Holy crap– this is amazing. Sorry all my posts have been about this book I’m reading, Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, but to be honest, this book is full of thoughts and principles that constantly challenge me about today’s Christendom.
This quote is from pages 190-191 (1976 Corgi edition), and requires a little premise: The ex-teacher is reflecting on dropping the entire grading system in his University, and when he refers to the ‘Church’ he’s talking about this University, ironically in our case.
The student’s biggest problem was a slave mentality which had been built into him by years of carrot-and-whip grading, a mule mentality which said, “If you don’t whip me, I won’t work.” He didn’t get whipped. He didn’t work. And the cart of civilization, which he supposedly was being trained to pull, was just going to have to creak along a little slower without him.
This is a tragedy, however, only if you presume that the cart of civilization, “the system”, is pulled by mules. This is a common, vocational, “location” point of view, but it’s not the Church’s attitude.
The Church attitude is that civilization, or “the system” or “society” or whatever you want to call it, is best served not by mules but by free men. The purpose of abolishing grades and degrees is not to punish mules or to get rid of them but to provide an environment in which that mule can turn into a free man.
The hypothetical student, still a mule, would drift around for a while. He would get another kind of education quite as valuable as the one he had abandoned, in what used to be called the “school of hard knocks.” Instead of wasting money and time as a high-status mule, he would now have to get a job as a low-status mule, maybe a mechanic. Actually his real status would go up. He would be making a contribution for a change. Maybe that’s what he would do for the rest of his life. Maybe he’d found his level. But don’t count on it.
In time—six months; five years, perhaps—a change could easily begin to take place. He would become less and less satisfied with a kind of dumb, day-today shipwork. His creative intelligence, stifled by too much theory and too many grades in college, would now become reawakened by the boredom of the shop. Thousands of hours of frustrating mechanical problems would have made him more interested in machine design. He would like to design machinery himself. He’d think he could do a better job. He would try modifying a few engines, meet with success, look for more success, but feel blocked because he didn’t have enough theoretical information. He would discover that when before he felt stupid because of his lack of interest in theoretical information, he’d now find a brand of theoretical information which he’d have a lot of respect for, namely, mechanical engineering.
So he would come back to our degreeless and gradeless school, but with a difference. He’d no longer be a grade-motivated person. He would need no external pushing to learn. His push would come from inside. He’d be a free man.
This points out some good ideas about church– is it possible that can slip into a slave mentality when ‘running Big Church?’ Can we relate to the feeling of being bogged down and disinterested in too much theoretical information in seeking Christ. Are we seeking Christ? Or are we running church? Why do so many Christians (including myself) feel like we’re mules pulling the cart of “the system?”
Perhaps we would do well to abolish our Church’s ‘grading-system’– that unspoken set of social values/rules that isn’t documented or handed to you when you become a Christian, but is a mindset or sensibility we understand in our Christian worlds. Perhaps we should allow God to ‘grade’ us instead of this human Christian context.
Jesus, in this sense, was definitely a free man– not a mule pulling the cart of “the system.” But our status, as Christians, is not graded by the world, we are citizens of The Kingdom, and therefore are graded by God—our real status is not rooted in this world, but in The Kingdom. When this mule becomes a free man things start to change. We see examples of mules becoming free men in cases like Saul of Tarsus, who was radically transformed into Paul. But extra-biblically, we have Smith Wigglesworth, Billy Graham and even Johnny Cash. These are free men, and the ways that God used them are extraordinary—they had achieved a status of freedom simply by tossing the grading-system and becoming more than just high-status mules. And what they achieved by doing it was incredible.
Let’s free ourselves from our own mental-blocks of criticism, arrogance, selfishness and depression. We need to step into the freedom of The Kingdom. After all, that’s what we were made for. In a way, it’s an ancient reconciliation with God—simply becoming the original design we were meant to be.