I have a friend who uses big words. He uses them on purpose and not in a way that makes you feel stupid when he does it. The other day he told me he was “facile” in regards to something. I had to go look it up. I learned something.
But guys like him are becoming rare.
Knowledge is easier to obtain now than in used to be. There is no shortage of information. If I want to know something, Wikipedia is just a browser away. “define:[word]” is one of my favorite Google searches ever.
I don’t need some smarty-pants to tell me things any more. I can go find it myself. And, yet, I often don’t.
There is an overabundance of information at our disposal. We don’t know what to do with it all. There have been studies after studies done that show that the more choices we have, the less content we are.
Do you remember when you first began shopping for yourself and stood in the aisle looking at all the different kinds of spaghetti sauce you could buy? It’s overwhelming. A few nights ago, I spent 2 hours trolling Bandcamp, looking for new music. Any kind of independent artist you could want is there, but I was having a damn hard time finding anything through the crowd. There’s just too much. I have this fear that I’m going to miss something good, that I’m going to spend my hard earned cash on something when the thing I really want is one more click away…
It seems to me that pastors have a unique opportunity in this moment. We have an opportunity to recognize our role as the new Public Intellectuals.
An Intellectual is a person who concerns herself with the life of the mind. She is passionate about ideas and the ways those ideas shape the way we live. She is concerned about her thinking being “critical” in nature. Rocks must be overturned, doors opened, avenues explored. She does not shy away from hard truths, and goes where information leads her. She always knows that deeper and deeper realities are discoverable even when her colleagues stop.
What makes a pastor a Public Intellectual is that she does not have the luxury of this exploration being private. By the very nature of her calling, a pastor is asked to do this wrestling in public. In front of other people. Where she might be criticized.
And this is the rub.
Pastors succumb to doing a lot of things they should not, but they often shy away from being the primary person in a community asking questions that have no destination for certain. The truth is that we have been given tools that a lot of people do not have in order to navigate the questions that a lot of people are asking. But we still have to ask them. We still have to give our best answer, and then ask people what they see.
There is a lot of religious information out there, and with a populace that is not slowing down in their drive to be “spiritual,” the need for someone to authentically help navigate all that information is at an all time high. Folks don’t need to be spoonfed the answers, but they want to watch us run the obstacle course of faith first – complete with tripping and falling – because watching us run it will give them courage to run it themselves.
This isn’t easy work, but it’s fairly straightforward. It requires that we steel our spines and go places we might not otherwise want to go.
But it is important work, and our people need us to do it. Pastors, we can no longer afford to be facile about our work as theologians. (See what I did there? 🙂 )