Harold and the Art of Asking Questions: A Short Autobiography

But moments of truth are infinitely better than platitudes of lies, which seek to undermine our democracy and hinder the promise of freedom to which the liberal experiment of the American Republic has been so fervently dedicated.

Harold at 10 dressed up ready for church.

I remember a Sunday School class I was taking when I must have been around 9 or 10 years of age.  The kid that was teaching the class was attending college and studying to be a minister.  I’m not sure what this class was supposed to be teaching us, but the teacher decided we needed to understand the classic doctrines of the Church.  He talked about God; he talked about Jesus; and he talked about the Trinity.  God, he told us, was a triune God.  That meant that the Godhead was comprised of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and all three of them form one God.  Three equals one.  Say what?  That just isn’t reasonable, I thought, and I began to ask him questions.  How can three be one?  If the three—the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—are all condensed into one, then what sense does it make to suggest that they are different?  Surely, this is a metaphorical way of thinking of God.  Okay.  I didn’t use the word “metaphorical” at that point in my life, but you get the picture.  I asked questions, more questions, and questions after that.  Resembling a ten-year-old Socrates, my questions finally got to the poor college student and he could no longer answer them.  He was frustrated and let me know that I shouldn’t ask so many questions about such important topics.

He didn’t teach that class for very long.  I don’t know why he quit, but I like to think my questions had something to do with it.  As Socrates long ago demonstrated, someone who asks endless questions becomes something of a philosophical gadfly moving about stinging people in the ass.  Questions are moments of uncertainty that penetrate the known with the unknown opening the topic at hand to new avenues of exploration.  They undermine; they deconstruct and…they frustrate.  That’s what makes them so fun.  My life could be summarized by my time in that Sunday School class.  After a rather long detour through the carefree and frivolous contours of a hippie lifestyle in the late 60s and early 70s, I once again dedicated myself to asking questions, and I embarked on an academic journey that resulted in nearly three master’s degrees, a Ph.D., and post-graduate work in mental health.  During that time, I have taught at colleges and universities throughout the Denver area for over two decades, taught Marriage and Family Therapy to master and doctoral students at Argosy University, worked as a marriage and family therapist and taught classes in psychology at a local community college. Now in retirement, I read, ask questions and write a blog about the questions I have.

Questions are moments of uncertainty that penetrate the known with the unknown opening the topic at hand to new avenues of exploration.  They undermine; they deconstruct and…they frustrate.  That’s what makes them so fun. 

Through all of this, my love became philosophy.  I first encountered philosophy in a meaningful way while doing undergraduate studies at Northwest Nazarene College (NNC) in a small town in Southern Idaho where I worked as the teaching assistant to the philosophy professor.  My responsibilities were the usual office stuff, but I also had opportunity to grade exams, papers, and occasionally I taught a class—not a course, but occasionally I would teach a class or two for different courses when the professor could not be there.  While initially, teaching those classes scared the bejesus out of me, I grew to love it.  It was an academic exploration into thought and wisdom I had not experienced previously, and at the heart of that opportunity was the skill set I had discovered in that Sunday School Class years ago—the art of asking questions. Like the Sunday School teacher, many of my professors at NNC grew weary of my incessant questions, but a few of them did not and encouraged me to pursue a doctorate.  While most who shared my major planned to attend the Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) to continue their indoctrination, the New Testament professor for whom I was also a teaching assistant suggested an alternative trajectory.  You should work on MA instead of a M.Div. he thought.  The former was an academic degree, he said, and if you wish to get a Ph.D., the MA will serve your needs better. That made sense, so I found a seminary that offered a joint program where you could get an MA and a M.Div. at the same time.  I jumped at the chance and enrolled at Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in Berkeley, CA.

Asking questions is one thing but enrolling in one of the most liberal seminaries in the United States was quite another.  Dr, Sanners, the head of the Religious Studies Department at NNC, told me that if I graduated from PSR, he would do everything in his power to see that I would never get a job in the Church of the Nazarene.  To make a long story short, I graduated from PSR with an MA and even though I ended up getting my M.Div. from the NTS rather than PSR, Dr. Sanners kept true to his promise, and I never got a job in the Church of the Nazarene.  Instead, I eventually became a United Methodist, was ordained a United Methodist Minister and ended up going to the Joint Ph.D. Program at Iliff School of Theology/University of Denver where I graduate with my Ph.D. in Theology, Philosophy and Critical Theory.  My dissertation was titled “Digital Ontology and the Possibilities of Ethics: A Levinasian Response.”  I don’t know what that had to do with theology, but it earned me the accolades of my dissertation committee, which was comprised of Dr. Jere Surber, Dr. Carl Raschke, Dr. William Dean and was attended by Dr. Frank Seeburger, an eminent Heideggerian scholar who was deeply interested in my project.  Upon successfully defending my dissertation, Dr. Surber, who chaired the project, suggested that I would graduate with honors if the Joint Ph.D. Program conferred such a designation, which it did not.

The long financial strain of a doctorate left me needing financial gain and rather than finding a job teaching at a university—scarce at the time– I moved to Brush, CO to become the pastor of the Brush United Methodist Church, which I pastored for ten years while teaching philosophy at Red Rocks Community College.  In all of this, I have never lost my love for the art of asking questions and my passion for the pursuit of wisdom has not dimmed. Instead, my passion has led me to deeper insights on what it means to be human.  Interestingly, the practical realities of the ministry led me away from organized religion and onto a path towards a deeper sense of spirituality that is not constrained by the doctrines of a church and the depths of which cannot be exhausted by the theological tomes that guard the Church’s dogma. Now, in retirement, I wish to try my hand at blogging that I might humbly place before those who wish to read them thoughts that summarize a lifetime of exploration, thoughts about philosophy, theology, mental health and political issues.  The four areas are held together by a stubborn dialectic that cannot rest for it is not inspired by answers but finds its power in questions that have yet to be asked.  This blog, then, represents an exploration and while ideas will be shared, debated and deconstructed, it invites the reader to ask questions, to penetrate the stubborn status quo of a post-truth era and discover wisdom that is the bearer of truth if only for a moment.  But moments of truth are infinitely better than platitudes of lies, which seek to undermine our democracy and hinder the promise of freedom to which the liberal experiment of the American Republic has been so fervently dedicated.  I invite you to join me in this exploration that together we may hear the whisper of wisdom revealed through the art of asking questions.

Published by Harold W. Anderson

I am a retired United Methodist Minister working in private practice as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). I also work in addiction issues and am a Certified Addiction Counselor, level III (CAC III). I also supervise graduate students working on their Master Degrees and supervise Candidates in Training who are working towards licensure. My desire to provide a window of hope to those with whom I work that they live in a world of opportunity.

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