On our drive (and ferry ride) home from the airport yesterday, my daughter and I were discussing the challenges of being a religion major in times of economic strife. Four years into a five-year college experience (she spent last year learning Mandarin in Taiwan), she's growing understandably impatient with her studies, and wonders what the point is of a college education, citing story after story of folks who, by her age, have "done something" without benefit of degree.
And, of course, she wonders what a degree in religion can possibly bring in the way of employment. But then she told me of a lecture she'd attended, in which the expert had spoken of the importance of cross-cultural understandings. Her generation, of course, is growing up in a completely different world from mine, and though they are less likely to memorize history dates and poems because the internet is becoming their external memory drive, they are also less restricted in terms of cultural identity and information and can choose to bury -- and surround -- themselves in specific interest areas.
But those whose backgrounds and interests diverge -- say, for example, a middle-class American with an interest in Japanese and Chinese language, religion, and culture -- have a unique opportunity to build bridges between what they are born to and what they have come to love. Like Karen Armstrong, Thomas Merton, Cynthia Bourgeault and the growing numbers of wise ones who see beyond the barriers of individual cultures and religions, they can bring their awareness of our underlying connectedness across the borders that separate us while still holding an understanding of the unique and separate value of each cultural and personal identity.
To hold those two together -- uniqueness and oneness -- is every bit as challenging as continuing to slog through the academic muck when it appears the world is winning a race you haven't even had time to enter yet. To stay the course always grows hard as you near the end of the tunnel, but she's tough; I know she'll see it through. For some reason Rudyard Kipling's poem, If , comes into my head, and now I find myself wondering: if our children never memorize poems like these, what will remind them that such poems even exist, that others who have gone before have grappled with similar challenges and pressed forward?
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with wornout tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run -
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man my son!