My Direction (Another Faith and Doubt Interlude)

December 22, 2008

So I’m taking a little time here to interject yet another journal like entry. I’ve mentioned before that I try to keep my articles somewhat de-personalized and topic oriented, but when discussing religious issues I feel the need to occasionally take one of these detours to lay out what I am experiencing and debating with myself. For one, it helps me formulate my thoughts and plan my direction. I go ahead and post it because if you visit my site very often at all, whether you know me or simply stumbled across something I have written and enjoyed it enough to come back again, then such explanations shed a little light on where I’m coming from and where I’m possibly going. For one, discussing religious, political and philosophical issues always involves a bit of personal investment. I can’t possibly read everything, write about everything or focus on everything. So by taking stock of things and writing about what I’m considering, you as a reader will possibly know why I write some of the things I do and what types of things I’ll write about in the future; thus you’ll know whether to stop back by or not, I suppose.

If you’ve read most of my articles you’ll know that I’ve thrown in information about theology and philosophy, and you’ll see me weighing the pros and cons of what various spiritual thinkers have written. I’ve taken these personal interludes before as well, recounting my own personal experiences with religion, church and God. Recently I’ve found myself evolving quite a bit in that sense. I’m taking this space to try and describe what such evolutions I’ve experienced and what my new goals are, professionally and personally.

A combination of conversations with friends and family, a massive amount of reading that has exposed me to theology and beliefs that I’ve never really considered, involvement with a church that “clicked” with me in ways church hasn’t before and personal emotional and intellectual development are factors that have all converged on me to make me have a “duh” moment in determining what I want to do with my life. I say “duh” moment because once it settled in with me I was all sorts of “why did I never think of this,” until I further thought of it and realized I’ve never though of it before because it never would have been right for me before now. A lot of things over the years have occurred to make me who I am today, and it’s only now that I see what this path is. I’ve realized I desperately want to be a Religion Professor. I want to teach World Religion, Theology and Philosophy on a college level and in conjunction work heavily in areas of social justice.

I had once thought I’d be a Philosophy teacher, but upper level Philosophy courses left me somewhat cold. I loved the reading, debating and thinking, but when it came down to it such things didn’t seem applicable. We can argue all day about Epistemology: “How do we know what we know and where did such knowledge come from?” That’s fine and all, but the idea that I may never wrap my head around some of those courses and concepts and the feeling that even if I do how do I apply it in a useful manner left such a career just out of imperative purpose for my life.

So the factors I spoke of earlier started to converge and I realized I wanted to be a Religion Professor. It allows me to combine everything I’m looking for in a job. I would be able to spend the time reading, writing and researching that I enjoy doing. I would be able to talk about and debate an array of issues that feel important to me. Most importantly, I would get to do a job I feel would be worthwhile: something that isn’t a waste of time and something that hopefully would aid in teaching, enlightening others, hopefully making at least a little bit of the world a little better than it was before had I done nothing.

This brings me to what I feel is the most important part of this article. It’s probably only interesting to people that actually know me in some form or other, because this is me trying to explain why I’m planning on doing what I’m doing, what I feel is important about it and why I’m fairly specific on the area in which I want to apply any skills I might have. See, I feel that since this realization has come to me many people possibly have an idea in which they feel I might should slightly shift my focus in a different way, to the left or to the right so to speak. Hearing me speak of my drive to immerse myself in spiritual study, my interest in religion, Christianity and applicable faith, my developing sense of personal growth and purpose and my passion for social justice issues several people have suggested I at least consider ministry, say Episcopal priesthood. Others seem to wish I would keep my broadening scope more focused on traditional religious views and focus and downplay the academia. Still others seem possibly worried of the religious focus whatsoever and knowing many other aspects of me probably better see me teaching something a bit more secular, say Philosophy or Sociology. I feel that anyone expressing any interest at all in my professional direction is well intentioned and has suggested (or wanted to suggest but were more subtle) other approaches for very good reasons: I feel many people know different sides of me and only the few who really see me fully rounded possibly understand why some of these other areas are just slightly out of how I would be most effective. I’ve considered every other shift, and where I stand right now I see my originally stated goal as what is right for me and here is why.

*Why Religion?
First off, this is what’s worth addressing. As little as three years ago I would never have considered the idea of getting any sort of degree in Religion or attending any school with a deep religious connection. In fact, although I wanted to again attend some sort of church on some sort of regular basis someday, I really thought I would never find a type of ‘church-going’ faith again. So what has changed for me?
My interest for such things has always been with me, from childhood Sunday school debate to college courses in world religion and a minor degree in philosophy. Once I allowed myself to read in detail the wide variety of Theological study instead of eschewing it for only philosophy I discovered writers who debated every major issue there is to debate and yet still be Christian. I found through my historical Jesus studies a vision of Jesus as I believe him to have actually been: A social prophet, wise teacher, holy healer and peaceful revolutionary. His message of unconditional love, ultimate pacifism and his speaking out against Empire, against government and social structures that oppress the poor, wage expansive war, and his righteous anger at those that hid away in church pretending all was good when they did nothing to make the world around them a better place and instead grew rich off of a system that builds itself up on the backs of the poor and the different? That’s a vital and integral message even today. Although Jesus spoke of heaven he was not focused on it and it was rarely the subject. He instead spoke of “the kingdom of God,” a system and state of being that every Christian should strive for. Instead of waiting for a reward when we die we are to follow Christ now by acting in the aim of social justice and urge a system of peace, respect, love, forgiveness and equality. Jesus is for Christians the perfect picture of what a person looks like and acts like when that person is completely consumed by God, filled with God’s compassion and desire for nonviolent justice. Along with my new picture of Jesus, my reading allowed me to consider scripture again. I now understand the Bible to be a lens through which we can use to see God. We don’t have to treat the lens as infallible, inerrant or divine but we don’t need to disregard it as unimportant. We can approach the Bible and use it in conjunction with a knowledge of history, culture, and emerging development. We can allow it to speak to us through our informed and inspired interpretation and we can use it as a guide to understanding the ancient Hebrew faithful as well as the early Christian church and how they perceived Christ and their mission in light of that.

*Why Teach?
I want to be a lifelong student in my pursuit to understand and develop in faith and service. I want to teach others that Religion is more than one simple, narrow thing. I want to teach that religion does not have to be nor should it be racist, sexist, homophobic or exclusive. Many people come from bad religious experiences and assume all religion is that way. Many who would never go to a church or even possibly find the church that is right for them will take a class that looks at all religions on their own terms. People in America live in vastly different Faith landscapes: Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists all call America their home. It’s important we understand and respect what each other believes and doesn’t believe. I feel it’s important to discuss and teach about the positive cores that all religions share, to shed away dogma and fundamentalism and realize that we can all find our way to the same goal of positive global service, inner peace and social justice if we bring to light what religion and spirituality really are beneath their surface. That “our way” is important, viable and real but others may also have that real and valid way for them. Education, ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue and a focus on promoting peace and social justice is a goal for us all to share.

*Why not minister?
I now have a sense of prayer, worship, church ceremony and ritual that promotes an open, peaceful and positive sense for me. I believe the “kingdom of God” is applicable here and now, for all, and is un-discriminatory. I want to write and lecture, publish and teach, travel and speak in addressing social justice issues that I feel driven to confront. So why not minister? Because, as I said, those that would never seek or might never find the right church for them might take a class in a university or at a community college. Because I could speak to those of all faiths and those with no faith, not just the “converted, indoctrinated or leaning.” Because those that know me know I have many qualities, passions, interests and quirks that aren’t conducive to a limelight lit public ministry. I don’t feel that I intentionally or actively do things that are wrong, that’s not what I mean. I’m working every day to be less angry, more compassionate, etc. The things I enjoy aren’t “bad” nor would I think they are bad were I a minister, but I feel that a minister must represent a congregation, must exude faith, hope and dash doubt. Because I love rock and roll, comics, dirty jokes and sometimes blunt conversation when amongst friends. Because I’m open to what all religions and philosophies have to say and am still sometimes quite doubtful. Because every great and successful minister I know is capable of tying together the most disparate portions of their congregation–their most liberal and their most conservative and dealing with them from the middle. I’m far too liberal and my Christian studies show a system of faith and action rooted in “liberal” and “socialist” thought at the heart of the religion– I would find it hard to politely minister to very conservative folks. I could love them, talk to them, but I’m not sure I could be their minister. Ultimately all of these factors are minor, the major reason for me not to be a minister? There’s not a call there for me. I feel I can be most effective and useful as a teacher in a secular school pointing towards an inclusive and peace promoting call to global service and worship for all religions.

*Why Social Justice?
It’s highly important for me to help pay for my education by finding work-study programs that allow me to involve myself with community service and work with the poor, homeless and searching. It’s highly important for me when I reach my career to devote some of my time actually working in the community with labor aiding in social justice. Lastly, it’s highly important for me to write about, speak about , publish works concerning and seek to help issues of social justice. Why? Because the good people are too few and can’t do enough, the average people don’t even try, and the “bad” folks never take a day off. I’ve always criticized inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia and bad politics. I’ve always spouted off about MLK, Malcolm X, Gandhi, Jesus, etc. But what have I done? Nothing yet, so that makes me a sort of hypocrite. I hope to be used in such ways to do all I can to make the world around me better than it is. From small, daily kindness to bigger things if I am so able. Briefly a few major issues I hope to address in my public life if I’m ever able.
1) Fair and Just Immigration laws and citizenship opportunity for the USA
2) The end of Gay discrimination, gay marriage bans and the misguided support some churches give to the opposition of equality in this modern day civil rights ordeal
3)Universal Health Care
4)Debt Relief and the war on poverty (we live in a nation where some buy ice cream for their dogs yet people go hungry and sleep on the street)
5)Drug Law Reform which leads to Prison Reform
6)Education that leads to the falling away of Fundamentalism
7)Education about Responsible Consumerism (personally I feel it ridiculous that a frivolous and useless product like diamonds is sold in such quantities in industrialized countries when it causes such global havoc in its mining, sell and distribution)
8)Responsible citizenship of the world, which means respect to all differences, and end to irrational nationalism, war, etc: Middle East Peace negotiations, etc.

I could go on but you get the picture.
Next up, the last slew of “Best of 2008” articles. Then more “Under-Rated and Over-looked” albums, a look at the best runner up music albums that I heard too late to include and who knows what all. As always, thanks for reading.

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One Response to “My Direction (Another Faith and Doubt Interlude)”

  1. Jonelle said

    Dustin,
    It has been incredible to watch your journey over the past 14 years. The intellect and passion have always been there, but you have obviously allowed yourself to embrace it. No doubt, you will achieve your goal; I only hope I am around to see your effect on those you encounter. I wish you all the best.

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