A Fine Place to Start


By Joe Kimbrough

Joe Kimbrough graduated from the Department of Religious Studies in 2008. He went on to pursue graduate study in Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama, while maintaining his interests in the historical divisions between church and academy. You can read some of his other blog posts here.

Recently, I sought a diversion after working some overtime, so I stopped at the local Barnes & Noble. Such a decision was popular that evening since the store overflowed with customers like the University Supply Store on the first day of classes. After an initial scan of the store, I admired the efficiency of the Baristas as they ducked and dodged one another to complete orders as quickly as they were given without spilling a drop.

Instead of adding to this well-rehearsed musical number, I began looking at new releases. Quickly, I noticed two tables at opposite sides of a walkway; one supported a sign for “Faith Builders” while the other’s sign read, “Knowledge Exercises.” I became mesmerized by placing faith opposite knowledge. In part, these tables reflect certain media portrayals of faithful followers as members of the Westboro Baptist Church or Al Qaeda, while Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins represent the other side. Hence, this division serves a marketing purpose since they will attract customers to see what their side is saying while scoffing at the other side.

A woman pushing a stroller down the main aisle asked me to excuse her as she passed. I jerked out of the middle distance and asked her pardon for blocking the path. I moved back toward the café, and a few hangers-on seemed less impressed with the Baristas than I was since they huffed as a name was called which was not their own.

When my name was called, I took my cup of Earl Gray and exited the store to find a seat among the tables and chairs outside. An earlier rain shower and the setting sun cooled things pleasantly, though the table sizzled a bit as I wiped off the remaining water. I began to pack a pipe; a group of three men (all wearing a polo shirt and khakis) burst from the store, took a seat at the table nearest the door, and began to discuss an upcoming “killer” party. Two guys, one in a red and the other in a white polo, advertised that everyone was going to be there, and they were obviously invited. As they discussed the reasons we should be jealous, the other in a yellow polo checked his cellphone every time the screen darkened while drumming on the arm rests. Yellow (so called because of his shirt color) sighed heavily, and Red shook his head before slapping Yellow on the back, “Dude, you heard her say she is coming, and she even asked you what alcohol to bring, so have a little faith: she will be there.” White waves this suggestion away: “Man, I know she will be there. I saw her buy new clothes at Keith’s store today, and Janella told me they were both coming.” Yellow nods his head and renews the topic of the epic nature of the party with enthusiasm.

These guys moved on to planning their efforts for the evening, so I pulled a book of Sherlock Holmes from my bag and absorbed into the world of Victorian England. Then I became aware that it was time to go. I reached the end of one story and took the last sip of tea as the pipe puffed its last.

After I reached the car, I paused for a moment to marvel at the mall’s lights which softly illuminated the setting enough to mask anything beyond its perimeter while highlighting a store’s goods. I started the car and saw Orion’s Belt leaking through the haze of the mall. The scene reminded me of another from Disney’s The Lion King. In the scene, three friends lounge in prairie grass and star gaze. One asks what those strange lights in the sky are. The first response comes from Pumba, a warthog, who learned they are “balls of gas burning millions of miles away.” Timon, a meerkat, takes a lowered, serious tone, “Pumba, with you everything is about gas.” Simba, a lion, acquiesces to the others beseeching for his idea, and he tells them he heard “They were the souls of departed kings watching over us.” Timon and Pumba have a laugh at this theory, and Simba wanders away to meet the movie’s climax.

Now, the moon rose just over the horizon to challenge the supremacy of the mall’s lighting. As I drove, the houses blended into a singular swirl, and the distinctions between faith and knowledge did the same. Both faith and knowledge seemed to identify categories for understanding the world certainly. Perhaps there was a kind of evidence to distinguish between the two categories. Both the sympathizers gave first-hand experience for their claims that the lady would appear. For their claims, Red and White both offered justification which they directly sensed, but they arrived at two separate qualifiers for their certainty. In The Lion King, both Pumba and Simba rely on the testimony of others, as we would do if we agreed with a testimony in a book at Barnes and Noble. The characters used the reports of others to support their belief in their assertion, so humans use varying sources of testimony to defend their claims of faith and knowledge. Skepticism threatens at this point, but I will need more room to address that topic.

I reached the apartment complex and pulled into a spot closest to my front door. Meanwhile, I wondered if Timon’s response to Pumba carries more insight than might be anticipated from an animated meerkat. Each of the certainty claims seem to depend on a limited time and space, so certainty may not extend beyond the moment of expression. Given the limited availability of evidence and time for reflection, certainty may only be available for the current assertion of knowledge or faith. Maybe the best we can do is explore the world with our faith and knowledge while waiting for new evidence to confirm or reject our claims. As in other areas, knowledge/faith might be a continued process of adapting to what life presents to us.