In the Way of the Wise How

joys of homeworkI have been thinking lately about “goals,” probably due to the sense of accomplishment I recently felt with the publication of a new book – one that had been a goal of mine for forty years!

I’ve also been thinking that we live in a time when the setting of goals has become a big thing. A career change. A post-grad degree. A wife. A husband. Two children. An adoption. A new car. Acquire three new clients. Start my own business. Publish an article or a book. Lose forty pounds. Create a website. Run for public office. Make that Olympic team (well, maybe just the college team). You get the picture. Any list of things to get or places to be would run as long and as varied as the people asked.

Leaving aside a discussion of whether a goal is dubious, or whether such and such a person ought to have set such and such a goal, I’m going to assume, here, that the goal is a good one, and doable, for the person in question. Even so, the question of how to reach the goal then becomes is crucial for anyone, especially for Christians, who serve a God who is certainly interested in the end result!

The ways we travel
The God of the end, however, is also the God of the way. God is keen not only about the omegas we seek but also with the ways we travel to get there. This is a huge theme of the book of Proverbs, especially in 3:17, which speaks of the “ways” and “paths” of wisdom. The decisive use of the plural must not be missed. Wisdom, here, is being presented not just as one way but as having many ways (paths). This use of the plural may seem counterintuitive because we Christians follow “the way” (John 14:6), Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Doesn’t Proverbs 3:17 contradict that? How can there be many paths of wisdom?

the better angels of our natureUnlike John 14:6, Proverbs 3:17 is not a soteriological passage. To put it another way, whereas John 14:6 is about God’s way of salvation, Proverbs 3:17 is about God’s ways for directing our travels through life’s daily grinds, which are many and varied. For different goals in this world are, and must be, reached via different methods. When three people have three different goals, or even if one person has several goals, they are reached via different methods. You don’t hunt for a house to rent, or to buy, in the same way you plant your garden or run for an elected office. You don’t use the same method to get your post-grad degree as you would to court your future spouse (I hope not!).

The book of Proverbs admonishes us to come under the discipline of the yoke of the wise how, to let wise ways, not foolish ways, direct our steps.

The first nine chapters of Proverbs, for instance, may be summarized as a test of wills between those who will choose to follow the wise ways of Lady Wisdom, which lead to life (Proverbs 3:18), or the foolish ways of Lady Folly, which lead to death: “Do not let your heart turn to her ways or stray into her paths…. Her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:25-27).

So that is the first thing: choosing and then traveling a way, a path, of godly wisdom for reaching a particular goal we have set. The question then becomes: What is a way, a path, of godly wisdom toward a particular goal? How do we come under the discipline of the wise how?

I pose this question because a huge industry, populated with self-help gurus and ultra-achievers, among others,  has arisen devoted to offering many and varied methods for reaching goals.

When following a method, how do we discern if anything is biblically unacceptable in its ideas, values, means, strategies, and steps to fulfilment?

The answer will depend on how much time, effort, and resources we put into thinking biblically about how we will get to a goal and what is taking place along the way. Admittedly, discrimination of this kind – between the biblical and the unbiblical – can be a tricky business for any Christian. After all, how does one think biblically about choosing a PhD program or running for election or buying a new car? If the teaching arm of our church has not given us the tools for learning to think biblically about the importance of our methodologies, well then…. Non-biblical ideas, attitudes, and values will fill the vacuum.

I want to draw attention to what I call two inconspicuous essentials of God’s wisdom, which can help us recognize if our travels toward a goal has the feel of a wise how.

Peaceableness
One of these essentials is peaceableness. To return to Proverbs 3:17: The ways of wisdom are pleasant and her paths are paths of peace. The word “ways,” here, is about the means taken or the procedures followed to an end. In short, it is about method. The word “peace” is the venerable Hebrew word shalom (well-being; flourishing). And in the New Testament, the epistle of James (also at 3:17) indicates that the wisdom that comes from above is peace-loving, as well as considerate, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. That kind of wisdom is contrasted to the kind that is bitter, envious, and filled with selfish ambition, strife, and disorder (3:14-16).

I think the message, here, is that if God’s peace is setting the spirit and tone of whatever method we are applying to reach a goal, then patience, sympathy, mercy, good fruit, even-handedness, and sincerity are traveling with us along the way.

It would be a good practical exercise, then, to spend time answering questions about whether those qualities, or the ones James calls envy, selfish ambition, and strife, are refereeing a particular method we are relying on. It’s not that we will be perfectly consistent epistles of the qualities of a godly wisdom, but surely we ought to be making progress with them. Is their influence pretty strongly felt as we work toward fulfilling a goal?

It’s a personal thing
The other inconspicuous essential of God’s wisdom is its personal-relational quality. In Proverbs 8:25-31, wisdom is described as having some sort of personal, or personal-like, relationship with God, with the creation, and with human beings. Note also that this triune relationship is described as one of delight, of rejoicing, and of pulling together:

“I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began. . . . I was there when he [God] set the heavens in place . . . when he gave the sea its boundaries . . . when he marked out the foundations of the earth. . . . I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind” (Proverbs 8:25-31).

Due to its ontological difficulties, this may be the most debated passage by scholars in all of the wisdom literature. We’re not going to enter that debate here. I just want to underline the fact that wisdom is being presented here as having some sort of personal relational presence with God, with creation, and with human beings. (This is assumed repeatedly throughout the biblical wisdom literature in a wealth of images and contexts.)

skill in wisdomIn other words, wisdom is not presented in Scripture as any sort of abstract edifice of thought, such as an ideology or an -ism but, rather, as personal and relational. I like the way Hebrew scholar Alan Lenzi puts it. When discussing Proverbs 8, Lenzi writes that wisdom is a personality; she is a “me” (Proverbs 8:22) who speaks at length in her own name, about having been created by God before the beginning of the world, about her primacy in nature, and about her delight in all human life. Lenzi concludes that wisdom is no “intellectual tool or abstract instrument.” She is, instead, a “personal presence” in the world. (Lenzi, “Proverbs 8:22-31: Three Perspectives on Its Composition,” Journal of Biblical Literature 125, no. 4, 2006: 687-714.)

Since our relationships with others give us a big clue as to whether the peace of God is present in them, the relationships we have with those who are assisting us toward our goals can help us discern if we are in the path of a wise how.

If the triune relationship that Lady Wisdom has with God, creation, and human beings is enjoyable, delightful, and pleasant, are those qualities present within biblical boundaries in our pursuit of a goal?

This is not to suggest that struggles, disappointments, setbacks, failures, and suchlike will not befall us. It is to suggest being conscious of what kind of fruit we are bearing through our relationships with those with whom we are traveling to reach a goal.

If your children are suffering due to your training schedule for running the marathon; if your marriage is falling apart because of the way you are pursuing that PhD; if your bull-in-a-china-shop method for getting a promotion is making enemies of fellow employees; if you’re running out of patience with your guitar instructor; if you have become chronically unhappy with your fiancé … You get the picture. Is it time to hit Pause and admit that a course correction is necessary?

This short article on a complicated topic probably evoked more questions than solutions. But maybe it’s a start.

When we mis-prioritize “goal” as being the main thing, it is easy to de-prioritze the essentiality of learning and applying a godly wisdom for getting there.

It is a governing theme of Scripture that God is particularly concerned with wisdom, and wisdom is to a large degree about method, about how we get somewhere. For the follower of Jesus – the supreme example of the peaceable, the personal, and relational – the way of wise how must be recognized and prioritized when traveling to get somewhere or something.

©2017 by Charles Strohmer

Images by permission of Creative Commons.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here, find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I post a new article. And, hey, if you really like this blog, tell a friend! Thank you.

WHAT IS WISDOM? part 2 of 2

creation artWhat is wisdom? Is it reserved for old age? Is it about pithy sayings, such as proverbs? Or perhaps it is that touch of cunning which gives certain people a clever understanding of situations that others would not have in a million years – Solomon’s ruling about a prostitute’s baby comes to mind (1 Kings 3). Certainly, the Bible’s view of “wisdom” would include such ideas. And as we saw in the previous post, wisdom, like love, faith, and truth, has been one of the great objects of human search throughout history.

So wisdom seems to be something other than merely the one or two ideas that we typically like to nail it down as. Which brings us back to this. In the posts that began this blog – a blog dedicated to wisdom – I offered examples of a key fact: The more territory you explore in the biblical wisdom literature, the more you see that what you thought you knew about wisdom expanding considerably.

In other words, wisdom is not so easily defined as we may think. Instead, wisdom is rather like a person. I mean, you can, for instance, define a human being as one thing, say chemically; but if that’s it, most people know that’s a pretty unsatisfactory answer. It leaves many questions unanswered.

Look at it this way, a person cannot be reduced to one or two roles. An adult can be a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter, a grandmother, a wife, an attorney, a musician, and so on. In other words, there is more to any one person than meets the eye. You’ve just got to look for it. The agency of wisdom is like that. To try to pin it down to any one or two things is reductionistic. The question “What is wisdom?”, then, like “What is truth?” or “What is love?”, is one of those big questions that defies an easy way of nailing down.

The seeking of wisdom is a lifelong process. You get it as you go along and you keep getting more of it as you keep seeking it. Because there is an increasing knowledge of wisdom as we go along, we must be cautious about trying to nail down to reductionistic definitions. I want us to keep that in mind, here, because now I’m going to break the rule and  offer a definition!

“Wisdom is a way of seeing life and living in it according to how you see it.” Or you could put it this way: “Wisdom is a way of making sense of the creation in order to life in it effectively (and it will affect what you think is effective living too).”

This helpful understanding of wisdom comes from British theologian and philosopher John Peck, a leading specialist in the wisdom literature, and you can find more about it in chapter five of our book Uncommon Sense: God’s Wisdom for Our Complex and Changing World.

I’m sharing this exception to the rule for at least two reasons. One, it seems to me that it is big enough to avoid being reductionsitic. Two, I’ve found it a handy tool for discerning different kinds of wisdom, which is a prominent theme in the New Testament – the wisdom of God and the wisdom of this world. In fact, I am so keen on this understanding of wisdom that when I teach about wisdom, I encourage people to take time to memorize it because I have seen the good fruit it can produce over time.

This Christian understanding of wisdom comes from a prominent way in which the Bible sees wisdom: as the way the world works. For example: “In wisdom,” says the Psalmist when speaking about the works of creation, “you [God] made them all” (Psalm 104:24). From the prophet Jeremiah: “God … founded the world by his wisdom” (10:12; 51:15). And in the wisdom literature itself: “By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations” (Proverbs 3:19).

building blocks (Artful Magpie)In other words, the whole universe functions by the wisdom of God. We see this emphasized in a peculiar passage in Proverbs 8:22-36, where “wisdom” is personified as if it where the very secret of the universe, as the craftsman at God’s side during the process of creation. (I wrote more about this here.) Therefore, says wisdom, “listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise.”

This text in Proverbs seems to be indicating, in part, that when God created the universe – with all its multifarious facets, with all the complex intricacies of its workings and its human beings – first of all there was a concept, or vision, that dominated and controlled, or made effective, that creative process. (This may be somewhat analogous to the vision that an artist has first, before putting paint to canvass.)

And the result is that the creation “stands up” as it were. It doesn’t exist like a cat and a dog fighting, which you can barely keep apart. It doesn’t exist like nitroglycerin, which, if you gave it a jar, might suddenly blow up, and you would never know when. Rather, the creation has stability, and this stability is orderly. There are rules on which it works. There’s a reliability and consistency to it, so that the same rules govern this earth which govern the farthest reaches of the galaxy.

That was in God’s mind as His wisdom, and it played a vital role in God bringing the world into being. “This means that when you look out on the world and touch it and use it, you are touching God’s own heart and mind. All the way through it you are touching a product of God’s character” (Uncommon Sense). Yes. It’s a gorgeous mystery. And the more we get into it, the wiser we become.

The problem is that there are other wisdoms, other ways, ways that are not God’s way of seeing the world and living in it. In the next post I want to share a funny story about the difference.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Helene Villenueve & Artful Magpie respectively (permission via Creative Commons)

WHAT IS WISDOM? part 1 of 2

exploringOnce a dutiful and thrifty peasant’s wife wrapped her shawl about her shoulders, took up her basket, and told her husband, “Otto, I’m leaving now to go over the hill to nurse my sister Anna. She’s down with the fever and her children need lookin’ after. I won’t be returnin’ for several days. Look after yourself. And remember, when the cattle dealer comes to buy our three cows, make sure you don’t strike a bargain with him unless you can get at least two hundred thalers for them.  Nothing less. Do you hear?”
    “For ‘eaven’s sake, woman, just go. Go ‘n peace. I will manage that!”
    “You, ‘ndeed,” said the woman. “You who are wont to do the most foolish things. I’m tellin’ you now, we ourselves will be very lean cows this winter without that money.” And having said that, she went on her way.  
    Two mornings later the cattle dealer came. When he had seen the cows, he said, “I’m  willing to pay two hundred thalers. They’re worth that. I will take the beasts away with me at once.”
    He unfastened their ropes and drove them out of the cowhouse, but just as the cattle dealer was leaving the husband said, “Wait. You must give me the two hundred thalers now, or I cannot let the cows go.”
    “True,” answered the cattle dealer, “but I have forgotten to buckle on my money belt this morning. Have no fear, however, you shall have security for my paying.”
    “And what shall that be,” Otto asked, “as you have nothing with you?”
    “But I have these three cows with me,” said the cattle dealer. “I will take two cows with me and leave one, and then you will have a good pledge.”
    The man saw the force of this and let the cattle dealer go away with two cows, thinking, “How pleased my wife will be when she finds how cleverly I have managed it!”

That parable from early 19th century European folklore makes us smile. How easily old Otto got rooked, we tell ourselves. A fool and his money are soon parted. We know better. We are wiser than that guy. But why? Why do we think that? Well, we recognize which one of the parable’s three main characters is the fool, which is the con artist, and which is wise. And we’re pretty sure we’re like her.

At heart, the parable is about wisdom and folly. But what is wisdom? It’s such an important question, because when we act with wisdom we are kept from being foolish. For such an easily asked question, however, it’s not so easily answered. Take a stab at it yourself and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Yet we need an answer because wisdom is a big deal, both according to the Bible, which tells us to seek wisdom, and from the witness of history, where we see that wisdom has been one of the chief objects of human search as far back Eden. Wisdom is more precious than rubies and yields more profits than silver and gold, the book of Proverbs explains. Nothing you desire can compare with her, we are told in its pages. Therefore seek wisdom.

Like our longings for love, faith, truth, happiness, and freedom, wisdom is a deeply constituted human desire. Nearly a third of the Jewish Bible, the Writings, contains wisdom literature, and it is there that we find the well known first principle: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (e.g., Proverbs 9:10; Job 28:28). As David Ford, Britain’s leading wisdom theologian, writes: “In the Bible itself, apart from the desire for God there is no desire that is more passionately and loudly encouraged than the desire for wisdom” (Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love).

discoveryIn the Christian tradition, the New Testament indicates that from childhood Jesus grew in wisdom, and a close reading of much of Matthew’s and John’s Gospels will disclose Jesus’ wisdom-based way teaching about life and relationships (see: Ben Witherington, Jesus the Sage: The Pilgrimage of Wisdom). First Corinthians chapters one through four includes a sophisticated argument from St. Paul – a rabbi trained in the wisdom tradition – about the wisdom of the Cross. And much of the epistle of James is committed to a wisdom agenda.

Other traditions have also seen wisdom as a hallmark human concern. In conversations with his disciples, Buddha was known for his wisdom, as was Confucius, who, five hundred years before Christ, emphasized a practical moral and ethical wisdom that helped to change Chinese society.

The philosophers of ancient Greece were known as lovers of wisdom (philo = love; sophia = wisdom), and for at least one of them, Aristotle, practical wisdom (phronesis) entailed taking virtuous decisions that led to living well, including in political life. And in Islam, the Qur’an explains that God grants wisdom, and its readers are exhorted to pray for wisdom, as their Bibles exhort Jews and Christians to do.

The human race has a long history with wisdom, and it’s a history which discloses that wisdom is not confined to any one culture or people; instead, wisdom cries to be heard in every time and place. As Emerson wrote: “Wisdom has been poured into us as blood.”

Still, none of this answers the important question: What is wisdom? I offered some answers, beginning here, as this blog was launched. But as i said in those posts, that did not exhaust the possible answers, because the closer you explore the historic wisdom tradition, the more you discover more about wisdom than you thought you knew. At least, that has been my experience.

So in the next post I want to offer some further possibilities to: What is wisdom? For it is in knowing and practicing wisdom more fully and consistently that we become less foolish actors on this great stage God has created for us.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Tartarin2009 & Seattle Municipal Archives respectively (permission via Creative Commons)

WISDOM AND INSIGHT part 2 of 3

It has been said that the first lesson of history is that we don’t learn from it. Perhaps the second lesson is Mark Twain’s witticism that history may not repeat itself but it sure does rhyme. In any case, one of the things I am assuming on this blog is that with the agency of wisdom there is an ineluctable sense both of the timeless and of the timely. We have considered the former here. In this post I want us to consider the latter in terms of history, especially as wisdom engages with the practical, everyday purposes in human activity. That is, she lives and moves and has her being where people interact and events are manifested. There, wisdom desires the present to write the future by learning wisely from the past.

wisdom insightInsight is vital to the process of wise historical development, and in the Hebrew Bible insight is as inseparable from wisdom as a river is from water. The word “insight” denotes the kind of perceiving, discerning, or understanding that comes through focused observation and learning. It is often indicated by the word bina. Proverbs 1:2, for example, explains that the proverbs of Solomon are good for attaining bina (insight) and hokma (wisdom). Proverbs 4:5 reads: Get bina, get hokma, and verse seven reads: Hokma is supreme; therefore get hokma. Though it cost all you have, get bina.” Proverbs 2:2-3, 5:1, 21:30, and other passages in the wisdom literature also insist on this marriage of wisdom and insight.

What I want to call attention to is insight from learned lessons. Much, if not most, of the wisdom writings that we have today, whether of Egypt, Israel, or elsewhere from the old-world Middle East, originated in an oral tradition that resulted from the sages lengthy investigations into creation/nature and human experience. From this in-depth research, the wisdom teachers gained insight about creational laws (laws of nature) and about patterns of human behavior. By “using their powers of observation and the ability to think rationally,” writes Leo Perdue, “the sages sought to understand God, social institutions, and the moral life through their reflections on creation and human experience, including their own” (In Search of Wisdom; 76). Insight, then, we may conclude, with its depths of discernment, is not usually apparent in naive experiences of life.

From their studied observations the sages gained insight into the regularities of life and the act-consequence connection. Simply stated: What you sow, you reap. Over time, such insights were developed into instruction on a wide variety of topics, such as: gaining knowledge from the created order of things; cultivating moral conduct, prudent behavior, and virtue; recognizing principles for living well; understanding the outcomes of one’s choices; and recognizing contrasts, as between the wise and the foolish, the just and the unjust, the good and the bad.

Insight about such matters in the book of Proverbs is often artfully crafted in pithy sayings such as maxims, epigrams, adages, or proverbs, intentionally brief in length, compact in meaning, easily intelligible to their audience, memorable, and every now and then delivering a graphic kick; e.g., Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion; Food gained by fraud tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with a mouth full of gravel (Proverbs 11:22; 20:17). (The sages also honestly accounted for the hard facts of life’s irregularities and contradictions. For instance, Proverbs indicate that a crook may prosper, that a good person may suffer, that a bad person may rule, that a person with wisdom may not act wisely, and so forth. The entire book of Job, in fact, we could say, is about when the rules don’t apply.)

In the next post we will discuss what has been called the “great brooding” process that is necessary for insight to emerge.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by archer 10 Dennis (permission via Creative Commons)

THE WISDOM TRADITION: WHAT IS IT? part 2 of 2

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

WisdomIn the previous post, the first in this series on opening up the wisdom tradition, I explained why we may have settled for far too thin an understanding of the wisdom tradition, like playing the song of wisdom on only one note. And I promised to share some of my homework with you, my discoveries about the “much more” of the tradition. That will begin here, where I thought it might be helpful just to list some significant but little known facts about the historic wisdom tradition.

To me, these are some of the songs the ancient sages played and want us to hear today. I’ll attempt to play these “songs” in the following posts. Do let me know if any of these surprise you, and why. Or just ponder them and try to hear how they might be speaking to you in fresh, practical ways today.

The wisdom tradition and its literature:

  • Is not partisan, sectarian, doctrinaire, or dictatorial; rather, it is for all people everywhere;
  • Is not nationalistic but intercultural and international;
  • Is fundamentally about peace; in particular, it shows reasonable and responsible ways for building cooperation and peace among diverse peoples;
  • Is not about religious instruction; instead, it focuses on practical, everyday issues and concerns, on what today is often called “secular” life and activity;
  • Does not present wisdom as an abstract entity, or as ideological, or as any sort of -ism but as personal and relational;
  • Reveals wisdom as a highly respected legal arbiter in places of authority in the old-world Middle East;
  • Was essential in the education that political advisers of ancient kings received;
  • Played a huge role in international relations, foreign policy, and diplomacy;
  • Accepts the order and regularity of life, its certainties and its predictability, while not denying disorder and irregularity – the dysfunction, brokenness, and sometimes hard cruelties, tragedies, and meaninglessness of life;
  • Shows that we learn wisdom from one another;
  • Presents wisdom as a way toward cooperative and peaceable relationships and activities;
  • Was central to the teaching of Jesus in Roman occupied Palestine.

This series of posts seeks to help us to hear such “songs” of wisdom. For the sages who gave us the tradition seek to involve us in much more than memorizing pithy adages and clever maxims or in simply knowing the content of the wisdom texts. As classic as those songs are, the sages played many others.

The heart of the matter, as I see it, is that the sages who gave us the tradition have a particular way of a way of reasoning about life in the world, about relationships and activities. And that way of reasoning is one of peace. But not just any peace. As the book of Proverbs puts it, the paths of wisdom are paths of shalom. That means something special, and we’ll pick this up in the next post.

THE WISDOM TRADITION: WHAT IS IT? part 1 of 2

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Wisdom TraditionTruth be told, any single answer to “What is the wisdom tradition?” will probably be inadequate. The problem arises because the closer you look into the tradition, the more you see that what you thought you knew about it wasn’t enough. For instance, when our thoughts turn to the wisdom tradition, many of us immediately think of its literature, especially the book of Proverbs. Fair enough. But as important as Proverbs is to the tradition, the tradition cannot be reduced to that book. This is because the sages (wisdom teachers) who gave us the tradition seek to involve us in much more than memorizing clever adages and maxims. So “the book of Proverbs” is not a sufficient answer to “what is the wisdom tradition?”

Even when other historic wisdom books are added to the list, such as Job and Ecclesiastes (from the Jewish Bible), or (from the Catholic Bible) Sirach and the Wisdom of Solomon, we still lack a sufficient answer. There is much more to the wisdom tradition than its books or even than knowing the content of those books.

The “much more” emerges by beginning to get under the skin, so to speak, of the tradition. This entails more than just comprehending that Proverbs is filled with clever adages and maxims or that the book of Job is about a guy who endured a long period of horrible suffering but still believed in God. In other words, this is not about just “figuring out” the plot of a text so that you can retell it to others. Instead, the task would, in large part, entail closely engaging with the wisdom writings over time.

This would mean trying to discover, for instance: why the actual proverbs in the book of Proverbs don’t begin until chapter ten; or why many of the proverbs are contrasts, and why some of those contrasts don’t seem to make sense; or why the author of Ecclesiastes is such a jaded sage; or what theologies informed the different councils of Job’s friends and why did those theologies miss the mark when it came to justifying Job’s suffering. Further, what kind of take-aways do such discoveries have for our lives and work today? This is just a glimpse at a vast range of discoveries awaiting close engagement with the texts (helped along by some good works of wisdom scholarship).

The “much more” that I am hinting at will also slowly reveal itself in conversations with others about the texts. These could be conversations such as you could begin on this blog (see “Leave a reply”), or like the study group I meet with regularly at a coffee shop. Or they could be those “conversations with an author” that can occur in the margins when reading a good book that challenges your thinking about wisdom.

I’m not trying to make your head hurt here! And I’m not asking you to do any of this. That’s not the point of this series of blog posts. (Although, heart on sleeve, I do hope that these posts inspire you to get with the program! But that will be up to you.) I merely wanted to point out that settling for far too thin a description of the wisdom tradition is like trying to play a song on only one note.

People who have been closely engaging with the tradition for a long time – and I am one of those oddities – are regularly amazed at how the tradition keeps opening itself up, both to the discovery of more of its basic notions and in their relevance for today. We are not claiming anything out of the ordinary. Like people dedicated to any field, it just comes from having explored the territory for so long. To return to the music metaphor, like a pianist, after awhile you get used to “just playing.” You’re not thinking about the basics. You don’t stop first before your concert to remind yourself what the scale is. You’re just up on stage jammin’. But a musician may get asked, “How did you play that?” And then teasing out an answer will take some explaining. Teasing out some insights about the wisdom tradition is where we’re headed in this series of posts.

The Sages. One of my keen interests has been in the sages, the ancient wisdom teachers who developed the tradition. Understanding the founders is key to understanding the tradition. In particular, I have been trying to gain insights into what the sages were on about, especially how they thought, how they looked at life, why they looked at life that way, and what that might beneficially mean for us today. The process has helped me immensely in seeing some often overlooked core features of the tradition and in concluding that wisdom means much more than I ever thought it did.

So I now hear the sages playing some inspiring old tunes and I’ve been trying to learn how to play them today. They are variations on the theme of building cooperation and peace amid diverse cultures – from family life to foreign policy – through what I call the diplomacy of wisdom. On this blog I want to us to try start hearing that music not only today but for today’s adversarial and broken world. The songs are peaceable, relational, and for everyone. We’ll begin this with the next post.