I am super educated.
I have a master’s degree in an esoteric field that most people equate with renaissance festivals. I’m about to go get another master’s degree because, like potato chips, you can never have just one. On one side of my family, mine is the first generation in three to have people who stopped going to school after their bachelor’s degrees. With this kind of education comes a horrendous bias that I fight far less often than I should.
This past Sunday I went to the graduation party of a former student of mine. She befriended me on Facebook after her semester in my class and still maintains mine was her favorite of the whole degree and that I was her favorite teacher. We’ve kept in a distant sort of touch as she finished her schoolwork and I was surprised but delighted at her invitation to this celebration. I bickered with myself until I got in my car on whether or not I was going to attend, but go I did—if nothing else, I wanted the connection to my old life of academia after a long weekend of church politics and procedures. I also remembered how much it had meant to me when some of my teachers had attended my high school graduation party and wanted to be able to be that for this student, if possible.
She lives, I discovered as I wound my way through various country roads, in what is not affectionately called trailer country, a series of broken-down double-wides huddling amidst yards full of goggle-eyed chickens and rusted-out cars and gathered detritus. This was the type of living, more than any other, that I was taught to fear growing up. Get educated, I was told; make something of yourself so you don’t wind up stuck here with the trailer trash.
My heart breaks, Reader, to even admit these things to myself, let alone you. I have since known dear friends who wound up in trailers for whatever reason; I have had family who made their way in their double-wides. But the initial prejudice remains, and I as searched my way down the row of mailboxes looking for my student’s house, I hated the running judgment in the back of my mind.
At the party—just past the tarp-covered car on cinder blocks and the knot of people in faded t-shirts chain-smoking e-cigs—I met my student, a vibrant and hilarious young woman in a bright dress who hugged me fiercely and offered me sweet tea. She introduced me to her father as a kindred spirit of geekery and we talked for some time. Her father is, indeed, a delightful man and we swapped favorite post-apocalyptic books and talked about the film Kingdom of Heaven and how well-choreographed the battle scenes in Troy were. He shared his amazement at the rise of acceptance of nerd culture in the last decade and I spoke of being able to connect with my students by knowing their references. My student introduced me to her boyfriend and we talked about Star Wars and the university where I work and being incredibly socially awkward at these sorts of blind gatherings. My student told me of what she plans to do and how she’s waiting a year before applying to master’s degree programs and I stood in their double-wide trailer with its clean and spare decor and this bright woman figuring out her way in the world and I felt so utterly humbled.
It is so easy for me, with my alphabet soup of degrees and my history of being The Smart Kid, to assign a lack of intelligence or drive or humanity to people in the trailer country. We as a society don’t help because we continually portray people in those situations as trailer trash, as rednecks, as all manner of insults we save for those we deem uncultured and poor in various ways. But this—this assumption is my sin, is my moment of standing with a cup of sweet tea and hearing God ever-so-gently tell me to get off my high horse because these, too, are God’s people.
I’ve had various people speculate as to what kind of church the bishop will assign me when I finish seminary, but several have said that it had better not be rural because I would be bored out of my mind. I need the intellectual stimulation, I am told, and that may be right. But far be it from me to tell God that I cannot serve in trailer country because they aren’t as smart as I am, because they won’t understand my sermons, because I am in some sense too good for that kind of a congregation. What arrogance! What foolishness! Did my student’s father need to have read the Iliad (in English or its original Greek) to discuss film battle scenes with me? Did he need to understand the liberties taken with the historical accounts of the crusades to speak of the power of his favorite movie? Of course not.
I will never say that knowing these things is bad or that education is too much; it both angers and saddens me that we in the church almost fear education sometimes in the way that we talk about our faith and its history. I delight in having read the Iliad, delight in learning Greek, delight in telling the stories of the crusades because we should never shy away from the richness of all that has come before, both good and bad. But my knowing these things should never, ever give me license to forget that those who don’t know—and even, though it pains me to say it, those who don’t care—are still children of God. God loves each of us, even those in trailer country, even those with several degrees, even those with a yard full of chickens and trash.
God is for all. God is with all. God loves all. And I have no right to say that I am more loved or valuable than another. Ever.
Thank you for teaching me, student, however unintentionally.
Were you born the first Adam,
brought forth before the hills?
Did you listen in God’s council;
is wisdom limited to you?
What do you know that we don’t know;
what do you understand that isn’t among us? (Job 15:7-9, CEB)