I think often about the path that led me to journalism, then to
Butler University, especially when I ask students here 'What do you
care about? What matters to you? What do you believe in?'
Reflecting on their convictions, I ask myself the same questions.
Their stories lead me to answers, to the mystery of what brought me
to journalism, through it, then to a university.
Journalism was a choice born of pragmatism - not unlike the
genesis of the career choices of many of the students I know. When
I was 17, preparing for college, I started to imagine my adulthood
and wondered how I would take care of myself. I could write. That
much I knew. And I had always found the stories of real places and
real people interesting. It seems that I knew early on that the
variety of these stories was inherently valuable and therefore
good. I remember my father, a historian and teacher by his own
training, telling stories about the coal mining town in eastern
Pennsylvania where he grew up and about the old neighborhoods
across Cincinnati where I was growing up. He told stories about
working people - miners and migrant farm workers - but also about
old houses and their architecture, about the river - the Ohio River
- its barges and boats and the little towns along the banks.
So when I became a journalist it was because I thought the work
could sustain me in salary and a health plan. It did. But it also
nourished my need for stories. In that work I met the First
Amendment head on, the idea that freedom of speech, freedom of the
press and of religion was part of a sacred trust among citizens. It
seemed to validate my belief that stories and ideas and beliefs in
all their diversity were important. In its purist possible form,
newspaper journalism cherishes this ideal above all others even as
its commitment to truth, its promise of non-bias and its efforts to
resist greed often falter. I could do this work, I thought, even
when the profession compromised itself in these areas because it
still valued inclusion, pluralism, openness - the idea that
everyone has a potentially magnificent story to tell.
This view of the profession parallels my experience with
religion. The "big tent" church of the Second Vatican Council, the
reform movement in Catholicism, was all I knew of Christianity as a
child. My mother, a devout and devoutly open-minded, Catholic, had
made sure of that. She reared me and my sister in the faith by
finding an ethnically diverse and theologically generous Catholic
parish in urban Cincinnati. Only years later did I learn that that
community, St. Mark Catholic Church, was technically a Black
parish. I never knew because the young priest was white, a handful
of very old parishioners were white and we were white. So what if
most of the people in the pews and just about everyone in the
parish school were Black? All I saw was a community of faith that
welcomed me and embraced a faith in Jesus that knew no fear of the
It was in this same spirit that my mother and father sent me to
public elementary school two neighborhoods away in the old Jewish
immigrant community of Cincinnati. It was there, as a first-grader,
that I began to learn about Judaism. It was the religion of my best
friend, Beth, and of the very Old World looking families who walked
everywhere on Saturdays. Judaism was from childhood a sister faith
to my Catholicism. It was a place, really, where my religion came
from and a tradition that I often thought was my true faith. In all
honesty, I still hear Judaism calling me and I wonder if I am meant
So I never knew religion to be oppressive, or hurtful, or
boring, or exclusive. Even now, knowing the truth to be otherwise,
I still feel the need to somehow make religion accountable to its
best self. I believe that is why I turned to writing about religion
in newspapers and why the work of the broad exploration of diverse
faiths has led me to Butler University and the experiment that is
the Center for Faith and Vocation.
There are times that I miss the daily grind of journalism and
the hopeful promise of a new edition of the newspaper coming out
each day. Yet, this work of building community, supporting
educators and connecting with students inspires in unexpected ways.
I wonder if I will always see my work in journalism as a calling,
or if journalism was part of a grand voice calling me to do the
work of inclusion, openness and idealism.
When I reflect back on whom or what has guided me in the
decisions of my life, I realize that it is faith. Faith in the
sense of having confidence in oneself, to trust in one's ability to
go forward, even in the midst of doubt and confusion, knowing that,
at some point, there would be clarity.
Confidence, to me has an unwavering quality that, at times, can
only be glimpsed. That glimpse is one of basic goodness, the belief
that human beings are unconditionally, fundamentally good. This
belief is expressed in the teachings of Buddhism and for me comes
from my taking refuge as a Buddhist, practicing in the Kagyu School
of Tibetan Buddhism. After years of searching within the Christian
tradition, I met my Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa and knew that
I was "home" in terms of my religious practice and life
orientation. Some people say that your teacher chooses you rather
than the other way around. Sometimes I wonder about that in
connection with vocation.
From there, I began to study the Shambhala teachings, a secular
path of meditation introduced by Chogyam Trungpa to western
students as a way of including people who were of a particular
religious tradition or did not subscribe to one at all but still
wanted to participate in a contemplative path. The Shambhala
teachings speak to the materialism of the modern age, both in the
tangible acquisition of objects and spiritual materialism. The
premise is that human beings possess an inherent worth and dignity
and are capable of living uplifted lives. As with Buddhism, the
emphasis is on cultivating loving kindness toward oneself and
extending out to others.
To me, the Center of Faith and Vocation reflects the belief that
all human beings have value and possess the capability of
experiencing the sacredness in everyday life and/or finding a voice
for their religious and spiritual expression, however it manifests.
The center provides a space for that expression and calls students,
faculty and staff from the Butler University community to respond
to the invitation to participate in our programs and events. Or
bring your ideas about faith and vocation to us and we
can explore them together.