On doing what you know


Today was supposed to be an epic day in the office: dissertating, editing, scheming… I was also supposed to get there in time to be epic.

Instead, I played, and replaced a back tire, and installed training wheels a NEW bell on a bigger bike, and then watched that bike go up and down the road, and met the oven technician who will install a new thermostat in 3-5 days, and prepared the filet mignon for the twelfth day of christmas, which I returned home at 450pm to sizzle up, and returned many phone calls and emails, and did–and continue to do–laundry. And eventually I did edit.

One bright spot in my work day was a phone call with a friend in SF (you know who you are) who will be teaching in just a few days a Systematic Theology course in a CA correctional facility. We talked about Systematic theology as a practical course. He asked me what advice I had for someone just starting to teach. HE, about to teach in a prison, asked ME what advice I had for HIM. The closest I’ve ever come to his situation was teaching in a high school, the architecture of which seemed to be modeled after a prison in the 60s.

Me: …. well… uh…

The folks he will be working with are committed to the church community in the prison. While we were on the phone, I thought about the community that formed around St. Paul in the jail in Rome. That’s powerful stuff.

In the end, the only advice that I gave him that was worth a damn, or I hope it was worth a dam, was to teach what he knows. He might not know the situation these men are in, he might not grasp the complexities of their lives in prison… there’s a host of things he might not know spanning from learning disabilities to histories of abuse that conspired to land them in prison. But he does know theology. And the men who have signed up to take his class are committed to learning in ways that college professors dream their students would be. I encouraged my friend to teach what he knows and invite his students to make connections between the content and their lived experience.

There’s a value to tacit knowledge and commitment that we can’t overestimate. Lived experience, I suspect, plays a much bigger role — than even background knowledge. It shapes our imaginations, our sense of possibilities… it forms the space in which our imaginations play.

My day work day wasn’t that epic, but today was an important for tacit experiences, and for reflecting on the value of tacit knowledge. My writing today wasn’t epic. But my bike skills and the filet mignon were.


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