Quotes & Small Group

My Monday night group is discussing Kelly Brown Douglas’s Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. The book is an indispensable theological response to black people’s corporate experience of violence and brutality, while also offering a historical narrative out of which such injustices emerge.

Our small group discussion has so far taken us through United States of American history as it relates to race, strong and illuminating conversations about how easy it is to be black and to not see one’s self spoken of or spoken to in the scriptures, detailed discussions about education and youth and poverty, and quiet but pronounced conversion happening among us.

Photo Thanks to Aaron Burden

Photo Thanks to Aaron Burden

Today’s chapter is “A Father’s Faith” and here are some of the quotes that I’m turning over in anticipation of seeing my friends this evening:

Faith is a response to God. Faith is possible only if God has acted and has initiated a relationship with human beings. Faith is the human response to God’s invitation to be in a relationship. Black faith represents a resounding yes to God’s offer. (p. 139)

Spirituals, essentially, reveal the foundation for a faith that will sustain black people through the paradox of being faithful in a society defined by the Anglo-Saxon myth. (p. 141)

According to the enslaved authors of the spirituals, the freedom of God concerned the very nature of God’s presence in their lives as well as God’s very nature. Theologically speaking, the freedom of God as expressed in the spirituals bore witness both to the economy of God (God’s movement in human history) and the aseity of God (who God is in God’s self). The spiritual’s testimony concerning the freedom of God suggested at least two interrelated things. First, God was by nature free, therefore, complete in God’s self and dependent on no other being or power for existence. Second, God’s movement in human history reflected God’s freedom. (p. 143)

…This African principle maintains that everything the Great High God creates has sacred value because it is intrinsically connected to God. It is the belief that undergirds an African worldview that all reality is sacred. (p. 150)

The freedom of God that the enslaved experienced became the adjudicating principle of their very faith claims. This has implications for the black faith tradition. (p. 162)

…Thus, if the norm of black faith is an understanding of a God who is freedom, then that also means there are certain stories within the Bible that cannot be given authority. If black faith means refusing to capitulate to or compromise with any situation that violates the very freedom of God, then this principle must be maintained even when it comes to the Bible. Therefore no story that compromises the freedom of God, and thus the freedom of those whom God created, can be given authority in the black faith tradition. (p. 163)

As for the black faithful, the best response is indeed a response of faith, which means being relentless in the fight to dismantle this culture of death. (p. 166)


Lessons from Exile

by Leeroy2Having been outside the mainstream for years, African American churches have learned valuable lessons that have given special meaning to spiritual practices and ideas. White Christians may be familiar with them in theory, but to know them from the underside, from the outside, and from the margins is an exercise in growing in new grace.

Silence is the anchor of speech

It’s easy for Christians to speak. We fill our ears, speak truths, and proclaim the gospel. We have good reason for our proclamation. But we hear less. It’s harder to be silent.

Silence is a corrective. For black and brown people, silence is a deepening, strengthening, and centering discipline. It is a discipline that was learned as black folks were taken from West African shores, unable to communicate in their native tongues, and pushed to find a way of hearing themselves, hearing their God, and, eventually, speaking about their pain.

It is learned still when life in the United States is unfair and unjust and when the rules for black and brown people are set to maintain injustice. In her book Joy Unspeakable, Barbara Holmes says that silence and contemplation bolster the interior life of a community, and ultimately sustains it.

Silence doesn’t remove the power of speech. It anchors it. The quiet is constructive because it narrows the focus on what needs to be said. It opens us to seeing what is real. It enables us to say what is wrong and, of course, what is right.

When we’re quiet, we have an opportunity to confront the pain of another. We learn to openly and realistically face our losses. We hear, reflect, and see what has set us apart from our Christian relatives.

The black church is instructed by the presence of God through other folks and notices in the silence those who are as concerned about speaking truth as we are.

I’m thankful to the folks at Leadership Journal for publishing my piece and for David Swanson’s earlier framing and partner essay. Read the full piece here.

The Reflective Practitioner

An epistemology is a way that we know. It is about how we know what we know. The Reflective Practitioner focuses on the ways in which professionals of varied sorts know and do. Schon is offering an alternative to the “traditional epistemology of practice.”

It’s worth pointing out that the language is a little distant, the examples stiff; the book was published in 1983. Still, his broad attempt to get “professionals” to think about how they think and how they perform is critical for anyone who wants to work well. His book opens by naming the “wavering confidence in professional expertise,” a seemingly dated observation now where the world is nearly if not entirely postmodern, where most work circles are touched, shaped, and impacted by millenials who always and already suspect things like professionalism however defined.

He puts forward reflective practice where professionals are aware of their “frames” for problems, their particular ways of viewing problems and, eventually, their unique theories (i.e., ways of seeing) for addressing those problems. A lot of what he says assumes that you can solve problems without knowing how you’re solving them. Your epistemological structures would be, in a word, weak. You’d be less reflective. He wants to suggest that there’s merit and strength in learning about our theories, in becoming aware of them, and in our making them public and, therefore, open to criticism.

He advocates for professionals turning their knowledge-in-practice into a public display of that practice. Knowledge that people go get in schools and specialized training programs, for him, becomes subject to inspection. Professionals become accountable in their openness to the public. They become more capable of expressing their “artful competence,” transitioning from not knowing how they do their work to examining how much they know, how they solve problems, and how they know what they’re doing.

Re-reading my sentence, I’m struck by the heady nature of those words. The book is somewhat heady; he explains the influence of “positivism” for example, a word that makes me question my own intellectual capacities. But the examples are concrete and helpful. His goal is entirely practical. The subtitle is “How Professionals Think in Action.”

He writes about action and response, thinking through a theory of response, a knowing-in-practice, which seems different from knowledge. He says that “A practitioner’s reflection can serve as a corrective to overlearning” (p. 61), and he works throughout the book to illuminate the gifts of appreciation, action, and re-appreciation, concepts that are at the bottom of clinical pastoral education, an environment I’m swimming in currently. I can definitely see why it’s a recommended text for the supervisory education students.

Photo Thanks to Szolkin

Photo Thanks to Szolkin

Back to the emphasis on practice–in CPE language, it’s action-reflection-action, Schon points to use of self in our work. One quote captures how Schon says our experience is worth our using in our work (p. 140):

It is our capacity to see unfamiliar situations as familiar ones, and to do in the former as we have done in the latter, that enables us to bring our past experience to bear on the unique case…

He lifts up the powerful way we inspect the “materials of a situation” and use the examples of others in order to grow, “thinking from exemplars.” He’s all about having reflective conversation with the situations we find ourselves in, a particularly striking way with words.

For those interested in language, he talks about the idea of generative metaphors and how they generate new perceptions, explanations, and inventions. He is pressing his reader to reflect. For those who “cannot easily make his assumptions public or subject” to public testing, he says, that that person’s “sense of vulnerability discourages reflection” (p. 229).

I kept thinking that I want to be the kind of person whose vulnerability doesn’t discourage me. I identified with him there, the resistance, the pain, the problem of vulnerability. I kept hearing the words of my clinical supervisor and my readiness committee as we discussed fragility which has been a guiding and problematic metaphor for my ministry lately.

Even while he presses his reader, his approach is invitational. He’s writing as a scholar and consultant more than an evangelist of his theory. He says that “An individual is more likely to feel internally committed to a freely made decision.” In his writing you sense his conviction to what he says and you sense softness.

Finally, he writes about theory, something I know I’ll come to appreciate in upcoming months as I think, draft, present, and revise my theories on theology, education, and personality. He says that “an overarching theory does not give a rule that can be applied to predict or control a particular event, but it supplies language from which to develop particular interpretations” (p. 273). I think about these words in terms of educational theory and teaching but also in terms of how we engage in the work of the church. How much of what we say is about giving a rule for predictive or controlling purposes? How much is about supplying people with language from which they can develop interpretations which may or may not mirror our own?

He says that bureaucracies and stable organizations resist reflective practice. My spiritual director said something like that to me years ago. We were talking about contemplation but the same principle applies. For Schon, reflection-in-action threatens stable systems. In church language that means that contemplatives and prophets are always on the periphery, usually subject to soul-torn isolation, and generally fighting against some solid resistance. “The freedom to reflect, invent, and differentiate would disrupt the institutional order of space and time” (p. 333). And it’s true; the order a system needs is completely threatened when the people in those systems consider.




Cecilia Galante to Writers

Photo Thanks to Markus Spiske

Photo Thanks to Markus Spiske

My writing is a selfish venture, because I do it for myself, to help me find my footing and secure my place in the world. Some people would consider a childhood filled with fear and loneliness to be a detriment, but I have come to value it because it has made me inordinately curious about the world and the people in it. What kind of things do we find ourselves thinking about, and why do we do what we do, and how do we live with the consequences of our actions? The ideas for my books stem from those kinds of questions after meeting certain people, or hearing about their own experiences and then taking them to the next level.

I used to be terrified to get what I was really thinking down on the page, sure that no one else had the same strange, convoluted, sometimes even dark thoughts that I did. But the longer I’m alive, the more I realize that we are all in the same boat, that none of us are all that much different than the next person. Our fears, anxieties, hopes, and dreams all come from the same place, a kind of sacred space that each of us, every single day, is trying to fill or strengthen or maybe just comprehend. I write to honor that sacred space, and in the process, to gain a better understanding of who I am today, tomorrow, and the next day too.

Read the full interview at Forbes here.

“…who live by faith.”

Thanks to Rowan Heuvel

Thanks to Rowan Heuvel

We have imaginations, intuitions, and moments of awakening that disturb us into awareness of dimensions of circumambient reality that we can only name, on our own, as “mystery.” And yet our feet mire in the clay of everyday toil–getting and giving, spending and being spent–in the struggle for survival and meaning. In the midst of contingency, suckled on uncertainty, we spend our blessed and threatened years becoming selves through relationships of trust and loyalty with others like us–persons and communities. We attach to one another in love; we struggle with one another in fidelity and infidelity. We share our visions of ultimate destiny and calling, our projections in hope, our moments of revelation in awe, and our fear in numbness or protest. We are language-related, symbol-borne, and story-sustained creatures. We do not live long or well without meaning.

That is to say, we are creatures who live by faith. We live by forming and being formed in images and dispositions toward the ultimate conditions of our existence.

From James W. Fowler’s Becoming Adult, Becoming Christian, pg 39.

Reasons I Read bell hooks

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

I have books by bell hooks on my shelves, and I try to read something of hers every year. This has been a habit of mine.

I’ve cradled her words about writing, savoring her observations back when I started writing curricula when I was finishing seminary.

I’ve read and listened to her about relationships, about being a man in a relation to women, about her criticism of culture and how culture misshapes us to believe bad things. Of course bell hooks doesn’t use the phrase bad things. You have to pick up her work to see her turns of phrase.

Nonetheless, I read her because I don’t think I can be a good pastor without her influence upon my life, my work, and my practice of being a man who is a husband to Dawn, a father to Bryce, a pastor to people, and friend to women and men.

I think bell hooks is a great teacher of men on how to be a man-in-relationship. She’s been a splendid, hard-hitting, loving addition to my collection of “teachers through text” for more than ten years.

I heard her speak at Hampton University when I started college. I heard her again at Northwestern when I was in seminary. I have no idea what she said during those speeches. I remember rooms full of black and white people–mostly black–and I remember feeling at home in the presence of this woman I was a stranger to.

Her readings are that way. I feel embraced and checked, loved and corrected, and that marks a good writer, a loving one, particularly when you’re reading about love in response to patriarchy, race, gender, and oppression.

I just finished one of her earlier books, Sisters of the Yam. It’s a book about black women and self-recovery. I should say that all of bell hooks’ books are about black women, and all of them are about all the rest of us too.

Her work is accessible and generous, and if you love black women and if you (want to) love yourself, you should get any of her work. She blends her experiences of being a woman/daughter/lover/writer/sister/teacher/truth-teller, and she offers us inestimable lessons on being.

I am blessed with many mentors. I was reminded of that when putting together materials for my current clinical pastoral education exploits. I’ve named those men and women and each time I revise those types of documents, I’m reminded of the treasure they bring me. And there’s a section in my writings where I name mentors through words, teachers through texts, and bell hooks is in there. She should be one of your teachers too.

Work Fully Done

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

Thanks to Startup Stock Photos

The difference between work and play is only a matter of attitude. Work, fully done, is play. When the body works, it is dancing. When the mind works, it is dreaming. Appreciating the joys and sadnesses of both, one moves within the process of life.

From Gerald May’s Simply Sane, pg. 87