Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

John Samuel Tieman: On Doubt And The Wednesday Messiah

I think Mishima once said that before the golden pagoda burns, a hymn begins with the scratch of a single match. If he didn’t say it, he should have.

I’m semi-retired. In the evening, I teach “Intro. To Western Civ.” at a small, Midwestern liberal arts college. I really love it. The students are mostly adults, working folks entering college later in life. This one had her babies first. That one did two tours of Iraq.

The students long for intellectual challenge. Eight hours in a cubicle will do that. That and so many are just smart, hungry for knowledge.

An old philosophy professor said his job was “to bother students”. Each class, I raise questions. I bother the students with questions that bother me. What do I know? What does art do? What is a self? A class filled with questions. I seldom reveal the depth of my doubt and confusion. They know I am Catholic. This much is obvious when I lecture on the Middle Ages. How Catholic I am, that I keep to myself.

Two weeks ago, I lectured on post-modernism. Before the next class, in the campus cafeteria, a student, a cop, asked me to drop my objective, professorial pose. “How do you carry on when there’s such overwhelming doubt?” My answer surprised me as much as him.

“When I doubt the God I cannot see, I believe in the people I can. Good, beauty, truth, liberation – when I doubt everything else, these are irreducible. And it’s not that I believe. These are what bind me to The Holy Other. To you. To my friends, my wife. To the beggar I see every Wednesday on the drive to campus. The holy beggar, to whom I give a dollar, in whom I see the messiah.”

Copyright 2016 John Samuel Tieman

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This entry was posted on October 20, 2016 by in Personal Essays, Poetry, Social Justice and tagged , .

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