I don’t give exams in my Introduction to Preaching classes. But maybe I should start. I don’t give exams, but, instead, students are evaluated on the basis of their sermons, the content based on a written manuscript, and the delivery in class. They also write several response papers to books I assign them to read. From week to week, class consists of some combination of lectures, class discussions, and guest speakers. There is a lot of good material put out there on the airwaves in my class. And each class is an unrepeatable experience. Staying home and getting the notes from someone else doesn’t come close to experiencing the presence of the group and joining in the discussion.
If I were a student in my class, I would be taking notes like crazy. I would be jotting down ideas for future sermons from classmates’ comments. I’d be writing down nuggets of wisdom from the professor (!). I would be making note of the book in a related field a guest speaker recommends. And most students are. But there is always one. One mysterious, non note-taking student. I sometimes feel like pinning that student with my gaze and demanding “Why in God’s name aren’t you writing that down???? Pick up your pen. Put your fingers on the keypad. Bestir yourself to record this – because, believe me, you’re going to need it someday.” I wonder what my non note-taking student’s motivation or lack thereof comes from. Maybe she doesn’t think she will ever need to communicate her faith to a group of people. Maybe he is the kind of student whose constant question is “Will this be on the test?” And since there will be no written test on this material, he figures, “Why bother listening or learning it?” Maybe she has not faced the relentless challenge of weekly preaching and so lacks a sense of urgency. Maybe he doesn’t realize that, as one student who preaches weekly says, “Sunday comes back around every 2 days!”
Life is a school and taking notes is a metaphor for paying attention to what is being taught in the opportunities for learning and interaction with others each day affords. Understood in that broad way, we should all be taking notes. Because class is in session! There have been times in my life when I have been that non note-taking student. There have been times when I have not paid much attention to what God has been trying to say to me, to the beauties of daily life, or to the pain of people around me that I might alleviate with a kind word or action. There have been periods when I have not been accumulating wisdom for future situations. I know the cost of not paying attention. I have come to understand that life is a series of pop quizzes. And, not to sound ominous, but “Yes, it will be on the test.” There is a final exam at the end- there will be an accounting for how we’ve spent our time, to what we have paid attention and how we have enhanced the lives of others around us. Or not.
So I plan to take my own advice today: I’m going to sit up a little straighter and lean forward to signal to the Teacher that I’m paying attention. I’m going to pick up my pen, open my laptop, get out my iPad and take a few notes. Today is an unrepeatable class session. I refuse to let it go to waste.