How To Be A Better Person

How To Be A Better Person July 6, 2021

In spite of constantly cleaning my house and not being online, I do keep running into more articles and stuff about the question of where a preacher can get his sermon:

According to Docent’s website, the group “partners with pastors to provide research assistance to lighten their load and help them serve their churches more effectively, ” and will “assist with both sermon and sociological research, offering consultations with experienced ministry leaders, and producing curriculum.” Further, Docent will “carefully pair graduate-level researchers with our clients based on theological compatibility,” meaning, Docent has no actual doctrinal convictions, they merely mold to fit whatever doctrine the church requesting their help requires.

As Justin and Jim pointed out in their interview, this proves that these pastors who use this service don’t actually spend time exegeting the text and letting the text shape their own theology–rather, they have presuppositions to the text, and this research group will prepare sermons for them based on their own doctrinal beliefs. It’s why so many of these pastors have so little ability to actually defend what they preach.

There’s a list of people who use Docent and like it a lot. Because, of course, some of those people have written endorsements and so we know who they are. Which is fine. It is by no means illegal to get study help, and why not go to a reputable organization to find it. It’s just that…well, is that what people think is happening when they go sit in the pew? Or rather the plush chair?

I should say, I have nothing at all against going to churches with plush chairs. My objection is solely (hem) practical. My feet never reach the floor in a regularly apportioned chair or even a pew for that matter, and I am always grateful for a kneeler because then I can prop up my feet when I’m not kneeling, and it saves me from getting a backache. It’s embarrassing, is all I’m saying, to be too short for your feet to touch the floor, and I appreciate the mercy of the kneeler.

Speaking of embarrassing, this is really awful:

Scholars made damning new findings of forgery and soon published them in a special issue of New Testament Studies, a rival journal. An investigation I did for The Atlantic in 2016 unmasked the long-anonymous owner of the Jesus’s Wife papyrus as an internet pornographer who had dropped out of an Egyptology program where he’d struggled with Coptic, the language in which the error-strewn “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” was written.

The day after the Atlantic article appeared, King conceded for the first time that the papyrus was probably a fake, a reversal covered on the front page of The Boston Globe. As I learned while reporting my book, she had suspected from the start that the papyrus was forged, but pressed ahead, ignoring red flags, recruiting conflicted scientists, and withholding important facts, photos, and paperwork. The papyrus, which King promoted as the first ancient text to depict a married Jesus, had served as a kind of missing link in her pioneering scholarship on female figures in early Christianity.

Writing in the Times Literary Supplement this year, the archaeologist Michael Press lamented what he called “the ugly details of a peer-review system that utterly failed, at multiple points, to put the brakes on the dissemination of … a forgery.”

And yet, Harvard went ahead and published the paper pertaining to this forgery as if it was no big deal:

The journal, it turned out, had never peer-reviewed the scientists’ reports — to check, for instance, whether the studies had been properly carried out, meaningful tests of forgery. News media, for their part, were effectively barred from doing their own checks: Harvard Divinity School gave reporters exclusives on King’s article on the condition they contact no scientists or scholars other than those King had cited in her paper.

So I have a theory about this, that I cobbled together late at night while I was reading a mystery novel. On both counts, I blame American Culture TM in general, which pretends to The Good Life, but is really the kind of thing where everybody is supposed to make bricks for Pharoah without any straw but with an Instagram account all the same, as if there is straw, except that there isn’t. Becoming a person who “does it all,” or, rather more to the point, becomes famous is the highest good. And so, rather than integrating work into a sane and ordered life where, and bear with me here, because I have come to the understanding that this is not the way most people live, you

  1. Wake up in the Morning
  2. Read your Bible
  3. Pray
  4. Eat something sensible
  5. Take Some Exercise
  6. Bathe
  7. Go Calmly to your Work even if it is just your desk at home
  8. Do your most important thought work first (school if you’re a homeschooler, study if you’re an academic or preacher, writing if you’re a writer, cleaning if you’re a cleaner, lesson plans if you’re a teacher, flying if you’re a flyer…do you suppose I should go on?
  9. Eat something a lunchtime that’s not going to send you into a total stupor
  10. Do your less mentally taxing work, like all your calls and admin and email and meetings everything in the afternoon when you can’t think very clearly anymore
  11. Go home and eat some dinner if that’s something you do
  12. Spend the evening with an improving book or getting ready for the next day and stuff like that

is a better deal than just trying to jam everything into your day in a hurried and harried way because you were too anxious to do your most important job. Imagine being a pastor or an academic, and not putting the study right there as the first and most important thing you do. I’m serious, imagine it for a minute, because a lot of other things will intrude and give you a gentle emotional lift and make you feel productive while also sparing you from the gaping maw of possible failure. Things like making calls, or surfing the internet, or scrolling through email, all kinds of things. By the time you finally get everything sorted so you can study and write, you won’t have time and your mind will be full of anxiety and care and you won’t be able to focus. So then you’ll make yourself feel better with more admin and email and then you’ll panic and then finally you’ll have to find a quick way out.

Oop! My blogging hour is done and it is time for me to take some light exercise. After that you could–except I won’t let you in–find me at my desk trying to write deathless prose. Be like me. Just kidding, do whatever you want. See if I care.

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