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.
Here we are again, at the start of the liturgical year, and the beginning of the season of Advent. I’m struck in reflecting on my blog, how often I write about Advent — more than any other liturgical season! I suppose that is in part because it arrives in winter for me, here in North America, and the ever darkening days and cold weather leads me both to introspection and to searching for hope.
Hope is hard to find in the midst of a world on fire with war, with climate catastrophe, with polarization, with democracy failing. And yet… and yet Advent reminds me that there is light even in the midst of the cold and dark.
“To me, the hope lies in the surprise. God subverted the faithful’s expectations. Rather than an earthly king draped in dazzling robes and adorned with jewels, a little brown baby was born to an unwed mother and a poor father, tired and scared immigrants on a long journey, seeking a place to rest.”
May you each find hope in surprise this season, and may you light a candle to remind you of the light that shines forth in the dark.
I was recently looking for Gord Downie’s film, The Secret Path and I couldn’t remember his name, so I was doing a more generic search for pop music that addressed the anguish of the Native American boarding schools.
I found Downie’s film, but I also found this page which has a huge collection of powerful music. I think music helps me feel the depth of the pain that needs to be engaged more than print texts can.
I can’t help sharing this piece from the Apple launch yesterday, which explores their current achievements around the environment and sustainability. It’s a great little story — but it’s only one version, and so next to that I want to juxtapose Bill McKibbon’s latest essay. Perhaps my point, at least one of them, is that we need both uplifting stories and also direct awareness of the complexity of the challenges we face.
I’ve been writing about and advocating for UBI (universal basic income) since 2016, when I first encountered the multi-faith activism around it in Toronto. Lately I’ve noticed that I need to step back a few steps and help people think about what “solidarity economics” might be. So today I shared a piece through Luther Seminary’s faith+lead site, in which I try to do just that. It’s entitled “solidarity economics and the good life”.
Eric shared with me today this essay from a key scientist in the AI world that was published in Time Magazine. It is beyond alarming. I found my stomach clenching and my breath becoming shallow. Both of which signaled that I am afraid.
But what to do with that fear? My plaintive response to Eric was precisely that: what can we do? And so when this other essay crossed my inbox this morning I knew I had to share it. It’s written by Bill McKibbon, whom I’ve followed for years. He’s a very thoughtful observer and science writer, and he reminds us that humans can choose NOT to do something.
So, in the midst of the fear that ChatGPT and other AI mechanisms evoke for me, I want to lift up that there is also hope to be found in the collective work of humans seeking to slow down and pause.
And, at the risk of sharing my faith, my mantra lately has been verse 11 from Psalm 46 in the Bible: be still and know that I am God.
Humans are not God. But humans can listen deeply for God, and discern accordingly.
I started this blog back in March of 2003. I was increasingly worried about how to balance what I felt and believed, with my teaching responsibiliites. It didn’t seem appropriate to hijack a classroom to talk about why I didn’t think we should go to war in Iraq, but I also didn’t want to hide how I felt about it.
So I started a blog. Over the years this blog has gone through various technical changes, not to mention software infrastructure, moving from wordpress to jekyll, for instance, and moving from something I wrote in all the time, to something I only occasionally write for.
One of the exercises I’ve used in a variety of settings — and which we are using this year in a Wabash symposium — comes from the work of George Ella Lyon. The idea is to fill in words to a series of prompts that begin “I am from…”
You can find Lyon’s explanation and a bunch of examples at that website, but Alex just suggested I post my own here. I was surprised by how much of what sprang to mind for me came from my earlier years, not so much later on.
I am from the sound of my mother giving piano lessons in our front room as I try to keep my baby sisters quiet.
I am from the touch of tears kept bottled up inside as I stay silent in the shame of using food stamps.
I am from the touch of hands seeking to stretch and support the muscles contorted by my son’s cerebral palsy.
I am from the smell and no smell of frozen nostrils in 20 degrees below zero weather.
I am from the smell of books: new books, old books, books that are the wallpaper of my home and office.
I am from the smell of fresh-baked bread: crusty bread, whole grain bread, Swedish tea ring, maple walnut sticky buns.
I am from the taste of peanut butter rice Krispie bars, Campbell’s mushroom soup chicken and rice casserole, pineapple cream cheese green jello.
I am from the taste of fresh baked naan, my husband’s curried chicken, my mother-in-love’s schnitzel.
I am from the values of small town Oshkosh, Wisconsin: stoicism, hard work, ignorant racism, complicated faith, joy-filled summer roller-skating.
I am from the sight of Lake Michigan, rivaling my first sight of the ocean in Massachusetts.
I am from the music of Sweet Honey in the Rock, Bruce Springsteen, Eldbjorg Hemsing, and Cloud Cult.
I am from the ideas of Lois McMaster Bujold, Audre Lorde, Louise Penney, Parker Palmer, and Debra Harkness.
I am from places of elite education which drew me beyond my home with deep resources for learning, and at one and the same time taught multiple varieties of supremacy; places which tolerate radical ideas as a way to co-opt them, and offer empty status as a way to undercut them.
I am from the community of St. Paul, Minnesota where my children have grown up and my vocation has taken me to Luther Seminary.
I am from the family of Jesus, broken and shared, giving and forgiving, fraught with oppression and singing with hope.
Here we are in Advent again. I am reminded that not everyone lives in the liturgical calendar, so just know that Advent is the season of anticipation and preparation for the birth of Jesus. It’s marked by the four Sundays prior to Christmas — a longer season this year, since Christmas is itself a Sunday!
Here are some of my favorite resources:
Imagine Peace (a booklet full of songs and prayers and readings from the World Council of Churches)
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:
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.
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.
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.