Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Perhaps you recognize the above slope-intercept form of a linear equation, where m is the slope of the line and b is the y-intercept, from high school Algebra. The math I learned in high school Algebra and other high school and college math, although those courses were over thirty years ago, is quickly returning to my dura mater as I tutor high school English Language Arts, Integrated Algebra, Geometry, and Algebra 2/Trigonometry.

To supplement my part-time income, I started tutoring part-time a few months ago. I tutor students in their home for thirty hours, two to three hours per session. I am currently tutoring two students. I am tutoring a ninth grader in English Language Arts and Algebra and an eleventh grader in English Language Arts, Geometry, and Algebra 2/Trigonometry.

I find tutoring personally rewarding. I confess that I experience a bit of a rush when I witness one of my students understand, for the first time, a difficult or complex idea. I feel satisfied when I observe one of them complete a writing assignment or math problem without my assistance. I am proud when they demonstrate proficiency.

Tutoring English Language Arts has been a no brainer. My education has been very language based, including the study of Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Greek, reading countless pages of Church History and Theology, and writing too many papers to remember, including a Doctor of Ministry Paper. My practice of ministry has included writing weekly sermons, monthly newsletter articles, and various types of correspondence.

Tutoring math, on the other hand, has taken a bit of review. For the past twenty-five years, I have not used much math in the practice of my ministry. There is the occasional budget, or calculating how much paint or carpet is needed to refurbish a room, but little call for linear equations. I confess that I have had to engage in a bit of review to stay a step ahead of my students. As I have reviewed, however, I have been amazed how much of what I learned over thirty years ago is quickly coming back.

Ever since I took Algebra in eighth grade, I have loved and excelled in math, and in high school also loved and excelled in Chemistry and Physics. I left math and the sciences behind, however, to pursue ministry. Sometimes I regret that decision.

Ministry is almost entirely a shade of gray, so nuanced that we may do well or poorly but never completely succeed or fail. Math, on the other hand, is primarily black and white. While there may be more than one way to solve a complex problem, almost every problem has an answer, and that answer is either right or wrong.

Even though math is somewhat an exact science, there is enough mystical beauty and symmetry in it to feed partially my desire for transcendence. From the distribution of twin primes, to the irrational value of pi and phi, to the Fibonacci sequence, I see enough of the awesome complexity and order of nature displayed in math to convince me that there is a higher and deeper dimension to our world that I experience as divinity.


Paul Rack said...

Nice note. You cause me to regret my mathematical illiteracy/innumeracy. I maxed out of Algebra II in like 11th grade (barely passing) and never looked back.

John Edward Harris said...

We all have different gifts. Thanks for your comment.