Friday, August 19, 2005

Another Year Older

Today I celebrate a birthday with another famous American :) When I was in third grade, I told a substitute teacher that I wanted to be President when I grew up--to which she replied, "Honey, nobody from Arkansas will ever be President!" Well, at least one of us proved her wrong.

I am grateful today for the many opportunities afforded me--particularly for education and travel. Seven years living outside the country (one in London, England, and six in Toronto, Canada) enabled me to see the world through a different lens. I came to truly love and admire both the British and Canadian cultures and see them as important models for the multicultural world in which we all have to learn how to negotiate issues of religious faith and ethnic heritage.

In religious circles we oftentimes use the vocabulary of "conversion." I think that it is appropriate to talk about how the liberal arts and travel help to "convert" us out of our egocentric, provincialist, and ghettoized perspectives. This creates a true passion in me to help my students begin to see themselves and their world from the perspective of the "other"--whether someone in another time or another place. Particularly as I watched images yesterday of Jewish youth barricading themselves in a synagogue, I wondered what it might mean for them to live awhile in the shoes of their Palestinian neighbors.

Gilbert Murray, the historian, has a quote which I usually place at the beginning of my syllabus in Western Christianity: “Every person who possesses real vitality can be seen as the resultant of two forces. He is first the child of a particular age, society, convention; of what we may call in one word a tradition. He is secondly, in one degree or another, a rebel against that tradition. And the best traditions make the best rebels.” As I look back across my brief 48 years of life, I am thankful that I was given a tradition out of which to operate and have had the joy of learning to creatively, constructively, and critically kick against that tradition as a vocation. This should be enough to continue to sustain me over the next few decades of teaching, research, and scholarship. And, it is a joy today to be alive and to be able to engage such a calling.

Happy Birthday, Bill! I look forward to celebrating with you next year.