That Is How You Become Smart

I was looking at the moon last night, and for the first time in fifty three, years of life wondered why some portions of it are darker than others. I suppose the difference is caused by lunar landscape features, light reflecting differently off plains and mountains, but I may be wrong. What struck me is that over 53 years of living, I had never thought to ask the question.

In 1995, Hope Presbyterian Church hosted a conference featuring James Montgomery Boice. Dr. Boice was an evangelical leader of tremendous grace and skill, pastor of Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church, and featured speaker on a broadly heard radio program.

He was not only a gifted communicator, he was, it was clear, a very smart man. He was not one, it should be noted, who used his intelligence as a perch from which to look down upon others. He was the paradigm of the Christian gentleman.

I soon learned that in addition to a clear abundance of intellectual gifts, he was smart because he was curious. He would have asked about the moon much, much earlier.

After the conference, I drove Dr. Boice to Tampa to catch a train to return to Philadelphia. Along the way, he asked many questions about the places we passed. Questions I had never thought to ask, and questions, therefore, for which I had no answers.

I told my kids later that this is how one gets smart. But asking lots of questions.

And by reading.

On that same trip, Dr. Boice told me that he was beginning to re-read Will and Ariel Durant’s 11-volume world history set The Story of Civilization.

This was his second time reading it.

He did not tell me this to impress me. I was impressed, anyway.

I’m a late bloomer. By the time Dr. Boice had reached my age, he was nearing the end of his life due to the sudden and overwhelming onslaught of liver cancer. But I’m learning to ask questions, and I’m learning to read (not Durant, but this).

And I’m wondering how many other curious things in my world are right there in front of me but which I’ve failed to see?