My first college professor, the one who inspired me to pursue higher education after dropping out of high school, taught religious studies and philosophy. The first class I took with him was called Eastern Religions. It should have been called Asian Religions because even Judaism, Islam, and Christianity originated in The East, but I digress. We studied Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc. He was truly a great teacher, as he was somehow able to discuss each religion as if he were a part of it and it a part of him. His teaching felt equal parts historical and personal.
Our assigned reading, writing projects, and classroom discussions always inspired me to think beyond myself and my personal experience or opinion, broadening my view of the world and my place in it. I would often stay after with a friend I made in the class to further discuss these seemingly foreign ideas and their implications with our professor. After the semester was over, I sought out this professor for other classes, such as Western Religions, where we studied the Judeo-Christian traditions, and Philosophy of Religion which focused on the relationship between Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle and religious philosophers like St. Anselm or St. Augustine.
When there were no more classes left to take with this professor, I expressed my gratitude to him for the time he had spent with me and for the value he had added to my life. He pulled a Bible off the shelf in his office and gave it to me. It was highlighted and notated, as if it had been used for studying. He said it was a gift for my perusal and then casually invited me to his church, with no pressure to take him up on the offer whatsoever. He explained that it was a small, community church in Baltimore City and that he was the pastor. I was somewhat surprised. I asked him how he was able to teach all of these different religious traditions with so much unbiased passion, as if he grew up in them, when he was not only a Christian, but a pastor. “In all of these teachings, I see truth,” he said, “but in Jesus’ teachings, I see The Gospel.”
Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu
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