If you’re looking for an exciting, dramatic conversion story, you won’t find it here! Not that I was a perfect child all my life or anything, but as the grandchild of a Methodist preacher I did grow up in a Christian home. I went to church just about every Sunday, walked the isle of the Rockmart Methodist Church at age 8 to make a public profession of faith, and have never really doubted God’s existence. My wife and I met at a Methodist youth summer camp (Glisson) in the north Georgia mountains.
I suppose the furthest I wandered from the faith was my college and grad school days, when my prayer life pretty much died on the vine. I recall having the impression that my prayers were not rising beyond the ceiling, and I got to the point where I really could not in good conscience pray “Thy will be done,” because I wanted my OWN will. I experienced many of the typical intellectual doubts that students confront (though, as I said, I always held to belief in God).
The so-called ‘Death of God’ theologies of the 1960s were the climate in which I was swimming, and they nearly drowned me. It was an exciting time to be on a college campus, where lively debates between radical theologians and the more traditional ones were constantly being discussed, but it did not feed my soul.
However, becoming a parent certainly gave my spiritual search a new urgency, and at age 30 I had a powerful experience of God’s reality in my life. At a discipleship weekend retreat with the youth group we were serving as chaperones, we were challenged to try a 30-day program of spiritual disciplines–early-morning prayer and scripture reading, tithing, meeting weekly with a group of companions on this path, witnessing, and practicing acts of unselfish generosity. From that day till the present my wife and I have tried to remain faithful to those spiritual disciplines and they have revolutionized our lives.
As a young teacher-scholar, I was strongly motivated to do research and write for publication. Fortunately, my primary area of interest has been religious writers of twentieth-century France, so the work I’ve done on Jacques Maritain, Simone Weil, Georges Bernanos, and others has been used by God to teach me some important lessons about His truth. After my encounter with the reality of God, I asked Him to use my writing as a way to honor Him.
In 1998 a few colleagues and I established a Faculty/Staff Christian Fellowship on our campus. Colleagues from several faculties (liberal arts, engineering, medicine, etc.) meet weekly to share their faith and encourage each other to live out our faith with authenticity in the academic community. In other words, we strive not just to teach our classes effectively but to serve our students and colleagues with the servant attitude of Jesus.
On a mission trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo, I had a dream that I was sure came from God. I saw myself on my home campus hosting a group of scholars and religious leaders from across racial and denominational lines who were gathered to address the theme of ‘Building the Beloved Community.’ In February of 2005, the first annual ‘Building the Beloved Community Symposium’ was held on our campus, and the series is continuing. Our city is now working with new vigor on achieving racial harmony and justice. The Symposium, of course, cannot take all the credit for such progress, but it is encouraging to play a role in bringing our community together in unity and hope.
As Director of the Center for Faith, Learning and Vocation at Mercer from 2004-2011, I organized workshops, led seminars, and encouraged colleagues to explore the relationship between their personal faith and their professional work. It is invigorating to live with a constant awareness that my own calling can be renewed and redirected by God at any time.
I look forward to following His lead in the days ahead. Having retired from full-time teaching in the summer of 2014, I plan to continue to do my research, as well as the Beloved Community work in Macon. I’m continually challenged by conversations in the classroom with my students and interactions with my colleagues on campus. Being a lifelong seeker of truth is a great adventure, and I’m grateful for the pilgrims who share it with me.