Preparing for the Future

By Looking to the Past?

Each week I read several different email newsletters. My favorites are from Alan Jacobs and Austin Kleon.

Another is from James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. In his 3-2-1 Thursday Newsletter this week, Clear passed on this idea from an engineer named Richard Hamming:

"Teachers should prepare the student for the student's future, not for the teacher's past."

Source: The Art of Doing Science and Engineering

Sounds great. But can we know the student’s future?

In some ways, perhaps. We can look ahead, we can foresee challenges, we can even read trends. And one of the great things about writing or commenting as a futurist (a person who makes predictions about the future based on current trends) is that people seldom go back and review all the ways that you were wrong.

When you’re right, people celebrate your clairvoyance. But when you’re wrong, well, “all predictions guaranteed wrong, or your money back.”

In seminary education, as well as in the local church, one of the best ways to prepare a person for the future is by looking first to the past. It is this aggregation of wisdom, accumulated and transmitted through story, oral tradition, testimony, and exhortation, that best prepares us for the challenges of the future, unforeseen and mostly hidden as it is. There’s a sense, too, in which the creativity of the leader, who walks in communion with the Spirit of God, will need to adapt accumulated wisdom to present needs, rising to the moment and taking faithful action.

For four years I served as a school bus driver in and around DeSoto, Kansas. In addition to company policies and procedures, I had to learn the laws and practices necessary to pass a CDL test in order to obtain a license to drive the bus. Once I completed our initial training, we had ongoing learning opportunities each year—usually on the same topics, like the Smith System of Driving, dangers around railroad crossings, and how to clean up hazardous bodily fluids, like vomit and blood.

But I also learned that the best place to learn about the dangers and hazards of the occupation was outside formal trainings. Where? In the break room. There, drivers would tell stories of near misses and dicey encounters. They’d pass on ways to deal with students and school administrators. We learned through the experiences of others as listeners and colaborers. I was prepared for the future by examining the past, by living through the experiences of others through story.

In all likelihood, a student’s future will include new challenges that differ from those of the teacher. But the gap between student and teacher isn’t as large as Hamming suggests. The challenges before us, especially in church leadership, will differ most likely in degree rather than kind, for many solutions will essentially rest in convictions we share about basic human questions, including those concerning human nature, the person of God, the good life, and pursuit of justice, and how those convictions are then applied to present circumstance.

Addressing these questions requires a deep knowledge of the past. But for Christians, it also requires a certain orientation toward the future, and a certain posture toward the present.

There is a continuum which Christians hold: a long reach and a strong tie to what God has done in the past, a clear vision and a deep hope about what God will do in the future, and a firm grounding in the present moment—which is the proving ground of faithfulness.

Book Notes

Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited is beautifully written. It is a story about the unseen workings of grace set in a changing world, told by Charles Ryder. Ryder befriends an aristocratic family, the Flytes, who live in a palace estate, Brideshead Castle. Ryder comes to know Sebastian Flyte while at Oxford, and later becomes romantically involved with his sister, Julia. Ryder grows close to the extended Flyte family at Brideshead. The Flytes are a Catholic family; Charles is an agnostic. He returns to Brideshead as a solider fighting in the Second World War, looking back at and observing how his world has changed. I finished the novel last week.

I began Diana Gruver’s Companions in the Darkness: Seven Saints Who Struggled with Depression and Doubt last weekend, and already I’m finding it to be an encouraging treatment of the Christian life in light of the realities of mental illness and struggle. A great deal of nuance is needed with regard to this subject. A whole lot of compassion, patience, and love, as well.

Gruver looks at the lives of Martin Luther, Hannah Allen, David Brainerd, William Cowper, Charles Spurgeon, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King, Jr. to show us the ways depression and doubt affected Christian leaders of the past in order to help Christian people of the present better cope with our struggles practically, biblically, and theologically. She brings in her own story as well. Depression and doubt are experienced by people of strong faith. I have a deep conviction that these feelings and experiences, felt and endured in faith, can leave one’s faith even stronger. This book helps us see how to navigate these experiences faithfully and well.

Next up on the list: Soren Kierkegaard’s Discourses at the Communion on Fridays.

Sights and Sounds

Still listening to Christmas music. I am also listening to the blues. It’s bad you know.

I watched Live Free and Die Hard for the first time this past week. I watch action movies to wind down in the evenings.

My kids and I recently watched the second and third episodes of the second season of The Mandolorian.

But the most interesting thing I’ve watched is a 1950 film called Roshomon. It’s a crime drama, told from the perspective of four individuals who witnessed or participated in the scene in some way. All tell the story from their own self-interested perspective. It’s our job to figure out the truth. The movie is well told, using flashback with great effectiveness. But it also drives at deeper questions, including human nature and the nature of truth.

Last Words

There’s one new post on my website about autonomous sensory meridian response.

Before I go, standard copy.

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Be well this week. Bless others.


P. S. - I traveled to Goliad State Park last weekend and camped overnight. It was a quiet visit. I built a fire, hiked the trails, and went up the road to the Fannin Memorial, the Presidio La Bahia, and the birthplace of Mexican General Ignacio Zaragoza. Above is a picture of the Mission Espiritu Santo, located on the grounds of the State Park; below is a baptismal font that is located inside.