The Way of Jacob’s Ignorance

“In this divinity of ignorance, in this human of genius, supposedly appears to be concealed the wisdom of the contradiction, by which the adept collapse and the ontologist shatters his teeth.”

“The true genius knows only his dependence and weakness, or the bounds of his gifts.” Johann Hamann

Could you imagine living a long full life into your 80’s and having been courageous enough to walk the narrow way of imitating Christ in thought, word and deed, which meant picking up your cross and setting a course into the wild. Even more so, surrendering your life to the mystery and following the God-man into an invisible descent that goes against the grain of the world day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, and decade after decade. And, as you walk this narrow way of faith, you don’t perceive yourself of making any difference but you feel yourself growing in weakness, desperation, powerlessness and age.

Imagine knowing this and still writing. 

Imagine living in a place of holy poverty and over a lifetime of 86 years writing eighty books of poetry, fiction, essays, deliberations and upbuilding discourses begging people to look up from their consumer lifestyles and stop feeding at the trough of the monoculture long enough to take a breath and possibly see how our idolatrous and gluttonous ways have already and will continue to produce disastrous results. Furthermore, warning the world over and over how and why living a consumer lifestyle removed, disconnected and fragmented from purpose, place, position, real people and real life is the well trodden way of doom.

If you don’t mind, please stick with me and continue imagining trudging your own path, making life altering decisions, speaking against the powers of this world, making real sacrifices that seem to matter to no one, costing yourself friends and money while making yourself enemies, and enduring the pain, rejection and even ridicule. Imagine being able to do nothing but dig deeper into your faith and your native soil, so that you can continue to trust your calling, use your gifts, do your duty and share the experience, encouragement, hope and wisdom that God had given you (not some man made seminary). Imagine enduring all of this, and then being forced to watch day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade as everything you had been writing to prevent comes true.

Frankly, I have no idea how one does it and how one does not go mad, sit in despair, become cynical or just quit. Even more so, how one could continue to live so vulnerably to see and feel the unseen war that rages in our flesh and our world, and still find the strength and bravery to stand up and continue to fight against the Goliaths of this world..and keep writing.

Now if you will, imagine a child who has grown up in a consumer culture where he has lived, moved and had his being determined by greed, lust, violence, want and waste. Imagine this child being taught a religion void of blood, sweat and tears but full of curated emotional highs and lows, motivated by both guilt and pride and coddled in a warm environment of moralistic therapeutic deism. Perhaps this child, who has crawled around in the safe, comfortable and sterile white walls of a church debating “what this verse means to me” goes on to attend a Christian college, and from there makes the tough decision to slug it out in the muck and mire of an overwhelmingly white male seminary. Chances are that within this righteous and religious cocoon, he is spoon-fed a particular Christian scholarship by other seminary trained leaders and teachers of his particular persuasion.

It doesn’t take much to assume that in his denominational way, truth and life that he will grow headstrong believing that his brand of Christian scholarship will transform him into a man of maturity, wisdom and discernment. No, he will not need the stress, strain, pull, tension and the undoing of years of actual living. Rather by suckling for some 4 to 8 long tedious years at the artificial teat of religion, he can learn to write and lecture about the way, the truth and the life of Christ, and avoid the low, hidden, dirty and humiliating ways of ever imitating Him.

No, the Christian scholar experience has not been earned in the real word, toiling with his hands or wiping the sweat off his brow in a field that does not give degrees or accolades. Intstead…this instruction is special, it has been learned in an air conditioned classroom from books while sitting at a desk listening to men (not women) who have obeyed the system, worked its formulas, studied its ways, learned its particular “truths” by those who have spent an ungodly amount of time and energy tinkering in its minutiae, nuancing its message and perfecting their own righteous consumer lifestyle that would allow them the way to have it all.

The highly evolved Christian scholar does not choose the calling of church ministry nor does he desire to be troubled by these dirty “sheep.” Rather, he has chosen a Christian career that will free him to study the sins of others from a safe a respectable distance (online, from a classroom, inside a church building and/or from the comfortable confines of his office), instead of having to deal or confront them in person. Since the career path that the Christian scholar has chosen is just like every other career path, he can have faith that with enough time, energy and money, he can work his way through a system that rewards his obedience, dedication, regurgitation and knowledge of a system. Better yet, in less than a decade, a student of Christian scholarship can pay for the appropriate amount of Christian experience that recognizes him with a certificate that calls him an expert.

In line with the monoculture’s way, a person with minimal life experience and a handful of degrees, can be conformed into an expert. In the Christian industrial complex, one can become a “Christian” expert who can now robe up and rise up in order to look down and review (judge) other men and women the same way he has learned to review men and women throughout history, including those in The Bible- through his own consumer perspective.

No, he doesn’t need to spend years in poverty, living among the marginalized or laying down his life for his brother but he can, in his expert opinion, leisurely pick and choose what he can take out of context and use as a means to his self-glorifying ends. Perchance, our Christian scholar is protected by his Christian scholarship from following the Way, the Truth and the Life of Jesus Christ… while allowing him to just think and teach about it.

So, here’s where I am going with this…

Today, I read a review of Wendell Berry by an ignorant and arrogant Jacob Shatzer on The Gospel Coalition website. I have to admit that I have a lot of respect for Wendell Berry. He is now man of 86 years of age. He is an honorable and respectable Christian man who has lived a most remarkable life obeying the call of Christ as a farmer, writer, husband, father, brother, friend, neighbor and as a creature in harmony with creation.

His writings are full of many deep and beautiful truths, hopes, pondering and longings of a man trying to live a healthy and holy life. Wendell Berry is a rare man who has been given both the gift of imagination and the gift of wisdom. His life, his experience and his writings do not reveal the spirit, heart and mind of an expert but that of a humble servant. In reading Wendell Berry, one can easily hear and see that he has taken great care, seriousness and discretion to choose his words carefully to “proclaim the word; be faithful to it in season and out of season, reprove, admonish, exhort with all magnanimity and instruction.”

On the other hand, here we have a very young Jacob Shatzer who decided in a world and, more specifically, in a church that is now filled with worldly consumers suffering from epidemics of idolatry, gluttony loneliness, anxiety and addictions that the best use of his time would be in rebuking an older man. Furthermore, to publicly rebuke an older Christian man. What I find even more disturbing than a young Jacob’s ignorant and arrogant decision to write a nonsensical review of Wendell Berry, are those at The “Gospel” Coalition who approved and published Jacob’s rebuking of an older Christian.

I wonder if Jacob wanted to get his name out there by attaching himself to Wendell Berry. In many ways, Jacob’s paltry attempts to trip up Wendell Berry was ironic and comical. For a Christian professor, I just have to say “Even if Wendell Berry did change his mind…so what? Isn’t that something Christians believe in- the changing of the mind?” Furthermore, when someone starts with a bias of trying to find a fault, won’t they always find it by pulling things out of context, not reading or understanding the work as a whole (confirmation bias).

But see, just as Jacob is blind to the truth that he teaches, he is blind to the truth that he reads. Jacob apparently believes that he doesn’t owe Wendell Berry the respect or honor to understand him or to know him. For Jacob chose to weigh Wendell Berry in his own balance of limited understanding and life lived without speaking to Wendell Berry or reading his complete volume of work. Even more disturbing, Jacob decided that he can understand Wendell Berry better than Wendell Berry understands himself.

And so it appears to me that Jacob should not just be embarrassed, but he should be ashamed of his complete lack of Christian love towards his brother Wendell Berry. Perhaps, at this point, it would be wise for Jacob to offer an apology, stop writing, start reading his Bible, get some real life experience and set aside some time to read Wendell Berry when and where he has lived a decent amount of life of confessed ignorance and with the purpose to understand his Christian brother.

If then Jacob decides that he still wants to confront Wendell Berry, then he’d know by having read Wendell Berry that Wendell Berry is not online. To confront his Christian brother, Jacob would need to write Wendell Berry a letter, make phone call or schedule a visit because Mr. Berry doesn’t own a computer. I am just going assume that Wendell Berry is not a big fan of websites, and specifically “Christian” websites that believe, with an internet connection, they can be the way, the truth and the life that we (human beings) have been called to be in our real lives, in our little places, in our mundane duties and ordinary responsibilities, and often hidden works.

Perhaps in reading Wendell Berry, Jacob would discover that Wendell is not just talking about him but to him.

“The modern ignorance is in people’s assumption that they can outsmart their own nature. It is in the arrogance that will believe nothing that cannot be proved, and respect nothing it cannot understand, and value nothing it cannot sell . . . The next hard time is just as real to him as the last, and so is the next blessing. The new ignorance is the same as the old, only less aware that ignorance is the same as the old, only less aware that ignorance is what it is. It is less humble, more foolish and frivolous, more dangerous. A man, Old Jack thinks, has no choice but to be ignorant, but he does not have to be a fool. He can know his place, and he can stay in it and be faithful.” Wendell Berry, The Way of Ignorance 

I know Wendell has read Kierkegaard, it might benefit Jacob to read him as well because Søren has quite a lot to say about Christian Scholarship.

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in this world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.

I open the New Testament and read: ‘If you want to be perfect, then sell all your goods and give to the poor and come follow me.’ Good God, if we were to actually do this all the capitalists, the officeholders, and the entrepreneurs, the whole society in fact, would be almost beggars! We would be sunk if it were not for Christian scholarship! Praise be to everyone who works to consolidate the reputation of Christian scholarship, which helps to restrain the New Testament, this confounded book which would one, two, three, run us all down if it got loose (that is, if Christian scholarship did not restrain it).” From Kierkegaard’s Journals

Oh and one more…

“All my work oriented to knowing does not touch my life at all, its desires, its passions, its selfishness, and leaves me completely unchanged—my action changes my life. Thus, however much an earlier age in Christendom may have erred, Christianly it nevertheless was, compared with our age, generally right when it immediately translated Christianity into action, which is the proper Christian simplicity. Also in our day there is talk about this, that Christianity is not to be expounded artificially, bombastically, but simply—and in the exchange of ideas they fight about it, they write books about it; it becomes a branch of scholarship all its own, and perhaps one even makes it into a livelihood and becomes a professor in the subject, omitting or forgetting that the real simplicity, the truly simple exposition of the essentially Christian is—to do it.” Søren Kierkegaard

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