My parents live in San Antonio, so I drive through Dallas at least 4 times a year on my way to or from JBU. Each visit, I always try to stop for a few hours at the Dallas Theological Seminary library.
Their library is probably the ugliest library I have ever seen. Everything in the building is old and outdated, and its radical color scheme must have felt very at home in some sad past decade. Their doctoral students use study carrels lined with a strikingly ugly shade of pink. Ugh.
But though the aesthetics of Dallas Seminary’s library may be the best reason I could give to not be a dispensationalist, I make it a priority to visit whenever I’m in town.
It is in this ugliest of libraries that I most clearly see the beauty of learning and curiosity.
Each visit, I focus on one topic (usually missions) and make my way to the couple of shelves with those kinds of books. Glancing through the titles, I choose the first five or so that most peak my curiosity and sit down at a table to skim them.
I’ll read whatever seems most interesting—usually just one chapter or subsection of a book. And if I feel like it, I might spend an hour or two delving into one random idea I stumble across, maybe even walking over to the periodicals section to find some referenced journal article.
For me, those hours in Dallas are like a breath of fresh air. Sitting next to ugly pink study carrels, skimming through random books, devouring knowledge; I feel alive. I feel free and unrestrained, excited about learning and knowledge in a new way.
At JBU, I tend to spread myself thin and have little spare time. Plus, I try hard to get good grades. So when I’m reading for a class and run across an intriguing idea I’d like to explore, I usually don’t.
With limited time, I have to choose between studying what a professor wants and what I do. The grades, quizzes and essays end up deciding, not my curiosity.
It’s not that what a professor wants me to learn isn’t worth knowing (it usually is, and that’s why I’m taking the class), but there’s a difference between learning important things and learning intriguing things.
It’s kind of like how some distinguish between crafts and art. Crafts have beauty, but it’s the same thing over and over (think a thousand mass-produced blankets). Art has inspiration, sharing a part of the artist’s very person with the observer. It’s a whole other kind of beautiful.
Dallas isn’t the only place that I get to set my curiosity free, but it’s there that I see inquiry most clearly happen. Because five hours away from JBU in such an ugly library, the beauty of learning is most apparent.
Don’t worry–I’m not going to stop doing assigned readings or learning what professors want me to learn. But it’s my “free swim” learning that makes it worth it.
Get good grades, yes. But don’t let a syllabus stop you from learning. It’s too beautiful to not see.