Friday, September 05, 2014

What Do You Care About?

At the very beginning of my teaching career, still a grad student at the time, I taught a book discussion on Steve Garber's The Fabric of Faithfulness, a wonderful journey through the questions of how to live the life of faith in the college years and beyond.  At the end of the first major chapter of my teaching, I'm going through it again with students.  Since it has been some 9 years since my last read, I'm coming at the book from a very different angle.  Instead of being a young hot-shot just beginning to struggle through the book for the sake of others (a task that I failed miserably at then), I am a man thoroughly mired in what Garber calls the "valley of the diapers," the time in which we settle into adult responsibilities.  However, I am struck at how -- maybe it has been the nature of my work -- I still cognitively and methodologically function like a student: I'm still probing the deep issues, still unsettled as to where truth (or Truth) can be found, still longing for the connection between belief and behavior to be natural.

In chapter one, Garber asks the question "What do you care about?"  I fully understand the intent, and back a decade prior I could have given a cogent and definitive answer, but now it stymies me.  I just don't know what it is I care about, aside from a few abstractions.  I wrestle, and have wrestled for long over a decade, with the question "Why do you get out of bed in the morning?"  The motivation to get moving is often linked with what it is we care about most.  I find myself distracted, wandering about the house or the office or the Internet, seeking...for what?  Often I think I'm looking for Kierkegaard's "one thing," while hoping that I'm not just waiting for Godot.  I'm not ready, at this point, to answer "What do you care about?" I can answer, though, "What do you care for?"

This might seem to be a mere semantic quibble.  It isn't; rather it gets to the core of what it means to live faithfully in the "valley."  My heady idealism has been badly chastised by time past: I've lost much, not as much as some, but enough to temper me.  What I care about is too ethereal right now, but I've got responsibilities that shape and inform what, in ten or twenty years, I will care about.  "Sufficient for the day is its own troubles."

I care for my wife, as all husbands worth their salt do.  It is improprietous to go into details of course.

I care for my children; much of my time is spent, I wouldn't call it worrying, but in a state of concern for them.  As a parent, I want them to find healthy, stable adult lives; more than that, though, I want them to be virtuous: courageous, strong, compassionate.  All around them, though, swirl the callings and temptations of the corruption in the world.  They may not, by being virtuous, have healthy, stable lives.  Being virtuous is not a road to a life of ease, but an extreme askesis, more so than even being a stylite or hermit in some respects.  I love that they are playful and love to laugh, but I hope they do not use humor as I do, as a defense against the revelation of my own incompleteness, incompetence, and ignorance.

I care for my work.  God knows this is true.  I don't take time off.  This goes deeper than just working a lot of hours (both academics and small business owners are gluttons here); much of my "leisure time" is spent trying to probe deeper, to read farther, to integrate the life of hesychastic prayer with rigorous rational questioning.  My kids, I'm sure, suffer from this: their dad is always somewhere else, trying to make sense of some quandary which he's hoping will finally put his mind to rest.  The bitter irony is that in searching for Sabbath, I often bypass it altogether.

I care for a couple of properties, both of which need large amounts of attention and labor.  Things fall apart and I must fix them.

I care for my city, especially the quest for her renewal.  This is truly hard work; the clash of my ego against other like minded folks can be brutal and intense.  Not until I know this place, and these people, as sacrament will this finally abate.

The list could go on.  "About" is a wonderful word of ideas, whereas "for" grounds me in the place I'm at, with the work at hand.  That's where I'm needed now, even as I reminisce and long for the days when "about" was the key preposition.

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