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My First Year with TechMissionCorps, pt. VIII: Finding an Intellectual Calling

Originally written: September 29, 2006

I'm in a great place right now intellectually, even if less so socially or professionally (but at least I'm employed, by God's grace). I love studying things that have the potential to change the world and which integrate several of my interests. Now I feel like I can potentially situate my college senior thesis work in a broader practical and socia(logical) context.

Some people finish their thesis, and then burn it. I, on the other hand, feel like the process of writing my thesis was like an intellectual awakening. Perhaps I have found my calling as a scholar, though I never want to be simply a scholar, as I have too much concern for the social implications of knowledge (esp. new media) to keep my studies purely abstract.

Now I know why I never knew what I was meant to do in the world for the longest time. As Papert said in one of the articles I linked, now we need to teach people how to do jobs about which they've not been taught. Media theory and applied epistemology (as Papert could probably describe his studies) are not exactly fields that I studied in school (or in college either, until my SIP). Yet they're going to be crucial fields for people to be working in over the next few decades, to help us weather the potentially society-destroying changes that are coming.

As I've said before (at least inwardly), I think my calling is to make the invisible visible - to tell people things about media that they understand subconsciously, because they must in order to function in modern society (using skills such as how to tell advertisements from the regular content on television, deciding who in the free market of information is trustworthy), but which they have never processed in such a way as to see their broader implications.

This seems to be related only tangentially at best, but I'll say it, nonetheless, since coincidence and juxtaposition are becoming increasingly important in contemporary discourse: I was reading a book the other day called Healing Presence by Leann Payne. I recommend it to all, almost as much as I recommend St. Athanasius. Anyway, not far into the book she says something I found obvious (after hearing it), but yet quite insightful: A prophet rarely feels comfortable anywhere. One who did would hardly be much of a prophet, since God only sends prophets to give a message that is not already generally accepted or understood. She was speaking about her own vocation in the Church, but I think the principle has broader application. I know it seems to explain the way I've felt in my life.

All my life, since later high school or early college, I've felt like somewhat of a bridge. Explaining Christianity to my non-Christian friends, and explaining them to my Christian ones. Too liberal for the conversatives, and too conversative for the liberals. Not Reformed enough for the dyed-in-the-wool Presbyterians, but too Reformed for the evangelicals. Or perhaps those latter two statements phrase it wrong, because I don't feel like I've been rejected by either group. It's just that I, within myself, don't feel entirely comfortable or "at home" with either one. Always it seems like there's something on which I differ, something I'd like to change or to clarify, but then I wonder...what makes me superior to everybody else? What right do I have to think I can adjudicate the relative merit of the two sides to every question?

Still, whether it's comfortable or not, I feel like this is my calling. And I wonder whether this is, on a smaller and more fallible scale, what the Apostle Paul mean by being "all things to all people" - not actually becoming one of them, but rather by the very fact that you are different from them, that you have a higher loyalty, being able to translate your message into their language. After all, that's what Christ did - when John the Baptist came they found him too grim, but when Christ came, they called him a drunkard.