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Long division is hard

Girl ponders doing division

The Rev. LuAnn Rourke, Superintendent of the Heriage District, talks about how she enjoyed math. She turns to the words of the Apostle Paul as she ponders tackling long division.

LUANN ROURKE
Superintendent, Heritage District

Long division is hard. When I was younger, I enjoyed math. I liked learning the balance between addition and subtraction and, later, multiplication and division. Solving an equation made sense. The concepts were easy to apply even when confronted with story problems. “Chris has 4 apples and gives Alex 1. How many does Chris have left?” Ok. I can handle this. A simple bit of application. Eventually, the problems got more challenging. Occasionally they would begin with the instruction to “solve for X.” Still ok, a little variable here, I can work with that.   

There was one unit in math that always made me sigh with resignation:  long division. Seriously? Why do I need to divide 45,879 by 24? Or 326,704 by 6789? With long division, the journey to balance and resolution was just … tedious. Give me fractions or percentages, those made sense because they were clearly part of a greater whole, but you can keep the long division problems — especially when it doesn’t come out even and there is a remainder. You do the work, careful to keep the columns in order and the numbers in line, and yet, “The answer is 14 R3”. Completely unsatisfying. What does that even mean? 14 get to belong but those 3 — woe to them? Long division is hard. Not necessarily hard to do, but hard to deal with.

As a child, we are instructed in basic mathematical concepts that we will need to apply to more complex situations further down the road. Story problems begin with the simple notion of sharing 4 apples. Later we will have to consider if they are red, green, or yellow, where they were grown, and if they are organic or tainted with pesticides, and how they were shipped to the market – via direct route or by two trains going in opposite directions. Sometimes the problem would include extraneous information intended to distract and confuse the situation so that part of the work was to determine what was important to the working toward resolution. 

As a denomination, United Methodists have been living the strain of long division in a complex story problem filled with extraneous information that does indeed distract and confuse. The longer the trains in our story move in opposite directions the more difficult it becomes to stay focused on what is important as we work toward resolution. 

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became grown, I put away childish things. The word childish comes with the connotation of petulance, demanding one’s own way, refusal to consider anyone’s needs apart from your own. Now, those childish things indeed ought to be put away.   

But let us not forget that no matter how informed, enlightened, assured, educated, philosophically considered, or scripture-based our convictions may be, here and now we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known.

Personally, I want to be known for working on this long division problem with faith, hope, and love. Inevitably, the careful, tedious work of this long division will leave remainders. There will be some who find a place to belong, and some who feel left over. So, I choose to work on this problem with love. Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.  Love never fails. 

If this sounds to you like a childish mentality that a grown person should set aside, I will remind you that love is not childish. Childlike, certainly, and a virtue that Jesus says allows us to experience the kingdom of heaven. If this sounds like a simplistic approach to a complex problem, remember that the choice to love is often the hardest choice to make. Yet, without it, we are noisy cymbals and clanging gongs.

[Dearest siblings], let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.
I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.

~The Servant Song by Richard Gillard is based on Matthew 20:26

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