Saturday, October 3, 2009

Habits of Learning

I am fully convinced that there are people out there who can learn more about the world by going out and mowing the lawn than other people do after four years of college and four years of grad school. Perhaps the fresh, earthly smell of cut grass will cause this person to ponder the beauty of the natural world. Upon reflecting on nature, he'll be reminded of Psalm 19 and be led to ruminate on the theology of general revelation. One doctrine will remind him of another doctrine and before he stows his lawnmower away in his garage, he will have discovered new truths about the world around him and the God that created it. That's one way I imagine a person can go about doing household chores.

Last week, I wrote about habits of reading and how poorly we Christians read our Bible. The truth is, there was nothing particularly spiritual in my criticism. I honestly think we as a culture are just horrendously inadequate when it comes to basic intellectual skills. Today, when I went to the PaLM-sponsored Worship Conference held in Queens with some of my praise team members, I was thinking about the skill of learning. I have to admit, after the initial worship session and the keynote message, I was thoroughly unimpressed. Although the rest of the conference, especially the workshops, was really good and I ended up being blessed greatly, I was worried because I really had to pull the teeth of my worship team members to shell out $65 and attend the conference. I was anxious that they'd think this day was going to be a waste of time and money and blame me for that.

So I decided to pull them aside right before the workshop session and remind them, "Remember, if you're really serious about learning, it's not about what they spoon-feed you, but what you decide to take from the plate and put into your mouth". The truth is, as bad as a conference can be (and that conference was EXCELLENT), you can always learn a lot by keeping your eyes and ears open and assessing every experience with a critical mind. "Why was I put off by what this person said?" "How can I verify that what this person said was true?" "What does Scripture have to say about this subject?" "As horribly as that person put it, what can I take away from his lesson?"

Even if it's something you've heard time and time again, you can still re-think those lessons and perhaps unravel some more of the big picture, or unearth some more of the epistemological foundation upon which your presumptions are built. What I mean is, even if it's something you've heard a lot, you can still ask yourself questions like, "Well where did I hear that the first time, and is it a valid idea?" "How did I as well as this presenter arrive upon the same conclusion?" "How might our agreement on this idea yet diverge into disagreement about this other, related idea?"

Why are these habits of asking good questions and being observant important? First of all, because I'm sick and tired of people complaining about how bored they are... in class (ahem, high schoolers), at Christian conferences (ahem, clergy and full-time ministers), or at church during a preacher's sermon (ahem, Boon Church English congregation!). And second, because critical learning not only allows you to take the most away from any situation, it also helps you to identify and reject harmful, wrong lessons! Think about it this way. If you are tied down to a chair and spoon-fed food, you are still being fed and nourished. But you won't be able to do much to defend yourself if someone comes along and scoops a big dollop of rat poison into your mouth. Whereas if you're someone who carefully examines everything you eat and make sure you choose only the finest quality cuisine, you will become a very healthy person.

The same can be said about our lives. Note I didn't say our "spiritual lives". This is a principle that goes beyond what we do concerning our faith; it's a principle that distinguishes intellectually fit men and women from intellectual fatties and slobs.

When I look down at my notes from today's conference, a little under half of it have to do with the subject, "Worship". The rest of my notes are just little things that I jot down as one thing a person said reminded me of something unrelated, or perhaps a reminder for me to think through something that I haven't really thought through. No one says you have to learn exactly what the speaker is teaching you. If he's a good enough speaker, he'll make you do it anyway. But if he's not, it's YOUR responsibility to get the most out of it.

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