Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Definition of Me is not a Date

Since my second year of university, or maybe the third, the first week of September has been laden with truly positive, happy meaning for me. That was when I fell in love with academia: as a student first and then as a professor. It was the most exciting time of the year for me, more than Christmas, I'd say.

But now that I am not teaching, and in fact living down the street from a school I loved - a very blatant presence as one of the only institutions in the town in which I live! - September is not quite the same. There is a bit of sadness now mixed in.

The joke about parents is that they can't wait until their kids go back to school. I don't really feel that way. I am not complaining that the house is a little quieter right now, but I miss my kids very easily.

But do I really want my life to change? I would certainly like money enough to live off of, so as to maintain the house better than we possibly can right now, and give Anne-Marie more peace of mind, but other than that, I could not possibly be happier about what my life consists in right now. Yes, I miss  the enthusiasm and curiosity of that rare student; I miss the lightheartedness of young people in general - but not enough to want to be doing other than I am doing right now. I know I have been blessed to finally get to do what I have thought about for literally 15 years - writing and publishing, being my own man, my own creative mind.

The fact is, teaching always implies people-pleasing. And, if you are a convicted Christian who has thought about right and wrong, and is not governed by any unassailable sinful drives, the check to our behavior that is people-please cannot add much, and probably only take away from our freedom in Christ. Some people who are ignorant and mean and clueless about social norms could use the people-pleasing baseline of the super-ego (which they seem to lack), but I honestly think that it only decreases me, at least as I am now. In other words, I am better on my own, as my own boss. Teaching is people-pleasing: your students, your bosses, your fellow-teachers. I know better than just about anyone my age the evils of the workforce for a strong-minded Catholic man. Everyone thinks they are so open-minded and easy-going, but they are nasty, small-minded, brutish, and petty. I want to be away from that. I need to be away from that to be a better person, a happier and less cynical person. This is not to say that I would never teach again, but I am not actively looking.

I would take the right position were it to come along, but I have come to conclude that I seem to spontaneously rub people the wrong way, despite my best intentions. For good and ill I am not all that fit to be around. I don't really know what I do, but people usually think that I am judgmental or something. I know people find me and my 5'9'' frame a little intimidating. Actually, it's likely my learning, self-confidence (well, a great front, anyway!) and willingness to question received wisdom that alienates people.

But I don't care!

Being "comfortable in your own skin" is not just a pleasant, wise-sounding phrase of the kind that they like to use at Madonna House. It is a fact, and a thing rarely found among us. Frankly, I will not pretend to agree with people. I will readily admit I don't know things, but not pretend that your idea is good when in fact it's crap. That seems to bother people.

I am nice. I think I am extraordinarily nice. Some say that's not a virtue. I think it is. It's not the highest one by any means, but it is a good thing. But people seem to only want to surround themselves with people who tell them what they already know to be true. They don't want to be threatened. They are weak and petty. A challenge is not a threat!

So, does this mean that I am not fit to be around people? So much the worse for them, then. I know I am a pretty good guy. Not great, but okay. And I am interesting if you like book-learning, and funny if you like to laugh. But that's it, my friends. I will not put on the song-and-dance for sake of making a positive impression. And that is what I feel I have done too much of these last ten years. Yes, too much of, I said.

Working for yourself means that you can more easily be the kind of person you want to be. You can create in the way you feel called to create and you can make decisions without others constantly over-turning them.

Will I ever teach again? I hope so. I have a lot to share. And I love learning from students. Am I worried about not ever actually be able to do so again? Not in the slightest anymore. I need to create, not conform. If I can keep creating I am living the life of God.

I have not met anyone who completely shares my ideas about things, and I don't need to. I can create and others can hop-aboard if they happen to like where I am heading.

Let the Septembers come. God brings new meanings out of old things like months.

The most important thing in life, and this is very plainly so for the theologian, is to do God's will. In this case, this lies in marginalizing the wills of men, so to speak, the impact they have on your life. Those who think they know are simply that, those who think they know. But God speaks to the individual and no one should ever give Him second billing. First, what does God want? How many of us actually live this way? I think most of us devote most of our time to doing the will of man. A few of us can reverse this. But those to whom God has said this in such a way that it makes an impact have a duty to live this way.

In junior high I was told that I need to listen to authority better, because I'll never get ahead otherwise. In the seminary I was told that 'there will be a time for clear thinking, but this is not it.' A leopard doesn't change its spots. Just because someone doesn't like something about you and won't reward you as a consequence, doesn't mean that it is actually something you should get rid of. Being a brat at fourteen helped lay the groundwork for me to be the right kind of brat today.


  1. Interesting thoughts, Colin. "They don't want to be threatened. They are weak and petty. A challenge is not a threat!" I very much sympathize, but I think we have to accept the fact that many/most people simply lack any real background, any personal inculturation, into the reality of intellectually rigorous thinking and intercourse, so many/most people lack the concepts/understanding which would make it possible for them to perceive an intellectual challenge as anything but a threat. And the reality is, when your basic character formation has taken place in an environment where challenges indeed are typically viewed as threats, and where people in fact only interact at that level, in and for that context it is in fact correct that challenges are nothing but threats. So people in such contexts are weak and petty, but there is a sense in which their intellectual weakness and pettiness is simply the natural (and 'justified') result of their psychological formation. -David

  2. David, you are right, but that is so hard to accept and so depressing! On the one hand, I don't want to think myself 'above' others, but on the other hand, among the things from which Christ sets us free is moral stupidity, and I have to appreciate that gift from Him.