Christianity and Giftedness

When I was putting together my book The Upside Down World ~ A Book of Wisdom in Progress last summer, I went back and forth and back and forth about including an essay I had originally published here titled “How Being Gifted Means Being Different”. It was one of the most popular posts I had done. And many people had contacted me since I put it up to thank me for writing it. However, it didn’t seem to fit. The book is very grounded in my faith and the post is about being gifted. The two seem incongruent. But every time I went to take it out, there was that little tug that I’ve learned to listen to telling me to leave it be. So I did without really know why it was there. And I’m sure that those who read it wondered what it was doing there as well.

It wasn’t until some time later that I began to understand why it was there. The fact is that the church as a whole does not do a good job of making room for or embracing those parts of the body which are smarter and more creative than the norm. We see this in those parts of the church which fiercely oppose science and will even claim that those who engage in the work of science are doing the devil’s work. It is present in those who insist that a “plain reading” of scripture is good enough and refuse to consider context, history, translation or any of the other issues which affect the way that we read and understand the text. It shows up in how churches deal with their members who produce art, literature or music. This past fall, I talked with a lot of pastors and uniformly they told me that they have a policy of not supporting the work their creative members produce. (I talked about my frustration with this practice here – The Sheeple Are Leading the Flock.)

This animosity also floats on a the good number of verses which seem to speak critically of those who are learned or wise over those who are more simple:

At that very time He [Jesus] rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.” Luke 10:21

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 1 Corinthians 3:19-20

For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” i Corinthians 1:19

Personally I have heard texts like this used with absolute arrogance by those who wish to declare themselves superior in the eyes of God for their narrow-minded, anti-intellectual ways. Which right there is probably a pretty good sign of someone whose relationship with God is a long-distance one, but whatever. The reality is that there often is a deep suspicion of those who are particularly smart or creative in the church. And to a certain extent it’s not hard to understand why. There have always been those scientists that like to loudly declare that their discoveries have somehow eliminated God. And creative types do have a tendency to push boundaries until they are broken and shattered on the floor.

However, God has clearly purposed that there always be a certain number of people who fall outside of the norms. This may seem like a small issue, but scripture tells us that the church is a body. It needs all it’s members and parts to function properly. The presence of those who are unusually smart or creative is part of God’s provision for the body. Those people are put there for a reason. A church that makes itself an unpleasant, constraining and unwelcome place for those with unusually high abilities to be is actively rejecting part of the provision that God is trying to provide it.

But if you actually listen to those who are high ability, their stories demonstrate that outside of those places where they are surrounded by other high ability people, they experience an enormous amount of rejection, misunderstanding and poor treatment. And the church is often among the worst offenders. People who have looked seriously at the stories of those who leave the Christian faith always note the prevalence of those who are very smart or artistic or creative types among these stories. And the church’s attempts to constrain and limit activities in which their gifts can find their fullest expression along with unwelcoming, suspicious attitudes are often the culprits.

I quoted some of the scripture verses that people use to justify their anti-intellectual attitudes above. But as an unusually smart person, I have to say that those verses don’t mean the same thing to me as they might to others. I’m glad that God has left things hidden for me to find. He gave me a brain that thrives and finds pleasure in the seeking, the puzzling and the pondering. That was awful kind of him to provide such provision to me. I’m glad that those things that other intelligent or wise people sometimes arrogantly hold out as the final answers are undermined by God. If what other human minds can conceive of represented the limits of what there is to know and understand, that would be awfully disappointing. As someone who has an irrepressible urge to seek out the novel and new, I’m glad that God is telling me that he’ll continually overturn what has already been put into place by the wise and the learned. I’d be very disappointed if what has already been known or thought was so ironclad that there was nothing left to do but just accept it and move on. I’m also glad that others who don’t share my particular set of peculiarities have also been well provisioned on their way as well.

Not only do those verses not mean the same thing to me as they do to those who like to quote them against the intellectual and creative, but there are so many other verses which let me know that I and my abnormal brain are welcomed by God. Some of them are the sly, don’t make any sense stories of dishonest stewards or daughter-in-laws posing as prostitutes on the side of the road where what is really being praised is crafty, creative thinking. Many of them are verses that tell me straight out the goodness of exercising the gifts and drives that God has purposes in me:

The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge ~ Proverbs 15:14

“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge” ~Proverbs 1:22

Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil ~ 1 Kings 3:9

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge ~ Hosea 4:6

The bible itself is an amazing gift to someone with an open, inquiring mind. Last summer there were times that I was stuck in my house with no car, television or internet and had read every book in the house. But although I’ve read it more than once, it’s impossible to pick up the bible and not find something new and interesting to explore. I can open it almost anywhere and find something that makes me think, “that doesn’t make sense. Why is it there? What does it mean?” And off I go.

And then there’s Jesus. He was like me – not properly trained or credentialed. (“How did this man get such learning without having studied?”) He was always going off by himself to a solitary place – a very strong sign of an introverted personality type. (Introversion tends to be the default position of the highly intelligent.) And his approach to the problems of faith and love were brilliant. Most people don’t fully understand how grounded in the scriptures Jesus’ words were. He hardly said anything that didn’t refer back to something written in the OT. But he used the words of scripture in ways that were novel, creative and challenging to those who (much like many people do today) used scriptures mainly as a weapon and set of rules. When someone tried to trap him – “should we pay taxes to Caesar?” – his answer complete with a visual aid was unexpected and brilliant. Or that time they brought him the woman who had committed adultery. Before answering he bent down and doodled in the dirt. Why? To think, I’m sure. To use that brain he had trained in the traditional Hebrew way of meditation (holding two seemingly conflicting ideas together until the connections and solutions become clear) to find a way not to deny the law but to also demonstrate God’s love and forgiveness. To turn the accusers into the repentant. That’s brilliance at work there. But contrary to the assumptions of some who assume that Jesus just magically knew everything, he stooped down to think. Just like I often do. (The thinking, not the stooping part that is!)

So in the end, I believe that this is why every time I went to pull that essay on giftedness out, that small movement of the spirit held my hand. Because there is a place for me and others like me who fall outside the norm on the high end of things in God’s kingdom. And it doesn’t require denying or minimizing who he has purposed me to be in the least.

*Originally posted June 2012. Sorry for another repeat! BTW you should go get a copy of my book. It’s really good. And I need glasses. 😉

8 thoughts on “Christianity and Giftedness

  1. I have never attended such a church, but really it is not the church’s job to reject anyone, gifted or otherwise outside the mainstream. I had never thought of them rejecting gifted people, especially since so many gifted people have contributed to the church through art, music, literature, etc.

  2. Yes, I have been rebuked many times for seeking to increase my understanding of things, both sacred and secular, by those who “don’t need all those books” and just need their bibles and Jesus in their hearts. The problem is their “Jesus” often turns out to be more like a small child’s “invisible friend” who is always on their side when there is a conflict with others or one of life’s challenges to be met.

    The rise of democracy has brought us many blessings; but everything in this less-than-perfect world of ours seems to have a dark side. Populist anti-intellectualism and an elitist arrogance in many academics who are as guilty of dogmatic absolutism as the most ignorant bible-thumper seems to be with us to stay until the end of time.

    The cause of both anti-intellectualism and academic arrogance is the narcissistic disordered ego (sin) and its most common offense/defense, attempting to build itself up by tearing others down rather than encouraging others to strive to reach their full potential, which increases the common good in which we all have a share.

    We make our own heavens and hells most of the time.

    “If we live good lives, the times are also good. As we are, such are the times.” ~Saint Augustine

    “Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance.” ~Saint Augustine

    He has showed you, O, man, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
    To act justly and to love mercy
    And to walk humbly with your God.
    Micah 6:8

  3. I experienced such rejection a little bit in my earlier years. Whenever someone needed some painting or other project done, they were happy to let me volunteer. But when it came to leading a Bible study or producing an original skit, the comments were less than encouraging.

    But, still, the few times God was able to use my creativity turned out to be a huge blessing for myself and others. At 22, I was asked to give a teaching on the Prodigal Son for a women’s retreat. It was the first presentation of the weekend, and nearly everyone there was extremely familiar with that passage of scripture. I agonized for about 30 minutes on how I would present the story in a fresh way. Then it came to me…something that seemed so obvious, but I had never heard anyone do before. I think it took me all of an hour to type out my notes.

    What I presented that night set the tone for the entire weekend. God’s loving presence swept though that place and changed many hearts. One woman approached me afterward and asked for a copy of my notes. God had spoken to her during the message about how she should communicate with her unsaved son. She kept those notes tucked into her Bible a long time after that and often thanked me for trusting God’s divine inspiration. Creativity is indeed a gift from God, and He desires to use it to build the Kingdom.

  4. I just found your blog yesterday, and I’m so glad I did!

    After reading this one particular post, one honest question I have is: have you ever looked into Catholicism? The Catholic Church is incredibly diverse, but there has always been a strong tradition of encouraging rigorous intellectual inquiry on God, humanity, the nature of the Church, and the underling philosophical issues. I’ve never encountered so many gifted people in one place as I did when I was studying in Rome!

    Anyway, that’s just a thought. It’s great to find a blog written from an intellectual, Christian, and feminine perspective, so thanks for writing! 🙂

    1. Funny you should say that – I was actually raised Roman Catholic. In fact, I am grateful to have been raised Roman Catholic precisely because it did give me a grounding in a more historical, more intellectually rigorous form of Christianity. Unfortunately (and this is my opinion – not the truth sent down from on high, of course), it seems to me that when the Catholic church gets a hold of an intellectual – particularly an intellectual woman – his or her work has a tendency to disappear into the void. Catholic theology is read by very, very few people and is often restrained by the need to maintain consistency with the church’s existing teachings. So, I am glad for my time in the church, but when I felt God call me out of the church about 20 years ago, I never really looked back.

      But I’m glad you found my little upside down world here in the far reaches of the internet! Welcome! 🙂

  5. I would like to share the story of the man who saved me from rejecting the church. I was that child–the one that nobody wanted in their class, their clique, or their church. Teachers did not feel comfortable with me, either. Usually, they would ignore my raised hand and refuse to let me answer questions, leaving me with a pale, numb raised hand by the end of the day. But one Sunday School teacher, just ONE, looked at me one day and said, “I am really glad that you are in my class. I like to listen to your insights.” He was the first person who ever said that he was glad that I was around. He let me talk in class. He engaged my questions. That attitude saved me from giving up on the church, and at that point, giving up on life. (life had been rough for me as a kid) Thank you, Norman Black. (not sure if he is still around)
    Meanwhile I found your blog while looking for resources for giftedness among Christian women. I am happy that you have done some of the work for me. My favorite author is George Eliot, and she was originally very devout but ended up leaving the church. Okay, that sounded like a non-sequitur, but it isn’t. I am working with highly gifted women, and I know that they are a precious resource that is misunderstood by the church. Maybe I will email you.

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