Thursday, March 29, 2018

On teaching, and learning, and knowing God


Image: Roy Caldwell
Here's the thing. I've always been a smarty-pants. School was pretty easy for me, but more importantly, I always loved it. Learning gives me a rush that a roller coaster never will. My favorite thing about college, other than the friendship of Kristy, was actually the classes. Speaking of college, my boyfriend at the time, in the process of dumping me, accused me of knowing God in my head but not my heart. I was pretty mad about that. But, it also caused me to wonder: is that true? There's this old book, Eighteen inches to Heaven that puts forward this idea that believing in God in your head isn't enough. Is that true? What does that mean?
Truly, I've always been pretty heady. My thoughts don't ever stop. My emotions are often slow to catch up. I even DECIDED to fall in love with Ben because I KNEW in my head it would be the biggest mistake of my life not to. My brain leads and the rest of me follows. Does that mean I don't love God for real?
Due to that unfortunate accusation and some other Christian thoughts on the topic in the years since, I've often stopped to check in with myself on this whole head-knowledge thing. But, here's the thing.
God has been faithful to answer my insecurities. I John 3 says "for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and he knows everything." My maker knows my frame and he deigns to reveal himself to me in a personal way through thinking, information, and curiosity. He draws near to me in a classroom.
A new friend and co-worker recently introduced me to this podcast, RadioLab.  It's a thrilling (for me) mix of humor, curiosity, and scholarship. They ask ridiculous questions (Do plants have brains? Which animal sees the best rainbow?) and then dig into answers. And every episode leaves me smiling -- and worshiping. And so eager to rush back to my classroom and usher my students into this crazy-cool way of knowing God - through learning. The podcast is certainly not "Christian," but it is God-revealing because of its dogged pursuit of truth in random places.
My fifth graders are reading The Phantom Tollbooth right now, which is the best book. It's a classic, so maybe you've read it. It's a sort of secular/academic/juvenile Pilgrim's Progress. The character, Milo, tries to reach Infinity, which of course he can't because..... .... .... .... ....
And, so, as a class, we stopped to contemplate Infinity's impossibility. Is there anything more worship-inducing than the Big Truths that are impossible to truly understand?

So, my favorite podcast was nearing the end of its investigation into the rainbows-as-seen-by-mantis-shrimp, and one of the guys (who I like to consider my new friends) mentions this concept of "uumwelt," which means that we are each limited by our own experience of the world - essentially the opposite of inifinity. So, we can't actually know what the mantis shrimp sees, and we can't actually understand God's infinite-ness (that's my own application, not my friend's). But, then, the other host, says, "But, we can try. It's certainly fun to try."

And, that's it. My faith when it is most piqued, most alive. God is outside my uunwelt, and I can't understand him the way I want to. But, it's certainly fun to try.

And, you know what? This morning, after reading about Milo's fruitless quest for Infinity, I introduced my students to mantis shrimp, and uumwelt, and the excitement of Seeking Truth, and God was right here in this classroom.


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