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I moved to Fayetteville in 2009 to be the founding director of the Tyson Center for Faith and Spirituality in the Workplace at the University of Arkansas. Prior to that, I was the director of the Center for Spirit at Work at the University of New Haven (Conn.). I realized after moving here, there was often a negative reaction to the term "spirit at work." Business leaders often preferred the phrase "faith at work," which generally meant expressions of living one's Christian faith at work. I realized I had my own knee-jerk reaction to the word "faith," associating it with proselytizing.

On the East Coast, most people preferred the word "spirituality" over "faith," believing that "spirituality" is more inclusive and not tied to one religious viewpoint. I was surprised to find that some people in Arkansas equate "spirituality" with such things as seances, mediums and table tipping, which should be more correctly labeled as "spiritualism."

These different emotional reactions to the words "faith" and "spirituality" are a symptom of the polarization taking place in our country. There is so much misunderstanding and so much judgment of people who use words differently.

Two things helped me to develop my relationship to the meaning of faith. The first happened at a retreat on leadership and spirituality. On the bus to our meeting place, I discovered I was the only Democrat in a group of high-powered conservative Christians, many who had worked in Republican administrations. I was very intimidated. What if they found out about my liberal politics and my inclusive spirituality? Would they judge me and label me as airy-fairy, despite my having a doctorate from Yale?

But later, a group of us shared stories of our personal spiritual transformations. This intimate sharing of how we each came to our faith was a very bonding experience that transcended any political or religious differences. Each, in our own way, had a powerful connection to the Transcendent.

The second was reading James Fowler's Stages of Faith. He defines faith as the "universal quality of human meaning making." Faith occurs as individuals place trust in one or more centers of value such as religion, family, money, power and so on. This was a broader definition than simply tying the word "faith" to conservative Christianity. Some people have faith in money as the solution to problems and the realization of dreams. Some have faith in family as the place to put one's trust. And some trust in God to provide for their needs and to give them guidance in challenging times. These are not mutually exclusive, but it does make a difference in which center of values you put your greatest trust.

I have learned that faith is universal -- we all have faith in something. My personal question, especially in difficult times and when I am feeling afraid is "What am I putting my faith in right now?" Hopefully, it is God.

NAN Religion on 05/05/2018

Print Headline: Meaning of faith

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