My faith unraveled at a Christian college. I know that’s not the way it’s supposed to happen, and I can remember wishing that a hostile, atheistic professor had bludgeoned me into my doubts with brilliantly irrefutable arguments.
It would make for a much better story.
Instead, the truth is I just got numb. The constant barrage of meaningless requirements that were, somehow, mysteriously related to Christianity: plowing through a three-inch thick commentary on Romans with no specific assignment in mind (other than to reach the back cover), fending off the desperate and over-bearing overtures of my “dorm mother” who wanted to befriend all “her girls,” and trying to stay awake while the combed-over, suited-up preacher-of-the-day got carried away and stole time from the class that followed our mandatory chapel.
One day it all got to be just too ridiculous.
Eventually, of course, I realized the problem was localized and what I had been objecting to was not “Christianity” itself, but a mindset that existed on a particular campus in a specific zip code.
Perhaps if Jayber Crow could have reached that conclusion a bit sooner, he would have been able to finish his education and then take his questions and his refreshing insights into ministry instead of just out the door and down the road with no clear destination in sight. Later in the book, we’ll see that he does eventually patch things up with organized religion, but even then, his musings about faith often sound as if they are coming from an outsider.
Living the Questions: Calling
Since Jayber ended chapter three with the observation that Aunt Cordie’s death made him “the survivor already of two stories completely ended,” I’ll add that his departure from Pigeonville College made for number three.
This week’s discussion of Chapters 4-6 covers the bulk of the twelve year period in which Jayber lived away from Port William. During those important growing-up years, the foundation was laid for Jayber’s understanding of what it means to be “called.” He starts out hedging his bets with a decision that it would be wiser to “accept the call that had not come, just in case it had come and [he] had missed it.” I’ve heard it said no one should go into professional ministry if they can be happy doing anything else. Maybe that advice would have helped young Jayber with his sorting process, but Dr. Ardmire helps Jayber turn a corner with this wise and wonderful conversation:
“I had this feeling maybe I had been called.”
“And you may have been right. But not to what you thought. Not to what you think. You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out — perhaps a little at a time.”
“And how long is that going to take?”
“I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.”
“That could be a long time.”
“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said. “It may take longer.”
Maybe, like me, this conversation brought to mind Rainer Maria Rilke’s words about living the questions. Just in case it did not, I’ll share it here:
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves. . . Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
I think we will see that Jayber Crow gave the questions his best effort throughout the seventy-two years of his recorded ponderings.
Living the Questions: Dualism
Unfortunately, The Good Shepherd with Brother Whitespade at the helm practiced a kind of dualism which gave the Apostle Paul plenty to write about 2,000 before, and which the church is still battling today. Jayber remembered it as a “divided world” with an “ideal world of order” there within the safe and secluded boundaries of the school and the “real world of disorder” which was forbidden . . . and therefore, very attractive to the students. His description of localized naughtiness brought an understanding smile to my face: “They would not have been easy in their minds if there was something they could have got away with if they had not got away with it.”
(I think there’s a warning here for those of us who are parents and want to shelter our children from all the evils of this world.)
The same rift between body and soul showed up at Pigeonville College, but this time, Jayber recognized it for what it was. Do you ever see this same contradiction in your own Christian circles?
“Everything bad was laid on the body, and everything good was credited to the soul. It scared me a little when I realized that I saw it the other way around. If the soul and body really were divided, then it seemed to me that all the worst sins –hatred and anger and self-righteousness and even greed and lust — came from the soul. But these preachers I’m talking about all thought that the soul could do no wrong, but always had its face washed and its pants on and was in agony over having to associate with the flesh and the world. And yet these same people believed in the resurrection of the body.“
Living the Questions: Power
I was disappointed with the way Brother Whitespade handled names at The Good Shepherd, effectively un-naming every student who walked through the door. Although his affection for Jayber was increased with Jayber’s “call,” even this is a form of un-naming him, for although Jayber had not changed a whit in his inclination to become a better student (or a deeper Christian), the notion of his calling was perfect camouflage for his lackluster performance and somehow made him more valuable or worthwhile in the headmaster’s estimation.
Living the Questions: Home
Home is more than a place. It’s the people who live alongside us, and all this was lost for Jayber when Aunt Cordie passed away. He was made to feel the weight of his “homelessness” with continual reminders that he was counting on someone’s good graces to feed, clothe, and educate him at The Good Shepherd.
Isn’t it wonderful that Jayber felt at home in The Good Shepherd’s library?
Jayber held himself separate and “solitary” during his time at the school, and I wonder if his loyalty to “home” — even though it was a place that no longer existed for him — was what allowed him to retain his personhood in the midst of pressure to become a cookie cutter boy in the image of Brother Whitespade.
We’ll see as we continue reading that “place” is a huge influence in Jayber’s story. But, then, it’s true for all of us, even though we are sojourners on this planet. God’s story began in a garden, and one day it will end in a city, so just as our bodies are not incidental to our salvation (sorry, Brother Whitespade), place is not unimportant either.
And as God’s children, we are never homeless.
I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, and criticisms of my conclusions in the comment space below!
I’ll be here next Thursday (September 21) having read Chapters 7-8.
And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:
Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion
SEPTEMBER 14………………CHAPTERS 4-6
SEPTEMBER 21………………CHAPTERS 7-8
SEPTEMBER 28………………CHAPTERS 9-11
OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 2…………………CHAPTERS 24-26
NOVEMBER 9…………………CHAPTERS 27-29
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32
If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.
I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.