Quote of the Day

Photo Thanks to Javier Calvo

Photo Thanks to Javier Calvo

A midwife teacher helps half-baked ideas and perceptions develop in dialogue to fuller maturity. What is important is not to begin with perfected thought, but to encourage creative thinking that is pushing the edges and discovering where novelty becomes possible. A midwife helps life come during the moment of intense labor by helping a woman focus in, to concentrate on the essential, to relax into the moment. A midwife teacher does the same by guiding one to see what needs to be focused on and attended to and creates the kind of space where one can become relaxed and be oneself.

Midwife teachers know that to bring new life and truth into the classroom, they must ask questions that do not have predetermined answers, but search honestly for the revelation of truth in a community seeking truth.

From Images of Pastoral Care, 219-220.

Estimates of Your Leadership

Skitter PhotoLast month I had the opportunity to visit my mentor and father-friend, Dr. Johnathan Alvarado, on the occasion of his 50th birthday. His wife, Dr. Toni Alvarado, invited a collection of colleagues, parishioners, friends, and extended family to a party. I stayed for the full weekend as we celebrated him. I had the chance to represent those who JEA have mentored over the years—in my case, nearly 25 years.

The weekend and the writing of my reflection ahead of it gave me an opportunity to bring to mind all the things which he’s been to me, to my marriage, and to my family. His (and their) exemplary ethic in the practice of wise, enduring, faithful, intellectually responsive, and Spirit-led ministry mark me in my attempts to do similarly. I’m part of the fruit of his life. I’m part of the estimate of his leadership.

Bishop Alvarado shares me with other people who’ve mentored me. He and they are regular parts of my growth. As I described his impact upon me, I couldn’t help but visit my own ministry, teaching, and service to the world. I couldn’t help but question my own family life when I heard his daughter (their youngest) speaking so lovingly about her dad.

Bishop Alvarado esteems others well, and to participate in a public affirmation of his life was splendid. To review–even in my own life–how his life mattered and how his effort provided a currency for our own development as a person was of double benefit. It underlined my sincere appreciation that he is alive.

Listening to earned tributes has that impact on a person. You hear and you want to emulate what you hear. I want the estimates of my leadership to sound and look and feel like those did in December. I want to be the husband, father, leader, pastor, educator, caregiver, and writer who loves well and is loved well. I want to see the estimates of my leadership as I lead and to count them worthy.

Something I’m Thinking About

Photo Thanks to Tim Swaan

Photo Thanks to Tim Swaan

As I see one semester end (at seminary) and one unit end (in CPE) and one year end (at the church), I’m reading over a book that will likely find its way into one of my theory papers. It’s a book Dr. Scottie May introduced me to in grad school.

Parker Palmer is such a helpful teacher and guide. Here’s a taste about education but that can be said of preaching, speaking, parenting, and any other way of learning/educating:

If you want to understand our controlling conception of knowledge, do not ask for our best epistemological theories. Instead, observe the way we teach and look for the theory of knowledge implicit in those practices. That is the epistemology our students learn–no matter what our best contemporary theories may have to say.

…If this is the case, then as a teacher I can no longer take the easy way out, insisting that I am only responsible for conveying the facts of sociology or theology or whatever the subject may be. Instead, I must take responsibility for my mediator role, for the way my mode of teaching exerts a slow but steady formulative pressure on my students’ sense of self and world. I teach more than a body of knowledge or a set of skills. I teach a mode of relationship between the knower and the known, a way of being in the world. That way, reinforced in course after course, will remain with my students long after the facts have faded from their minds.

(From To Know As We Are Known, pg. 29, 30)

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.