Farewell, Faulkner

Leaving home creates not merely a sense of nostalgia but a sense of time shifting, warping from its constancy to something more approximating a lurching backward and hurtling forward. As Einstein reminds us, time is less constant nearer the speed of light, so it is perhaps no surprise that in times of intense change the present folds down its wings to encompass past and future in sudden and unexpected moments. In a single instant, one can find the ghosts of other memories mingling and hovering over the present. As I write these words and pack up my office, I simultaneously pack up the past to move my collection of great books and professorial paraphernalia into the future. With each object placed carefully into a box, I hear the echoes of colleagues’ voices when I moved in ten years ago, reverberating with times spent laughing or commiserating in the hallways. My eyes scanning the plush conference chairs, I remember the countless visits with students who sat here as we spent their college tenure trying to untangle the riddles and queries about life. The calls to this place, my work home, were many.

My experience certainly isn’t unique to anyone who has spent a long and meaningful time fulfilling one’s vocation. Such a calling is temporary, just as one’s life is temporary. Some of us are called to work in the same town all of their lives; others are nomads wandering the pasturelands. But even the former are in their own times and seasons only shortly, for all lives are in flux. It is Dante’s Primum Mobile that is constantly moving, powered by the celestial Empyrean and the very thought of God. It is hell that is in stasis.

It is not a trite thing to say that comfort is easy, while motion is hard. Motion demands change, flexibility, adaptation. In the transition, I have felt a deepening affinity with Abraham, who sojourned under the great trees of Mamre, but ever owned only the land he purchased for Sarah’s burial. He never saw the City that would be built after his death. I know the land into which I go, a land I did not expect to sojourn in again. Yet such is the nature of God’s call when one surrenders. I am one who errs on the side of human freedom and free will. But I also believe that when we choose to walk the road of faith we freely relinquish (in part) our control to draft the blueprints entirely to our desires.

In short, we must all leave home at some stage in our journey. As for mine, this next stage will see me moving west to take up the charge of Writing Center Director at California Baptist University. My task will be to help undergraduate and graduate students refine their rhetoric and communication skills, aid faculty design effective writing assignments, and facilitate recruitment and retention efforts for the institution through community outreach. I am excited at the prospects of teaching teachers, helping tutors and professors achieve their maximum potential as they in turn cultivate the maximum potential from their students. This may be the greatest gift of the educator. So, as I seek out milk and honey in the desert, I wish to leave behind a few words to those who have helped shape me.

To my colleagues: Your creativity and scholarship never fails to surprise me, and I am honored to have worked with such thoughtful professors, staff, and administrators. The depth of your learning inspires me to keep learning. Your passion for students has infused me with joy, and you have encouraged me to deepen my own passion and increase my own humanity. I have kept in good humor at the end of the day and at the end of the semester because of you. My spirits were lifted because your spirits never stooped so low. (And especially for those students who grew into colleagues, poetry could not do justice to how proud I am of you.) I have the greatest respect for your hard work, for your commitment to the work I leave behind, for rising each day to lay stones in the City of God. Know, too, that I will still be laboring with you, even if we no longer share in the camaraderie of laboring beside one another.

To my students: You have more in you than you can even yet imagine. Most of you feel disheartened, believing you can’t do it, it’s too hard, or you’re unworthy. But those are self-taught lies that blur the image of God in you. Because of that image, all of us are built with the capacity to learn, to create, to love. One of the joys of the educator is to watch the student take shape and develop those capacities. Through faith, virtue, and education do any of us emerge as a masterpiece beneath the veins of stone. I, too, a fellow work in progress, have tried to teach you truth, goodness, and beauty. I pray I answered your calls with patience and wisdom, planting seeds that will someday bear fruit for you and your children. And I am grateful that, beyond the roles of instructor and pupil, I can now call many of you friend.

To all readers: I will continue to write in my new land, sharing my meagre thoughts about culture, faith, and art, should you wish to read them. That much will not change at least. Some of us will not see each other again this side of paradise, but as Dante sings of heaven, “Nearness is nothing, distance is no thief” (Par. 30.121). So when I am saddened to think of parting ways, I am heartened with a folding forward of the future to think we will spend all of eternity enjoying each other’s fellowship, deepening our friendship, and cultivating the divine image in each of us. That time isn’t so far away. And that thought turns my sadness to joy.

Farewell, Faulkner. Until we meet again on our road toward the City.

Owning Knowledge

As I marvel at our technological development, I realize how exceptional a thing it is to be alive today. At the click of a button, we can access any language, find nearly any written document, pull up famous artwork that would have been restricted to museums even a generation ago. The life improvement experts at Amazon are even able to resurrect the dead voices of our loved ones and have them speak to us on the Echo—reading us stories, ticking off sports statistics, and announcing the weather. If we add fiber pills to the groceries list, Great Grandma Gertrude will ask us how we are feeling, and offer to add some prunes and suppositories to the list as well. All data points that work together to build our consumer, health, and political avatar.

I marvel even more, however, at Shakespeare who had virtually no reference materials. Without dictionary or library, if he wanted a story like Piramus and Thisbe on which to model his Romeo and Juliet, he had to remember it from grade school or hunt down a rare volume of Ovid. If he lacked a word, he had to overhear it from conversation, read it from a modern history book, or just make it up–and he did. Words like lackluster, grovel, and puking have entered our lexicon because of the creativity of the Bard. Knowledge and creativity we take for granted in the modern age.

If I want to know anything, and as I am not smart enough just to make it up, I can go to the library, find a book, listen to something on Audible. We are privileged to know anything, to quite literally acquire and possess knowledge—nearly all of which is available on the Google. The 1922 World Series. Einstein’s stomach ailments. How many of our ancestors died in the Civil War. It’s a magic for which in earlier times we might have been burned at the stake.

Yet the problem of instantaneous knowledge is that we do not have to work very hard for it. Like the friend in high school whose parents bought him a Mitsubishi 3000 GT vr4. And when after six months he had totaled it, they bought him a new one. When we think knowledge free, we do not take responsibility for it. Neither do we respect it.

What compounds this problem is that, knowing anything, we assume we know everything. Was the recent election stolen by Joe Biden? Or is Donald Trump a liar? (The jester may remind us these claims are not mutually exclusive.) No American lacks an opinion on this point, and almost no American is timid of sharing that opinion. In the sharing of that opinion often carries with it a scathing denunciation of those who hold an opposing opinion. Words like ignorant, threat, power-hungry, and cultists are frequently invoked. Though none of us counted the ballots to support our claims, each of us believes we stand firm on the side of logic while the other side just follows their hearts.

St. Augustine of Hippo said that when it comes to truth, we are not actually governed by emotion or logic. Rather, we are slaves to our Will, that oft-obeyed but rarely heard force inside us that insists on getting its own way. Thus, if we want to believe in a higher power, and that Mohammed is his prophet, or that Jesus is Lord, we will examine the evidence in such a way as to arrive at that conclusion. And if we do not wish to believe in God, we follow the same path. We grasp for truth with hands already clutching at its derivatives. We should, therefore, not fool ourselves into believing that we are just so rational that we can simply follow the truth. The Will–how humble we are, how disposed we are toward truth–will determine if we actually find it. St. Augustine would say—and he is a wise man who should be consulted more often on a variety of subjects—that we do not have a knowledge deficit. We have a pride problem. And we do not know what we think we know.

More knowledge has not solved human ills. Technology has, ironically, not made us smarter—certainly not wiser. Perhaps it has merely created more avenues to sin with impunity. Until I recognize that I am the problem—not other people—then my hands will do nothing to cultivate the land in front of me.

None of these recognitions negate the truth that it is a great time in history to be alive. But they do remind us of the burden that comes with knowledge. May our virtue prove fit shoulders to bear it with grace.