Robert “Robin” Gottfried retired as Professor of Economics Emeritus from The University of the South in Sewanee, TN, where he currently serves as Director of the Center for Religion and Environment. While he has had a long-standing passion for environmental economics and sustainable development, particularly in Appalachia and Costa Rica, he more fundamentally has been concerned with what makes people whole. This inevitably leads to questions of meaning and purpose, which are fundamental to making good policy and healthy lives. Robin served as the first chair of the Environmental Studies program at Sewanee, helped establish its landscape analysis (geographical information system) laboratory, and authored professional articles on land use change, forest policy, and sustainable development. The author of Economics, Ecology, and the Roots of Western Faith: Perspectives from the Garden, Robin’s writings, including his blog at the Huffington Post, now focus on the intersection of ecotheology, social science and spirituality.
Your Personal or Professional Goals:
I view my current activities as the bringing together of all my past personal and professional experience. As an educator I have always had two goals: to help students think clearly and objectively about the world in which they live, and to assist them to see past the mechanics of economics to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the worldview that forms it. I have always felt that the goal of society should be to promote the well being of its members. That, of course, leads us to ask what we mean by well being. Fields such as sustainable development, positive psychology, ecopsychology and ecological economics challenge us to look beyond traditional disciplinary boundaries to view the entire interconnected biophysical world within which we live.
To that I add the concern of many that we need to add the spiritual dimension to our thinking. I have experienced through my religious practices the ultimately indescribable dimension of life that give meaning and centeredness to life. For too long we in the west have ignored or denied the existence of this dimension and omitted it from our professional work. I think this is a grave error. At the same time, all the major world religions are more aware than ever of the need to include the natural world in our thinking and spiritual practices inasmuch as humans and the rest of the world are intimately bound together. For our own good and that of the planet it is crucial that we integrate spirituality, and nature into our worldviews while we cross the disciplinary boundaries.
I have been on this road a long time, attempting to understand how my faith and professional life might fit together. I am fortunate to be living at a time when many others are asking similar questions and am grateful to have the opportunity to share my journey with others.
What’s your offering to the world:
I have always been a builder, one who starts new programs and tries new things, However, in the final analysis I think that the most we have to offer to the world is ourselves. That self isn’t the program builder or problem solver, the productive one who does the most things, but the one who gives freely of their love and their inmost being. This means learning humility, gratitude, and appreciation for all those around us, whether human or nonhuman. It leads us to share our inner gifts with others, without a concern for gaining points or status.
I hope that I’m getting closer to the case where the Song in me can sing out to others and lead them to join in the Singing, too. I also hope that, as we each seek to discern our particular melody and to allow it to come forth, the world will be transformed bit by bit. So, I’m slowly learning to let go of measuring what I offer by enrollment in programs or number of readers of blogs and instead accept that I may never know what I am offering other than my openness to the moment and those I meet at that time.
Who/What Inspires You:
I find inspiration all around me as I encounter the good and beautiful in the rocks, streams, trees and people everyday. In particular, music moves me. When I really play music, whether it’s traditional banjo/fiddle Appalachian tunes, mariachi music from Mexico, or Brahms, I lose my concern with self and discover who I really am. Music takes me to the depths of reality, that which we cannot describe but only experience. Nature does the same thing for me, as do people committed to the same journey.
Any more I hesitate to talk in terms of mission because that word implies that there is something I am attempting to achieve, somewhere I am trying to go. Mission implies to me that, once I get there, I will have accomplished a goal. Rather, I have come to believe that my mission is to live mission-less, to live in a world where I strive to listen and to see at each moment with new eyes and ears and to respond accordingly. I do long to help others along this same path, to help others encounter the depths of reality and the goodness that lies therein. However, I think I best can achieve that by being true to that which lies deep within me and others and sharing that as best I can as the opportunity arises.
“The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God” (a paraphrase of St. John of Damascus).
Eastern Orthodox Christians use painted pictures of saints and God (icons) as objects of meditation. When they gaze upon the icons, these pictures lead them to encounter the beauty, or spiritual reality, that resides below the surface of all things. This quote reminds me to seek always the inner goodness in all things, even people who otherwise I find aggravating. I’ve found it makes a world of difference.
Any other relevant information you think our readers would love about you! Goals are especially popular and it helps our followers to really reach for something more and improve themselves hearing about inspirational people:
Online and Social Sites:
Center for Religion and Environment: http://www.sewanee.edu/resources/cre/
Huffington Post blog: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/rgottfri-828
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