The Fuller Integration Lectures: Part 5, "To Get the Kind of 'A' Ruby Got"

As a part of the lectures at Fuller I also attended some of the breakout sessions. One I really enjoyed was led by Drs. Ron Wright and Paul Jones from Southern Nazarene University.

I got to know Ron and Paul last year when they invited me to give a lecture at SNU. It was a wonderful time. Beyond being brilliant, welcoming and absolutely hilarious, Ron and Paul are doing really innovative work rethinking Christian pedagogy, in both their graduate and undergraduate programs at SNU. And you can see it paying off. As I shared with Ron and Paul, when I was at SNU the camaraderie I experienced between the psychology majors and the faculty was remarkable. 

Ron and Paul's session was about re-envisioning Christian higher-education. Much of the intellectual foundation of the session was taken from James Smith's book Desiring the Kingdom. I don't know James Smith but from his online persona my hunch is that Dr. Smith would think that I'm a complete heretic, too liberal in all sorts of ways. Regardless, I agree with Ron and Paul that Desiring the Kingdom is a great book and I have my own faculty at ACU reading it. I also taught a class at church about the book.

A central thesis of Desiring the Kingdom is that we humans are less thinking animals (Aristotle) than we are desiring animals (Augustine). Consequently, we should replace the overly rationalistic formulation of Rene Descartes--"I think therefore I am"--with "I am what I love." We are lovers. Consequently, according to Smith love is what Christian education should be focused on.

But the trouble with this is that love cannot be "taught" in a purely intellectual way. Love directs our desires and our desires aren't changed by multiple choice tests. To affect love you need a process of formation rather than information. And such formation will focus on the ways liturgies and practices shape and direct our habits. And key here for Smith is how we are always embedded in both secular and sacred liturgical practices that shape our desires. Shopping at a mall, to borrow an example from Smith, is a liturgy, a habit-forming practice that shapes our desires and affects what we love. Standing for the Pledge of Allegiance during sporting events is also a liturgy/practice that shapes what we love.

And so is, Ron and Paul pointed out, the pursuit of a grade in a classroom. A college classroom is a sort of "church" where something is "worshiped." And as a place of worship the classroom shapes your desires, causes you to love something.

Given all this, the goal of Christian education is less about teaching Christian ideas (getting students to articulate "a Christian worldview") than it is about shaping and directing the desires and loves of students toward a vision of "the Kingdom God." Again, Christian education is more about formation--becoming a certain kind of lover--than it is about information.

To illustrate this Ron and Paul showed a video clip of child psychiatrist Robert Coles talking about his work and relationship with Ruby Bridges.

You will recall that Ruby Bridges was one of six black students who, because they had passed tests showing that they were academically prepared, were ordered to integrate the schools in New Orleans. Two of the students, however, stayed at their black schools. The other three students were bussed to another school.

And so it was that Ruby Bridges had to go to William Frantz Elementary School all by herself.

And we all recall what was waiting for Ruby at the school. Captured in the iconic painting by Norman Rockwell, Ruby had to be escorted by federal marshals and others past jeering mobs shouting hateful things at Ruby.

Day after day. Week after week.

Given his work in child development and interest in civil rights, Coles wanted to observe Ruby. Coles was worried that the hate and hostility Ruby faced each day would eventually take an emotional and psychological toll.

But as time went on Ruby seemed to be doing just fine. Coles was happily surprised, but perplexed. What was making Ruby so psychologically resilient?

Coles's final observations go to the heart of the distinction between information and formation. It's one thing to pass a test on the Sermon on the Mount in a bible class in college. It's quite another thing to be formed and shaped by the Sermon on the Mount.

It's one thing to have a 4.0 GPA in biblical studies.

But it's quite another, as Coles says, "to get the kind of 'A' Ruby got."

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9 thoughts on “The Fuller Integration Lectures: Part 5, "To Get the Kind of 'A' Ruby Got"”

  1. wow...that is just so much to learn from Ruby Bridges, both then and now

  2. Richard, you statement, " It's one thing to pass a test on the Sermon on the Mount in a bible class in college. It's quite another thing to be formed and shaped by the Sermon on the Mount" is so true. I have believed for a while that Wendell Berry's little book, "Blessed Are the Peacemakers:Christ's Teachings on Love, Compassion and Forgiveness" should be handed out in every college class of the Gospels. It would be a first step in helping the students, many of them who have come from the "memorize to be a champion" foundation, to letting scripture become a living context. What struck me about Berry was his admission that much of the Gospels were difficult, making him feel uncomfortable. Now, that is an admission of someone approaching them with love, being reshaped and molded by the sufferings of Christ.

  3. Extraordinary video and a truly holy little girl. Thank you for bringing this to our attention, Richard.

    There is a new book out now by Gordon Oyer (I have mine ordered.) It covers the 3 days in November 1964 when Thomas Merton invited 14 of America's best known peacemakers to his abby to talk about the spiritual roots of protest. In the introduction by Jim Forest (who was in attendance), Forest recalls the persistent question that Merton kept bringing up: By what right do we protest?

    He writes: “Merton and others at the retreat made me more aware that acts of protest are not ends in themselves but ultimately must be regarded as efforts to bring about a transformation of heart of one’s adversaries and even one’s self. . . Merton put great stress on protest that had contemplative roots, protest motivated not only by outrage but by compassion for those who, driven by fear or a warped patriotism, experience themselves as objects of protest” (from the Foreword).

    That sound very much like what Ruby Bridges was doing to me.

  4. Your line "we should replace the overly rationalistic formulation of Rene Descartes--'I think therefore I am'--with 'I am what I love.' We are lovers." struck me. I have recently finished reading G.K. Beale's _We Become What We Worship_, which deals with the same issue. Ruby is an example of being what we worship, in all the positive ways.

  5. I'd been waiting for that book to come out! Just ordered it myself. Hooray!

  6. Richard, just a quick question. The first few paragraphs conflate "desire" and "love" in a sort of hand-waving presupposition. Is that intentional? And to what extent does that conflation of "desire" with an undifferentiated use of the word "love" confuse the issues you raise, if at all?

    Second, to set reformation of desires over against reformation of worldview in such a binary way is to assume away one of the primary modes by which spiritual-formation bigwigs believe our characters can be changed. Willard, for example, urged us to view thoughts and images (and, consequently, the feelings and passions they evoke) as things that can and must be changed by a consistent exercise of the spiritual disciplines under the guidance of knowledge and belief. That is, worldview and desire are engaged in more of a dialectic than an exclusive, binary relationship.

    Or perhaps I'm just misunderstanding. Wouldn't be the first time.

  7. I'm glad you've gotten to know Ron and Paul. They both are bright, hilarious guys that I'm privileged to call friends. If you ever get a chance to take a long road trip with them and a handful of "In Treatment" DVDs, don't pass it up. It will transform your life.

    I've enjoyed the YouTube videos from Fuller btw.

  8. Thanks for the post and the clip. Two things:
    1. The clip doesn't show the Klan there each day when Ruby was arriving or leaving singing these words to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic": Segregation, segregation, segregation, segregation, segregation, segregation, the South will rise again."
    2. I understand that personality/character traits are normally learned in the first 20 years of life (such as the love emotion - akin to empathy). Some believe that it is set for life and, if you haven't learned them by then, it is too late. I believe that we are dynamic human beings and can learn these essential character traits later in life ( with dogged determination). Hard but possible. Have seen it happen. This is why early socialization is so important. When working in mental health, I noticed that those with Cluster B personality disorders (anti-social, borderline, narcissistic, and histrionic) had never developed 4 basic traits, which explained much of their disorganization and moving from one crisis to another in life. I want to write about those 4 traits someday. With just these four, developed early in life, usually their life will be healthy and stable. The reason for four is that if one listed 100 or 20 or 12, no one would even make the effort. But four is doable! Ruby had learned one of them by age 6 (and maybe the others as well).

  9. Powerful post and clip. Here's a touching reflection by Ruby written in 2000:

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