Prompt #1: How do you describe your faith, and how do you trace its roots?
This is our introduction to each other, and to those who are reading, so it’s important for us to do some placemaking. This means introducing yourself, explaining your faith (or your lack of), and then taking a moment to explain your journey. I find the last part — the journey — the step we too often miss when trying to understand the views of others. Please remember to send your responses as both a snail mail letter (please!) and as an email. I’ll use the email to post your response on the website and cross-post them on the Faith, Fully Facebook page. The snail mail letters will be used for a physical project that’s coming later!
August 14, 2016
Let me begin by thanking you for agreeing to participate in Faith, Fully. The project combines three really terrible elements for most people: writing, the public, and talking about yourself. Toss religion into that cauldron, and I wasn’t sure what I’d get. But I got all of you, and I’m appreciative of both your time and your willingness.
Now: to the letter.
As most of you know by now my name is Brad King. While I’m currently an associate professor of journalism at Ball State University, I mostly identify myself as a writer. I was a journalist for nearly twelve years. I started as a news aide in 1994 at little weekly newspaper called Cincinnati CityBeat and ended my professional career in 2006 the producer and editor for MIT’s Technology Review magazine website. During that time, I covered everything from graffiti artists to international trade treaties.
But what really drove my writing, and continues to drive it, is a really good question. I love finding a simple question, and exploring all the ways it might be answered.
In 2002, my friend and writing collaborator John Borland and I did that with a book called Dungeons & Dreamers: A story of how computer games created a global culture. We set out to answer a very simple question: Why do so many people spend so much time playing games online?
On the surface, the question might seem unimportant. For us, it wasn’t. We found the answer to that question, one we received from the hundreds of people we interviewed, fascinating. The answer traced itself back to the founding of the Internet, ran through the pen-and-paper game Dungeons & Dragons, and into the Web. The story of the Internet, and the story of the games people play, all traced back to a single, fundamental answer: We play because we want to find other people who are like us.
That simple notion — that a computer game could connect people from around the globe — has helped radically transform how we think about the world. Because the Internet, and the games we play on it, have made it possible to meet, befriend, and play with people from anywhere on the planet. There are no geographic boundaries for finding a place of your own.
In 2006, I exchanged the world of journalism for the world of teaching. I took a job at Northern Kentucky University, a regional school that sits in the northern part of Appalachia. And in 2009, I came to Ball State, where I have remained since.
But answering that one, good question has continued to be a passion. Which brings us to The Geeky Press, a writing community I started in Indianapolis in 2014. We run writing events throughout the city on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. While we don’t really have an objective or a mission, everyone agrees with this idea: We believe writing matters.
And that brings us to Faith, Fully: A collaborative letter-writing project.
But why faith?
I’m an atheist. I’ve always been as far back as I can remember despite my parent’s best attempts. We attended the Loveland Presbyterian Church on a (mostly) weekly basis. I went to Sunday school. I sang in the church choir. (I rocked it as one of the Three Wise Men during a Christmas service.) I taught Sunday school several times. And I even ended up at vacation Bible School.
Yet I don’t recall a time when I ever believed any of those stories.
My parents — but my mother, in particular — passed on a love books. Weirdly, I have vivid memories of my childhood going back to when I was two years old. One of those memories is lying in bed, listening to my father read me a story. I couldn’t tell you the book, but I remember the smell of his aftershave (Aqua Velva, which I’d come to know later) and the joy of hearing him read.
I am sure that my love affair with books, and the voracious knowledge that exists in them, is forever tied to those days.
As I got older, I found myself gravitating towards science fiction, the gateway drug to the hard sciences. In my teen years, I devoured the hard science fiction of Isaac Asimov, which in turn introduced me to the writing Carl Sagan, which would years later lead me to working at Wired and eventually MIT.
I found the exploration of the unknown fascinating. I found comfort in the notion that we do not know everything, but that we can begin to piece together the notion of everything one, small step at a time. That we are forever connected to those who come before us and those who come after us in the same way a staircase is connected. We can touch what was before our step and after our step, but none of it could exist without the entire structure.
I found comfort in the three basic tenets of the scientific process: create a testable hypothesis, that can be repeated by others, and that can be disproved. Three simple rules that have elegantly guided hundreds of years of human progress.
These tenets, of course, don’t answer every question. There is still so much we don’t know about the universe. Ask a scientist to define life, for instance. Or ask them how the brain works to create consciousness. Or how life (or the universe) came into existence. Or why we make art.
Those are all good, hard questions. They are part of the notion of everything that we continue to explore one, small step at a time. I do not find my life devoid of meaning because I don’t know the answers, or because I won’t live to see those answers. I find it full of meaning because I know I am one part of the entire staircase structure that will one day lead us to know.
Books, and art, and science imprinted that notion on me long ago. I read, and looked at, and learned the works of people who had long since passed, and found their stories, and their creations, and their discoveries so understandable. They were my guides through childhood, into adulthood, and (I assume) through my exit from the mortal coil.
But while I am here, I am still so keenly fascinated by the exploration of simple questions. And I know so many of you think differently than I do about these, and you see answers in places I do not.
And so, we are here. On the stairs together. At the same time. Touching only what comes right before us, touching only what comes right after us, and yet only existing because of the whole structure.
I look forward to your stories.