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Trigonometry during Lent

I look out at the world through your transparent face ~ John Geddes

Last week, I visited my brother in New York City because John turned thirty years old. Every birthday is a cause for celebration, but thirty is especially momentous. Stephanie Paulsell, who teaches at Harvard, recently wrote that birthdays ending in a zero can “unsettle” us (“Faith Matters,” Christian Century Feb 20, 2013, 41). She notes that legendary spiritual thinkers, from Thomas Merton to Dorothy Day to Virginia Woolf, have used the arrival of a major birthday as an opportunity to reflect on the simple yet profound question, “Who am I?”

So it is interesting to consider the tradition of the church that Jesus was thirty-years old when tested in the wilderness. Frederick Buechner believes that, after being baptized by John in the river Jordan, he went off alone into the wilderness where he spent forty days asking himself questions about what it meant to be Jesus (Whistling in the Dark, 74-75). During Lent, Christians are supposed to ask the same: Who am I?

On my Lenten journey, I take inspiration from my brother. As part of my visit, I had the opportunity to watch him teach a high school trigonometry class. As someone who thinks about abstract questions (like “Who am I?”) on a regular basis, it was gratifying to compute a clear answer. Right triangles have angles and you can find the length of the sides; the tangent measure is the opposite side over the adjacent. It will always, always be.

But I learned something even more gratifying: my brother is a brilliant teacher. He was at the top of his game, interacting with students, professionally and personally, moving the class along and yet enjoying the process. He said to me after wards, “No matter what you do, you should have fun!”

Who am I? It may not be as clear cut as a trigonometry equation, yet the answer should have something to do with joy, with purpose, and with fun.

About Andrew Taylor-Troutman

I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are silly and poignant or profound and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. Stories about my son, Sam, and the congregation I serve, New Dublin Presbyterian Church. Each in its own way, these personal narratives shed light on the great story that God is writing with humankind and all of creation.


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