Sunday, June 1, 2008

Discernment is a Big Word

When one is the resident of a Religious Studies department, one sees a lot of flyers advertising meetings for the pre-ministry kids on how to discern the call to the ministry. With the combination of my background in CofC land and my cynicism of organized religion – I typically ignored them. Other than stopping to think: only RS people can come up with such a impressive sounding way to phrase that classic post-adolescent problem: what the heck am I doing with my life?

Now, the Metra is finding that she wishing she had better heuristic devices for dealing with said question. Discernment might have to be a foreign word to adopt into the vocabulary – like theois, or Eucharist, or sanctuary.

So why isn’t discernment a strong part of the Southern Restoration Movement heritage? Part of it probably the anti-intellectualism you get in CofC land. Discernment is just a fancy word with too many syllables. The Christian Chronicle has a rather nifty and informative little article up on the history of the Harding Graduate School of Religion. It touches several times of this anti-intellectualism. Even someone from my generation has probably heard the crack that Harding is where you go to graduate from religion. This attitude goes hand in hand with the notion that the Bible is sufficient for its own interpretation, and the sneaky notion that there is only one correct interpretation of the meaning of scripture which will be blatantly obvious to all people irregardless of gender, socio-economic status, race, sexual orientation, etc.

(At the point in time, a quip repeated by Deryn Guest in When Deborah Met Jael comes to mind. If the audience of the verse: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman” is a lesbian woman, the answer is a hearty “well, of course!” At this point in time, I ask – how are we defining man and woman in this context? The social location of the person reading the text – it’s quite important.)

You can guess where I fall on the question. Firmly on the side of being an overly intellectual smart-ass.

But I think the absence of an idea of a process of discernment is also an effect of the CofC’s take on the priesthood of all [male] believers. For a long time, the idea of having a minister paid by the congregation was heresy. A preacher should have a job on the side to support himself (and his family). This is less en vogue today, but there’s still this assumption that every boy in the congregation should aspire to hold a church office. More likely the pressure is to aspire to be a deacon or an elder – the notion that God might call certain people to these positions and not others appears to be non-existent. (The notion that God might not be calling all persons in possession of an uterus to marriage and children is even more non-existent.) There is, however, a lot of effort put into training all the little boys for their roles in public worship. The attitude might be well described as: of course, God is calling you to lead the church, why would you need to discern that?

Of course, I’m not at all convinced that the Divine works like that. Nor am I convinced that view of the Church is Biblical, if we’re placing a great deal of emphasis on that element.

And, now, I’m off to continue looking for a good heuristic device to make off with. Lock up the techniques of discernment, my friends, Metra is breaking out the hunter's camo!

1 comment:

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Hah. I'm thirty and sorting out what I want to be when I grow up. Some bits I've had for a while, some bits ... not so much.

And some of it is discerning the call to the ministry, and sorting out what that means, too, when dealing with religion that hasn't really made the transition into functional sustainability yet ...

Y'know, I should write about this. *puts it on the bloggyqueue*