Education and Transformation

I once heard Richard Rohr, one of my favorite contemporary speakers and writers on spirituality, utter a significant line.  He said, “Don’t confuse education with transformation.”  That was one of those moments when I gasped and thought, “Exactly!”  Let me detail that “exactly.”  I do that as one who has been in education for much of my career and care deeply about education.  So the last thing I would say is that I am against education.  To the contrary, education is crucial in this generation and for every successive generation.

I also think there is a real need for education in religious and spiritual circles.  Frequently, I cringe at the ignorance and sometimes stupidity otherwise smart women and men utter in the name of religion.  Of course, I recognize at one point we all start out in ignorance.  We all were little babies!  Once I did not know anything.  But I have learned some things.  In religion, however, learning is tricky.  Not all learning is equal.

I want to put spiritual or religious learning, which I equate with education, in a good light.  After all, I have learned a lot!  I suppose it began in a small Quaker Sunday School, but I will admit I was not a good learner then.  I became more serious in college and then, obviously, got real serious when I did seminary and a Ph.D. in religious studies.  It has been a great thing for me personally.  I say that, even if I were not earning a living teaching the stuff.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        \
I have learned so much about my own faith---Quakerism and Christianity.  I have learned a great deal about Judaism and Buddhism.  I know some about Hinduism and Islam.  I have learned how to think about issues that range from doctrine to ethics.  I still find it really interesting.  But I also came to realize that was not sufficient.

Conventionally speaking, the goal of education is knowledge.  I am ok with that way of looking at it.  If it were someone in medical school, we hope their gain much knowledge.  We don’t want a quack practicing on us!  We want someone who knows what she is doing.  But even for a physician, knowledge is necessary, but not sufficient to make a good doctor.  I would argue the same for a spiritual person.

I could have a ton of religious knowledge and still be a bad person.  To know about eithers, for example, is not to be ethical.  To know about God does not make me religious.  It makes me smart.  To know something does not make you that thing.  I can know about Communism, but that does not make me a Communist.  The same with Christianity.  I can have a Ph.D in it and have knowledge galore, but not be a Christian.  The same goes with other faith traditions.

That is where the other factor---transformation---enters the picture.  Transformation may build on education and knowledge, but they are not equivalent.  Transformation is about coming to be a spiritual person.  It is in some ways about conversion, although that term often gets bad press.  In transformation there is often a “before” and “after.”  It does not have to be an event---my transformation was not an event.  I was not saved one night.

But transformation is about become a different, new person.  In my terms transformation is coming to be a person of the Spirit.  That may happen with some education.  But it truly only happens with the Spirit is at work in our lives with our co-operation.  It is not magical.  There is no cookie-cutter process that I know.  Each of us is unique and the Spirit’s work in and with us has to be uniquely undertaken.

In my understanding transformation has both a “being” and a “doing” component.  Transformationally, I come to be a new person.  Typically, it is not just about belief.  I might get new ideas---new beliefs or doctrines.  But these in themselves are not transformational.  The belief, idea, or doctrine has to be translated into action---the “doing” component.  Often it has ethical implications.  I try to live according to the standards of the Spirit.  Normally, things like the Ten Commandments are guideposts.

The thing I most like about transformation is what it does not mean.  It does not mean you have to give up your way of life.  It does not mean going to church more.  Certainly, it does not mean joining a monastery or getting “serious” in some other stereotypically way.  It means living your life---your authentic life---from the Spirit.  In my own Quaker language it means living your life from the Center---the Divine Center, as I would describe it.

Experiencing transformation should make us more loving, more generous and more grateful.  Usually, transformational living has a service component.  We feel the call to minister to people or to causes.  We want to transform the world to know what we now know.  We know our world has troubles---sin is the theological word.  We want to be redeemers not wreckers.

The dream is to find a way to become educated and transformed.  Then you become a powerful instrument of the Spirit.  You are ready to live, to love and to lead an amazing life.

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