What many Christians need to learn …

David Brooks, the conservative columnist for The New York Times, recently wrote an important article about a Jewish teacher named Erica Brown. Many Christians need to hear and implement the kinds of ideas she presents. Excerpts from David Brooks follow:

“In the first place, she has conviction. For her, Judaism isn’t a punch line or a source of’ neuroticism; it’s a path to self-confident and superior living. She didn’t seem hostile to the things that make up most coffee-table chatter — status, celebrity, policy, pop culture — she just didn’t show, much interest.”

“In her classes and groups, she tries to create arduous countercultural communities. ‘We live in a relativistic culture,’ she told me. Many people have no firm categories to organize their thinking. They find it hard to give a straight yes or no answer to tough moral questions.”

“Jewish learning, she says, isn’t about achieving tranquility. It’s about the struggle. ‘I try to make people uncomfortable.’”

“Her classes are dialogues structured by ancient texts [such as the Old Testament]. . . . She will present a biblical text or a Talmudic teaching, and mix it with modern quotations. She may ask students to write down some initial reflections, then try to foment a fierce discussion. Brown seems to poke people with concepts that sit uncomfortably with the modern mind-set — submission and sin. She writes about disorienting situations: vengeance, scandal, group shame. During our coffee, she criticized the way some observers bury moral teaching under legal [argument] and the way some moderns try to explain away the unfashionable things the Torah clearly says.”

“All of this sounds hard, but Brown thinks as much about her students as her subject matter. “You can’t be Jewish alone” she told me, So learning is a way to create communities and relationships.”

“I concluded that Brown’s impact stems from her ability to undermine the egos of the successful at the same time that she lovingly helps them build better lives. She offers a path out of the tyranny of the perpetually open mind by presenting authoritative traditions and teachings. Most educational institutions emphasize individual advancement. Brown nurtures the community and the group.”

“This nation is probably full of people who’d be great adult educators, but there are few avenues to bring those teachers into contact with mature and hungry minds. Now you hear about such people by word of mouth.”

My take on all this: What “arduous [spiritual] community” do you belong to? What context in your church offers the chance to discuss serious questions about Christian faith and life’s issues? I hope you have specific answers to those questions. If not, you need to seek an arduous spiritual community as a priority.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

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