I find myself trying to sustain a lot of “tensegrity,” and decided that one way to live creatively in the midst of that is to try and journal regularly about the various paradoxes I find myself within. “Tensegrity” is a word Buckminster Fuller once coined — “tension” + “integrity” = “tensegrity.” He used it to describe the incredibly stable nature of the structures he could build by holding competing forces together while respecting their integrities. I like to use it to describe what it is to be a person of faith living in a global media culture.
I love teaching. Mostly, I think, because I love learning. I just came back from a week of teaching an intensive at Trinity Seminary (Capital University) in Ohio. We had a full week of thinking about and exploring educational ministries in a variety of contexts and with a variety of people.
I enjoyed it greatly! And this morning I was cleaning up a list of the resources that came up in conversation. These are randomly organized, but they might give you a sense of the rich conversation we were having, since these were not already in my course resource list but sprang to mind in the midst of our discussions:
My Grandmother’s hands A book by Resmaa Menakem on racialized trauma and healing.
Christine Sine’s breath prayer (which I use a lot in classes)
Collaborative learning techniques A book by Patricia Cross and colleagues, with lots of examples beyond the Stephen Brookfield ciq we used in class
Helping kids recognize emotion
From brain to mind A book by James Zull on neuroscience and learning
Humankind: A hopeful history A book by Rutger Bregman which blows up a lot of what we think we know, based on empirical research which challenges cultural myths
Learning to listen, learning to teach
A book by Jane Vella — includes and explains the principles we talked about in class, using her vast experience from being in the Maryknoll community and then a seminary prof and consultant.
Teaching reflectively in theological contexts: Promises and contradictions A book I co-edited with Stephen Brookfield, with essays by Luther Seminary faculty
Mighty stories, dangerous rituals A book by Herbert Anderson and Ed Foley that considers many markers in a person’s life, and how to live in the dialectic between parable and myth
Unlocking leadership mindtraps A book by Jennifer Garvery Berger on complexity and leadership
A key book by Joyce Mercer. Makes the argument that we need children in church NOT because they are the future, but because they don’t know our stories (biblical and otherwise), and thus require us to tell them — which makes us remember them.
A book by Robin Kimmerer (remember I showed you her video on the “honorable harvest”)
Here comes everybody
A book by Clay Shirky — written back in 2008, about the nature of the net, which is still powerful and important in the ways it talks about shifts which the net has catalyzed.
The power of ritual
A book by Casper ter Kuile, which explores how we think about ritual particularly with “spiritual but not religious” persons
Tyranny of merit
A book by Michael Sandel — I’m still in the middle of reading this one, so not sure I’ll agree with his conclusions, but it’s a powerful piece of political philosophy that explores why populism has arisen, and what we could do about it.
In memory of her
A book by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza — the book that sent me off to seminary! It’s written by a prominent biblical scholar, and explores women in the bible through their fragmented presence
A multi-faith practice in which people explore a topic using their key scriptures, in groups that hold different scriptures sacred.
Becoming a white anti-racist
My most recent book, written with Stephen Brookfield. Important to note the title is “becoming” since we never fully arrive.
A powerful womanist theologian working on ecology and food issues.
The practice of communicative theology
A book by Matthias Scharer and Jochen Hilberath that explores a dialogical and deeply grounded process by which to do theological reflection in community.
My Hein fry lecture is published as “Learning the Bible in the 21st century: Lessons from Harry Potter and vampires,” in Teaching the Bible in the Parish (and Beyond), edited by Laurie Jungling. Minneapolis, MN: Lutheran University Press, 2011.
Black churches for digital equity
An advocacy group which has recognized how important access to high speed broad band internet is for civil rights
The “frozen” archive of a site I created back in 2006 to support people sharing religious resources they created in their home contexts. http://www.feautor.org
Introducing theologies of religion
A key book by Paul Knitter which lays out several approaches to the reality of multiple faiths, from a Christian perspective
Short stories by Jesus: The enigmatic parables of a controversial rabbi
A powerful book by Amy Jill Levine, who is a Jewish scholar, considering Jesus’ parables
The national service learning clearing-house
A website with links to zillions of useful resources:
Wade in the water
A curriculum I mentioned that is about water resources, and developed in a public/private partnership
The samaritan’s dilemma
A book by Deborah Stone, written back in 2008, which explores how ideological manipulation led to us believing that helping people was actually hurting them, by creating dependencies. I think of course humans want to help humans, so it takes a lot of work to make us believe otherwise.
Honoring our neighbor’s faith
A book by Robert Farlee that explores multiple faiths from a Lutheran perspective
It’s been a long hard slog since Christmas, right through Easter. The pandemic drags on in ever more suffused and challenging ways. Nate’s partner Harrison has been down at Mayo since March, due to a surgery to remove a tumor that ripped his aorta. Luther students have been valiantly — and unsucessfully — advocating for Luther Seminary to enter the Reconciling in Christ process. Russia is at war with the Ukraine. Climate castrophe is evident just about everywhere. And now we have a leaked SCOTUS opinion that looks to remove Roe v. Wade as the law of the land.
It’s been hard to hold onto hope. I find myself returning over and over again to Valarie Kaur’s words:
“Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger protects that which is loved. And when we think we have reached our limit, wonder is the act that returns us to love.”
And in that vein, I have been listening endlessly to Cloud Cult’s newest album, Metamorphosis. It’s probably been years since I’ve listened to an album all the way through, the way the artists intended it. But this one is powerful to me.
Cloud Cult sings of hope and love and life beyond death, in a deeply grounded way that is fully aware of our brokenness, the ways we hurt each other, the longing that lives on when someone dies. This is theology I can lean into.
It regularly brings me to tears, and reminds me to live in wonder.
And here we are at Advent again. Meanwhile the world continues to burn. Back in 2008 I had the privilege and joy of working with a group of liturgical artists from around the world who put together a free resource for Advent that drew on prayers, readings, and songs from around the world seeking to encourage communities who lived immersed in violence. The 84 page booklet is called “Imagine Peace” and while I can’t seem to find it through the World Council of Churches any more, I still have a copy here on my website.
I commend it to you as a compelling resource this Advent.
This is an essay by British author George Monbiot that shares in an accessible way some of how non-linear change could give us hope when it comes to climate catastrophe.
Today I’m thinking about the possibility of non-linear change in relation to racial injustice. I think there is something brewing, there is a Spirit seeking to breathe into and through us, that is pushing us to see not only the stark choices and awful histories we are embedded in, but the forms and stories of resistance.
I also heard something this week that resonated with me: we learn history not because history repeats, but because history rhymes. So not precisely the same thing happening, but things happening that rhyme with the past.
So how might we lift up histories that we WANT to rhyme? There is collective organizing happening all over the world. Some have named October “striketober” for the amount of labor activism. And there are myriad small, local efforts to build communities that are walkable, where mutual aid and mutual responsibility remove the need for militarized policing. Let’s share more of those stories!
The verdict in the Rittenhouse trial plunges me right back into the anguish and anger that accompanies recognizing the depth of white supremacy that is baked into our systems here in the US. I need to remember the work and the spiritual disciplines necessary for confronting white supremacy.
Here is a very helpful conversation between an historian of Christian Protestantism (Robert P. Jones) and a seminary dean (Leah Gunning Francis) that took place a week ago (prior to the verdict).
Jones notes in this conversation that if at one time white Christians had said NO to slavery, and then to every institution of white supremacy after that, it would have ended.
White Christians this is on us.
For weeks now (maybe months?) I’ve been going nearly every morning to the Healing Our City virtual prayer tent. I suppose it was inevitable that eventually they would ask me to offer a reflection, but I was still humbled and anxious about saying something worthy of a space which has offered me such hope.
So today was my turn, and here is what I offered:
I wrote this piece recently for Luther Seminary’s faith+lead blog, and I don’t want to lose it. (It can be hard to find stuff on that site!)
Of all the words and prayers and songs that have been lifted up in the last few days, this piece from Darnell L. Moore best articulates what I’ve been feeling and looking towards. I have an “impatient patience” focused on restorative justice. Thank you, Darnell, for your powerful words!
Tuesday the jury in the Derek Chauvin trial returned with three guilty verdicts. The waiting that started at 3:30 pm that day drew me into hushed silence. The report was that the verdicts would be shared in court betweern 3:30 and 4:00 pm, but by 4:00 pm they still hadn’t been read.
I sat and sat and sat and prayed. And when the judge finally appeared and read the verdicts, and on all three counts Chauvin was found guilty, I burst into tears.
This is only a beginning step. But it is a step I did not dare to believe was possible. I watched as much of the trial as I could — hours and hours of it — and learned far more than I suppose I want to, about legal use of police force, about what police training consists in, and so on.
Our system of law enforcement is so broken. Even as we awaited the verdicts here in Minnesota, a young teenager, a Black girl, was shot dead in Columbus, Ohio by police who were responding to HER call for help. And today as I write this post, we are facing the funeral of Daunte Wright, yet another young Black man killed by a white police officer just outside of Minneapolis. He was stopped for a small traffic violation — license tag? something hanging from his rearview mirror? it’s not entirely clear.
That a traffic stop results in death. That the possibility that someone used a $20 counterfeit bill results in death on the street by a cop kneeling on your neck as you plead for air. These incidents break my heart into tiny little shards.
I am having a hard time doing what Parker Palmer urges — letting my heart be broken open, ever wider, instead.
These are incidents where police are functioning as judge, jury, and executioner — it’s impossible to see how they differ from lynching. And yet our city, our nation, continue to support the police. Even the Derek Chauvin trial, as startling as it was that he was convicted on all counts, was basically a defense of the police more generally and just a condemnation of “one bad cop.”
My prayer this morning is that we begin to wake up from the lethargy, the apathy, even the despair that has held so many — particularly white folx — from collectively organizing to change our systems. I am learning how to be part of a restorative justice circle, and I am reading Kazu Haga’s work on “Healing Resistance.” These are my steps this week. May they be strong first steps on a journey towards true justice.
Caitlin Flanagan writes, in the Atlantic:
“In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education. We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools. In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item.”
I have to start by noting that all of my degrees come from elite private universities. I know something of what it means to be in that space. Back in 1980, when I was applying to college, you could be a kid from a single parent household who went to public schools, and you could still get admitted to Yale. Public education in Wisconsin really meant something (it still does, in some spaces), and I graduated from high school with a deep commitment to learning, and with a love of reading and writing that continues to sustain me.
Four years of elite university later, I knew that my sisters who went to public universities had gotten at least as good an education as I had. In some ways even better.
Nowadays, far too many of our public schools and universities are crumbling around us, and the opportunities to learn an instrument, to participate in art classes, to argue philosophy, even simply to play outside in recess (prior to the pandemic), are disappearing.
According to this article (and certainly I’ve heard enough from this generation of college students to confirm it), nowadays the competition for a “good education” begins back in preschool, and continues through ever increasing parental anxiety in K12 settings all the way to college and graduate school. And it’s all about wealth. When elite education becomes solely about getting — or keeping — access to wealth, we have lost what really matters and it is not surprising that polarization and ugly dynamics grow ever more rapidly around us.
This author is writing about elite private education, but I want to note that at heart the article is trying to help us to reclaim a deep sense of the public, of a shared commitment to learning that is about engagement with the whole of society.
In the midst of our drastically unequal society, in the midst of the devastation wrought by pandemic and racial injustice, we need to grasp onto Amanda Gordon’s words, and believe there is light, “if only we are brave enough to see it.”
An article like this sheds light on a set of practices that only magnify inequality, and further erode our sense of ourselves as a people, diverse but united. The headline on this article names elite private education of this sort obscene. That’s a strong word, but it is warranted.
Imagine what we could do if we focused our attention back to the roots of learning as a civic enterprise, and poured money into public education. Rather than grasping after a very selfish kind of elite private education, what if the children of our leaders were immersed in contexts and relationships where they were all leaning into building just relationships, and a form of learning that lifts up each child’s unique gifts? Imagine!
A couple of years ago this podcast explored the pressures facing white families to choose the “right” public school here in the Cities. I resonated deeply with the conversation, because these leaders were asking — what if every school was a great school? Instead of the anxieties that were provoked by having to search out and find just the right school (because the assumption was that there were many bad schools), what if every school in every neighborhood was excellent?
The podcast speakers were interrogating the white privilege that had become the air so many of us breathe. Instead they asked, and we need to ask: why can’t we ensure that every school is a great school? That would be an achievement worth celebrating.
Read Flanagan’s article, and think about it.