Last month, my Air National Guard colleague, Chaplain Mike Beyer, jokingly asked me, “How did you become an Air Force officer if you can’t play golf?”
“Mike,” I retorted, “I have to question the sanity of those who chase a white ball with a long metal stick.”
However, lest my readers label me “resistant to learning,” let me add that I have engaged in several other new interests in the past few years.
For instance, last month I finished 22 hours of classroom instruction at the FBI Citizen’s Academy in Sacramento. Taught by special agents, I learned how the bureau tracks down spies and terrorists. I donned white coveralls and gloves as I learned how to collect and preserve evidence. Most challenging of all, I put aside my greatest discomfort to fire a Glock pistol, a shotgun and an M-16.
The FBI education came just as I finished a Master of Fine Arts program for creative writing at Pacific University in Portland. During the two-year program, I read 80 books and wrote a 130-page thesis. I pick up my diploma in Portland next month.
My “schooling” continued this year as I learned about determination in a running group called Running for Rhett. I ran my first marathon and gained a drastic boost in self-confidence that tells me I can do nearly anything now.
I made many new friends in my running group, but not nearly as many as I made this year in my conscious effort to memorize the names of those I encounter in my new workplace. I now have friends in every corner of the VA hospital, from the people who clean our restrooms to those who occupy the boardroom.
My educational experiences during these past few years remind me that learning new things can inspire real spiritual growth. Additionally, it increases self-worth, enlarges your sense of accomplishment and expands your circle of supportive friends.
But if you really want to stretch, you should try befriending those of other faiths, nationalities and colors. I did that early this year when my daughter invited me on a church humanitarian mission to El Sauce, Honduras. I learned to wash my clothes on a washing board, eat beans and rice three times a day, and do my business in an outhouse.
Exploring other faiths and nationalities can present a huge learning curve. For instance, with world news so dominated by the Muslim faith, how many Muslims do you know? Have you visited a mosque? Or is your interfaith knowledge limited to what you hear on radio talk shows?
After last year’s shooting in Wisconsin, I urged readers to learn more about Sikhism. Did you? This monotheistic faith is the world’s fifth largest religion. They preach equality of all people and honor all sacred texts.
I’ve learned a lot about Buddhism by reading Thich Nhat Hanh. Recently popularized by Oprah Winfrey, Hanh is a Vietnamese mystic guru and spiritual teacher born in 1926. He writes about anger, peace and mindfulness, but is perhaps best-known for his 1997 book, “Living Buddha Living Christ.”
I’m still very much a Christian, but the more I learn how to reach out to people of other religions, the more I experience the Living Christ Hanh portrays.
Yes, everyone can learn — even me. So after 26 years of commissioned military service, I called Mike to tell him that I was taking golf lessons. He sounded impressed but quickly added, “Wonderful, but take it from a Lutheran, golfing will teach a Baptist to cuss.”
This just reminds me to add a closing disclaimer: One probably should remain prudent when learning new things.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author. Email comments to email@example.com, or send comments to P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.
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