Tag Archives: disciple

Educated

tara-westover-educatedI love reading books but hate writing book reviews and yet I must take the time to recommend Educated by Tara Westover. Not since reading Angela’s Ashes years ago has a memoir so affected me. Read the ridiculous list of accolades to discover that I am not alone.

The story is almost too much to believe, much less summarize. Tara grew up in the Idaho mountains with survivalist parents and six older siblings. Her mentally unstable father was the unmistakable (and very religious) family leader who operated a junkyard and prepared his family for the end of the world by stockpiling food, fuel, and weapons. He distrusted all things government as well as the medical establishment so, shielded by their isolation, none of the children attended school or visited doctors. With time and forced practice, Tara’s mother became well known as a midwife and healer. Miraculously, with not even a semi-serious attempt at home schooling, Tara got into college at Brigham Young University—and to shortcut the full mind-blowing story, now has a Ph.D. from Cambridge. But it is the full story, and in fact, the journey itself, that produced words in the promotional blurbs like remarkable, breathtaking, heart-wrenching, inspirational, brave, and naked.

I dislike clichés like “it’s a must read.” So I will quote what Bill Gates said about the book instead: “It’s even better than you’ve heard.”

What I am struggling with now is what to do with this powerful story. It has thrown me for a loop, and in my disoriented state I am trying to recover some measure of equilibrium to see what it has done to me.

My life in no way resembles Tara’s life. I can’t even imagine. And yet we read ourselves into every book—or at least I do—and I suspect that part of its power is my identification with growing up in a rather self-contained world and later moving to radically different worlds and trying to make sense of it all. I, too, love my roots and yet have been “educated” by a journey that I never even imagined. Further, I continue to work in the heart of an institution of higher education and see this sort of thing play out day after day. As the book review in The New York Times concluded back in March 2018, “She [Tara] is but yet another young person who left home for an education, now views the family she left across an uncomprehending ideological canyon, and isn’t going back.”

Tara shares mixed feelings, and I get it. Not only does she value education, she values her education. Read the story: Not only did it probably save her physical life, but it also saved her—her very self. But the sacrifice was great — and painful.

I check the box for “Christian” on surveys, but the word the Bible uses for self-description instead is “disciple,” a word that means “student.” Jesus made it quite clear that the call to discipleship requires sacrifice, possibly sacrificing your very family. Jesus didn’t even pretend this would be easy. But he said it was good. And ultimately worth it.

Maybe that’s what Tara’s story is doing to me. Thankfully, I never had to give up family on my particular journey, but maybe her story serves as a dramatic illustration for Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship.” An education can cost you everything. At times that may very well be worth the price.

A Master’s Degree

If my ten years as a preacher count, and I vote that they should, education has been my day-to-day life for as long as I can remember. But education is familiar to us all, and I suspect that most of us have a similar picture when we hear words like “student” and “teacher” and “classroom”—and that picture is of learners arranged in neat little rows poised to have their brains filled by a knowledgeable instructor standing at the front of the room. Am I right?

When I was a preacher, I became particularly interested in the word “disciple” since the Christian Bible seemed to use it an awful lot. When I learned that the original word basically meant “student,” I thought I had a pretty good handle on that thought (see above), but it turns out that teacher/student/classroom in the Middle East a couple of thousand years ago didn’t look exactly like an American high school.

To grasp that picture, think “apprentice.” Instead of multiple teachers individually sharing various areas of expertise with a learner, picture a relationship where the student wants to become the teacher—to know what the teacher knows, to think like the teacher thinks, and see the world like the teacher sees.

Well, that’s a different show altogether.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking to my friends and colleagues in the Student Services Section of the Association of American Law Schools at our national meeting in New York City. My topic was mentoring, and I shared the following quote from poet, Ruth Whitman:

“In every art beginners must start with models of those who have practiced the same art before them. And it is not only a matter of looking at the drawings, paintings, musical compositions, and poems that have been and are being created; it is a matter of being drawn into the individual work of art, of realizing that it has been made by a real human being, and trying to discover the secret of its creation.”

A mentor brings great value to someone who hopes to be an artist, or lawyer, or preacher, or teacher, or butcher or baker or candlestick maker—just about anyone. A mentor provides the opportunity for a learner to be drawn into the mind and heart of a person to discover the secret of what makes that person do what she does.

Mentor possibilities are endless (and potentially affordable, too!). You could choose a specific living, breathing person with oodles of time for you. Um, then again, that might prove impossible. You could choose someone who moved on from this life and learn from that mentor through her writings, biography, or documentary. You could choose a combination of folks for various reasons, a “personal board of directors” as I’ve heard it called.

I am not proposing a complete overhaul of the American educational system. My thought is that we shouldn’t limit our education to simply extracting information from people we call teachers. People do that from hostages! Crawl deeper into the day-to-day mind and heart of someone who lived (or is living) this life well. And learn.