community, on an imminent-incomplete journey towards the completeness promised to us in the event of the resurrected Christ’ (Barth, 2008:29).

This promotes authentic church, where Father, Son and Spirit through the voice of the μαρτύριον (the marturion/matyrs – witnesses) invites the broken, rejected and downtrodden into becoming genuine ‘dialogue partners’ (McGrath, 1992:128) with Him.

Sources:

Barth, K 2008 Prayers: Karl Barth Westminster John Knox Press London
Gerkin,C. 1997 Introduction to Pastoral Care Abingdon Press Nashville
Hong, H & Hong, E. 1995 The Essential Kierkegaard Princeton University Press
McGrath, A. 1992 Bridge building InterVarsity Press
Peterson, E. 2005 Christ plays in ten thousand places Hodder & Stoughton, London

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I’ve been praying through a recent challenge on 1 Cor.13. For me the high point  here was seeing how hope was an area that I needed to focus on. The low point was realising that if ‘love hopes all things’ then I am seriously lacking in the love department.

So I sat down (as you do), in order to unpack the relevance of this. I put my learning into practice and concluded that the next logical step was to move on to the part where Paul states that ‘love is patient’.

I was wrong.

As I currently understand it, hope only has a limited interconnectedness to patience. This is because hope is not passive.

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Image Credit: RL2013

Patience on the other hand can be antithesis of hope. Patience, it could be argued,  requires passivity, i.e.: “waiting on the Lord”. It can also fuel complacency, thereby deferring hope. (Pr.13:12 ESV).

This led me to ask whether or not, hope waits in same way that patience does?

My answer so far is no it doesn’t, here’s why:

Hope is more of an active ingredient. It is an important part of a love that rejoices in the truth and not wrongdoing.  Joy and truth are correlated elements that flow on from hope. For example: a love that hopes seeks truth. By utilising the tension between anticipation and uncertainty we are submerged into a deeper understanding, which views faith as a hope-filled paradox. Or as Kierkegaard put it: true faith is the ‘virtue of the absurd, an infinite resignation – a hope that those who give all will be given all’ (‘Essential’ 1997:95).

It is true that hope can be let down by truth, and therefore be disconnected from joy. For example: the clash between impossibility and possibility witnessed in that crushing blow, when a job application is unsuccessful. Or the point of impact that is felt for years after the dissolution of a key relationship in our lives. However, even when truth seems to dispossess hope, it can never be defined as hopelessness.This is because even despair ‘presupposes hope’, or so Jurgen Moltmann asserts. He writes that ‘faith is called to life by promise and is therefore essentially hope, confidence, trust in the God who will not lie but remain faithful to His promise’ (‘Theology of Hope’, 2002:29-30).

It is a big call to ask someone who sees themselves as being without hope to be patient. Those experiencing the heart-in-your-throat agony, that no matter what you do, you are left feeling like you are grasping for air and rescue. The kind of anxiety where each individual piece of your broken heart seems to painfully amplify your heartbeat, magnified by the battering you may have just received.

No where is the disconnection between waiting in hope and waiting as patience exemplified more, than in the false belief that “time heals all wounds”. Words like, sort it out, get yourself together, surely you should be over that by now. These passive aggressive statements all infer that patience is the source of healing.

This time of reflection has shown me that hope is an unreasonable necessity that leads to joy. Although patience is important, hope aligns us towards joy in a way that patience cannot.

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Image credit:DM.

Being told and treated for a portion of my own life, as though I was unworthy and not deserving, tended to negatively reinforce a frustrated and chaotic mixture of possibility and impossibility. This produced a paradox that is best described as a morbid hope. No life can come from such a distorted, oxymoronic view of hope. Just as Chesterton pointed out in ‘Orthodoxy’: moonlight is a morbid light, it does not produce life because it provides ‘light without heat’ (RB, 2006:18), so a morbid hope cannot not produce faith.

Hope is rebellious. It defies. It motivates and surprises us. It awakens us from the complacent acceptance of the status quo, setting us in motion towards a joyful anticipation of what comes next. Hope allows us the room to view a sigh as confession, a breath as prayer and faith as obedience. It tells us not to give up when everybody says we should.

Perhaps having hope should be likened to having a curious obedience. An act that moves us towards a place of interest in what God might do. As we process our lives theologically in the midst of uncertainty, we are lead to pray in solidarity with King David: ‘when I’m afraid I will put my trust in you, In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust’ (Ps.56:4).

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Image credit: RL2013

Patience may be a practical product of hope that rightly teaches us to wait on the Lord. However patience seldom aligns us towards Father, Son and Spirit in the same way that hope does. Here we are directly steered into participation with the Divine Other, in whose joy we find our strength (Neh.8:10, Jn.15:11, 2 Pet. 1:4-9 ESV).

Because hope gives faith legs, joy and truth empower the powerless.