Teach the Obvious

When I was in graduate school the astronomy graduate students went to the Minnesota State Fair for a day to talk about astronomy at the U of M booth.  We took turns manning the booth as interested people chatted with us about our display.  Being astronomers we had a telescope with us which I decided to put to use looking at the Moon.  Now for most astronomers, the Moon being up during the day is no big surprise, just an obvious fact of the way the Moon’s orbit works.  However countless people passing on the street were stunned and confused that I was looking through a telescope, during the daytime, at the Moon no less.  They had never realized that the Moon was up during the day.  It was so obvious to us astronomers that we usually fail to point it out, but right there in the middle of the fair the two worlds met and a teaching moment occurred.

It is a fact that things that are obvious and natural to those who are advanced in knowledge and practice are not to the average layman.  This is true in any discipline whether astronomy or theology. For the learned that which is obvious becomes second nature and taken for granted.  For the laymen though this assumption by the learned leads to confusion because he cannot understand why the learned are acting in such a confounding way.

A good example of this in the church are salutary liturgical practices that go unexplained.  For the pastor this practice is second nature, needing no explanation as it is just obvious to do.  For the laymen, though it is perplexing, like watching a man put up a telescope when there is nothing to see.  This confusion and lack of understanding can lead to frustration, and animus against the practice and even the pastor for doing things that do not make sense. In the end, the practice is given a bad rap just because of a lack of explanation and understanding.  All because it was assumed to be obvious when it really was not to those not in the know.

So, pastors, I have a challenge for you. Examine your teaching and practice, and see what super obvious things you have neglected to teach.  This is not an easy or trivial thing to do.  It is quite literally like trying to see your nose in front of your face.  These are things that are so natural they are like breathing. So obvious that they defy explanation.  But explain them you must, so that your congregation understands.  It is a catechetical moment.

If you do this teaching you will both find unevaluated assumptions and blind spots in your own teaching and theology. You will also have a better educated and informed laity who will better appreciate the gifts that you have grown to know so intimately.  They too will the be able to share in the joy of a fuller knowledge of the Word and realize that the practices we hold so dear are not just empty gestures at a supposedly blank sky.

P. S. I would love to see the BJS readers suggestions for obvious things that should be taught but are overlooked. Please put them in the comments below.

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