Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

“You Charts” and a Fulfilling Life

Written by: on February 28, 2015


Recently, I was selected to be part of a group that is studying and dealing with issues of racial and ethnic equity. This group is made up of eight different colleges and universities in the state of Oregon. Each school has 4-7 representatives that come from various departments; there are college presidents, student service workers, and instructors. And the group is very diverse. Of the eight colleges, mine is the only faith-based institution that I am aware of. In our second meeting together, this one done virtually, we were tasked with introducing ourselves, first of all in our own small groups, but then to the larger group. We did this through each creating a “You-Chart.” This was done by putting my name in a circle the middle of a piece of paper and then around the circle writing words that connected roles and identities to myself. We shared these charts with our small groups and then chose two identities to share with the entire group. One outcome of this exercise was to practice vulnerability. My chart contained the following roles and identities:

  • Husband
  • Father
  • Friend
  • Leader
  • Teacher
  • “In-process Human”
  • Life Tutor/Life Coach
  • Administrator
  • Russian Molokan Background
  • Grew up in East Los Angeles as a minority
  • “Baby Boomer” – One year from my 60th decade of life
  • Writer
  • Critical Thinker
  • Son and Brother
  • Doctoral Student
  • Christian (Christ follower)

After sharing my narrative list in our small group, I wrestled with choosing two of these items to share in the larger group. Thankfully, our college went last. There was some honest sharing in the larger group including “Grandmother of five”; “Gay father”; and “Black activist man and father of two boys.” So many diverse lives and experiences. So many different value priorities. So what would I share? Finally, it was my turn: “I come from a Russian Molokan background and grew up as a minority in East Los Angeles. I am also a doctoral student at George Fox University who is studying Native-American spirituality and leadership practices.” I was the last one to share. So why did I not share that one of my major identities was as a Christian, as a believer in Christ? Was I afraid? Was it that this was an unimportant part of my identity? These questions went through my head the rest of the day.

Perhaps the reason that I did not make Christianity one of my main points of sharing in the racial equity group was because of meaning. What would others think about if I mentioned Christianity? What does it mean to say one is a Christian in America in 2015? Does it mean that one is a republican and one who is deeply committed to White Privilege? Does it mean that one is anti-diversity – anti-everybody and anti-everything? Of course it does not mean these things. However, I made a decision that I would let my faith be seen through my actions in this group, rather than through a mere word label. How will I live out my faith in my actions and in my contributions to this group? What will I add to the community? This group will meet once a month for a year – or more. My hope is that I might learn and grow in this year in the area of racial equity so that I might have even a greater impact on my own campus and with those I befriend each and every day who are different than I.

In his important book, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor wrestles through the questions of faith and secularity in the Western world. Frankly, this is probably the toughest book I have ever read in my life. Much of the book went over my head. However, one of the concepts that kept coming back to me was Taylor’s notion of “fullness.” What is it that fulfills the human soul? What is it that fulfills the Christian’s soul? What is it that fulfills my soul? These are very important questions. To offer honest and transparent answers to these questions gets at the heart of our identities, of our own “You Charts.” How is Christian fullness different than secular fullness? Does a Believer experience a sense of “fullness of soul” constantly, or does it wax and wane? Are there times where other things give us a sense of fullness as well? Our marriages? Our Children? Deep friendships? A sense of belonging? Is it a spiritual fullness that can only be filled by my faith alone, apart from earthly delights? Or, might it be a combination of both? I personally believe that the fullness of my faith is not necessarily a permanent part of my being. If it were, where would faith come in? I don’t always feel close to God, but that does not mean that His love is any less for me.

How full is your tank these days? What fills you? Do you ever feel out of gas spiritually? How has this text been used to fill you, your mind and your soul, or has it?

About the Author

Bill Dobrenen

I am a husband, father, and educator. I love my wife, my two amazing children, and my students. My dissertation research is on the importance of Traditional Native-American Tribal Leadership Practices. Being in the LGP program is a gift from God for me during this season of my life. I look forward to another great year with my LGP4 cohort.

12 responses to ““You Charts” and a Fulfilling Life”

  1. Michael Badriaki says:

    Dear Bill, first of all congratulations upon being chosen to be part of the group study on racial equity. It is encouraging that at least one of the faith based colleges in Portland is represented, frankly there should be more. Your presence is already contributing to the group along with the things you and your colleagues have already shared together. Like you, I was captured by Taylor’s discussion on “fullness” among many other topics in his book. I chosen to write my post on elements that triggered particular memories which Taylor’s work helped me process through.

    Fullness for me cuts to the core issues of meaning and faith. You have posed great questions and I would like to take some time to reflect on them. Thank you Bill!!

    • Michael,

      Thanks for your comments. I am also glad to be a part of this equity group. I am a bit of an outlier, but that is part of the challenge. I will keep you posted on what I am learning.

      Regarding “fullness,” this is an interesting topic. I struggle with Christians who base their spiritual experiences on emotionalism and believe that we have set ourselves up for a great letdown through our need for excess emotionalism in our worship services, particularly with contemporary worship music. I believe that we need to be more balanced in these areas lest we fall victim to missing God altogether. Your thoughts on this?

  2. Russ Pierson says:

    Bill, as another white, boomer man of faith working in higher ed in Oregon, I love that you’re participating in this select group peering into racial and ethnic equity. Lane Community College, where I work, has one of the few Native American longhouses built on a community college campus–so I’m also delighted by your research focus.

    There is a sensibility within Native American spirituality that seems to me to parallel ancient Hebrew culture with its emphasis on place, connectedness to the land and reverence for creation. It is holistic, less focused on the component parts, more “enchanted” (to use another Taylorism). I wonder if “fullness” looks different from the perspective of different cultures?

    You’ve got me thinking … thanks!


    • Russ,

      Thanks for your comments. I would love to get together to talk about your Longhouse at Lane. That is great! Who uses the Longhouse?

      My research is still in its infancy. There is so much I do not know, so much to learn. The best part of my research is sitting down with Native elders who are willing to share their thoughts about traditional leadership values and practices. Recently, I have run into quite a few closed doors here in the Northwest, but I am not giving up. I am slowly nurturing some relationships locally that will be helpful and will be working with some Lakota elders in June in South Dakota. If you have any good contacts at Lane, I would sure like to meet them. Let’s connect offline soon. Looking forward to our class tomorrow morning.

  3. Ashley Goad says:

    Bill! I love all of the words and phrases you used to describe yourself! Each of us are full of unique descriptors, and at any time we can be wearing one identity or another, or several at the same time. It’s through each identity that we view the world and its people… And when you’re viewing as a father it may be different than when you view as an amazing professor! Wow.

    I loved all of the questions you asked! And since you asked… I feel so full from this trip to Russia. Experiencing God in such a vastly different environment with Christians who have quickly turned in to family completely energized me. We dreamed together. We prayed together. God opened up a world of vision and excitement. Thanks for letting me reflect on this, buddy! 🙂

    • Thanks for you comments, Ashley.

      Yes, “fullness” is a tricky animal, especially for those of us who happen to have mood changes. I can’t trust my emotions; they are far too subjective to indicate my spiritual fullness. That is why I struggle with churches that seem to indicate that one’s spirituality is based on how emotionally full one feels. Personally, I think that is dangerous. Just my perspective.

      Glad Russia was a good experience. Sounds like you were filled up on this trip. I am especially glad for the deep relationships you are forming with these friends. Now what? What’s next?

  4. Bill…
    Fullness is such an inviting word. It is deeply connected with longing and the way we think life is to be, what life perhaps “owes” us. My concept of fullness is changing as I get older and as I walk with Christ. My sense of fullness is now linked w/ (and hopefully growing into) what God has in mind for our human purpose. And therein is the challenge. Isaiah (as Peterson translated it, paraphrased, I think from Is. 2:3 or 6?) speaks that God will show us who he is and how to live so we can live the way were made. That is reframing “fullness” for me. There is a sense of opening toward something rather than closing the doors. This I see happening in you and it may mean that you will use other words to describe “who” you are…. Blessings in all its fullness …

    • Carol,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Yes, the older I get that concept keeps changing. I like your thoughts on “growing into what God’s purposes are for us.” I agree. And that might not be something big. In fact, if I remember what the Scripture says, I think “obedience” is something dear to God’s heart.

      I just watched a film on the life of Henri Nouwen. His life epitomized this truth. The movie is called “Journey of the Heart”; I highly recommend it.

  5. Russ Pierson says:

    Bill, let’s definitely connect!

    I like it,


  6. Bill, indeed Taylor’s work in this book is quite an achievement and quite an in-depth read and look at our historical past and how we got to where we are. It definitely is one book I will be returning to quite often. You bring up a lot of good questions to help in the reflection process of this Mammoth book.

    I really appreciated Taylor’s description of the anthropocentric shift that came about. Moving away from a God centered universe and mentality with an enchanted view of life to a man centered disenchanted view of life has truly added to the secular age that we are in. So much information and so little time. Seems like this describes our whole program, eh brother?

    You keep living out your faith by your example and by the way you live as husband, father, and continual student. It is not so much what you believe or even how you believe it as much as it is how you live it out. That is, as they say, “where the rubber meets the road.”

    • Mitch,

      I admire you as a friend and as a scholar. I am more of the candid practitioner; I think we make a good team.

      Yes, this is a mammoth book, but an important one as well. I too will go back to it in the future.

      Would love to talk with you about your CQ training sometime. I would like to hear about your work.

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