Wednesday, March 23, 2011

If I'm burned at the stake, you'll know why.

Today I had to write a "testimony" for a job application.  This is common within Christian circles, but I have not had to write something like this for years because I was so firmly rooted in public education.  Now I am looking for a job and one opening is at a place that requires a testimony.  There were no detailed parameters regarding it, and my life has been so far removed from that way of thinking that it took me a while to write.

I had two goals when writing:

1) Use language that the job site would understand.
2) Be true to me so that they can't say I've deceived them.

My third goal, although not a writing goal, was to be okay with rejection.  It is something I get very used to -- it comes with the territory.  "Yes, we know you're perfectly qualified and the best candidate, but you just don't love Jesus enough/in the right way/go to church."  That's fine.  Each place needs to set its priorities, and often times even educational facilities don't have education as the highest priority.  I know that after years of experience.

I would not call myself a Christian by any stretch of the imagination, but after years of struggle I am finally okay with being spiritual.  In fact, I embrace my spiritual side.  And I think that it's closer to someone who might be religiously Christian or Jewish or Muslim or whatever than people might think.  A Dilbert comic from January of this year illustrates my point nicely:

Last week I met with a friend, an older woman whom I admire, and she shared that she stopped attending church, embraced her spirituality without box or boundaries or label, and she's been so much happier in these past few years than she ever was.  Growing up, I was told that people are only truly happy when they accept Jesus/go to church/"have a relationship" with Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit or whatever and I used to believe that, but my personal experiences have proved otherwise. I know the truth now: I am happier with my spiritual state than I ever was before.  And while I may choose to use words like God and Creator as I write this testimony for the job application, I want it to still show my true self, the part of me that embraces spirituality without religion or religious boundaries, without label or moniker.

And yes, they may burn me at the stake.  At the very least, I doubt that they will continue looking at my application after this (even though I've had good indicators up to this point that I would be the best candidate for the job).  But there is always the chance, the smallest chance, that they will embrace St. Augustine's All Truth is God's Truth and give me a chance.

Here's what I wrote for this "testimony":

Personal Testimony
March 2011

Some of my most profound learning experiences in recent years have come from courses I’ve taken on the philosophy of faith-learning integration.  While this may seem detached from a personal testimony, for me the  concept of testimony is inextricably bound with my beliefs regarding how faith and learning are bound. One of the first Christian scholars to broach the topic of faith-learning integration, albeit in sometimes more abstract ways, was St. Augustine, who was very clear that “all truth is God’s truth.”  If all things that are true come from God, then one can make the case that learning is a vehicle on which to build a greater faith in God through knowledge and discovery of the world.  Erasmus continued along these lines in the sixteenth century, writing about education with the assumption that one's faith will be visible in one's life and therefore “integration” (as we currently view it) is not necessary.  Melanchthon, a theologian, philosopher, teacher, and contemporary of Erasmus, believed that the Church and State were partners and that it was in the best interests of all involved to have citizens be well-educated spiritually and secularly.  As people of faith desire to know more about God, it makes sense to me to manifest faith through an innate curiosity about the world, a desire to learn and grow and through that develop spiritually.  And yet, for a good portion of my life, I felt like the concepts of “faith” and “learning” were separate, and my desire to meld the two would never come to fruition.

I was born into a house of conservative evangelicals with a bit of a “Jews for Jesus” vibe (from our heritage).  My parents were active in the local Calvary Chapel in XXXXX, and when we moved to XXXXX our family helped grow several churches over the years, sometimes Calvary Chapels, sometimes community churches, and all centers of conservative evangelical belief.  I accepted Christ at an early age, read the entire Bible through at least once by the time I was ten (and at least ten times by the time I left for college), was the model church-goer and Christian girl.  I took James 4:17 to heart and really believed that I had to always do my best and always do the right thing in every situation (even cleaning lint off the floor) because if I did not, if I was not doing everything I could to be good and do right, I was sinning.  I knew that God was forgiving, but in my experience people were not, and I did not want to give  myself or anyone else reason to be angry, disappointed, or stumble.  And so I became involved in as many evangelical pursuits as I could.  I studied and studied and studied to understand the Word of God, and for several years I seriously considered mission work as my post-college calling. 

As part of my education, I attended [a bible college that had a] Jewish Studies program.  I believed that this program would give me an even better idea of the scholarship behind biblical studies, it would integrate my Jewish and Christian heritage, and at the end I would have a better idea of whether I should pursue mission work.  I was naive.  The education was very thorough, an experience for which I am very grateful.  And while it did not provide all the answers I was looking for at the time, I can see now that my experiences started the seeds for my current beliefs about faith, learning, spirituality, and Christianity, although my life path’s results may not be what my professors intended.  I knew so much about the Bible, theology, and as I continued with my schooling and finished a bachelor’s degree I felt like what I knew about the world did not mesh with what I was told, growing up in evangelical circles, about God/Jesus/the Bible/Christianity.  Evangelicals, in my experience, wanted to be right: they didn’t want true knowledge.  They wanted to believe that people had to do certain things or behave a certain way or profess certain beliefs for God’s forgiveness.  They wanted to believe that some people, like Jews and Muslims who love God/HaShem/Allah and strive to be good and to gain fellowship with the Creator, are wrong and will thus go to this place called Hell because their vision of a relationship with God and religion is not the “right” one.  They want to believe in circular logic which says that the Bible (as we know it today) is the inerrant written Word of God because the Bible says so.  And, most damningly, they do not use their faith as a means of fueling curiosity to find the truth, even if that truth means reevaluating what one used to believe. 

It was for these reasons, and several other, more personal reasons, that I chose as an adult to stop attending church and to retreat for several years as I considered my personal beliefs regarding spirituality, Christianity, faith and learning.  For a time, I did not consider myself even a spiritual person, much less a member of any organized religion, because I could not reconcile my view of the Creator – loving, merciful, graceful – with the world around me.  This retreat turned into a period of renewal; I was happier out of the mainstream.  I could concentrate on learning Truth without always having to determine whether it was in conflict with what my education and upbringing told me was biblically true.  It was during this time that I started attending [my doctoral program].

My education at XXXXX created the opportunity for me to think critically about the concept of faith-learning integration and I was finally at the point in my life that I could embrace this concept – hesitantly at first, and then with excitement.  In my studies and personal reflection, I found that I could agree with St. Augustine’s assessment that “all truth is God's truth” and wish that more people currently could see things that way.  On a personal level, I find that I would describe my own “faith and learning” experiences and beliefs as “intellectual pursuits guided by moral beliefs.”  I love learning and my academic and spiritual sides are not separate.  Instead, I see my intellectual pursuits as a way to learn more about myself, my own moral code and compass, and deepen my awareness of life around me.  There is a purpose to pursuing and revealing truth in all its formsIn the Bible, a passage in John 17 implies that Christians should “be in the world but not of it.”  I believe it’s our responsibility as moral agents to make wise choices about the world in which we live based on our knowledge and understanding; as we learn new information we should adjust our beliefs and practices accordingly, resulting in constant self-reflection.  As I learn more, it contributes to my sense of moral consciousness and responsibility; for me “faith” and “learning” are entirely intertwined and play a critical role in my daily thoughts and actions.  My conclusion now is much the same as when I started (although I believe I have a greater depth of understanding): if “all truth is God’s truth” then faith and learning by their very nature are intertwined concepts.  I believe that living a spiritual life is not about what one says, it’s about one’s actions.  If we function as whole individuals our learning and our personal moral code(s) should function in tandem.  If my actions are Christ-like, then I am living the moral principles I hold dear.

My spiritual quest brought me into contact with several books that helped shape my ability to express my beliefs.  Rather than giving me specific knowledge that transformed the way that I think, these books gave me the words to express some of my inner thoughts about a relationship with the Creator, God.  Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way helped me to reflect on my life’s experiences and what that means about what I want to do with life, and more importantly what I think that means about what God has for my life.  I embraced my creative side and realized that I don’t always fit inside a box – my spiritual self can be nurtured in many ways, from long quiet walks conversing with the Creator to times spent in fellowship conversations with like-minded individuals, and while we’ve been told that attending a church body is necessary on a regular basis, I’ve found that this is not the case for me.  I feel more spiritually whole, connected to God, when I am out talking with Him in nature, when I am learning about the world around me, when I am helping others.

One of my questions when working with many people in my life is why some seem so quick to put up walls when they reach a piece of learning or an idea that conflicts with what they’ve long held to be true.  Rather than jumping at the chance to see if this new idea or concept can make one grow or develop, it is quickly dismissed.  Why, then, do people who do this still claim to want to learn?  John Hull, in his book What Prevents Christian Adults from Learning?, writes that Abraham Maslow describes two motivations for learning: deficiency motivation and growth motivation.  If people feel a lack of something, they are motivated by deficiency.  If they feel healthy and enjoy discovery, they are motivated by growth.  This seems to aptly describe the environment I’ve observed my whole life: many Christians operate out of a feeling of deficiency.  “I have a need, God fills that need.”  The issue with this is that once a person feels that the need is met, the search to fill that need stops and so does the growth.  On the other hand, if one operates out of growth motivation, from the belief that “I love God not because I have a need, but because God is lovable,” then growth is continual.  The desire to learn, move forward, grow, reflect is continuous because it is not based in lack, it is based in love.

Richard Hughes’s book, The Vocation of a Christian Scholar, was one I was hesitant to read at first.  After all, what is the difference between a scholar, a Jewish scholar, a Muslim scholar, and a Christian scholar?  I was pleasantly surprised – especially when I heard Dr. Hughes speak at a gathering in January – that his treatise echos my beliefs: a belief in spirituality, moral order and a belief that God encourages true scholarship because it supports the life of the mind.  Supporting the life of the mind cannot happen if one is bound and confined within a particular box. Human beings are finite and cannot possibly know everything; our knowledge of the world, each other, and God changes century to century.  The Bible is not a scientific treatise, but it conveys two theological themes that are present in other religions as well: the unfailing love and grace of an infinite God, and if God loves us we should love one another.  The Bible is full of paradox and mystery conveying the Truth of infinite Love through symbols, metaphors, allegories.  The task of Christian scholars – the task of spiritual scholars – is to be faithful to infinite truths and to accept paradox, nurturing it through critical thinking and further exploration.  The themes for life, life driven by a passionate love of God/HaShem/Allah, are the same – love, justice, service, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. 

One of my most recent experiences with the concept of faith-learning integration came from a book I read last year.  Viktor Frankl, a psychologist, Holocaust-survivor, and creator of logotherapy, wrote a book called Man's Search for Meaning.  This book is commonly assigned to psychology students (because of its obvious contribution to that field), but it is one that I found very valuable as an educator.  In the field of education we often have to use our understanding of people as individuals in order to make appropriate judgments or decisions.  Man's Search for Meaning is a clear thesis on why certain people survive difficult (or seemingly impossible) situations, while others do not.  Frankl's conclusion was that individuals need something to believe in that is outside themselves.  The belief in something greater than the individual is what helped people persevere through trying situations. I think that most people agree that they are living for something greater than themselves, and thus one's faith or belief in that greater thing (whatever it may be) and what one learns from life's trials meld into one's life and contribute to future thoughts and actions.  The way one's life is lived or exhibited is a demonstration of the faith and the learning working together.  With regards to my spiritual life impacting my practice, I take Matthew 25:34-40 to heart: my service to others is a service to God.  I realize that others may have a different way of looking at the world, at spirituality, at Christianity, and I accept that.  My job, my life, is to support others where they are in their journeys.  This is my calling and my service.


  1. Well done. Let's hope that they are able to look past the letter of their law and see that you would be an excellent candidate for the position. Be sure to keep us updated! =o)

  2. This is a rather thought-provoking treatise! I sent this along to Honey's brother, because he's been thinking about some of these things working in Christian education, although he most definitely considers himself a Christian and doesn't plan to change that. There was a great quote I read recently in Jimmy Carter's book Our Endangered Values along the lines of if God is Truth, we shouldn't be afraid to learn and discover new truths...

  3. Not that it really matters but I feel this is very well written and has many substantial thoughts in it. I cringe at one thing. Your scholarship has not taken you into the Quran. You need to realize that Allah and Yawhe are not the same God. You see, when you search for truth you need to look at all aspects of religion. I was in a state of atheism when I researched all religions to find the the one true religion. My adventure was scholarly as I too am a teacher by trade. I found that the one true religion needed to have a God that was truly Holy to judge between the "wheat and the chaff". The Christian Faith is the only one with a Holy God. Allah, in the Quran is a sinner. Because of this, he is partial to who he allows into heaven. You see, a muslim can live his entire life doing all the works he/she is required to do and still have no guarntee that they will end up in heaven. That is why I turned to the Christian faith. It is the one that requires only God's grace. No one ca work their way to heaven. I trust Him.
    So I wanted to bring this up to you so you can, at least, review the Quran and see the differance. But don't ask a Muslim, really read it. You will be surprised, I gurantee it.


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