I know that I am NOT the only person to ever say this:
I HATE MATH!
I mean like with a righteous passion. Somewhere along about the 7th grade ‘they’ mixed alphabet letters in with the numbers and it was all lost on me. Algebra became my nemesis and I grew up with huge insecurities relating to math. In high school I was nearly petrified in geometry (Now I had to EXPLAIN the math?! I was still trying to figure out where these letters came from). By the time I got to Algebra 2 I just wanted to ‘pass’ and be done with all my math requirements.
As I planned on majoring in music in college I knew that the end of my math requirements was near. All required math courses had been fulfilled in high school.
I had children.
Now, I can actually do math, but it certainly isn’t my natural leaning. My insecurities aside, I finally figured out the piece that was never told to me (or I didn’t hear because I was too busy passing notes): the letters stand for unknown numbers. They are just placeholders. AHA!
I also know my math limitations. Thus the fantastical concept of hiring a tutor for my 16 year old son who has way surpassed my math ‘expertise’ (used VERY loosely). I am actually fine with this. I know my strengths and math isn’t one.
However, I was not fine with not being able to help my 5th grade son with his math. And no, I didn’t get ‘dumber’. I do actually know how to do long division, multiplication of fractions, and decimals. However, our school system has adopted a new curriculum (I’m not debating whether or not the curriculum is a good one or not) and ‘they’ are teaching math in a whole new way.
Yes. Long division. No longer the same. All of a sudden there are boxes and arrows and all sorts of things that I have no idea where they came from and I am having a PTSD episode from the 7th grade.
I know how to do 5th grade math, but I no longer know how to speak the language.
I know how to do 5th grade math, but I don’t know how to help my 5th grade son.
I know how to do 5th grade math as long as we do it my way.
Often I’ve said to him, “Let me just show you the way I learned.”
I mean it works. I know it does. I still balance my checkbook (OK. Ok. The bank balances my checkbook…) with the same long division I used in high school.
He’s not ‘allowed’ to do it my way (this actually frustrates me to no end), but…
what it did get me thinking about is how hard it is to start thinking about a concept that you’ve known your whole life and renvision it in a new way.
This is where the Jesus piece comes in. No, I’m not suggesting I should start asking God to bestow me with an aptitude for math. I mean, I’m still pretty sure that Jesus was really backed up in the ‘answering prayer department’ those days I was taking Geometry finals, because he really didn’t seem to be paying a bit of attention…
But I see ‘new math’ at work all the time in the church.
This is my classic example:
(Answer this in your head before moving on….)
~Why did Jesus die on the cross?
(Again, formulate your answer before moving to the next question)
~What does it mean to be ‘saved’?
(Ok, now keep your answers in mind… let’s see how we answered.)
If I were to guess how you answered, maybe your answers sound a bit like this~
Heaven is: a beautiful place free from pain and suffering where God lives and after we die we get to go there.
Jesus died on the cross: so that our sins might be forgiven as he sacrificed himself for us.
Being saved means: we are forgiven and get to go to heaven.
So, maybe your answers vary a little from those, but did I catch the basic gist of how you’d answer?
Now, what if I told you there’s another way to look at all that?
What if heaven isn’t a place to go after you die? What if heaven is a place to go while you’re alive?
What if Jesus didn’t sacrifice himself? What if we sacrificed him?
What if being saved has nothing to do with getting into heaven? What if salvation is about now?
And what if I asked you to explain all of that without using our ‘pat’ answers. You know, the ones we are taught in 5th grade Sunday school class that we all still carry with us…
It would be really hard if you had to think about something you’ve always known (God, the Bible, church) from different angles. It would make your brain hurt, right?
I PUSH the boundaries when I read the Bible…and when I say PUSH, I mean it. I question everything. However, I remember a time when there was nothing ‘fun’ about thinking differently.
I almost dropped out of seminary during my first Old Testament class when we started talking about there being a bunch of ‘creation stories’ (you know – how the earth came into being), how Adam and Eve were figurative (Ok – I actually was already totally on board with this, I mean otherwise those were two VERY busy people), how there’s little, if any, archaeological proof of an exodus from Egypt, and those giant tablets that fell free-form from the sky…
Anyway, I remember thinking if all this ‘stuff’ is up for grabs then how do I make sense of the Bible? And God? And Jesus?
My brain hurt so much, but that wasn’t the worst part. Questioning what I knew as truth and foundation and belief … hurt my heart. At least geometry didn’t hurt my heart.
On this side of all that struggle I’ve learned to love the questions and embrace new ways of thinking about God. It’s fun for me.
But in the church (as in the institutional church) I see how not fun it can be.
I see new math at work.
It makes people nervous when we ask them to think in a new way. Our natural inclination is, “What’s wrong with the old way?”
And… if there is something wrong with the ‘old’ way of thinking then that must mean we’ve been doing and believing the wrong things all along.
No thank you. We’d rather stick with long division the way we know to do it, right?
Here’s the thing with the ‘new math’ though. It doesn’t actually make my way wrong. It is just another way to think about the problem… you don’t end up with a different answer.
So, why bother? Why bother doing all these mental gymnastics if we end up with the same answer?
Is there value in ending up with fuller understanding? In math you end up with a broader understanding of ‘why’ something is the way it is. This isn’t exactly the case with God and theology. We can think and process and discuss and still not come up with a ‘pat’ answer.
And I thought math was hard.
God is harder. More complex. More variable. More abstract.
But the more ‘new’ ways I think about God, approach God, contemplate God the more I feel I learn about who God is. And not only that… I learn a lot more about myself too.
The Biblical verse, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” isn’t threatened because I begin to ask more questions… or different questions… or even unanswerable questions.
My questioning cannot change God, just like 23, 689/24 = 987.416667 no matter if I use ‘old’ math, ‘new’ math, or a calculator.
Yes. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow, and… until infinity.
‘New math’ skills might just help me to learn more about this Jesus who always has been and always will be.