Daniel’s Question–1 John 1:3-4

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

Today is Friday, Spring Break Eve. Since attendance in my classes is typically dismal on this day, I managed to cancel both of them. This way, I wasn’t even attending. I did, however, put in my time at school, puttering around in my office, attempting to get caught up so that I could have a guilt-free break.

In mid-morning, Daniel, a Comp I student, strolled in. I had forgotten that he intended to bring a paper by to share with me. As I read through his paper and suggested some ways he might improve it, I noticed that he seemed agitated. Was I perhaps troubling him with my suggestions? I couldn’t be sure. Upon finishing my monologue, I looked at him. “Do you have any questions?”

“Yes,” he said, clearly not completely at ease with what he was about to say. I prepared myself to hear him express some disapproval of what I had to say. In twenty years of teaching, I’ve heard it before. He wouldn’t bother me, but that’s not where he went. “I have one question. Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

Whoa! Where did that come from? In those twenty years, I’d never had a student espouse his faith so directly. I assured Daniel that I had done so. He wasn’t quite done. He asked me a couple of other questions that I assume were designed to ensure that I wasn’t just blowing him off or suffering under some delusion regarding my salvation. This kid was serious!

What gave Daniel the nerve to walk into my office, not knowing where I stood on matters of faith, and risk himself like that? I think the answer is to be found in today’s scripture. Daniel, like John, was simply sharing what he had seen and heard. He has found fellowship with others in Christ and it’s a great thing. He wants to share that great thing, share that joy, much more than he wants to preserve some mask of politeness. He also knows the flip-side, the option to that fellowship, which is an eternity in Hell, separated from God.

Some of my non-believer colleagues will not take Daniel’s question as warmly as I did. However, they should realize the love out of which that question springs. I commend Daniel for having the same sort of courage and witness that animated the Apostle John. Carry on, my brother!

The $64,000 Question–1 John 1:2

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. –1 John 1:2

Do you know on what continent the Danube River is located? Or how about this one: If you were born on Easter, will your birthday be on a Sunday every year? These are, obviously, questions, but they aren’t just any questions. These were the pair of questions that bounced contestants off of Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader? tonight. Sadly, neither of the players turned out to be smarter than a fifth grader.

As I write this, I find myself awaiting my opportunity to go on my game show of choice, Jeopardy. A friend of mine appeared on the show years ago. He assured me that it’s a whole lot easier to answer those questions when you’re sitting on your couch than when you’re under the glow of television lights and facing down a life-sized Alex Trebek. You see, there are questions and then there are questions! It’s one thing to shout out, “The Danube River is in Europe you simpleton!” while eating hummus and chips (as I did), but when you have the fate of the world–or at least of your bank account–hinging on the answer, the pressure gets greater.

I mention this because in today’s verse, John makes the same sort of move, increasing the stakes. In 1 John 1:1, he talks about “the Word of life,” but today, we find that this isn’t just any old life he’s discussing. This is eternal life. And not only did the life just get better, but we discover that this isn’t simply the “Word of [eternal] life” but it’s the life itself, life that has come from the Father and appeared on earth. In short, this word, this life, is pretty much synonymous with God. If we have any doubt on this matter, we simply need to read John’s other great opening, the first few verses of the Gospel of John.

Lest we have any doubts about the importance of what we’re studying here, John lays it on the line. The Word of life is life itself, eternal life, and God in the person of Jesus Christ. I may not be smarter than a fifth grader, but I can understand what John’s talking about here.

Thesis Statement–1 John 1:1

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. –1 John 1:1

If there’s one question that I have asked in the two decades I have been teaching writing to college freshmen, it is “What is your thesis?”

The reply, often as not, is something like this: “It’s global warming.”

No, no, no! That’s not the thesis. That’s the topic. I can’t count the number of students who have turned out a paper that was clearly on a particular topic but that wasn’t at all clear what it had to say about that topic. You could have a thousand theses regarding global warming, but you need to pick one and support it.

I’m tempted, looking at today’s verse in isolation, to accuse John of a similar short-coming. Okay, he’s going to write about the Word of life, but what about it? Happily, John gets more specific in his attitude toward the Word of life in the ensuing verses and chapters, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What does he say here?

In this verse, I believe, John is establishing his credentials. He uses five descriptive phrases before explaining that he’ll be writing on the Word of life. The first of these phrases deals directly with the Word. It is “from the beginning.” Such a pronouncement makes the Word more worthy of our consideration than the latest dish on Brittany Spears.

The remaining four phrases, however, deal not so much with the Word as with he who heard the Word, John himself. To paraphrase, John says that he has heard the Word, seen it, looked at it, and touched it. In short, he has experience. Of course we know that John the Apostle

How fitting that in this first real posting after my lengthy sabbatical, we should have a meditation on the primacy of the Word. The Word is vetted. It is from the beginning. Nothing that has been made was made separate from the Word. Compared to the Word, I am nothing, you are nothing, and even John the Apostle is nothing. So what can we do? How do we respond to the Word? Just as John says, we respond: we hear it, see it, look at it, and touch it. In other words, we study and consider the Word, both in the person of Jesus and in the pages of the Bible.

Extra Credit–Amos 5:3-6

Allow me to tell you about one of my former students, Rick.  In reality, Rick isn’t one student but rather a composite of several types.  Aside from that little detail, he’s completely real.

When he first walked into my composition class at the beginning of the semester, he meant well.  He intended to do his best and earn a good grade.  For the first week or so, he did all of the reading.  When I required some brief writings, he finished them on time.  All was going well in the realm of Rick.  But then his old habits came out.  He began to procrastinate.  The temptation to go party with his friends rather than reading about the nine methods of development got the better of him.  He wrote his first rough draft in about ten minutes, sitting outside the classroom.  Rick’s ship was sinking.

His first ploy came about a third of the way through the semester.  His first paper wound up as a C rather than an A.  “Do you have anything we could do for extra credit?” he asked one day toward the end of the class period.  Students are funny about extra credit.  People who will resist spending a half hour studying for an announced quiz worth fifty points won’t bat an eye at spending two hours getting ten extra credit points.  I don’t understand it.

Next, Rick became a bit belligerent.  When his second paper wound up as a C-, he came to my office loaded for bear.  “My girlfriend’s brother has this friend who is an English major, and he said that he didn’t think there was any way that this paper was a C-.” 

“An English major, eh?” I noted.  As I talked with him, I stood and sat on my desk so that my head was lined up perfectly with my diploma, the big one reading “Doctor of Philosophy—English.”  I continued.  “I’m sure this friend is a great guy, but that’s not really important today.  Would you like me to explain why he’s wrong and I’m right?”

Failing in that bid, Rick resorted to the oldest scam a student can play.  He turned in his research paper, an absolutely brilliant effort sporting a host of sources he couldn’t possibly have found.  This clearly wasn’t his work.  “Rick,” I asked.  “Are you sure that you gave me the right paper?”  He picked up my meaning and reclaimed the plagiarized paper, replacing it with something of his own a couple of days later.

Finally, after a good deal of work, Rick finished the course, earning a C for his efforts.  On the day of the final, he asked me about his final grade.  When I told him the mediocre news, he glanced around and said, “If I give you a hundred bucks will you change it to a B?”  I hope I don’t need to say that I didn’t take him up on that.

What’s wrong with students that they’ll look for help anywhere except where they can find it, in themselves and their work?  What’s wrong with people that they’ll look for help anywhere but in God?  That’s Amos’ question of the day.  Lest we cluck too much at the Israelites, let’s remember that there’s a bit of Rick in all of us.

Never to Rise Again–Amos 5:1-2

Recently I found myself in a conversation with a college administrator (not from my school).  As we caught up on old times, our attention ranged across a variety of people whom we’d both known for years.  This one had gotten a job in Florida while that one took a position in Texas.  But time and again, we found people who remained working as adjunct faculty at the school where we’d known them.

In case you’re not up on the college labor structure, you’re depriving yourself of a system of haves and have-nots.  Full-time, tenure-track faculty members make a decent living, receive benefits, and enjoy marvelous job security.  At present, I believe that I’d probably have to join Al Qaeda to lose my job.  But a large number of classes are taught by adjunct or part-time faculty.  These people are paid poorly—often less than half what full-timers get for the same class.  They receive no benefits, and they have no assurance that they’ll have a job next semester.  A large number of these people are newbies, sort of paying their dues as they get started in the profession.  Many of these folks are still completing their education.  They couldn’t land a full-time job yet, so they really don’t have room to complain.  Another large segment is comprised of retirees and others who have no desire to teach a full load.  These people enjoy teaching one or two classes each semester.  Their pay is limited, but they never have to attend faculty meetings.  The setup seems fair to all parties.

But a third, and significant, cadre of the adjunct ranks are the lifers.  These are people who, for whatever reason, can’t get a full-time job.  They’ve sold their academic birthright for a mess of pottage and find themselves teaching year after year in the same place, hoping against hope that they’ll eventually get a break and reach the majors.  That’s what they hope, but the hope is almost never a realistic one.  After a few years, these people become identified as lifelong adjuncts.  There must be something wrong with them, the reasoning goes, if they haven’t gotten a full-time position yet.  Since they couldn’t get it five years ago, we probably shouldn’t give it to them now.

One guy at JCCC, started teaching adjunct a year after I did.  He got an interview a year before I did.  He’s gotten one since.  But by now it’s been a good ten years since he’s had a crack at the full-time ranks, and he’s put in a total of fifteen years as a part-timer.  That’s nearly half a career!  And the sad thing is that there’s really no hope.  Once you’ve moved from the hopeful new guy status to the hopeless long-timer, you’re never going to make the jump.

Life can be like that.  Regardless of the people who claim that we can achieve marvelous things if we just want it badly enough, many things have passed us by.  I’m not going to get that job at Harvard.  That possibility is gone.  The professional baseball career is gone.  The hope to be a men’s swimwear model is pretty well faded.  I can’t bring those things back, despite all the good vibes I can generate.

Our sinfulness is the same way.  “Fallen is Virgin Israel,” Amos says, but he might as well have substituted my name or yours.  “Never to rise again . . . with no one to lift her up.”  We’re hopeless, just as Israel was.  We’re hopeless, except that we have someone to lift us up just as Israel discovered that she had someone to lift her up.  My modeling career may be down for the count, but I have a hope.  And that hope has a name.

…and my lungs and limbs and all the rest of me.