Michael Jinkins's formative moments

February 8, 2011

I  remember a conversation my mother and I had one day after worship
in the small rural church in which I grew up and where she and my dad
are active members to this day. The preacher had preached on the passage
"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" (Matt. 6:34), a text that
in its evangelical simplicity and Elizabethan beauty was utterly
indecipherable for a small child. I knew it must be important. It was in
red in my Bible.

On the way to the car, I asked my mother what it
meant. "Hmmm, I guess it means that Jesus doesn't want us to worry
about the future," she said. "There's enough for us to worry about
today."

That was a lesson my mother, a child of the Great
Depression, knew by heart. She then invited me to read the passage with
her in the context of the whole text, and gradually the meaning came
into focus for me.

What has stayed with me from that conversation
was the natural way my mother talked about theological matters. Or,
perhaps more, it was the way in which my mother bridged the mundane and
the theological seamlessly.

Of all the talks I had with my mother
as a child, this one has stuck with me for 50 years—and not least the
precise phrasing of that passage from Matthew's Gospel. A contemporary
educational researcher could explain to us why it is that something hard
to read stays with us better and longer than something easily
understood. I suspect that at some intuitive level my mother, and maybe
the translators of the Authorized Version, and perhaps our Lord,
understood this too. We learn best those things that require some
unraveling. "Let those who have ears to hear, hear" and all that.

The
longer I spend at the graduate level of theological education the more
convinced I am that primary theological education is best done when it
invites us into the project of deciphering, unraveling, interpreting,
figuring things out. My mother probably had no idea how important it was
that day that she took the time to read that text with me. She
certainly had no idea how important it was to start her lesson with,
"Hmmm, I guess . . . ." But 50 years later, it's what I do with students
on a pretty regular basis.

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