The One Hundred and Nine Day of 2023

Gentle Reader,

Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room?
Soon that attitude may be your doom

Non Stop, Lin-Manuel Miranda

In ten days I will walk across the platform of College Church in Olathe, Kansas and receive the expensive piece of paper that reads Master of Divinity. That piece of paper can hardly sum up the four years of hard work, long hours, deep friendships, and learning. And yet, though I am not a sentimental person when it comes to material possessions, that piece of paper is extremely important to me. I know that every time I look at it a different memory, a different face, will dance through my mind.

It will also serve as a reminder of how much I don’t know.

Learning does that.

Shows you how much you don’t know.

Master of Divinity is a funny title. As if I could master the Divine. No, the Divine is the Master of me. As if I have mastered all the theological knowledge. No, I have so much more to learn.

That’s why both anti-intellectualism and intellectual elitism bother me so greatly. The refusal to learn at all and the sense that you’ve learned it all each end in arrogance. In judging others as less-than. But today I’m more irritated with intellectual elitism. As a participant in theological circles, I regularly witness angry monologuing masquerading as dialogue. The (perhaps subconscious) disdain that some feel toward others stuns me. Oh, you don’t think the way that I think about this? Sit down. Let me teach you.

That’s not the kind of “let me teach you” that comes from a place of actually wanting to teach someone. It’s the kind that arises from the belief that anyone who is variance with you on an issue must not be as well-read, well-studied, or have sought the wisdom of God as intensely as you have. It’s pretentious. It’s patronizing. It parades itself as barrier-breaking but all it does is build walls of division higher and higher.

It’s both conservative and liberal, so don’t think I’m pinpointing one or the other. It’s happening all across the theological spectrum and in churches all over the United States. My professor said something today about this being a moment of convulsion. A spasm connected to illness, if you will. We’re inside the salad spinner, going round and round. When it might stop and where we might end up…well, if we don’t make some serious changes right now, it won’t end positively.

One of the serious changes that we need to make is to stop assuming that we’re the smartest in the room. No matter how well-educated you are, there’s always something you don’t know. Always a perspective you haven’t considered. I’m not saying that we have to join hands and hum a hymn and pretend we have no differences. We do have differences. They’re real. They matter.

But guess what?

That person who you think is dead, flat-out wrong about something (and hey, maybe they are) is beloved of God. You can learn from and with them, even if that learning just confirms what you already think about something. It’s not bad or wrong to hear someone out, to understand their position and where they’re coming from. Your ears aren’t going to fall off of your head. You’re not going to have a heart attack because you choose to engage thoughtfully instead of arrogantly.

You’re very rarely the smartest in the room.

Christ is. Christ who is present in and with and through you and all around by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Christ tells you to extend love and to exercise patience.

And to remember that you come from dust, and to dust you shall return.

Dependent upon God for every breath.

Let’s remember that.


Image Courtesy of charlesdeluvio



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