Friday, March 6, 2015

Information literacy and fluency

James McGrath, at his site on Patheos has asked a good question as he often does.
Is the term “information fluency” meaningful to most blog readers? If not, how would you articulate the wise use of resources to gather, digest, and do things with sources of information? How do you seek to model good practices when it comes to informing yourself about anything?
In these online days how do you tell the good from the bad when it comes to informing yourself? How did we tell such when we were younger? And how do we tell others what we have done - footnotes, references, etc?

I have been asking myself if I am a writer or a reader these days. I've concluded that I read first and write as one who learns. But I am skeptical about everything that I read. Much more I am looking for good questions than definitive answers. Learning about things is a process of inner formation. Your thoughts, associations, and logic are formed by what you take in. We are what we eat, as Feuerbach noted, and we must therefore be careful of what we take into ourselves. Some books are to be digested, some not. Yet how do we tell, when the cupboard is bare, what is appropriate as a starting point.

It is common to start with a conclusion and call it faith. That is a precipitous strategy. Whatever love you think you know, it cannot be expressed so. The rationale for the strategy of starting with a conclusion is twofold, 1 fear, 2 power. We fear to be ignorant, but we are anyway, however many conclusions we have memorized, and we desire power, the power to protect ourselves, our family, our culture, our upbringing, from injury, and therefore power to exercise over others. Both these desires are characteristics of sin. And sin leads to more sin, and ultimately to death of the inner larder. The so called 'information' has formed us internally as self-deluded, self-important, and self-centered. The buttresses become more and more solid around the starting point, an inner hardening that is troubled by what is different.

Not a happy state of affairs. How does one get around it? Test everything. Proceed via a method that calls all conclusions into question. Conclusions are not love. They cannot bear anything, let alone all things. Think about it: conclusions are not long-suffering of someone else's search, they are often unkind to the life of others, they brag and puff themselves up, they can make others uncomfortable, they seek their own support becoming even more puffed up in the process, bulwarks not to be questioned lest the whole edifice collapse to the shame of the inner mind. Need I go on? Have I provoked you yet?

But you say, there is a problem. How can we know anything then? It is not that we need to know, but that we need to be known. Once we are known, then we can get down to the business of learning with confidence. Such learning rejoices in the struggles of others to learn and supports them in the process, and rebukes them also if necessary.

That's how I deal with learning (I hope). It was not always so. I know about fear, and the desire for power, but I also have learned about discipline, the daily hard work that must be loved to be successful at its appointed task, whether to read carefully or to learn how to play the violin, as James's son is doing and as my son has done and continues to do. Such discipline brings inner formation, vulnerability, and a healthy fear that is not afraid of its foundation because it has one.

The examples are not perfect, for we are always subject to the possibility of self-seeking, self-protection, and the resulting exploitation and violence that must be tempered with something else, almost the unnameable. I have my prejudices and the razor's edge questions that I must hold in tension because to answer one way is to deny the bootstrap of my own faith and to answer the other is to deny what I may see in others that I should not deny.

Who will deliver me from such tension, from this hunger, from the negatives we observe when we also see the beauty and fullness, the prodigality of life. Let it be forbidden that we should rape prodigality with our wantonness. It is forbidden - but we must beware with the right sort of wariness. Test and see that things are really as good as they are, and be generous and not a skin-flint.

There, I said all that without naming the unnameable. This is true inner formation, when the information that is in you is a living word that creates, corrects, leads, and joys in your gifts for the benefit of others.

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