Imprinting and existential Competency

Einstein and von Neumann had nannies who were excellent in mathematics. Therefore, both men had already internalized specific thinking patterns when they entered kindergarten.

Einstein did not have it easy in standard school lessons because he was under-challenged by average teachers and simple thinking patterns. His grades, however, were excellent-except in French, which I can understand.

Exceptional mathematicians educated almost all outstanding mathematicians.

I see a pattern here. Could it be the same in the church?

People with high existential competence, that is, people who understand how this world works and who can recognize spiritual patterns, benefit from being mentored by people with high existential competence.

It is crucial to observe and experience the patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting potentially inherent in us. That way, they can be nourished and developed by example.

Jewish culture has the edge over all other cultures in education. The average and minimum education, indeed the whole Gaussian bell curve, are positively shifted compared to other cultures. Thus, this culture also produced the proportionally most Nobel Prize winners.

Exactly such patterns of thinking and imprints are essential to faith. As Paul says in Romans 12:2?

Change your thinking!

Is it essential that children go to Sunday school? Only if they are taught faith and existential competence. Only if they are trained to think, feel, and act this way. Not if they are only presented with Bible stories and morals and provided a safe environment with other Christian children to prevent them from encountering and, God help, thinking thoughts outside our box.

However, this is far too little, even time-wise. One to two hours a week is a drop in the bucket, even with the best Sunday School.

And our current focus in the church on a familiar lifestyle, dictated from the outside by the Bible and pastors, is the opposite of existential competence.

If this were not the case, we would have congregations full of self-governing, self-authoring people who were not dependent on a pastor to have a relationship with God, understand the Bible, and organize a community life.

We would be living church, yes be the church, instead of going to a church. And no, the rhetorical statement that we are the church is not enough. Do we live it? And I don’t mean evangelism, good behavior, hospitality, kindness, and moral expectations.

If we look around our communities today, we encounter people who have delegated their existential competence and are content to live an externally defined way of life as expected, disturbed only by their self-centered desires.

The latter confirms the principle, the way we live church: Obviously, people cannot keep their egoistic needs and urges, their nature, in check.

We then define this as the interaction of diabolical seduction with weak flesh and proclaim ready-made spiritual exercises as the solution: regular church attendance, reading the Bible, getting under the Word and listening to sermons, praying more, quiet time, and putting what we hear into practice in life.

We teach people what to do and expect them to do it.

But because in this system, we don’t have people in leadership with high existential competence, they don’t know how to develop people in that competence.

And so, we focus on methods, tools, and rules instead of living and teaching how we learn and seek.

Entrusting children to average people who are culturally driven to teach them methods, tools, and rules, and thinking that mature faith will result from that, is naïve and fatal.

We are much more likely to see these children becoming Christians who pass on the narrowness of tradition and right and wrong to the next generation without reflection.

What is needed are communities in which open, deep, free, and exploratory relationships between God and people and between people are modeled and shaped by role models who are competent in various facets of such relationship building. Or, let’s say, wise people.

A church that meets weekly to face together in one direction and listen to the words of an averagely gifted preacher repeating ancient doctrine after we have sung together does not accomplish this.

Sending children to a children’s class weekly to listen to the same stories with prefabricated programs and do crafts together does not accomplish that.

To live this faith, this search for the eternally new and the familiar beyond simple rules and methods in one’s own family comes closer to what is needed.

Encouraging children to search for themselves, to form this relationship themselves, to reach out for that something in their lives that gives them a transcendent meaning, to show them how to find God rather than how to please God, is an essential first step.

We do the same thing in all areas of life, by the way. School teaches our students countless facts, but it doesn’t teach them to learn and be curious. On the contrary, it can be shown that our school system successfully kills the creativity and spirit of inquiry in our children in the early years.

If I don’t have a magic formula for what all this should look like in the church community, it is for several reasons. We are shaped in such a way that we don’t know how. We can’t allow it because it would contradict our rule-based idea of a Christian lifestyle. Plus, such a solution would vary from community to community, from person to person.

There is a reason why there are so few Einsteins. Of the 0.2% highly, exceptionally, profoundly gifted, very few had a nanny who was herself in that category. Many are trained out of curiosity, domesticated, discouraged, locked into tradition, doctrine, and facts, and never reach their potential.

It is the same in the field of existential competence. Tradition, which plays an essential role as one of the prerequisites for a curious journey into the unknown, became an impediment to this very journey.

By the way, this is already shown by choice of words. Curiosity is certainly not a word with positive connotations. The German word Neugier literally is the greed for the new, and greed is a sin, even belongs to the seven deadly sins.

In English and French, it is no better. Curious and curieux both derive from the word cura (cure) as if there were something to be cured, and besides curiosity, they also denote things like bizarre, funny, strange, and in French even indiscreet.

We see that our cultures see people who are searching and longing for more as strange, droll, bizarre, or as greedy. Most certainly, they are outside the norm.

We see this in our theology. The Thompson Chain Reference lists mainly verses with negative consequences of curiosity. This is because the words desire and greed are equated with curiosity. Here we see the German influence on theology through Luther.

Jewish culture sees this differently. Curiosity is a virtue in Jewishness. That is why they differ positively from other cultures regarding intellectual curiosity and academic success.

Curious in Hebrew would be better translated as inquisitive. Inquisitive means searching for something, investigating something, and asking questions. Let’s forget the bad connotation the word has received from the Inquisition.

Jesus tells us, “He who seeks finds.” Curiosity is an essential part of our faith.

And unfortunately, it is mainly dead. Is that why Jesus wonders if he will still find faith in this earth when he returns?