Jonathan Brent Richards

As a kid, I learned about God from my dad and church. As I grew up, I tried to do what I was supposed to. But in high school, I began to experience bouts of depression. My church couldn’t seem to help me. That and other disappointments led me to decide I could follow God without church. In college, I had fun. But that fun started to include things I knew God didn’t want me to do. I spent my junior year in Seville, Spain. I found it beautiful and fascinating in a way that moved my heart more than almost anything ever had. The architecture, the cultural differences and the long history also suggested to me that the culture of Spain possessed a different, yet appealing way of making sense of reality. During those years, several people who I liked and respected let me know that God did not want me to keep living like I was living. By the fall of 2001, I had been dating my current girlfriend for two and a half years. I knew that our relationship was keeping me from God in important ways. I had drifted so far from God that now, returning to following him had an agonizing consequence. The breakup was miserable. If I look back on the years since then, I regret beginning that relationship when, on some level, I had known all along I should never have started it. I regret how much the breakup hurt her. Since then, though, God has helped me change for the better. He has helped me to stop getting drunk, to stop smoking pot, to leave pornography behind, to work harder, to try to avoid lying, and to learn to control my anger better and treat people better. In January of 2004, I stepped on a plane headed to Costa Rica. I thought that helping the poor, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, would fulfill me. I also wanted to encounter more of what I glimpsed in Spain - a beauty and a feeling of fascination that stirred me deeply, and an experience with a whole new way of viewing reality. In Spain, I had experienced it to a degree. But I had experienced it less and less often, as Spain’s newness wore off. In Costa Rica, I found what I was looking for, but only in bursts, interspersed amidst much longer stretches of normal life. At a conference after Peace Corps, I realized that following God was worthy of being the main focus of my life. I remember thinking, “This is the new adventure.” This, instead of the old adventure of living to find beauty, fascination and meaning in other cultures. I also encountered something in a new and more powerful way that I had not found, nor even thought to look for in other cultures: love - the immense, passionate love of God. Since my PhD, career has drawn me like other cultures and God have. Trying to keep my focus on God takes effort. I am also learning to find meaning in work by seeing how God can use me there - as I try to love and encourage my students, challenge them to think, teach them about other cultures and about the suffering of the world’s poor and weak.

My Life

Favorite Quote

It's better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. -Jack Nicholson, in the movie Chinatown

Friends describe me

A good listener, caring

My hobbies

Read, play guitar and sing, travel, work out, cook

Fantasy dinner guests

Jesus, David (from the Old Testament), Martin Luther King, Bono, CS Lewis

Best advice I ever received

Give it your best shot, and let the chips fall where they may. (That is, do your best, but remember that the outcome isn't up to you.)

My worst subject in school

Introduction to Abstract Algebra. Bleck.

If I weren't a professor, I would

Manage a nonprofit organization

Favorite books

One of them is The Last Battle (one of the Narnia books); I also really liked the Lord of the Rings books; Crime and Punishment used to be one of my favorites (but I haven't read it in a while, so I'm not sure it'd still be a favorite)

Favorite movies

Raiders of the Lost Ark; Rogue One

Favorite city

Leon, Nicaragua

Favorite coffee

Strong, dark and decaf