- ConclusionOur Pedagogical Task
The Greek mythological tradition offers the story of Sisyphus, a man who tried to cheat death by literally putting Death in chains. As long as Death was chained, no human being could die. Sisyphus rebelled against the gods. He attempted to share creative power and challenge their moral ambiguities. As punishment (or perhaps blessing?), the gods consigned him to push a rock up a mountain. However, the rock would always roll back just before he reached the summit. Ironically, Sisyphus was given superior strength and fortitude to carry out an impossible task. Or, we might say his task was more than impossible; it was truly absurd. But, it is how he faced this absurdity that intrigues me. Sisyphus was constantly confronted with both his power and his futility. His aspirations and his frustrations pushed him toward a difficult process of becoming.
In his essay "The Myth of Sisyphus," philosopher Albert Camus questioned what we should do about the absurdity of life. The world presents us with an absurd condition. Our need to understand the world collides with the unreasonableness of the world. Camus saw Sisyphus as a metaphor for the endless toil and futility of modern lives. We work daily at repeating tasks that are absurd in their own way. But the tragedy, Camus asserted, is in the rare moments when we become conscious of it.1
Our meditations here on the task of theological education in times of crisis have emerged from a collective consciousness about the absurdity of our times, which are times of sociopolitical instability and economic inequality, times of xenophobia and racist ideologies, times of changing student bodies and disappearing tenure-tracks, and times of ecological disaster and nuclear proliferation. To be honest, theological education in times of crisis feels a bit like a Sisyphean task. As [End Page 189] one scholar puts it, our postmodern condition "is just the cold recognition, after years of radical aspiration, that there is no breaking free of the systems that contain us."2 Are our struggles really meaningless? Are we burdened by the weight of becoming conscious of the absurdity of this world?
In the end, Camus proposes that absurdity does not demand our deaths. Instead, it requires revolt. I think he was partly right; absurdity may not demand our literal deaths, but something must die. Paulo Freire's theory of conscientization strikes me as both a practice of revolt and a practice of death. It represents the death of willful ignorance and imagined innocence. It signifies the death of ways of life that diminish human flourishing and growth. It also means acknowledging that as students and educators, we are shaped by teachers, disciplines, and schools of thought that assumed a world we no longer occupy (or perhaps never occupied).
Thankfully, conscientization offers us the opportunity to acknowledge our limitations. I am reminded of one of my intellectual predecessors, the late theologian Edward Farley. In one of my graduate school courses, Farley reflected on his journey in theological education. He argued that as academics, we are too often trained in ways that run counter to the immediate situations and interests of our lives. We are taught to imitate scholars, but in so doing, our academic pursuit of theology, "obscures its primary meaning, the critical and creative thinking of the situations of life and world."3 In his view, a flourishing pedagogy for theological education should focus on contemplation, reflection, and thinking about the actual practices of people's lives. We do not serve our academic structures; rather, we must build what is necessary for generative life and thought.
In this way, our goal is not merely to instrumentalize our learning for the sake of producing something in the world. Freire's intent, after all, was not to furnish his readers with a comprehensive methodology for all times. The idea of master narratives and theories perpetuates the colonization of knowledge. Freire's work leans into the power of collective and plural knowledge. It takes up the work of ongoing revision, of cultivating a revolt against our own internalized structures of value and intellectualism. Liberation is not a fixed goal, but an ongoing...