Thoughts on Souls and a Great Loss

**Note: I apologize for erratic postings. I still have a fantastic interview I need to post, but my job has me traveling internationally quite a bit so I am without my personal computer…as soon as I get a second to breathe, it will get posted!**

Monday’s tragic news of Robin Williams’s death has cast a pall over the week–and possibly longer. I have noticed that we have all felt the loss to be more personal than in other celebrity deaths, because Williams was someone we couldn’t help but adore–a great man, with great talent, but plagued by his demons.

I don’t want to get into an analysis of his suicide or what it means–the recent news of his Parkinson’s diagnosis might shed some light, but Williams was known to have fought a long battle with addiction, anxiety, and depression. As often happens with deeply thoughtful creative souls, the world might have been too much for him. But this post isn’t about that.

In 1998, Williams was in a film called “What Dreams May Come”. Some of you may have seen it. My parents are huge fans of his, so as soon as the film appeared at Blockbuster (on VHS, of course), we watched it. I was probably nine.

The film fundamentally altered my perception of souls.

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Interview 8: Knox

“Ultimately I see Christianity and my belief as a Christian as a doctrine of grace, and not of condemnation. “

I am so sorry it took me so long to post this one! Life can be a little crazy sometimes, but that’s what makes it fun. I’ve been so excited to share this interview with you for so long, so I’m glad I’m finally able to post it!

I have known Knox since 6th grade. We went to the same private Christian school in Atlanta, and we also went to the same church, so I saw him a lot at Youth Group (where I, in my angsty teenage way, would sit seething at being forced to go) and we both went on a mission trip to Kentucky (where I actually got to know him a little better). At school, we had similar circles of friends and were in the same Peer Leadership group in the ninth grade (long story).

When I first met Knox, I kind of hated him. He is incredibly smart and talented. He was our boys’ valedictorian and one of our fastest runners. He can sing and play the trumpet. His handwriting is impeccable. Everybody loves him. But he corrected my pronunciation of the word “spontaneity” in the hallway in 7th grade, and I WAS NOT PLEASED.

Once I started getting to know him better, through Peer Leadership and the mission trip, I finally got over it. I discovered that he is his own toughest critic. And I realized that Knox wasn’t some mystical creature who knew how to do EVERYTHING, he is a person, and a good person at that.

Interviewing Knox was delightful. I wish I had recorded our entire conversation, but it was about two hours long. (The block quote below is from our broader conversation.) He is thoughtful and careful with his words, and was incredibly open and honest. Afterward, we watched some dragonflies flitting about the pond in my backyard for about twenty minutes, trying to figure out what they were doing. It was a quiet, peaceful moment. That kind of curiosity and his desire to understand the world around him are why I am grateful to know Knox.

Interview 8: Knox

“God is in the asymptotes.”

Me: We went to Methodist church together, but back then I was already agnostic, so I was probably kind of closed off…I would like to know where you put yourself on the spectrum of religious identity these days.

Knox: I identify as a Christian, but—since you mention that we went to a Methodist church together—I don’t necessarily identify as a Methodist. Technically I am still on the books as a Methodist, but starting in college, most of the churches I’ve attended have been churches where I worked.  So those have included a very conservative Catholic church, a Cooperative Baptist church, an ELCA Lutheran church, a non-denominational university church, a non-denominational chapel, and two Episcopal churches.

Me: So all over the place!

Knox: So, pretty much all over the place. Participating in worship at so many different churches has been very informative for me, in terms of exposure to different traditions, and having a chance to consider the differences in theology among those denominations. I have found that I don’t necessarily identify with one denomination more strongly than another. I think the most important thing for my faith is identifying as a Christian, and I think Calvin was the one who talks about layers of doctrine—which is funny since I have not attended a Presbyterian church—but Calvin talks about layers of doctrine, and I’ve often thought about that myself. I think there are sort of core tenets that matter to me the most, and then the rest sort of gets less and less important. Obviously other people find some of those things very important, and those are why we have different denominations. Most recently I’ve had Episcopal leanings, partially from the churches where I’ve worked, and then some of my friends who are Episcopal seminarians, but while I was working at the Lutheran church I thought I might join the Lutheran church. [laughs] So I guess I’m a bit all over the map right now.

Me: That’s totally fair! I think it’s good to have shifting religious beliefs because that means you are constantly thinking about them. So what are the tenets that you mentioned? What, to you, is the most important part of your faith? What makes you define yourself as a Christian?

Knox: So to me, the central element of Christianity is my belief that Jesus was the Son of God and died for the forgiveness of mankind’s sins, and was resurrected. That to me, in a nutshell, is the core of Christianity. Now, beyond that, I think that also entails, then, that there is a God—these are the underpinning things—that there is a God, that God created the world. Obviously for different people that means different things; to me there’s no conflict between science and religion. And then I think as you expand out from that, largely, I think, I believe the Apostle’s Creed, which we grew up reciting every Sunday at our Methodist Church. I think that’s supposed to be a summary of our faith, and for me, that remains the summary of my faith. So that of course entails believing in the Holy Spirit, which I do…I do think believing in the Trinity is an important part of Christianity as well. Which of course forms one of the most fascinating paradoxes of our belief, that is something that…try as theologians have to find some way to rationalize it and make a logical understanding out of it, I think most people agree that that’s one of those things that you just have to, at some point, say, “This is what I believe, and it is a paradox,” and to me, that’s an important part of faith. While I don’t believe that my faith conflicts with my beliefs as a rational human being, I do think that there are aspects of my faith that…as the word suggests, you just have to take without proof.  So then the question is, why do you believe those things? And I think I believe those things because of my experiences in the world. Paul talks, in Romans, the first chapter—and it’s also in other parts of the Bible as well—about what we call general revelation. And I think, as many people do, I’ve had numerous experiences in my life in which I feel that there’s something divine, something larger, active in my life. And then also, since I brought up science earlier, I think looking at the way our universe is structured and the marvels of everything from the beauty of nature to quantum physics, to me indicate some sort of intelligent presence. And for me that is God.


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Hello everyone!

So…the weeks have been a bit more busy than expected…and I haven’t transcribed my interview for today quite yet. BUT it is an awesome interview and y’all will love it…once I post it. Which will be soon. I promise.

Also, I have decided to post every OTHER Monday (…or slightly later…), as work has picked up quite a bit. That said, occasionally I might be able to get a bunch of interviews done, and will post as I am able. Every interview opens my eyes a little more to the vastness of the spectrum of beliefs, and yet, in the end, I find more similarities than differences. I deeply believe in the power of open discussion, and I hope that my interviews help to show how beneficial it can be.

Finally, I have added a widget so that you can subscribe via email, which will be at the bottom of each post. Some of you have already noticed, and thank you for subscribing! A friend pointed out it would be a useful option for those who want to be updated when I post something new (and since my record of posting on time has been spotty, might be easier than checking back on Mondays).

Thanks for reading and for all of your support, y’all rock.

Interview 7: Neiloy

My freshman year of college, I lived in the Honors Dorm and took several Honors classes. One such class was Honors Calc II, or, one of the worst mistakes I have ever made (okay, that’s a slight overstatement). While I was woefully unprepared for the class, I am still grateful that I took it, because it gave me some of the best friends that I had in college: my Breakfast Club. After class or recitation, a group of us of would head to the dining hall, grab some of the “food” that they served there and talk about whatever we wanted. It was more often than not an incredibly nerdy conversation, but come on, we were taking Honors Calc II at Georgia Tech, I don’t know what you expected. After that first semester, most of Breakfast Club disbanded, but Neiloy, our friend George, and I kept meeting for breakfast (along with various others) for the rest of college. Sometimes I would feel completely alone and down in the dumps, but with Breakfast Club I always managed to forget whatever was keeping me down and laugh until I cried. I knew I could always count on them.

Neiloy is one of the best people out there. He actually helped me move once–and you know you have a true friend if they help you move (seriously, I have no idea how we would have gotten my bed out of my apartment without him). He is probably one of the (if not the) smartest people I know, but he is not arrogant. He is kind and thoughtful and when he moved away for work, I missed him very much! A couple weeks ago I found out he was back in town temporarily for a project, so Breakfast Club reconvened–and I realized I had never known his religious beliefs, so I asked if I could interview him. Of course, being the kind of friend he is, Neiloy had been reading my blog, even though I didn’t know it–and he even had a bone to pick with something specific I had said, so he was reading closely (Neiloy disagrees with my assertion that Georgia Tech was intellectually un-stimulating, so now, public, you have another opinion). I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing him and found that, despite our differences in culture, I very much agree with much of his core belief system. I hope that y’all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed listening.

Interview 7: Neiloy

“We are all intertwined in a single divine nature.”

Me: So, Neiloy, first off, I’d like for you to actually tell me what you believe because I realized that I have no idea, and I’ve been friends with you for quite some time, so I’m kind of shocked we haven’t talked about this! If you wouldn’t mind, give me a basic description of your beliefs as they stand today.

Neiloy: Okay, so first I’m going to comment that it’s not exactly surprising that we haven’t talked about it actually. There are two things that kind of inform a lot of discussions about my beliefs. One is that when you’re talking about religion here, most conversations that I’ve been in, in the US, that talk about religion, you’re talking about Christianity; and if you’re not talking about Christianity you’re talking about Judaism; and if you’re not talking about Judaism you’re asking me why I don’t wear a turban; and then you get to talking about, for example, Hinduism, which is the belief system that I most closely subscribe to. The other thing that informs discussions about my beliefs is the way I was raised. I was born to two immigrant parents from India, where it’s difficult to separate religion from culture, which means that religion is just something that permeates. So as a result of that, when they came to the US and I was born and they raised me, one of the things that wasn’t really consciously on their mind was religion, so I grew up in not quite an agnostic household, but in a household where those questions just didn’t arise often. And when you’re three and four years old you’re not necessarily asking those big questions unless someone is telling you to. But yes, I subscribe to Hinduism.


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Interview 6: Reverend Damon P. Williams

I already wrote an introduction to this post–and I once again apologize for the lateness. Sometimes life catches up with me. But I have finally transcribed my interview with Damon, and I am so excited to share it with you. It’s a long one, but worth reading, I promise you. So without further ado…

Interview 6: Reverend Damon P. Williams

“I just believe by faith that being in a relationship with something greater than me, God, is going to be better than what I’m doing now.”

Me: So basically, through my interview, I want to get an understanding of your beliefs and how you came to them. If you could use a sentence to describe your faith today, how would you describe it?

Damon: Oh gosh. A sentence to describe my faith?

Me: Well, okay, a paragraph. [laughs]

Damon: A paragraph. [pauses] So I believe in God, and I believe that the revelation of who God is, the character of God, God’s expectations, came through his son Jesus, who came to Earth approximately—the engineer in me won’t say two thousand years ago—approximately two thousand years ago, and that based upon the life that he lived, the way he lived his life, the sacrifice of his life, that he died for my salvation. So that would be the elevator speech of my faith.

Me: Good elevator speech. That’s exactly the terminology I should have used. [laughs] So how were you raised, and how did you come to those beliefs? Have you always believed that, or has there been a transition for you at any time?

Damon: That’s hilarious. No, I have not always believed that. I grew up in the most religiously nebulous household in the world. So, my mother, I would say is agnostic? She’s tried to come to an understanding of faith, most of her life, she’s tried to come to an understanding of God, just hasn’t been able to. When I was a kid growing up, she went to a Roman Catholic church. Every Christian and Judaic Christian denominational affiliation, she visited. Now she kind of goes to an interfaith center, so a place of spirituality and worship, but they would not claim any particular faith. My father grew up in an old-school Black Baptist church. His family went to that church. But during my childhood he was like a Sunday Christian. So Christianity wasn’t the core of his existence. He went to church on Sunday. He dressed up to the nines—excuse me, let me change my vernacular—he dressed as well as you possibly can—

Me: I understand what “dressed up to the nines” means. [laughs]

Damon: So you dressed to the nines and you went to church, and there was this old guy who had on this robe, and he got angry, and started yelling and screaming, who knew what he was yelling and screaming about, God was in there somewhere…. When I was a kid, to be perfectly honest, growing up, even through high school, I didn’t like going to the church. I loved the music, I didn’t like the length. Sunday, football season…I wanted to go home and watch the game. And the church wasn’t really about teaching. I didn’t learn very much. I didn’t learn about Jesus, I didn’t learn about this concept of faith. And then my mother—so the Catholic church—the music wasn’t hitting—this is going to sound totally racist, and it’s totally inappropriate, but I’m gonna say it anyway—black people are very—we’re rhythm-based people, and we’re into music, so these other churches that were singing like [breaks into falsetto Latin chant-singing], like you just can’t get with that. I couldn’t get with that. I needed something with a little more rhythm. So when I got to college, Georgia Tech, I went to church maybe twice? My entire collegiate career. Both times, it was because of a woman. [laughs] It had nothing to do with God at all.

So I didn’t actually come to faith, interestingly, until I was 24, actually, your age. I was a PhD student at the University of Michigan, I had just gotten my Master’s, and my roommate was going to this church, another typical Baptist church. The difference was the pastor was a teaching pastor, so he taught a lot. I used to not like people of faith, and Christians, I thought they just—the engineer in me, the scientist, I thought they just wanted to explain everything away with faith. He was very very very good at teaching. I was going because I liked the music, and I appreciated the teaching, and right at the age of 24 I went through this very traumatic experience—well it was traumatic for me at the time, looking back on it it’s not traumatic—where my advisor left the University of Michigan and went to Cornell, and he couldn’t take me with him. So I was stuck at Michigan with no advisor, not knowing if I was going to finish my PhD. Now I look back on it, not that big a deal, at the time it was like the world was ending, if I didn’t know what I was going to do with my doctorate. So that was how I came to faith.

Damon's official photo

Damon’s official photo

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Interview 6: An Introduction

Hi everyone! I am currently in the process of transcribing the interview I am supposed to post tomorrow, but due to a week full of mishaps and insanity (at this point, all I can do is laugh) I have not completed my blogging duties. I am helping a friend move to Denver from the Twin Cities tomorrow so I will HOPEFULLY have everything transcribed and post when we arrive. I’m very excited about this interview (to be fair, I’m excited about all of them) and I can’t wait to share it with you. To pique your interest, I have written an introduction to explain my relationship with the interviewee. So get excited.


Interview 6: Damon

An Introduction

To properly introduce my next interviewee, I must explain the circumstances under which I met him.

Those who know me know that I attended Georgia Tech, a school known for the quality of engineers it turns out. Part of creating these engineers entails destroying their psyches through sleep deprivation, an unyielding workload, and belittlement through grade deflation. But I digress.

Georgia Tech is a challenging school, but an intellectually un-stimulating one. Open discussion is a rarity for some majors, and non-existent for others. Professors are not there to teach, but instead are there to do research—teaching is an unfortunate side-job.

When I stepped into Damon’s class, I was a fourth year Industrial Engineering student. I was burned out on math class after math class, at the tail end of a three-year emotionally abusive relationship, and tired of classmates who seemed to only care about schoolwork, complaining about schoolwork, and drinking.

Damon’s first day of class was clearly intended to be an eye-opener, and it certainly was. He is an imposing presence on first encounter: tall, broad-shouldered, and—an unfortunate rarity in the engineering world—Black. He speaks clearly and precisely, his sentences are measured and calm, and you can’t help but be drawn in to what he is saying. Especially when, on the first day of class, he tells you there will be a quiz next class on the concepts he teaches that day. He wanted us to learn, and to learn well—and to be disciplined in our learning.

I was intrigued and terrified.

When I sat down the next night to study for this impending quiz, I got a phone call from my mother, telling me that my grandfather had collapsed at a routine dentist’s appointment and they didn’t think he would make it through the night.

While waiting for my parents to pick me up on the way to the hospital in Macon, I shot some emails to my professors, explaining I would be missing class. The email I spent the most time crafting was the one to Damon—I was terrified at the prospect of missing his quiz. I knew I couldn’t get in trouble for it—but it wasn’t the first impression I wanted to leave on such an imposing professor.

The next several days were a whirr. I stayed up all night in the hospital, as we waited for the news we already knew—my grandfather was brain-dead. We took him off life support and stayed with him until he took his last breath. I alternated between being overwhelmed with despair and being completely void of emotion.

I came home, went to class, went back to Macon for the funeral, came home again, and rescheduled my quiz with Damon.

I tried to study. Or rather, I tried to try to study. Instead I filled the emptiness with Netflix and Hulu. I didn’t care anymore.

When I walked into Damon’s office to take the quiz, I was surprised by his warmth and kindness. He had demonstrated his healthy sense of humor in class but the formidable professor was all of a sudden also a caring mentor. I didn’t know the solution to the quiz. I shrugged and tried to laugh it off, wanting to escape back to my cave of candy and dumb movies.

But Damon cared. He wanted me to understand the concept. He didn’t accept my failed quiz—he told me to come back and take it again when I was ready.

In my entire college career, I had never experienced such a feeling.

Once I realized how much Damon wanted us to learn in his class, I wanted to learn from him. He seemed to have as much stake in our success as we did—and it just made me want to impress him.

Of course, he knew my name from the first week of class, which meant he called me out whenever I wasn’t paying attention. I intentionally always sat in the front of a class to force myself to keep my eyes on the board, but even then had had trouble maintaining concentration. Damon called my attention back. He asked me to answer questions. I was so used to going off in a daze I no longer knew how to answer when a professor called on me. He helped me walk through the problem until I found the solution. It could be embarrassing and awkward, but it truly helped me learn.

The difference between Damon and most of my other professors was that Damon didn’t just care. He held me to a higher standard. Which, in turn, forced me to hold myself to that standard.

I got a B in his class. I’m still mortified to this day. I was less upset about the grade than I was about disappointing him.

But Damon did not just positively affect one class of one semester. Through him, I scored an internship in which I discovered I could be passionate about my major and what it allows me to do. I was so burnt out and broken down I hadn’t considered I might actually like being an industrial engineer—and all of a sudden, I was discovering a passion I thought I would never find. Without that internship, without Damon, I would not be where I am today.


When I heard that Damon had become a pastor, I was not surprised.

He is everything a pastor should be: passionate, thoughtful, observant, and open-minded. He speaks with intention and listens patiently. I am certain he will have great impact on this world, because I know he has already positively impacted me.  



Hey y’all. Like I said in my last post, I’d like to know if you would be interested in having some of the long interviews posted with the actual interview as well (though it will be infinitely more embarrassing for me, it might be easier to listen to a thirty minute interview than to read it).

Please let me know what you think! If there’s enough support, I will make the change. And as usual, any feedback is encouraged. Even if you came here because I use my Tinder as advertising. (I do what I can, people. Trying to share open dialogue is surprisingly difficult. Also I am learning so much about the areas I travel to for work–Ann Arbor, way to be the best at actually reading my bio/going to the blog. South Carolina, no I’m not looking to hook up. Peoria–jury is still out.)

Thanks for your help! I love you guys.

Interview 5: …Me.

I had not realized how many verbal tics I have until I listened to my interview. Taylor was a wonderful interviewer, asking poignant questions and finding new questions from my answers. Perhaps I should hand my job over to her!

Introducing my own interview–and putting block quotes from myself–seems a little odd, so I’m going  ahead and writing it. Please let me know what you think! Also I think I’m going to post a poll as to whether or not people want the sound recordings of the interviews. Transcribing allows for editing and deleting my colloquialisms (some, I did try to keep it honest), but for long interviews such as my own, perhaps a sound version would be more appropriate? As an accompaniment, exclusively. So when I figure out how to post a poll, please do let me know your thoughts.

Interview 5: Me

“Standing over humans, gods, and demons, subsuming Caretakers and Tunnel builders, there is an intelligence that antedates the universe.” –Carl Sagan

Taylor: Well, thanks for allowing for allowing me to interview you, Lillie.

Me: Thanks for interviewing me! I really appreciate it.

Taylor: I’m excited about it, because when you were interviewing me, I wanted to ask you questions. Now here we are!

Me: Now you can!

Taylor: First, if you’d explain your religious background, history, exposure, etcetera.

Me: Yeah! So…when I was little, I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School, and all the same stuff that everybody goes to when you’re Christian. It was at my preschool, which was a Methodist church. When you’re little you kinda just accept everything that’s told to you, so I was just like, “God is a person. Jonah was swallowed by a whale. This is fact, and this is what they have told me.” And then I got a little bit older and my mom told me that my dad didn’t believe in God and I couldn’t tell anyone.

Taylor: (laughs)

Me: (laughs) At first I was kinda like, “What do you mean he doesn’t believe in God?” I thought that God was just like, a thing. I mean I pictured him as this cleanly shaven old man who hung out in the clouds and just looked at us. Everyone always said he had a beard and I was like, “In my mind he’s very cleanly shaven.” He looked kind of like Mr. Rogers, in my head. Just so you know. (laughs) So that was my first exposure to understanding that people could believe different things. I just assumed that everybody was taught the same stuff. And then…I don’t really know at what point I understood that there were different religions, but there came a point in elementary school when I was like, “I don’t believe in God either.”  I think I was nine or ten. And I had been reading Time magazine and listening to NPR for quite some time, at this point in my life. So I thought I knew everything. I stopped saying “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, because I was like, “There needs to be separation of church and state. This is important.” Of course nobody notices the ten year old who just stops saying the Pledge of Allegiance halfway through and then just resumes it!

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Interview 4: Elizabeth

“Like most healthy relationships, mine with God is based on trust.”

Last week I was on vacation, so no interview–I’m dreadfully sorry. (Not really, I was at Hilton Head and it was wonderful). This week I interviewed Elizabeth, my darling grand-little in my sorority. I didn’t get to meet Elizabeth until she became Taylor’s little, but she fit into the sister-family instantly. She’s charming, well-spoken, driven, and hilarious–her sarcastic sense of humor showed she was meant to be in our family instantly. As I got to know her, I learned that her religion was very important to her–but not much more than that on the subject, so I was excited to get to ask her about her beliefs. She also made a gluten-free peach cobbler for our interview…and it was delicious (and very thoughtful, as I am gluten intolerant). We ate it while standing in her kitchen with her boyfriend and talking about religion/politics/everything else. [Side note: my interview will be posted next week, since I don’t feel it’s fair ask others to publicize their beliefs without doing it myself.]

Elizabeth mentions two churches she attended, but wants it to be clear that the opinions expressed in her interview do not represent either church’s views and are solely her own opinions.

And without further ado…

Interview 4: Elizabeth

DSC_0272“I feel [my relationship with God] is kind of a mix between a relationship with a parent and a relationship with a friend.” 

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Brief Interlude

Hello everyone,

I chose a Monday posting schedule, and I have to stick to it! However, I don’t have an interview for y’all to read. I’m lining up a few great ones–and actually going to be interviewed myself (it’s only fair, if I ask people to speak this candidly about their beliefs I have to be able to do it too!), but I am traveling for work this week and for pleasure next week…and while I considered interviewing my seat mates on the plane, I haven’t quite worked up that much nerve yet. 

So instead, I’m linking to a page I think some of you will enjoy. The FAQ Page for the Reformed Druids of North America. It’s worth the read, and much shorter than my interviews. 

Happy Monday, and if you have any interview ideas for me, please let me know!