Friday, September 4, 2009
FEED ONE A FISH, OR TEACH HIM TO CATCH?
There have been times that I have, quite by accident, pulled from the depths of a creek’s meandering waters a sizable Small Mouth Bass or a slippery Catfish. And I have sometimes had a grandchild along to give some assist to in the catching, and my, oh my, the joy on his face when he reels one into the boat. Now, I confess I can cook one better than I can catch, though the latter I find intensely more enjoyable. That is, unless, after smelling the frying aromas, I am able to pull a chair up and savor the results of my expertise.
Fortunately, the original intent of the quote that inspired the title of my blog has a focus far more reaching than feeding someone a fish or teaching him to catch one. Its purpose is to help a true servant multiply his effectiveness by giving his destitute fellowman the tools to feed, cloth and shelter himself for life, as opposed to giving him only one meal or its equivalent.
I am a teacher and have taught a number of courses on the college level. But who is really not a teacher? As parents, many who claim very little talent or skill in the teaching profession, have an automatic class and student body over which they have professorship in the best sense of the word. Their subjects are not limited to one course in which they excel. Rather, they are called on to give exercises in all disciplines, whether or not they themselves are proficient. In the same way, by degrees, dependent on age, training or purely character traits, every person young or old is a teacher.
Having said this, I return to some personal reflections on my own exercises in this most noble of professions. I have dabbled in a number of fields of interest, and have tried my hand, sometimes very adequately, if I do say so myself. I am certainly not in the same league with others who’s singular focus on one field of talent’s pursuit lands their product in a museum. I am, however, a “plodder” in a number of areas. In each I have at least tried my hand and gained personal affirmation and joy of a task attempted.
At times I am told that I am gifted in so many ways, but indeed I realize that some of my applications are less than “gifted” in their product. The fact is, I am addicted to trying my hand at a lot of things, many of which, with some effort, I am able to produce something that has value, if only my own affirmation of something attempted.
I enjoy the arts. I dabble at drawing and painting. I even came within three hours of an art minor in college. As a missionary in Asia, I used art to develop a “cottage industry” to help people earn a little extra income, while I taught them the Bible. I even tried my hand at stained glass, which still shines a message out to the lost that see it.
I love to write. I’ve been writing poetry and prose for more than forty years, and even have some that has been published. I’ve been writing on my autobiography for some time, of course it won’t be finished until I am, but it will be my gift, published or no, to my kids and their kids and etc. I’m working on a historical novel about my mother’s life. Her simple grace and compassion as the family’s “nanny”, grown out of an orphaned childhood of hardship deserves to be told, and the pen and the desire to write it was given me.
I like to sing, and do so periodically, and have even written some songs that have received some “kudos” of kind words from those who have heard. I tried my hand with the piano, for twelve weeks, at the end of which I rescued my teacher by quitting. I did, however, learn some basics, and though I have to stop and count the lines and spaces to come up with the name of the note, in singing I can watch “my note” and manage to travel up and down with it through the measures. And keeping my desire alive to make music somehow, I’ve taken up the mandolin and hope someday to make a recognizable noise with it. And hey, I’ve got someone who plays who is willing to suffer through my attempts.
With my wife, for thirteen years I’ve being stepping forth to do historical monologues and dramatic portrayals before schools, churches and numerous community events. Not, perhaps, of Broadway stage caliber, but believable and apparently of value to those who’ve continued to extend invitations for repeat performances. I’ve even tried my hand at “clowning” (as you may have noted in my bio information which adjoins this column) and find it a special release of some inner expressions I might find it hard to express were it not for the disguise of greasepaint.
I’m a fair to middlin’ carpenter and painter, crafts that I learned from my Dad, who built houses “from the ground up” and put his boys to work in the trade very early on. Out of this, I’ve tried my hand successfully on models of every kind. I suppose the kid in me who wants to put something together with his own hands is still alive. (Check out my blogs over the last six months and you’ll see some of my projects.)
As far as ministries go, I’ve worked at the normal tasks of preaching and teaching and counseling and pastoring for forty-five years, and still enjoy the preparation in scriptures, and the times of delivery of what I’ve studied. I received my share of the “back pats” and “good job” comments, most perhaps very sincere, others, it’s hard to tell. I’ve also led prison ministry on foreign soil, with some great success due to my team and their dedication. Nursing home ministry has been another area where I’ve worked, though tough because of my own sensitive nature as I confront those who’s conditions tear at my heart. I even did my doctoral work in the development of ministry in such facilities, and was offered a professional position as a result. I declined as I realized it was God’s way of broadening my vision of ministry.
Other areas of work in ministry have been offerings to which I did respond favorably. I was a state prayer director for seven years, during which time I was able to lead in helping focus the attention of churches on the great priority of prayer to enable the whole of ministry to which God has called. Out of my missionary calling and work overseas and at home in the U.S., I was able to serve as a missions director for men and boys work, and lead mission teams to do work in Canada and in the U.S. on an Indian reservation.
And now that I am retired from what is termed “full time” ministry, though I am still a pastor, and teach Bible at a local college, I still have the same inner call to explore some new ways of doing creative work. Be it with my mind, my voice, my hands, or with my whole body, which by the way, is slowing somewhat, I’m game to try!
“Now,” you may be asking, “what is your purpose in this running resume of activity?”
Well, I’ll tell you. The other night as I was teaching my course in Old Testament at the college, one young student approached me and began to share. It seems that the assignment I had given for a term paper had connected with him in a way that originally I had not considered. I had told them that I wanted them to write a paper on a subject that seemed to “leap out” at them from the course of study. I wanted it to be something that “grabbed” them to the point that they wanted to explore it further.
In preparation for my lecture, I had begun to think of some possible themes. I remembered this young man’s music interest and ability and had written down a possible direction for him to pursue. To my surprise and delight, my challenge and sharing from the class before had inspired him to consider the same direction. We had connected! Then, on reflection, I began to weigh what had occurred. I came to this very important conclusion. I am a teacher and I deal with a lot of facts that I desire the students to learn, but it’s more than mere facts, which could be learned from reading the book. I am a teacher with a responsibility to inspire the students to learn to apply the facts to meaningful expression and application. This is to be applied in the direction of those areas of giftedness, small or large, where they can find fulfillment and meaningful service to God and their fellowman. My own varied experience and drive to pursue new experience is a way to connect with my students in opening up their own interests and applications.
The real “kudo” of praise and honor for the work I may have done in any area of attempted excellence is not the kind words spoken in a moment’s encounter. It is through the lives that begin to have a creative vision for what can be attempted, and often, accomplished. I was inspired by numerous mentors and teachers that challenged my thoughts to go beyond what I perceived were my limited talents. They challenged me, not to just do that which was counted as a sure thing in the minds of some, but to open my vision to see and attempt every kind of creative activity, and as a result, find in it the joy of doing. I thank the Lord for such mentors as these.
I hear the plaintive excuses often. “I just don’t have a creative bone in my body.” “I’m not gifted at anything.” “I don’t have anything worth sharing.” Shall I say it? Hogwash! Don’t compare yourself with anyone else! The great creative Father and God of us all does not make JUNK! He makes things that work and have gifts to share.
And how do we find those gifts? We try them on for size. Sometimes they are too big, or maybe too small. Try another size in the same style. You do it at Walmart. It works in other places, too. And variety, well, they say, “it’s the spice of life!” Well, put some spice in your life and see how good it tastes to others, as well! My own experience has found that when I am exploring God’s will for the next project, I don’t have time to organize an inner “pity party” of excuse. Like a small child at play, everyday faces me with a new delight of some new toy of blessed activity.
And speaking of blessed activity, when you teach someone to “cast out” in exploration of their giftedness and interests, giving a few pointers from your own experiences, the joy on their faces as they “catch” the vision is a rich reward. Your attempts and joy in the doing is doubled in theirs. By all means, feed the hungry, but, by all means, be the teacher you are created to be, and help them "catch" their own meals!
How about you? Take a look at these scriptures which express the challenge I have tried to convey today, AND BE ENCOURAGED!
Ecclesiastes 9:10 “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is not work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
Matthew 25:15 “And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.”
I Corinthians 4:7 “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?”