During my year as a chaplain resident at Duke University hospital, I had an eye-opening experience. About thirty of my colleagues and I were lined up and asked to take steps forward or backward based on our life circumstances. Are you male? Take two steps forward. Are you white? Take another two steps. Did you go to a private school? Another two. And so on. By the end of a series of ten questions or so, I had outpaced everyone else in the room. I was embarrassed, and I didn't really know why. Probably because I thought I was just an average guy with ordinary privileges.
Besides being aware of those privileges and the lack of privileges that others have, I'm not sure what to do with them. In college, my friends and I felt a need to save the world. We were naive and misguided...probably. But it wasn't far from the challenge Jesus gives in the parable of the talents. To those who are given much - even if they do nothing to deserve it (and I surely haven't) - much is required. So if I can, I'd like to do something to make the world better for those who lack. But only if they want it..
I studied math and completed premed requirements in college. I wanted to be a doctor and do medical missions. The 'talent' thing again - figuring I'm no genius, but that I am smart enough to be a doctor and really help people, I tried to follow in the footsteps of my mother and others whom I looked up to who spent their lives helping others who are sick and hurting. But it really wasn't me.
When my mom died from breast cancer in 2008 -- about a year after I finished college and married my wife, Lorrie -- I began a period of searching and questioning. That period never really ended. Lorrie and I were teaching in Thailand at the time, and it was there I realized that I enjoyed teaching and wrestling with ideas more than anything else. So we decided that perhaps academia and pastoral ministry would be best. After another year in Mexico teaching English and doing mission work, I began a Master of Divinity degree at Duke. Those years at Duke were probably three of the most important years of my life. After Divinity School, I was ordained in the Baptist church and spent a year as a chaplain. Now, I'm in a PhD program in philosophy at FSU while working full time as a professor at the community college.
Part of my reason for pursuing theology and philosophy in the beginning was that I thought I could figure it all out and have the 'answers'. But if nothing else, studying these subjects has opened my eyes to the fact that thinking won't save me or guarantee that I get it right. Now, I'm not interested in philosophy as an academic enterprise. I'm interested in it for the same reason the ancient Greeks were -- I think it will make me a better person, and hopefully those around me. I'm interested in teaching others who want the same thing. More than that, I'm interested in teaching for my own sake, because I learn best when I pursue knowledge with others.
My story has helped me see that I need a community of virtuous people with whom I can seek truth. For me, that community used to be the church. Now, I am not sure what it is -- but I am seeking to find out.