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.
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.
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.
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.
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.