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  • Writer's pictureCofComCat

An impoverished street teacher

Last week we chatted about spiritual experiences and I shared the story of one of my own. It is, in fact, the only spiritual experience I have ever had (to date...). If you haven't checked out the episode yet, please do so! Part 1 is available here and part 2 is available here.


During the conversation we touched on various reasons people (Rigel and I among them!) have to be skeptical about such spiritual experiences and even about the Bible itself. I noted that one way to offset and manage for our overly rationalistic and anti-miraculous mindset (which is so prevalent today in most of the western world) when we read Sacred Scripture is to realize that it is only normal to record (i.e., write down) that which is worth recording. Are the Gospel narratives and the rest of the Bible full of miracles and difficult-to-believe events? Of course. And that is what we should expect! Nobody bothers to write down the mundane things, the repetitive things or the boring things. This was true thousands of years ago and it is true today.


A couple examples to prove the point...


When you watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster film, how much of it is dedicated to the normal circumstances of life? Doing the laundry, taking bathroom breaks, those hated vehicle registry visits, trips to the dentist, that daily jog, etc. Maybe 0.01% of the film (or less). Screenwriters know nobody cares about any of that so when they write stories they only include what (they believe) is worth showing and what the audience cares about. It does not at all reflect what would actually occur in the amount of time depicted in the film.


Or from a world I understand well: building and investing in start-ups. The average person is ignorant to how hard it is to actually build a successful start-up company. Why? Largely because the only people who start companies and then later talk about them are those who were successful. Almost nobody realizes that your likelihood of starting a billion dollar business are about 0.00006% or that 90%+ of all new businesses fail. The failures don't make YouTube videos about failing. Nobody wants to hear those very common stories.

What do these examples tell us? That our perceptions of history and of reality can be and almost always are biased in some way and that we are very ill-prepared to assess the miraculous or "unheard of" reasonably. So if you automatically dismiss the events depicted in the Bible, stories of miracles or people's spiritual experiences that doesn't say much at all about the likelihood of those things having occurred but rather says very much about you, your biases and your blind spots (or ignorance).


To wrap up this week's blog post, I want to continue on the theme above of pushing back against those who find Christianity hard to believe because it is, by definition, miraculous. I want to propose a simple thought experiment for everyone to follow...


Imagine that you're an impoverished (and maybe even homeless) street teacher. You convince a handful of people to follow you. You tell one of them that he is the rock upon which you'll build an organization. You do great work but in a nontraditional manner, causing controversy in your community and antagonizing your community's most respected leaders. Not just your competitors but even some neighbors, friends and family hate you for it. But you tell your followers to do nothing except love and pray for them despite their hatred. One of your best friends betrays you, and another (the rock upon which you said you'll build your organization!) stands up for you violently but then shortly thereafter denies even knowing you in your moment of most need. He and the remaining handful of people you convinced to follow you abandon you. Then you're publicly mocked, physically assaulted and brutally killed. Anyone who remains loyal to you scatters and hides. Only your own mother and a very small group of friends are even prepared to ensure you receive a dignified burial.


That's where the story should end. Your organization ought to die with you.


But that isn't what happens.


Against all odds (and conventional wisdom), your organization does the very opposite: it thrives beyond all possible expectations.


2,000 years later the organization you founded has grown to every corner of the planet and is now the world's oldest continuously functioning international institution. It has faced many crises, controversies and catastrophes. People have lied about it, plotted against it and sought to destroy it. Some of its own proponents and supporters have done poisonous things, prideful things and perverted things. And yet it stands. None of its infighting, crises and blunders and none of the countless betrayals, rebellions and mistakes that have plagued it have derailed it. And two millennia after you told your follower and friend that he was the rock, and after he and the rest of your closest friends found the courage to continue the organization's work following your murder, its work continues in your name.


How can that be?


Perhaps you weren't merely an impoverished street teacher after all. Perhaps you were something more. And, thus, perhaps the movement that claims your name is something more than just miraculous stories its detractors (in their pride and arrogance) criticize.


God bless,


Travis


Convento Sant’Agostino

From the cloisters of Convento Sant’Agostino e Chiesa di Sant'Agostino (Saint Augustine's Convent and Church) in San Gimignano, Tuscany, Italy. This image of the homeless street teacher being killed adorns the outdoor walls of this thirteenth century church. My wife and I attended Mass (in Italian) here on May 2, 2024. If anyone ever has the opportunity to visit this place, do so. It is special.

Chiesa di Sant'Agostino

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