Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Lesson in Humility

The assignment given by the professor of Church History was to write a research paper on any one of the major developments in the life of the Christian Church.  I chose to write my paper on the Wesleyan Revival of the Eighteenth Century.  I had read much about it and had come to certain conclusions that seemed to me apropos for the modern day.  My thoughts and ideas on the subject made up the bulk of my research paper.  I thought I did a credible job.  But when the paper was returned I was astounded, first of all with the failing grade, and then by the professor’s comments.  The essence of his remarks were:  “I don’t give a ‘tinker’s damn’ about what you think! Where are the footnotes?  A research paper is about finding out what others with greater minds have thought, before you presume to present your own!  You have my permission to try again.”

It was a lesson in humility.  I re-wrote the paper over the weekend, spending time with many old books in the seminary library and taking copious notes.  I don’t know whether it was the weathered dust-laden books or my inner anxiety which caused me to have my first and only experience with the hives!   Perhaps it was both.  

That experience in humility taught me a great deal.  It taught me that what I considered a new and great idea or insight was not new at all.  It taught me that there were greater minds than my own, and many who thought differently than I did.   I learned that my assumed “wisdom” on the subject was really ignorance.  I learned that there were many writers who wrote more succinctly than ever I could or ever would write.   It helped me realize that my “two cents” was precisely worth two cents, because I had presumed my own thinking original and novel, when it fact, it was not and much of it could only be considered trivial in the light of research.  I discovered in the research process  a host of tested ideas and opinions, many of which I had never even thought about in reference to the Wesleyan Movement.   It was a liberating experience.  The finished paper was quite different from the first—and received a passing grade.  The professor wrote another note on the front page:  “Now, this is more like it!”  I’m so glad he gave me a second chance and taught me that lesson in humility.   

We do not hate learning, but we hate being taught!  To learn implies that the knowledge we gain is knowledge gained on our own accord.  To be taught, on the other hand, means we have learned from others.
A cut flower soons fades and dies.  It lives only when
nourished by its roots in fertile soil.

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