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Wide Open-Minded Spaces

August 18th, 2008

Focus Text: Proverbs 1: 20-21 (NLT)

20 Wisdom shouts in the streets.
      She cries out in the public square.
 21 She calls to the crowds along the main street,
      to those gathered in front of the city gate:


Stop Here and Reflect Before Reading Ahead

It’s a story I’ve told before, but it really fits well with this verse.  The year was 1998.  I was in my second semester as a Freshmen at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.  Spring was always a fun time on campus as the icy, East Tennessee winter loosened its frigid grip on the trees, sidewalks, and buildings and jeans and cargo pants gave way to shorts again.  Spring classes had a different feel to them because you always anticipated the upcoming summer.  

UT is a beautiful campus, an intriguing blend of old and new architecture.  Some buildings have been around since the 1800’s as evidenced by their antiquated bathroom facilities and heating and cooling systems that never seem to work just right.  Just around the corner from those old structures are buildings that are most definitely products of the 1960’s and 1970’s.  Tan, earth-toned giants with unconventional design and gaudy features.  And now, even since my graduation, a return to the campus reveals a host of new buildings that are breathtaking in their appearance.  Classic architecture combined with modern attributes seem to make the history and the contemporary join hands nicely.  Doesn’t hurt to have alumni like Peyton Manning.

Rivered throughout this huge campus are greenspaces.  Some of them are just large fields.  Some are called “quads” or “courtyards” depending on the era in which they were built.  Here, when Spring ascends upon the campus, students of all varieties find their way to these grassy getaways.  Frisbees fly, acoustic guitars are gently strummed, and blankets create nice landing pads for a student body looking for any excuse to skip class.  I myself can recall the splendor of moving stuffy study sessions outdoors and basking beneath the blue skies and comfortable warmth of a spring afternoon.  Yeah, those greenspaces were a defining feature of my college experience.

But those huge quads provided more than just places to recline or to recreate; at times, they were also the unassuming intersections of knowledge, learning, and the philosophical exchange of ideas.  Even professors would sometimes take their smaller classes outside on beautiful days to let their students enjoy spring’s gift to young, industrious minds.  Hence, my story begins.

The greenspace in question was just outside the Humanities Building, one of those obvious products of the 1960’s that stands adjacent to the striking modernity of the state-of-the-art library.  Here, every spring, certain street preachers would descend upon the quad in front of Humanities and begin speaking their messages to all who passed by.  I use the term “speaking” loosely; mostly they yelled at everyone and told them they were going to hell.  I recall this with every bit of accuracy I can muster– they screamed at the students and in no uncertain terms, informed them of their impending doom.

Now, as a Christian student who was already speaking, teaching, and involved in church and campus leadership, I knew enough to know that what they were speaking was technically correct.  It’s true, the university campus is a place where many things happen that are wrong.  Sexual immorality.  Wild, drunken parties.  Complete rebellion against God.  Do these things separate one from God?  Well, yes they do.  This is a Biblical truth; however, I struggled with the method by which these preachers were spreading this message.

And the most intriguing part of the whole process was that people would listen to them by the hundreds. They would encircle them and listen to their message.  Most rolled their eyes.  Some laughed.  Some yelled. Once, I even saw some students pour motor oil on one of the preachers.  Yet, I could never get away from the fact that they just stood their and listened.  Why didn’t they just walk away or go find a nice spot in the sun to sit and study?  Why give their time to something they completely disagreed with?

Once, when I could take it no longer, I stood down one of those preachers by quoting back to him the scriptures from God’s Word that he was omitting from his sermon– scriptures about repentance, redemption, and restoration.  I seemed to really know my stuff because a twenty-minute debate that garnered a very large crowd left him speechless and the crowd cheering their new champion– me!  Yeah, I won!  

Yeah, but I lost.  Why?  Because I realized that no one met Jesus that day from the accurate, yet incomplete message of two of His followers.  All they saw was our disagreement and our willingness to argue.  My lesson was learned at a high price.  I learned that sometimes you can win an argument and lose a person.

“Wisdom shouts in the streets.  She cries out in the public square.”   The truth of God isn’t as hidden as people like to assume.  Like the greenspaces of our campus, the world sits in their “public squares” and listens for truth.  They gather around by the millions.  But much like that street preacher and like myself, many never hear the real message of God’s love because the voice of the speaker isn’t portraying God’s tone accurately.  

Wisdom is more than truth; it’s truth correctly applied.  These next few verses of Proverbs that we will reflect upon this week speak of wisdom’s sermon to humanity; of her cry in the streets and the world’s seemingly deaf ears.  That brings us good news and bad news.  The good news is that wisdom isn’t mute; it is literally yelling at us.  The bad news is that the majority of people don’t listen.  Oh, they might gather around and gawk, but that won’t necessarily listen.

So, my hope is two-fold.  I desire to speak wisdom in the “courtyard” of my culture in a way that they will accurately see the balanced message of God’s love that leads us to change our lifestyle through repentance. My second desire is that I will listen when wisdom shouts at me.  How often I miss the easy truth that was there the whole time because I didn’t like the manner in which it was spoken.

But wisdom is wisdom, independent of the tone in which it is communicated– and it cries out to us in the greenspaces of our souls.  I don’t know about you, but I want to listen.


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