You are Viewing
As a graduate student at the University of Minnesota and a Fellow at MacLaurinCSF, I’m constantly thinking about what it means to learn and teach. This year, KPA has helped me re-imagine education, seeing how it shapes the whole person and connecting my specialized study of medieval literature with Christian faith, diverse disciplines, and practical action.
The ministry I’m preparing for as a teacher involves helping my students pay closer attention, think more clearly and precisely, draw upon rich resources of tradition, see the present world in historical perspective, and consider enduring questions of human life more deeply. This work glorifies Christ even when what we’re studying has nothing to do with religion because all human knowledge is made possible by participation in the divine Word. I want to work “as to the Lord” in all my tasks, whether I’m representing a counterargument justly in one of my papers or showing compassion to a student who struggles with anxiety.
As I try to cultivate intellectual virtues like clarity, nuance, proportion, even-handedness, and depth in myself, I also hope to demonstrate that these qualities are compatible with adherence to orthodox Christianity. So often, Christian faith is parodied as uncritical acceptance of authority or willful blindness to reality. To those who know the riches of the Christian intellectual tradition, who have read authors like Augustine and Aquinas, these claims are obviously ridiculous. To be convinced of its vital power, though, people need to see not just past monuments of Christian culture, but living examples of thoughtful Christians who bring that tradition into conversation with current issues and debates.
As I’ve been thinking through the vocation of teaching others, the community of KPA has also formed me in key ways. First, at KPA I’ve developed a more disciplined rhythm of life than I’d ever been able to on my own. I have always wanted to practice daily morning and evening prayer, but often been distracted, discouraged, or harried into skipping prayer exactly when I need it the most. Now, because I meet with other people to pray, when I don’t have discipline or devotion of my own I can lean on them, and in their need, I can pray for them in turn. Being responsible to these friends has helped me establish a habit of prayer that I hope will endure for the rest of my life. In contrast, when I might obsess over work and let research take over my evenings and weekends, my housemates sometimes force me to close the books and go out for a beer or watch a ridiculous movie, helping me balance between responsibility and rest.
KPA also gives me perspective on my studies by keeping me in relationship with people very different from myself. As an intellectual person pursuing a specialized academic subject, I run a risk of becoming narrow, esoteric, and elitist—sequestered from the world in one slender ivory tower. At KPA, though, I share a kitchen table with undergraduate students, graduate students pursuing totally different disciplines, and young professionals in the workforce. Explaining what I’m working on to people outside my discipline forces me to consider why my research matters and how it can be made relevant to nonspecialists. Hearing about their interests and projects keeps me curious about a wide range of subjects, from public health to photography to empowering at-risk youth for entrepreneurship.
Despite the diversity within KPA, we share a common identity as Christians so strong that faith can be “taken for granted”—Christianity does not feel like an embattled or marginal position but the very structure of the world, not a conclusion reached after long struggle but a foundation on which to build. I love how normal it is to hear people discussing the interpretation of a prophetic dream in the morning or read from the gospel of John while hanging out around the fireplace. We talk about Christianity all the time, whether we’re discussing niche topics like infant baptism and the Benedict Option or connecting even the most unlikely ordinary subjects, like encores at concerts, to Christianity (“Maranatha! Maranatha!”).
The kind of conversations I love most are only possible in the context of a shared faith. Arguing about whether God exists is like arguing about whether the external world exists or is just a solipsistic dream—an important question, to be sure, but a very basic one. People who disagree on such a fundamental level are not going to have very productive dialogue, because they don’t share enough premises to think together. Only after we’ve established common ground can we address more interesting questions, and the more common language and conceptual tools we share, the better we can tackle the issues and problems that we genuinely want to figure out.
Along with the shared interests, arguments, and in-jokes of any well-defined subculture, Christian identity also changes the tone of the conversation. Even disagreements, like the longstanding house debate on Calvinism and Arminianism, are characterized by charity, with people readily acknowledging their opponents’ goodwill and confessing the possibility that they themselves might be wrong. Even doubt and anger at God are surrounded by prayer and the community of the church.
I’ve been impressed by some of my housemates’ openness about their struggles and fears, a vulnerability that—when I see it in others—I recognize as courageous and even (in a strange way) generous. I too am learning not to be ashamed to ask for help, to admit my weakness and my need. It’s easier to ask because people at KPA always seem so glad to give, whether it’s Saturday morning pancakes or a ride to the airport or advice about discerning a vocation. In such a community, it becomes natural to ask and offer help, to give and to receive, to lose track of the mental tally of who owes whom a favor. Ultimately, the most important lessons I’m learning this year are not about medieval manuscripts or pedagogy or even theology, but this practice in how to love and be loved. Our life together is the education that is forming me as a scholar, a teacher, a human being, and a disciple of Christ.