It is impossible to understand my philosophy and scholarship without understanding my faith-based teachers and mentors. I once had on a t-shirt that said “Jesus is the Answer”. A wonderful mentor of my youth approached me and asked “what’s the question?”. I thought she was joking at first, but I came to realize during our conversation that such a statement as was made on the t-shirt was an empty platitude. She and others have forced me on an ongoing basis to challenge my intellectual understanding of the God/Jesus/Holy Spirit Triune and the meaning of that understanding for my life and for the world. I do not believe that we need to check our faith in at the door as we enter into academia, but instead need to be upfront about all of our intellectual genealogy so as to situate our practice of science and philosophy for others. In this blog post I try to do so as best I can in a short summary format.
I have always found the teachings of Jesus as captured in the gospels to be much more revolutionary than is practiced in most churches. This past week during one of my workouts I listened to a teaching by Rob Bell at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI. He taught about Acts 2: 42-47 (see http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=acts%202:42-47&version=CEV for the Bible verses and http://marshill.org/teaching/2011/10/09/how-it-works-in-our-house-acts-2v42-47/ for the sermon). To summarize, the first converts to the Way (it wasn’t called Christianity until later) became as family to each other, they often ate together and prayed together. But they also sold their possessions and gave to those in need. They shared happily and freely and no one was in need. How far from the way so many of us live as Christians today, especially in the United States where our wealth gap is notably high compared to many of the other industrially developed nations but our Health and Social Index is comparably low. We espouse to be one nation under God, but the evidence condemns us!
Growing up I found the songs of Keith Green to be a call towards that radically changed life that cries for the poor and the oppressed above all else. I learned of Francis of Assissi through the songs of John Michael Talbot and was inspired by the way Francis put aside all material goods to live in close harmony with the Earth and to spend his life serving the most forgotten in his society. I was challenged by the many works of Tony Campolo, who I still follow regularly through his blogs and podcasts (see in particular http://www.tonycampolo.org/media.php and http://www.redletterchristians.org/). The Sojourners’ movement and the work of Jim Wallis and friends has also been a significant influence through the years (see http://sojo.net/), particularly as they champion a return to the core of the call to sell all and to give to anyone who has need. Wallis and Campolo have pressed the point that God is always playing the class card — He forever sides with the poor and oppressed and holds in question the motives and choices of the rich. I also have found inspiration in the works of Martin Luther King, Jr. and how he put faith into action. More recently I have found similar inspiration from the works of Paulo Freire (an article at http://www.ngoleader.org/articles/paulo-freire.html does a great job of laying out the ways in which Freire’s intellectual and praxis in popular education was an outgrowth of his faith).
A defining Bible verse since my youth has been Galatians 5:22: “But the fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, and Self Control.” It is my understanding that to evidence these in all circumstances is to reflect the way in which we have taken on the mind and life of Christ. In my last post I mentioned how I cannot even fully consider how my life is influenced by my wife’s because we have become one. As great as it is, I also believe that my life with Angie is but a poor earthly reflection of what it means to slowly become one with Christ and what it will be upon His return. I once had a fellow graduate student in my lab who was from Israel ask to what extent I felt my faith walk with Jesus was responsible for the joy I often express in everything. I believe it is the very core of why I can express a joy that is not born of the things I have or the situations I find myself in, but it is a reflection of who I am when I live in Christ. So too the Love, Peace, Patience…
I do not believe in the rapture, a time to come when Jesus returns and evacuates us from the earth, leaving behind all the unfaithful. I like how Allen Wakabayashi put it recently in his teaching entitled “Our Comforting Hope” and more fully in his book “Kingdom Come“. I believe in a resurrection not rapture, restoration not departure. Since Jesus was first on this earth, there has been a new work that is bringing about a completion of God’s restoration of the earth. At Jesus’ return, that restoration will be made complete and we will once again see God’s justice done on earth as it is in heaven. This justice is not one of retribution but of restored relationships with Him, with each other, and with all of creation. Material wealth is not a reflection of God’s vote that you are doing the right thing in His sight, nor is suffering here an indication that He thinks you are doing wrongly and must be punished or corrected like a teacher hitting you on the hand with a ruler. Instead He weeps, mourns, and suffers with those who suffer. He recognizes that much of that suffering is because others take what He has given us to steward in ways that oppresses and disadvantages others, and he calls us to live more justly ourselves and to champion justice in our laws, systems, and social structures. But ultimately we cannot see all that is at work, for “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12b).
I believe that God created the world, but I don’t know how he did it. I find the idea that He did so in six literal days rather uninspiring and boring. On the other hand, I find evolution a much more satisfactory way for God to carry out His vision of a mechanism for the creation to occur. I’ve got no problem with the big bang as the starting point for that creation, but I don’t buy theories that insist this must have all happened on its own without a Creator who conceived of, initiated, and oversees the process.
This belief in a Creator leads me to logically consider I am but a steward of that creation. We should all be in the business of caring for all of creation, recognizing the importance of being environmentally conscious. But this also includes the care of our fellow human beings. That we are stewards also means that no one can truly own a defined portion of that creation. This extends to our talents, since they are but a reflection of the creation put in place and from which we were raised both physically and intellectually. I am challenged by concepts like patents and copyrights because I don’t think any individual is the sole creator or proprietor. Indeed, I am challenged by the idea of awards for much the same. First and foremost everything is just an ongoing reflection of the creative process of God. That we were created in His image, we too are creators. But even then we only do so through the support of His creation, including the many mentors and teachers in our paths.
And so my Teacher of the Year award is but an award to recognize God and my community past and present.