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:
- “In-process Human”
- Life Tutor/Life Coach
- Russian Molokan Background
- Grew up in East Los Angeles as a minority
- “Baby Boomer” – One year from my 60th decade of life
- 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?