Monday, July 7, 2014

what was the question?

Image from http://neelam-community.blogspot.ca/
Recently I was talking to someone about the difference between pursuing answers and developing good questions. As descendants of the Age of Enlightenment when reason and the scientific method were posited as optimum paths to truth and reality, many of us tend to be drawn to certainty, to cut and dried answers, to equations that are easy to understand and implement. Just google "Five Easy Steps" and see the number of articles out there offering advice on everything from creating a marketing plan to switching banks to achieving happiness. Unfortunately, life is not a tidy equation, at least not in my experience. Neither are interpersonal relationships, community life, or biblical interpretation. In my learning journey, I have found it more helpful to look for the underlying question than to search out simple answers for specific situations. For example, the question, "How do I get to Montreal?" offers much more room for adventure and creative navigation than asking the question, "Do I turn left or right here?"

One of the annoying habits professors (and good teachers like Jesus) have is to answer questions with more questions, inviting the student to discover something larger than their original query and inevitably, to learn more about themselves in the process. One professor I had always provoked us with her query: "What is your question?" This was difficult for me to answer because I seemed to have so many and they pointed in many different directions. She made a simple but profound observation that I always seemed to be searching for an encounter. Light bulbs went off in my head when she said that! Yes, I was (and still am) always looking to make a connection with someone, to meet the real person, or to get at the heart of a text, to discover what the writer was getting at. In fact, the main question that drove my master's thesis was this: "I should really be liking this writer but I can't seem to connect. What am I missing? What don't I get about her?" My professor's observation continues to guide my doctoral research and has also helped me in how I teach, pastor, lead, read, study, and interact with others. It is my quest. It reflects my deepest values. It is the direction my life points.

A friend of mine told me that her ongoing question is this: "How do I love like Jesus loved?" What a beautiful and challenging journey this question has set her on. When I look at some people, I think their question might not go deeper than "How do I make more money?" Or "How do I get famous?" Or "How do I get people to like me?" That's a bit sad. And even sadder is the fact that the questions we ask as Christians are sometimes not that much better: "How do I get more people to come to church?" or "How can I increase the giving at my church?" Are these really our underlying questions, the ones that guide the direction of our lives and on which we focus our energies? I hope not. I hope that we have much more beautiful questions than that.

For further thought, check out 100 Questions Jesus Asked put together by the Archdiocese of Washington.  Very interesting. I especially like 6, 21, 26, 54, 68, 74, and 98.

What is your question?


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