Tuesday, June 02, 2009

This Way or That

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1: 6).

I changed my major after the fall semester of my sophomore year. I’m not sure what did me in as a well intentioned pre-med biology major. It might have been the calculus and my growing realization that I hated math. It might have been the chemistry and the fact that chemistry involved a significant amount of math. It might have been the pending doom I sensed as I anticipated physics and yet more math.

I declared a major in English.

This wasn’t an arbitrary decision. While I was discovering my distaste and ineptitude for math, I found that I liked reading short stories and novels and poems. I liked writing papers abut them and what they meant or what the author might have intended them to mean.

When you do calculus and chemistry and physics, you are expected to come up with a right answer. Interpretive margins are hard to come by in these disciplines. But a poem is different. Poems and stories are full of ambiguities, shades of meaning, varied interpretive possibilities. The mathematician finds pleasure in solving the problem and getting the right answer. The poet delights ambiguities and tensions.

I find that my own fondness for ambiguities shapes how I understand the life of faith. I admire people with firm and clear convictions, but I resist those whose convictions are formulaic, black and white, defined with precision. Life doesn’t come to us as “this or that.” Life is this and that and possibly this with the chance of that too. Anyone who lives honestly will eventually have to admit, “It’s not that simple.”


The Psalms are poetry, and as such they are full of tension and ambiguity, metaphor and word picture. But in the very first Psalm, we get precision, simplicity, this or that. Once you start the life of faith, the complexities are many. But getting started in that way is simple.

Psalm 1 confronts us with a decision about how we will live our lives. “The way” is mentioned in the first verse of the Psalm and in the last. “The way” presents us with a choice. We can choose a way that is righteous. We can choose a way that is wicked.

It’s that simple. There are two ways. The Hebrew mind saw with precision that life can be righteous or wicked, wise or foolish. Ambiguities will come later, but the first order of business has to do with choosing “the way” that will define the direction of your life.

And here’s the good news about the way: It’s never too late to do a course correction. Wicked ways can be stopped and done with. Foolish ways can be redeemed. Every day is a chance for you to choose “the way” you will live. You choose a way, whether you intend to or not. Not to choose is to choose. It’s that simple, this way or that.

What way will you choose today?

The choice is simple, O Lord, but rarely easy. I want to choose a way of life that brings me closer to you each day. I want the direction of my life to be in keeping with your will. I want my way to mirror your way. I do not always choose this kind of life. Help me to choose it today, I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


Nancy said...

I too developed a distaste for math very early on. I was still in high school. That was during a time when girls were never expected to do well in math, and it turned out to be pretty much a self fulfilling prophesy. In fact, somewhere on my “permanent record” it will show that I had to take Algebra I three (3) times before I passed it! Once in the 9th grade during the regular school year. Failed. Once the summer between 9th and 10th grade. Failed. And once in the 10th grade. Finally got a passing grade. Because I had to, I took Algebra II. Barley squeaked by the first time around. And with that victory, I declared my days of taking math were over. Oddly enough, no one ever challenged me. I too majored in English in college, and graduated without ever taking a single math class! While I did have to demonstrate I could swim the length of the college pool, I never had to solve a single equation.

Then an odd thing happened many years into my professional career. I found myself with a staggering budget I had to manage and control. Out of necessity I discovered that numbers could be as creative as words. Yes, there’s an ultimate right answer, but getting there can be an adventure, filled with tension and ambiguity. There is not necessarily a single right way to reach the correct answer. And while I won’t go so far as to say I’m ready to take another math class, I do want to say “Miss Snyder…you were right! I use Algebra everyday!”

Having said that, I want to add that I sincerely hope there will not be a pop math quiz during the final judgment or I'm toast.

Victoria said...

It does nor surprise me that you were an English major - you are an excellent writer!