The Dabbler

Key moments on my agenda for this particular workday:

7:45am – Drop off our twins (each suffering from an advanced case of being “terrible” two years old) at day care. Say quick prayer for their teachers.

9:00am – Deliver lecture in 100-level Western Civ course on post-exilic Judaism and its interactions with Hellenistic culture and Roman power. Hope that students don’t realize my training is in 20th century European and diplomatic history and begin calculating how many tuition dollars they’re spending for the privilege of being crammed into the seats in CC 313.

10:20am – Lead department meeting focused on trying to convince colleagues that blogging isn’t a distraction from more important tasks.

11:45am – Working lunch with two colleagues to plan the premiere episode of a political affairs podcast.

2:50pm – Facilitate discussion in 300-level human rights history class on the emergence of empathy and autonomy in the mid-18th century Western culture, and the abolition of torture. (See “hope” sentence from 9:00am.)

4:30pm – Recover twins from day care, assuming it’s still standing. Pray for sleep to come soon.

I hear rumors that some academics some weeks spend a whole day focused on that for which they spent their life training. I teach as part of a small department in a small university, which means that, by definition, I’m a professional eclectic. A dabbler who spends 99% of his time teaching and preparing to teach about things on which I have no real expertise.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way! I genuinely appreciate the opportunity to teach myself enough about the Maccabean Revolt and the Septuagint to help 18-year old evangelicals understand why Jewish interactions with Hellenistic culture might be relevant to understanding the Early Church, and why any of that is relevant to their own lives as Christians in 21st century America. I like that I’m allowed to teach a 300-level course in a field only tangentially related to my training as a diplomatic historian: it forces me to rely more on student reading and discussion, rather than falling back into the comfortable habits of the lecture.

If nothing else, perhaps I convey to students how a liberal arts education did wonders for my own development, helping to shape my commitments to the interconnectedness of knowledge and the value of skills like reading, research, critical thinking, listening, and communication.

So I guess it makes sense that this blog, which I tend to think of as an extension of my teaching, has such a motley assortment of topics in its archives. Pietism has been the most popular tag so far, but only for 17% of the now-285 posts. That makes it the only tag that, on average, has appeared at least once a week. Thanks to a couple of lengthy series of posts, World War I is next, at 14%; none of the nearly 500 other tags cracks the 10% threshold. Apparently, I’ve tagged not one, but two posts each about Gandhi, Australia, soccer, sin, and Downton Abbey. (The same number I’ve tagged about the founder of Pietism.)

I’m sure a better blog would have greater unity of theme, but even if I could ignore the eclecticism of my own interests, I’m tickled that we’ve got World War I buffs, modern-day Pietists, Wilco fans, Bethel alumni, Covenant pastors, Sherlockians, Brazilians, and my mother simultaneously visiting this space. Occasionally even making their presence known to the others by piping up in the various Comments sections.

Whether silent or vocal, thanks to you readers for joining the community, and for tolerating my frequent excursions into topics about which my curiosity vastly exceeds my knowledge — and perhaps your interest.


2 thoughts on “The Dabbler

  1. Chris,

    As a fellow eclectic, is there a better way to present our eclecticism? Perhaps that we’re perfectly suited to demonstrate interdisciplinarity? Or, that our reading and teaching allow us to cross-polinate our ideas? In the end, I find this at least somewhat liberating: the life of the mind doesn’t need to be constrained within one disciplinary specialization. In the end, your students are benefiting from your wide knowledge.

    1. Absolutely agree, Jon. And I wonder if history isn’t especially well-suited to this kind of cross-pollination. We sometimes joke about history being the “imperial discipline,” since our sprawling interests seem to cross disciplinary boundaries so easily. (I guess “the cosmopolitan discipline” would be a less sinister way of phrasing it…)

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