Teaching of the Unexamined Life

One thing I have learned to do better teaching a Sunday school quarter on church history has been to say only one thing. It is one thing to say you should say one thing, another to practise it. And church history is particularly hard because you have to select from a huge diversity of detail. What does it all add up to? When you teach a passage of Scripture you’re already working with someone’s main point, and so discerning the point is not as difficult. History is otherwise because it comes alive in the details and the point is not made obvious by a limited trail of crucial details. The primary sources make the stories come alive: things dropped out of a larger context, an unexpected anecdote, a custom no longer customary with a crucial influence on behavior or thought. But details aren’t enough because one can’t just present aggregated facts. Even when you use a controversy or just one person to organize your details, you have to make a point, otherwise it won’t all come together. Henry Chadwick and Christopher Dawson’s work has been really useful to me in that regard. I can’t say that I was working alongside them, especially since I’m working so far below them and so often borrowing, but seeing how they did what they did as I was working on the same material, I was able to pick up on what they were doing and proceed a little further along in my own negligible practice. I haven’t had a chance to do church history before: in the USA it never came up and in Colombia I lacked the sufficient resources to feel confident about what I was saying, even had I had the time, which I did not. But here were both, and I have finally had a chance to practice that for which I was trained, at least in a Sunday school. I’m pleased at the progress.

I should go on with the study, right into the early middle ages of the church even though I’m not slated to teach, but I can’t go on once the class is done for three reasons. The first is called a GRE, and reading a preparatory manual makes me realize this is a sui generis test that masquerades as a test of general knowledge. It is a test of how the ETS company tests people, and the better you master this esoteric and not entirely connected corner of American academia, the better your chances of being accepted into a PhD program are. The second entirely makes up for the GRE. I’ve been asked to teach Latin in the fall on a very part-time basis. If it were full-time, nobody would think of me, since at this point I have to learn Latin in order to teach it. Which I can do, but not while chugging my way through the early middle ages of church history and giving the GRE a good run. It is very lucky though. I was asking my wife why the Lord didn’t just offer me a job teaching the Saturday before the headmaster walked up to me in church to ask me if I’d be willing to teach Latin. And the second stroke of luck was that I crossed over to the strip mall beside our apartment and entered Half-Price Books to find the seventh edition of Wheelock’s Latin there for $16. But maybe once the GRE is done, and Latin beginning to settle, and applications over with around December, I’ll have time to read again, and maybe I’ll even have a chance to teach the same quarter next spring. The third is the Dominican Republic of course, on which I have to concentrate my efforts now.

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