More posts are available in the Tensegrities Archive

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.

Thoughts about protests

/ 26 April 2024

Campus protests are spreading across the country this week, given the intensity of the bombardment of Gaza and the relentless desire on the part of Netanyahu’s government to keep it up.

These images brought back so many memories to me of the protests against South African apartheid, against Reagan’s interventions in South America, and on and on that shaped my undergraduate years at Yale. The peace protests I was engaged in fundamentally altered my life, even if they had little impact on the global political scene.

So on the one hand I am deeply glad that these students are protesting, and I am awed by their courage given that the response has been so much more brutal than it was to us back in the mid 80’s. On the other hand, I am also dismayed by how little some of them — and it’s only a small number, but picked up by the media and amplified — I am dismayed by how some of them are resorting to explicitly anti-semitic tropes. This essay by the dean of the Berkeley law school really worried me.

I am deeply commmitted to nonviolence — have been, ever since those days at Yale — and I worry that far too many of these students have no sense of what that involves or how to engage in disciplined ways. I wish I could get them to read Kazu Haga’s book Healing Resistance, or watch his many YouTube videos.

More than anything I want to remind myself — and all of us — that there are painful ambiguities and complexities present in this world, and we do well when we remain humbly aware of them. I have given my life to “act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly” (Micah 6:8) with the Divine. That calls me to protest and for the very shape of that protest to be its own goal. That is, to stand for nonviolence means to me standing IN nonviolence while protesting violence.

Doing so can be very hard, particularly when the needs are so urgent and the violence so obscene. And yet… and yet… and yet those of us who believe in Divine Love that connects us all must also acknowledge that it is not our work alone.

I pray we can remember Ken Untener (he of beloved memory)’s words:

We accomplish in our lifetime only a fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.

Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water the seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces effects far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


/ 24 April 2024

We are working on adding a small powder room to our first floor, and in the process needed to re-do our kitchen in order to make the plumbing work. This week we had to abruptly leave our house because the fumes from the insulation they were spraying into the wall of the powder room were so bad. We ended up staying in a local hotel in downtown St. Paul, right next door to the Minnesota Public Radio building, and around the corner from the Fitzgerald Theater.

It’s called Celeste of St. Paul Hotel Bar (fun name given my family, huh?) and was once a convent for the Sisters of St. Joseph (with whom we still worship, here in town). It’s SUCH a lovely place! Very high ceilings, wonderfully restored rooms, a bountiful breakfast held in the old chapel. This is a gem of a hotel, and I was pleasantly surprised by how inexpensive it was for a downtown hotel in such a great location.

I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I feel like the Spirit was leading us, since we had to find a place at the very last minute and have never stayed in a hotel here in town.

Soundtrack to my life

/ 25 March 2024

In the process of thinking through digital storytelling, I spend a fair amount of time thinking about soundscapes. Recently I’ve been thinking about the music that has been a soundtrack for my life, and thanks to YouTube, I found most of these songs.

In my young life, up through high school, two songs came to mind, Rhymes and Reasons by John Denver and Mandy by Barry Manilow. I know, I know, how trite! But these are the songs I remember and can sing from memory.

Towards the middle of high school I had my first painful breakup, and of course Dust in the Wind was the song that accompanied that.

Finally, in the joy of my senior year (which was a year of affirmation) the theme for my senior prom was The Rainbow Connection and that is another song that echoes for me.

I have to also note that along with these songs I have lots of memories of listening to my mom practice the organ. I remember lying on my back on the chancel steps, listening to this Bach fugue as it resonated around the empty sanctuary. Something in me responded to it, but it wasn’t in joy?

College was a whole different ball game, and part of it was discovering feninist and womanist theorizing, and women’s music. Various kinds of advocacy (against apartheid, against nuclear weapons, for peace) took up most of my energies, and this song comes to mind for me even though it wasn’t released until years after I graduated: Sky Dances by Holly Near.

I was mostly very busy parenting during my graduate studies — both of my children were born then — but Leonard Cohen’s Broken Hallelujah is what comes to mind for me from that time period.

And then we get to the early 2000’s, and the aftermath of September 11th. Bruce Springsteen’s song The Rising and also this version is the soundtrack for that period for me.

That time period was also my early years as a professor, and both Grace by U2 and All That We Let In by the Indigo Girls frame that era for me.

My time at Luther Seminary has imprinted itself deeply on me, in so very many ways, but in terms of popular music I have to note that anti-racism activism has kept me sane. So these two songs — Blackbird also this version — and Glory as sung by the Detroit Youth Choir, are key for me.

Which brings me to the present day. There are two songs that have been “earworms” for me, or maybe just hugely resonant lately? They are Billie Eilish’s song for the Barbie movie What was I made for? and Jon Batiste’s lullabye for his wife Sulaika, Butterfly. I can listen to each of these over and over. Not sure what that says about my current state of being?

And there you have it. A set of songs that have formed a soundtrack to my life.

Advent Hope

/ 4 December 2023

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.

One of my former students, a lawyer and peace activist, writes about finding hope in this way:

“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.

Music and the anguish of the Native American boarding schools

/ 24 September 2023

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.

Although if you have not read the US federal report that came out in May of 2022 on this history, you really should do so!


/ 13 September 2023

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.

Solidarity economics

/ 2 August 2023

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”.

REA talk links

/ 12 July 2023

I’ve been asked to share the links from my remarks at the REA2023 panel on publication today. Here they are:

Hank Green about adaptation and generative AI

My writing

Creative commons licenses

Maria Popova of the Marginalian

Brian Stout of Bridging Toward Belonging

Heidi Campbell’s e-books

Open access and the Religions journal

Almeda Wright’s advice during last year’s publications session

Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird

Early scholarly work on “algorithmic enclaves”

Gregory Ellison’s Fearless Dialogues

Facing fear

/ 30 March 2023

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.

Marking two decades of blogging...

/ 18 March 2023

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.

And yet I’m still doing it. And it still matters to me. Here is a link to one of those very early blog posts, dated March 16, 2003.

More posts are available in the Tensegrities Archive