Here are my thoughts for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost.
One of the hardest things to do in education is get people to understand that chemistry and the other sciences are as much a part of the liberal arts curriculum as are English, social studies, and the various arts. I think the problem is that people do not realize that it is not the courses you take but the outcome of the courses that you take that determines the nature of liberal arts.
From the beginning of liberal arts education, the focus has been on thinking. DiLiddo wrote
“The liberal arts education is a unique approach to the development of the scientific mind. It attempts to maximize the potential for creativity by the exposure of the mind to all the forces which power creative events. A liberal arts education forces a student into all areas of knowledge, including those which seem at the moment to be useless. A liberal arts curriculum realizes that no knowledge is ever useless, only perhaps little used. It also recognizes that one can not pre-know what one will need to know and so guards against potential ignorance with a potpourri of knowledge.
A liberal arts education also realizes that a creative event is fueled by more than knowledge alone. The importance of analytical training is not forgotten. Those who seek to diminish the analytical portion of the liberal arts curriculum contribute to the perpetuation of lackluster ideas based on innuendo and sloppy thinking.” (1)
Truman Schwartz stated it this way – the goal of liberal arts in its earlier forms (gymnastics, music, grammar, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, musical harmony, and dialectics) was always
“To reveal the underlying, ideal forms of reality so that a student could apply that knowledge to the pursuit of the good life, both socially and individually. The goals were practical: education should lead to effective action.” (2)
Now how do liberal arts and the nature of thinking fit into the context of today’s readings? Because each of these readings reflect the need for critical thinking and require that we think about what is going on in order to understand the meaning of the message in each reading.
It is the adherence to the law or rather the tradition of law that Jesus speaks out in the reading of the Gospel for today. The Pharisees are complaining that Jesus and his disciples are not observing the law when it comes to eating their food. The distinction must be made between washing your hands before a meal (which is still a good idea) and the traditional washing that the Pharisees followed. The Pharisees had forgotten why it was that you were supposed to wash your hands and the food and turned a “law” into a tradition that was to be followed without question.
Jesus commands the people that day to understand what He is saying. He tells people to think about what they were doing. It is not what we put into our mouth that poisons us; it is what comes out of our mouths. This is what James is saying as well. Go beyond the words you say and turn your words into actions.
We are at a time when thinking skills seem to be at a premium; when society willingly allows others to dictate what is said and how we are to make our decisions. Society has willingly allowed others to become the authority and each individual’s contribution is minimized unless it fits within the majority view. To independently think seems to be a forgotten way of life in today’s society.
And when one stops and looks around, it is apparent that we need to stress thinking and understanding. As much as being a Methodist is based on the Holy Scriptures, there is also the understanding that we need to study the Scriptures and understand what is written. Knowledge and the ability to think play as much a role in our spiritual development as anything else.
We are a nation that claims to be Christian yet only 40 percent of Americans can name more than five of the Ten Commandments. Barely half of the population can name at least one of the authors of the four Gospels. Twelve percent of the population believes that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. While these statistics may reflect more of our country’s educational decline, they are also a reflection of our spiritual decline.
While three-quarters of Americans believe that “God helps those who help themselves,” this phrase does not appear in the Bible at all. This phrase, first uttered by Benjamin Franklin, indicates that we do not have any understanding of what the Bible is about.
We are a nation that professes a belief in Christianity yet do not understand what it is that we profess or what exactly it means to be a Christian We do not want to be challenged to follow Christ as much as we want to challenge Christ to follow us.
Over the course of the last few weeks, we have heard Christ do exactly that, challenge us to follow him. He has constantly challenged us to see the world differently and to follow him, rather than accept the world as it is. It is a challenge that requires that we begin to think about what is being said and what is being asked of us.
Why is a reading from the Song of Solomon (3) included with passages from James (4) and Mark (5)? The Song of Solomon is a unique book inn the Old Testament. Like the Book of Job, the Song of Solomon reveals its treasures to the patient reader who approaches the book on its own terms, searching for and meditating on its meaning.
The Song of Solomon is a part of the Old Testament that bridges the history and law portions of the Old Testament with the prophecies. As you read the various books in this section, you are giving an alternative view to wisdom and an understanding of the nature of God. This section shows that there is more to life than simply a framework of laws that must be rigorously followed. It also shows that there is a view of the world that does not necessarily end in tragedy and gloom.
We cannot see the world in terms of only one view, if that view is limited in its scope and nature. We live in a time when there is a true and desperate cry for Jesus, for a generous and compassionate Christ that desires mercy, not meaningless sacrifice and actively pursues peace at every level. But we will not be able to find Christ in this world if we are blind to the words of Jesus written in the Bible. In reading the Bible, we find a Jesus and prophets who are fiercely at odds with the public perception of Christianity. A liberal arts education would have us read the Bible more, not less, but it would be a reading with a greater degree of sophistication and understanding. It would give the meaning to the words of Christ; it would open our hearts to allow Christ to come in.
And having understood the words of Christ, we are better prepared to give meaning to the words of Christ. What does it mean to say one is a Christian? It is to say that you have taken the words of Christ into your heart and into your mind and you are prepared to meet the challenge of taking the Gospel message out into the world.
McBride DiLiddo, R.: 1987, “Scientific Discovery: A Model for Creativity”, in Creativity and Liberal Learning – Problems and Possibilities in American Education, edited by David G. Tuerck, Ablex Publishing Corporation.