Once in a while we read a book and a phrase will stick with us long after we finish the book. Steve Garber’s new book, Visions of Vocation, has given me such a phrase.
“One of the my deepest commitments is to the ”come and see” pedagogy of the Gospels. When the rabbi Jesus was asked about his life, he responded, ”Come and see.” We learn the truest truths, the most important things, only when we look over the shoulder and through the heart, only when we can see that ideas have legs and that worldviews can become ways of life.”
Garber’s phrase ”over the shoulder and through the heart” grabbed me precisely because it vividly reminded me of some of my most formative childhood memories. My grandfather used to invite me to ride along on his tractor while he farmed. Those experiences created lasting impressions that shaped the way I understand the world and the things that I love. In those moments I learned some of the truest truths not quite over the shoulder, but alongside of my grandfather on his tractor.
In those early years I didn’t know what to pay attention to. But standing where I did on the tractor, and moving with it my attention was being guided and nudged even without knowing anything about farming. In other words, learning from the side of a tractor I was being formed not just by my grandfather’s actions, but by the world that my grandfather inhabited which included his tractor, implements, fields, animals, and the like. My attention was being guided not only by my grandfather’s words but by the way he farmed and the tractor I rode on.
Not being an expert I was held in wonder in all at that I was seeing and experiencing. My attention was able to revel in the rich nuances of farming in God’s world. My grandfather’s invitation to ride along with him was implicitly an invitation to wonder. As I moved with the tractor and watched it move through the field, different pieces of the experience that I might otherwise have missed or taken for granted would come to the foreground. The wonder and fascination formed me and influenced how I pay attention in God’s world by leaving lasting impressions on my imagination. Riding on the tractor shaped my way of living in the world by shaping my sense of the world and the things that I love.
As I gradually learned more about farming, I began to be able to focus my attention because I had a better sense of what was coming next. Rather than getting lost in the wonder of the experience I learned to know what to attend to. For example, I was taught to focus on a point on the other side of the field in order to achieve a straight windrow of hay (which I never seemed quite able to do). My habits of attention were formed because my whole person rode alongside my grandfather. I learned from his words, but I learned just as much by getting a sense of how a tractor moves and the world around it.
Even as I have not become a farmer, my imagination and desires still bear the influence of having been shaped by both the wonder of riding with my grandfather and the skills that I learned. Currently I work with the CCO where I am part of a group that designs and leads experiences for college students (CCO XD). Often these experiences take place in wild spaces where we climb, ski or kayak. I love taking people kayaking or skiing with me because it is a chance to invite them to come alongside me and venture more deeply into God’s world. Our means of travel are often kayaks or skis, and like my grandfather’s tractor, they nudge the students to attend to their bodies, their boat and the water in new ways. These experiences, much like my rides with my grandfather, form and shape our students. It is not just the place or the lessons we teach but the very way we invite these students to come along side of us while we paddle that shapes them by nudging what they attend to.
Reflecting on how I experienced the ”come and see pedagogy” prompted me to think more deeply about these invitations to “look over the shoulder” and how the context of particular cultural actions shape peoples’ attention. I am realizing that this is not simply an invitation to “come and look” but to come alongside and be formed by the experience. When we ask people to pay attention we need to recognize that human attention is influenced not only by our actions but also by the “worlds” of those actions, worlds populated with artifacts and institutions. If we want our cultural activities to bear witness to the truest truths we need to become aware of the ways in which our attention is being nudged by both our desires and by our environment and the tools that surround us. The ”come and see pedagogy” that Garber encourages us to explore is a rich and deep invitation into the richness of God’s world.
Sean lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wife Krista and daughter Ella. Sean works for the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) as part of their Experiential Designs team. Someday Sean hopes to create “back of the napkin” doodle versions of the work of his philosophical heroes: Calvin Seerveld, Dirk Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd.