In yesterday’s post I mentioned three things I was keeping in mind as I planned out and worked through my summer. Those three things we mostly “structural.” By that I mean they are key to the framework of the season. They aren’t quite the same, though, as the content for the season. That’s what this post is about: my summertime trivium.
As the school year came to a close, I gained some real clarity on three areas of concern for myself moving forward. If I hoped to make the most of a transitional summer, there were three things I need to spend time reflecting on. And this while knowing that everyday, face-to-face conversations might not be able to happen because most of the people I would talk to about it were either too close to things or are “quick fixers.” The quick fix is not an option.
Before giving the list, let me acknowledge that the three are almost inseparable. They intermingle on deep levels. And while all three have been important to me for some time, the work of the last two years have helped me appreciate a different slant on each.
The first area is COMMUNICATION. One of the core tasks of the last two years was to think through what public (almost mass) communication of the Gospel looks like, feels like. I’ve spent the last decade-and-a-half in the classroom. 24 is a far cry from 400. So there’s the level of right proclamation of the Gospel to a mixed audience (mixed in age, mixed in intent). Something like “scale” definitely has to be considered here. The simple fact is that some things don’t scale, particularly if they are tied to practices or personalities. I wasn’t kidding a couple of years ago when I labeled my task a “temporary vocational stretch.” So there’s a need for me to think through effectiveness and style and intent and even purpose, really.
The second area is intimately tied to the first. MEANING is always tied closely to communication (it’s part of the communication model and is inextricably linked to what is being communicated). And while there is a communication component to it, the question of meaning is perhaps as much about context as it is about content for me. When speaking broadly to a mixed audience, equivocation is always a real danger. But because day-to-day life is so messy (and that can be particularly true for the life of faith), it’s also inevitable. Just underneath the surface of things there creeps a potential meaningless that is frightening because it leaves you with no traction, no sense of what is genuinely essential. So actions and words, what do they mean? And what does it mean when we do them often? And what does it mean when we do nothing with them once said or done?
Which brings me to COMMUNITY. Communication happens in community. Meaning is discovered (is that the right word?) in community. Community can be an odd thing, though, for those set apart in a meeting, a classroom, an auditorium. It can bring with it a real sense of loneliness. It can be an odd twist on a “haves/have nots” mindset. And because it involves people, community is also intensely personal. And because communication and meaning happens on different levels of community, there’s a certain amount of uncomfortable code-switching that might be required that makes community fuzzy.
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These are the three big concepts I’m mulling over this summer. Already I’ve got some resources from Christianity Today and the life and works of Augustine that are proving helpful (and that I will share over the course of the summer). I’ve got a few guiding passages of Scripture in play, too (beyond just Mary and Martha or Jesus’s parable of the cleaned-up soul). I don’t think I would’ve been ready for this kind of reflection last summer. There’s something about “being done” with a thing that helps you reflect well on it. These are things I want to have thought through well so I can embrace something new as the next school year begins.