Learning Is Hard
In seminary I began the hard work learning how to play guitar. Some years later, my downstairs neighbor admitted that it was hard for him to listen to me strangle the strings off my acoustic guitar. I would sit and play chord progression after chord progression instead of reading theologian after theologian. I struggled with the muscle memory. I struggled with keeping my hand bridged. I really struggled with using my right hand to find rhythm and feeling (rhythm and feeling not being indigenous to Penna. Dutch kids).
I learned to play the guitar not sitting in my apartment ignoring Moltmann. I learned to play the guitar standing in a group at camp. They knew way more than I did. Early on, I created two rules for myself. One, end on the right chord. It didn’t matter what preceded it, the last chord mattered. Second, know when you’re beat. Not every camp song is meant to be played by nervous, novice guitar players.
Armed with copy after copy of songs, equipped with chord sheet after chord sheet, I didn’t learn to play guitar in the vacuum of my apartment. I learned in the context of community—a very special, forgiving community that didn’t need me to get every note, every transition, every chord perfect. I learned by watching and practicing what I saw.
Yesterday, as I walked back toward the house in an increasing steady rain, a doe and her fawn stumbled out of the woods. I didn’t recognize it at first, but the fawn mimicked everything the doe did. Everything. The doe paused in the middle of Hill Rd. and looked at me, ducking her head occasionally. The fawn paused, looked, and ducked. The doe galloped thirty feet down the street. The fawn galloped. Whether she realized it or not, the doe taught the fawn, step by step, movement by movement how to deal with a wet, grizzly, slightly past middle aged, man. And the fawn learned. Step by step, movement by movement, the fawn learned.
As human beings we have the capacity to constantly learn—if we choose to constantly learn. Children watch their parents constantly. Students observe their teachers. Guitar students imitate their guitar heroes. Parishioners watch their pastors. Grandparents instruct their grandchildren. Neighbors inform neighbors. We all have an innate ability to learn, to follow, to emulate what we see and experience.
This ability has a shadow side. Not everyone has seen tolerance, compassion, and forgiveness. Some people have never learned compassion and mercy because they have never experienced compassion and mercy. Some people don’t know what love is—the patient, kind love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.
If you look closely enough, you will see tolerance, compassion, forgiveness, compassion, mercy, and love. You will see people cleaning up the brokenness. You will see meals prepared and shared. You will see white, black and everything in between holding hands, shedding tears, hoping and praying for a better tomorrow.
Some words from a seventeen-year-old friend from camp:
The atmosphere at the protest was one that I’ve never felt before. A feeling of unity, of strength, of tension, and of grief. It all came together to create something powerful. Usually at a protest, there are call and response chants. I could not get myself to speak. I was physically speechless, and emotionally overwhelmed by all of the beautiful and strong black power and white alliance that I was witnessing. The words being said, the meaningfulness of the locations, the overwhelming support. It was truly a sight to beheld.
Adults—your kids are learning. Teach them well.
Kids—your adults are learning. Teach us well.
I love you.
I need you.
I hope for you.
Please be safe.