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A Confession of Hubris November 8, 2010

Posted by markgeil in Philosophical musings.

[I wrote the following for an online devotional for professors and academic-types. I’ve revised it slightly here.]

I am blessed to be able to dabble in a few other disciplines in addition to my day job as a prof. Freelance writing has given me the opportunity to explore the Christian music industry in ways I never expected, and it’s been tremendous fun. Along the way I’ve learned quite a few things, and one in particular has stuck with me lately. It’s a common thread I’ve witnessed in interviewing and hanging out with artists and listening to their stories at conferences like Hutchmoot. When I compare it to the reality of my day job, I’ve realized a danger associated with academia that I had not noticed before.

One after another, artists tend to mention seasons in their lives when they’ve felt hopelessly unworthy. Unworthy of this calling to minister. Unworthy to create art in the presence of the Master Artist. Unworthy to wear this banner of love that is creation. For many, this was mentioned as an almost daily struggle, something that feeds an unhealthy tumble toward self-loathing. Their tales are equally similar as they found their worth as a child of God. For many it was a rediscovery of God’s love for each of us and the boundless gift of grace.

These stories have fascinated me, and I regard them with a detached sort of admiration and the strong sense that, for my part, I really consider myself a bit too worthy.

It’s my job to be an authority in my discipline. Decisions regarding things like promotion and tenure consider my reputation among my peers, nationally and internationally. I’m an “expert” witness in the courtroom, an author who has passed rigorous peer-review, and I stand before students every day as the authority from which they might learn.

It’s not just those trappings of academia that trouble me, though. I have long had a ridiculous internal confidence. If I read about an award, I promptly apply and I assume I will win. If I submit a proposal for a grant, I start making plans for the inevitable funding, even if only 10% of those proposals ever get funded. All this despite the reality that I rarely get the award or the funding. Ostensibly, I’m in a good profession, because all those elements of reputation and authority tend to grow symbiotically with my own rather narcissistic self-assurance.

So, I marvel at artists’ tales of inadequacy and shudder at my own perceived worthiness. I have realized their little discoveries of grace were like the return of the prodigal son, and my Pharisaical superiority was like the older brother’s curmudgeonly pouting.  

Now, I’m struggling, but in a good way. I’m struggling to be a perceived authority who knows he is worthless apart from grace. There’s a balance there, even in academia, as long as I recognize that worthiness cannot be attained through my knowledge or station. Seeking knowledge is certainly a good thing, but any “authority” I may thereby attain must be counted as a little sliver of insight about God’s vast and extraordinary creation. And I must be daily grateful for those little slivers, gifts from the ultimate Authority.



1. Bill Slayton - November 10, 2010

I laughed when I got to the end of your article and saw the following:

Ads by Google
How to Apply for Grants

I imagined you hurriedly applying for the grant, confident in your quest.

I appreciate your “good struggle”. I am in that struggle, too: Seeking to be the best so I can support my employer and family, yet always reminding myself who the Best really is. Also remembering my total dependence on the One who made me…


2. Vicki Gardener - November 10, 2010

Amen, brother! Everyone needs to self reflect now and then – it’s the only way we can humble ourselves before God…besides, He already knows who we really are on the inside – He just patiently waits for us to figure it out for ourselves and acknowledge it before Him! Stay tough with the struggle – you know it will be worth it!

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