Wednesday, July 7, 2010


by Kurt Nelson

As I sit in my 95 degree office in normally-frigid Northern New England, I find myself reflecting on three small paradoxes in my current life.  (Note: they may be too small to be paradoxes.  Perhaps ironies, or simply silly things that I've noticed recently.)

The first is, of course, that I've never been so hot as I am this week.  In warmer climates, we're better prepared for a week if 95 degree + temperatures.  But here in the snowy hills of New Hampshire, we simply bake in our homes.  In our offices.  Staring listlessly and trying our best to carry on normally.

The second:  I've recently become the car commuter in my family, while my wife now walks to her work.  And I've never been so frustrated with traffic as in this small town.  Not on the interchange between I-91 and I-95 in New Haven, CT, which I don't think has ever been clear.  Not on the Beltway around Washington DC.  Nothing compares to waiting for minutes on end to get past the 3 lights in Hanover.  Pedestrians crossing against lights.  People stopping to chat.  Too many cars in too little space.  Where are they all going?

And finally, and (hopefully) most significant, I was recently told by a faculty member who teaches about religion that he has "no patience for piety."  I suspect it was meant to be a controversial statement, but I found myself empathizing to a certain degree.  Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of patience for piety.  But I hardly see piety as the root or point of my work.  I'm left with clear images of wealthy scribes making public donations, and of the hollow, public prayers of politicians.  I'm certainly more interested in what faith and religion and belief mean for people than what they look like.

Perhaps this is what we're all after - scholars, preachers and teachers of religion.  But my particular hope for inter-religious work rests in our ability to move past the surface and delve more deeply with one another into questioning the source, meaning and value of our traditions, practices, values and ethics.

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