The following article first appeared on: http://www.stateofformation.org/2013/11/academia-meets-practical-life-the-wedding/
The day that I discovered that all of my friends were Christian was the day that I began to feel strangely uncomfortable. To be fair, I have spent my entire life in Christian settings – I grew up going to Christian elementary schools, then went to a Christian secondary school, and finally landed myself in a Christian university. I went to seminary. Virtually all the jobs I have ever held have been ministry related, and what do I do for fun? I post primarily on Christian blog sites and read good old fashion Theological queries. So, the fact that I never had any intimate friendships with people from another faith should not be all that shocking. However, when I came to this realization at about 20 years old rather than be thankful for it, I began to really question what I was doing and where I was indeed headed.
Education has always been a big deal in my family and in my own personal life. There is a reason why I went to seminary and there is an even bigger motivation for me wanting to complete doctoral work. It’s not so much because I think that I am a genius, actually, to be completely realistic there are way smarter people who muse about the same types of things as I do, but rather it’s because I believe that education is one of the best modes for expressing ourselves to this world. Yet, at the same time, I believe there is another side to the story which is just as important. Rather than be locked up in our ivory towers far away from the rest of the world, education calls us to engage with society in practical ways. In my own experience, finding the balance between theology and philosophy and being able to love and serve others can indeed be a challenge, but what good is all of our education if we aren’t using it to impact those around us?
Another central understanding that I hold about education is that our worldview is constructed both consciously and unconsciously through our teachers. Teachers always bring their own bias into the subject material and if we are not careful, we students may end up having the same biases. When I look back to my years in the academy studying Theology and Christian Ministry, I am keenly aware of the fact that almost all of my professors have been white, middle aged men who grew up in suburbia, are heterosexual, and are married with children. As I reflect upon this phenomenon, I become profoundly aware of how it has shaped my understanding of what a minister should act, look, and be like. It wasn’t until much later in my educational career that I began to intentionally seek out others with different ethnic backgrounds and life experiences as a way of processing what the Holy Books (in particular, the Bible) were really trying to teach us.
As a whole, education has a lot of value to offer to the church and to society, but it also can create some tensions within the faith. Unfortunately there are still many churches out there which take education to be a threat and when I am in situations where I (as a parishioner) have more formal education than the pastor this can be a bit unnerving. Secular education also poses its own problems within the church especially because we start to deal with some of the uncomfortable intersections of faith and science and faith and ethics. While resolution is not easy, it is possible and an important aspect in moving forward and wedding abstract concepts with our practical daily life. I have been able to find the resolution in my own life simply by acknowledging that no religion is without its faults and admitting that even within my faith practice there are still many things I do not understand or even agree with. That’s not a heretical statement at all. It’s not at all saying that I am walking away from the Christian faith. Instead what I am offering is a critical outlook on what I am living and recognizing that while Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, and Mohammed all said wonderful things, we live in a flawed world which is not able to practice those messages in the same way that they were first laid out. In an ideal world we would be able to live a life of peace and justice that is represented in the majority of world religions, but because we are human and fallible we need to seek to co-exist by first recognizing our own downfalls. Once we move away from our own preconceived ideas and into a world of learning from those of different backgrounds we are truly making education happen. Once we begin to befriend people of other religions and cultures we are creating a true academy of hearts and souls, not simply one created with paper and parchment.