lenten journal — to know and to be known


    I talked to a friend today who had just returned from a workshop on using “emotional intelligence” in dealing with conflict. The term was new to me, but is a rather well formed theory and/or practice it seems. I’m struck more by where the idea of emotional intelligence took me than learning what the whole deal is about. If I’m emotionally intelligent, do my “smart” tears, like smart bombs, know where to fall?

    I was teaching high school when the idea of “multiple intelligences” first began to come into prominence. I found there really is something to working to give kids – or anyone else – a chance to show how they understand and express things, whether they feel word-smart, music-smart, people-smart, or nature-smart. It challenged my educational intelligence: could I look up from my lesson plans long enough to notice who was not getting the opportunity to show their smarts?

    Ed Hirsch’s book Cultural Literacy came out during that time as well, causing quite a discussion about what we should all know in order to be able to converse with one another and maintain some sense of American community. As an English teacher, I was often a part of discussions about what books the students should read. Was there a “canon” of essential (to some, sacred) texts? Was the point to be multicultural? Was it about reading specific books or teaching kids how to read meaningfully? I wrote my Masters thesis on “Teaching The Scarlet Letter in a Multiethnic Setting” because seventy percent of my students were nonnative English speakers and first generation immigrants. To them, reading about the Puritans was multicultural literature.

    One of the terms that showed up in the little reading I did online about emotional intelligence was “emotional literacy,” which connected in my mind with Stephen Prothero’s new book Religious Literacy, in which he seeks to contend with the lack of religious knowledge in this country, particularly among those who say they believe in God. Here are some of the things he found:

    • half of all Americans cannot name one of the four gospels
    • a majority cannot name the first book of the Bible
    • sixty percent of evangelical Christians think Jesus was born in Jerusalem
    • fifty one percent of Jews think Jesus was born in Jerusalem
    • ten percent of Americans think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife
    • many high school students think Sodom and Gomorrah were married
    • a third of Americans don’t think Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount
    • seventy five percent of American adults think “God helps those who help themselves” is in the Bible

    And that’s just the Judeo-Christian stuff. Dig in on Hinduism, Buddhism, or Islam and we know even less. I have yet to read the book, but I found this quote in one of the reviews of the book:

    “Some friends tell me that they don’t bring their sons and daughters to worship services or talk with them about their faith because they want their children to be free to choose a religion for themselves. This is foolhardy…. [I]f you offer them nothing, you are telling them that religion counts for nothing.”

    Religion is a problematic word for me. I don’t think of it as a synonym for faith necessarily. Religion represents the bureaucratic, self-perpetuating institution rather than the relational, spiritual, mission-minded church. As far as words go, I’m all for losing my religion. I am, however, interested in what it might mean to be spiritually intelligent: to be God-smart. “Have this mind in you,” Paul wrote, “which was also in Christ Jesus.” Evidently, this idea has been around for a while. As we make the journey through Holy Week, both Paul and Prothero make me wonder if most of us know where we are going. And it also reminds me of an old joke about the small town pastor that visited regularly with the village drunk, trying to convert him. One day the drunk said, “You think I don’t know the story. I do.” He began to give a fairly accurate telling of the events of this week, right up to the stone being rolled away from the opening of the tomb; then he said, “And when Jesus comes out, if he sees his shadow, we’ll have six more weeks of winter.”

    In one of the more interesting twists in the English language, for a long time the word know was used to mean sexual intercourse as well as mental perception or understanding. In the KJV, Adam “knew” Eve. (For one of my seminary friends, that turned the inscription on the oracle at Delphi, “Know thyself,” into a stealthy way to curse at someone.) The connection, I think, is that knowing is an intimate act. To know someone is to be invested deeply in their lives and they in yours. To know God – to be God-smart – is being vulnerable and intimate with the Very One who knew us, as the psalmist says, before we were even born.

    One of the things we share in common with the disciples who walked with Jesus is how often we prove that we act like we know what’s going on while we show that we’ve missed the point. The gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days before his death show again and again that those who had been with him for three years and had heard most of his parables and seen most of his miracles still didn’t really know him or understand what he was doing. When Jesus was arrested and killed they denied him and scattered into the night as though they were taken completely by surprise. To be a part of a lineage of faith that connects back through two thousand Easters, we share an amazing resemblance to those we so easily see as less than spiritually intelligent.

    Thank God the focus of our faith is not on who is smart enough to connect with God. “We see now through a glass, darkly,” Paul said, “but one day we will see face to face.” When that clarity comes, I don’t expect a quiz, but I look forward to knowing and being known.


    PS — there’s a new recipe.


    1. Now, seeing through a glass darkly is what I know and what I must confess to find comforting. That “one day we will see face to face”, is terrifying to me. As much as I like to think I work on myself with honest vigor, I know that there are dark corners I pretend to stab at that I just don’t wanna see. Not now. And not then. *shudder*

      Gotta try that new recipe. It sounds fantastic!

    2. Excellent work, Milton.

      We met Ed Hirsch in Maine a few summers ago. His son Ted is a teacher and vice-principal at our daughter’s school. Our daughters are on the same swim team too.

      “Cultural Literacy” is a good book, especially if you’ve never heard of Pecos Bill. “Religious Literacy” sounds appealing. Great stats too.

      And I agree with you about losing one’s religion. We did that once, when we left the Roman Catholic church. Then we found our current church and have never looked back.

      Go, Sox.

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