The Ripples

by-gabe-rodriguez

Every decision we make changes things. The people we befriend, the examples we set, the problems we solve…

Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get to glimpse those ripples as we stand at the crossroads. Instead of merely addressing the urgency of now, we can take a moment to focus on how a quiet insight, overlooked volunteer work or a particularly welcome helping hand moves so many people forward. For generations.

How did you get to where you are? Who is going to go even further because of you?

Thank you for passing it forward.

From Seth Godin whose words you should read.

“While We Are Still Making Progress”

by Malte BaumanI was gifted with the opportunity to read Racial Realities and Post-Racial Dreams when Dr. Julius Bailey asked me to review his book. It was a kind invitation, one that I am grateful to get.

This book is many things. Primarily a historical, political, and philosophical treatment of this country’s ethic, it explains the moving parts of politics, justice, civil rights, and philosophical discourse as they gather together and furnish this democracy with promise or poison. The book is history and also a glimpse into the future. Bailey writes as a concerned and prophetic scholar.

As I prepare this review, I think of the ways prophets were known in the first testament of the Bible. Prophets told the truth. They spoke forth what the community knew and what the community didn’t know. Prophets talked history and what the people of God already understood as God’s word which had been delivered through the vessels of graced hands and blessed mouths. And prophets also talked about the future and pushed the people to see a new, unknown tomorrow which was, always, a work of faith.

Prophetic work is faith work. Dr. Bailey works at his faith in that sense as he writes a compelling, interesting, and informative book about the history and future of the United States of America. He pulls up a chair for us and walks us through the perennial questions about our country and its unfulfilled promises, its strain to be an exceptional nation, and its insecure moral footing. He invites us to careful examination of those things said most loudly (which are usually the least true) relative to our country’s moral arc that has bent back from justice.

“While we are still making progress, we have lost the path (and especially the togetherness that characterized our first steps on it), and we have become more and more lost, unsure of the future.” Despite the troubling material he serves us, Bailey still has hope. And he offers his plan for locating and electing leaders with hope, with ethical strength, with generosity, and with moral courage.

He mines the current political and legal realities in Black and non-Black communities, holding out a convincing application of social-psychological theory and the clear ways our frames of reference are developed so as to prevent us from seeing. He moves through the double standards of politics and civil discourse. He talks fundamental attribution error and its relation to racism and white privilege.

He writes swiftly and clearly, “White privilege blinds those who would claim that Black America is its own worst enemy.” He continues, knowing that his truth is the truth and installs his rendition of the rise of President Barack Obama, contextualizing Mr. Obama’s campaign and victories, and noting the key agreements between those political achievements and the longer narrative of all those earlier (and all those future) acts of reclamation and recovery in previous times.

His book is a reflection of the exact and ever-present power of white privilege, the absence of non-white privilege, and the corresponding injustice that results. His book addresses these things in the slow, careful way a good teacher would and with the loving embrace of a brother and friend. He serves to us an explanation of the fear in us as a collective people and how religious views contribute since religion is a hot, undeniable area where change is most needed and most difficult. Early on he says what feels like a summary and an echo of his spirit throughout:

“Until an essential humanness replaces the hierarchized core of our racial discourse, we will continue to dehumanize the dark-skinned in both word and deed. Until the roots of structural racism are uprooted and an egalitarian worldview is planted in its place, the financial poverty of America’s inner cities will remain a reflection of the moral poverty in our nation.”

by Trent YarnellAnd he states such things carefully while, at the same time, challenging us to hold a “horizontal integration of the mission.” Bailey sounds like a pastor and professor, activist and contemplative. He sounds concerned and moved by love. He was hard to read–because his truths were, simply, true–and completely invitational at the same time.

The four central chapters cover in deft, artful ways topics that anyone interested in justice should sit with, including racism, xenophobia, poverty, and income inequality. Bailey speaks to the spirit while illuminating the mind. He teaches through his writing.

Tracing Civil Rights and Jim Crow, he explains what the Voting Rights Act was and how it was done true damage by the recent rule of the US Supreme Court. He takes you to school without making you feel like you missed out on the previous week’s homework.

He inspires you, hurts you, and challenges you. He tells it the way it should be told: decide what you believe about freedom and determine if those things should be offered to others.

That is the spirit of his invitation around economics and income, work and jobs. I get the sense that Bailey is dancing to the music of economics and political theory and history and morality. Of course morality is the cooler, distant term for spirituality.

There is a bottom to Dr. Bailey and though I read of portions of it, I can tell that his center is on display as he highlights moral decline in the United States. He writes of our need for a spiritual revolution even if it is not religiously based. It is a challenge and a call. It is necessary and for our own good, as well as a road we have often missed.

“But, so often, those who cause the most hurt are those who are meant to represent love, caring, and respect for the wholeness of persons. Churches and schools are beacons of light in communities, yet our churches denounce gay, transgendered, and queer parishioners in favor of pedantic adherence to an old exegesis of scripture, while our inner-city schools arrest students before counseling them, remove them before reviving them.”

His tone is not one that is easily dismissed. Even if your theory differs from him; even where your reading of the same historical moments generate a different conclusion; even if your political vision diverges from the biblical images he calls upon to color his perspective; you cannot dismiss his enduring sentiment and its corresponding energy. You have to contend with Julius Bailey’s love. And any good teacher would be pleased with that contention.

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.

Stuff I’m Writing (3 of 3)

Photo Thanks to Aaron Burden

Photo Thanks to Aaron Burden

When I started the supervisory education program in CPE, I noticed that there were hardly any meaningful trails about the process on the internet. I decided to write through my process. So I have some “public process notes” on the blog in order to keep track of some of my experiences.

Related to that, I’ve been working on materials for a committee appearance in early April. While I won’t go into much about the appearance on this side of the meeting, I want to put up a few thoughts from the three papers I prepared for submission to the committee.

This is a part of my theology theory paper—a major paper for the supervisory process. I’ll get feedback and work on it until it sings and is ready for the subsequent processes. This portion is around the mini-section on contextual theology and the incarnation, a major second step in the paper after I talk about sources of theology which emerge out of the narrative tradition of my African-American experience. There are quotes from James Cone’s God of the Oppressed and Smith and Riedel-Pfaefflin’s Siblings By Choice: Race, Gender, and Violence.

My experience shaped how I arrived at scripture, how often I visited the Bible, and how basic encountering the passage has been to how I encountered the God behind it. In that sense, I’m a contextual theologian. In my pastoral theology there are roots of contextual theology. Having sources like experience from which to draw theological language eventually brings me to God, the content rather than the periphery. God is who we were singing about in my younger days.

Traditional Christian formulations of God are Trinitarian. They are more than that for sure because God cannot be captured by our formulations. As is true in the grand historical human experience, God has been disclosing God’s person in many ways. I’ve “met God” through conversations with an addict named Lawrence who talked to me about beauty while painting the church. I’ve met God through the silence of a person who was struck by a loved one’s sudden death. God’s come in those moments and come to me. Always sensitive to me, to us, to the audience, God meets us in our specific conditions.

The incarnation where “God becomes flesh” is the striking example of this. Thurman called the incarnation “the great disclosure.” Through the incarnation God is at work, revealing, disclosing, and opening to others who God is. James Cone reminds us that Jesus is not a theological proposition restricted to the conceptual. Jesus matters because he is matter, because he exists outside of our heads.

He is an event of liberation, a happening in the lives of oppressed people struggling for political freedom…Jesus is not simply a doctrine or even a particular event limited by time. He is the eternal event of liberation in the divine person who makes freedom a constituent of human existence. There is no existence apart from him because he is the ground of existence without whom nothing is.

I think of God as eternal, as essentially loving, as relatable. I think of the inextricable way that justice is the avenue whereby God’s loves. “In short, God is manifest to us through material means.” God expresses all that God is through particular means. We never is love without justice, mercy without reconciliation. One is the expression of the other, the explicit exhibiting the implicit. As Kelly Brown Douglas, a womanist theologian writing Christology, says, there is a compatibility between Christianity and acts of justice.

Spiritual care, then, as an incarnational act is an expression of God’s intention toward human beings, and that care is at the bottom of our work in CPE where we attend to our selves and our ministries. As an expression of love, our work is also an expression of justice. As necessary as people are to that theological articulation, the first actor is Divine. God acts, expressing love and justice—expressing God’s self—and people receive that action, respond to it.

People are created by God, and as created beings have a host of ways through which we interact with the world; we are emotional, intellectual, and physical beings. Each element of a person’s makeup is grounded in the Creator’s initiation and desire. Seen and unseen elements compose us. All of these avenues become vehicles through which God can reach, heal, teach, and transform us.

God touches the world through us, connecting with us—the incarnation, again, being an exemplary portion of this, a clinical encounter is another—and then connecting with the creation through us. God cares for creation in other ways which we cannot see. A chaplain’s role is to participate in God’s work in the world by, variously, cooperating with God to care for, protect, preserve, challenge, and observe the work of God through human interventions, through silence, and through the variety of ways we care. People are the means for and recipients of that care. Care is aware of the past.

In Siblings by Choice, the authors tell us the truth about the power of the past:

The past represents ways of knowing that emerge from struggle and can inform us today. The complex and ambiguous present is the result of the experiences, thinking, and struggles of our ancestors who were born and raised in civilizations and circumstances different from our own. Their struggles birthed the conditions under which our consciousness develops and our life narrative unfolds. From them we may gain wisdom for patterns of living that extend an otherwise limited perspective on the present.

Care isn’t beholden to the past. It honors the past, holds the past and present together, particularly as people struggle with the present crises of life such as death, sickness, loss, and change. But care is future-oriented, always looking for the right now connections between humanity and divinity.

Stuff I’m Writing (2 of 3)

Photo Thanks to Peter Belch

Photo Thanks to Peter Belch

When I started the supervisory education program in CPE, I noticed that there were hardly any meaningful trails about the process on the internet. I decided to write through my process. So I have some “public process notes” on the blog in order to keep track of some of my experiences.

Related to that, I’ve been working on materials for a committee appearance in early April. While I won’t go into much about the appearance on this side of the meeting, I want to put up a few thoughts from the three papers I prepared for submission to the committee.

This slice comes from the section on my CPE pilgrimage. Using my experiences in CPE, this particular paper is a reflection on my learning issues, my process of professional development and growth, my evolution and personal integration, learning experiences, and self-understanding. My section here is essentially my professional development portion.

I see chaplaincy and supervision as expressions of pastoral ministry. When I serve in the church, that community is the context for my pastoral ministry. For supervisory work, the context is CPE. The work is still pastoral. To track my development in ministry, I draw upon a tool I’ve used in teaching. I’ve worked with students on developing rules of life as a vehicle for exploring and containing practices for development. When I think of my own process of development, I think about the rule which I include as a process of my development.

Included in the process is my intellectual, physical, spiritual, and emotional development; there is room for each. The elements relate to my growth, even if each is not happening while I’m in the professional setting. For example, if I’m not taking care of my body, which my work setting may assume I am, I’ll be no good for the work of spiritual care of patients or families.

I use my birthday as a time to reflect upon my work and life and how I can continually develop. I acknowledge and celebrate how I’ve developed and I spend time thinking through how to continue doing so. As I’ve gone along, other moments have emerged to augment what consideration I have during my birthday. These include an annual assessment from my denomination (March); the beginning of a semester for the classes I teach (late August); the ending of the classes (May); the start and end of CPE units will fall into this developmental plan. At a micro level “processing our process” is something that I’ve drawn from my training supervisor, and that is a constructive way for me to regularly attend to the work I’m doing.

In terms of content, the process of development includes 1) noticing areas of weakness or interest that I might address in an upcoming year; 2) getting some consultation from the people within my “venues of growth”; 3) listing ways for me to give room to my new or abiding interests; 3) locating strategies for addressing my areas of weakness; 4) implementing those ways and strategies; and 5) evaluating myself in a way that makes sense for the area of development. CPE has been a part of that process. I came to CPE because it was a way for me to respond to my needs for continued development. When I participated in my first unit and certainly since then, the process has been substantial for my growth (I’d point to my student evaluations to revisit some of those learnings).

I see chaplaincy and supervision as expressions of pastoral ministry. When I serve in the church, that community is the context for my pastoral ministry. For supervisory work, the context is CPE. The work is still pastoral. To track my development in ministry, I draw upon a tool I’ve used in teaching. I’ve worked with students on developing rules of life as a vehicle for exploring and containing practices for development. When I think of my own process of development, I think about the rule which I include as a process of my development.

Included in the process is my intellectual, physical, spiritual, and emotional development; there is room for each. The elements relate to my growth, even if each is not happening while I’m in the professional setting. For example, if I’m not taking care of my body, which my work setting may assume I am, I’ll be no good for the work of spiritual care of patients or families.

I use my birthday as a time to reflect upon my work and life and how I can continually develop. I acknowledge and celebrate how I’ve developed and I spend time thinking through how to continue doing so. As I’ve gone along, other moments have emerged to augment what consideration I have during my birthday. These include an annual assessment from my denomination (March); the beginning of a semester for the classes I teach (late August); the ending of the classes (May); the start and end of CPE units will fall into this developmental plan. At a micro level “processing our process” is something that I’ve drawn from my training supervisor, and that is a constructive way for me to regularly attend to the work I’m doing.

In terms of content, the process of development includes 1) noticing areas of weakness or interest that I might address in an upcoming year; 2) getting some consultation from the people within my “venues of growth”; 3) listing ways for me to give room to my new or abiding interests; 3) locating strategies for addressing my areas of weakness; 4) implementing those ways and strategies; and 5) evaluating myself in a way that makes sense for the area of development. CPE has been a part of that process. I came to CPE because it was a way for me to respond to my needs for continued development. When I participated in my first unit and certainly since then, the process has been substantial for my growth (I’d point to my student evaluations to revisit some of those learnings).

Stuff I’m Writing (1 of 3)

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

Photo Thanks to Leeroy

When I started the supervisory education program in CPE, I noticed that there were hardly any meaningful trails about the process on the internet. I decided to write through my process. So I have some “public process notes” on the blog in order to keep track of some of my experiences.

Related to that, I’ve been working on materials for a committee appearance in early April. While I won’t go into much about the appearance on this side of the meeting, I want to put up a few thoughts from the three papers I prepared for submission to the committee.

This slice comes from the section on my religious development. The paper speaks to my history, my venues of growth, my strengths and weaknesses, my religious development and self-understanding, and my appropriation of culture and how all those things subjects relate to who I am as a pastor, chaplain, and educator.

My religious development has paralleled my own “human” development. I was raised as a participant in local churches, serving in those churches, and understanding my sense of self in relation to the activity of the church.

This is as much underneath my view of what it means to be a person and what it means to be created by God. The church was the place where I was first called, where I questioned my understandings of it, and where I was given opportunities to flourish as an academically bent preacher who critiqued what was said, usually constructively, and who was unafraid to bring his experiences from other places into the church.

The religious community was the place—complimented and inextricably connected to my family as it was—where I grew. It’s hard to imagine how I would have developed without the seam of the church.

Church (and I’d use “religious development” as a synonym) was tied to my expansive understanding of family since I had a biological and a church family. Both were able to guide, mentor, correct, challenge, and inspire me. Both families were means of development. Through my religious upbringing the following three values were instilled in me—again, not intending to split these from the other developmentally formative community of my extended family:

 1.      Hospitality is normal. My mother fed other people’s children and took people into our home. That was how people in our church lived, and the residential and ecclesial behaviors taught me that hospitality-as-caring was normal.

2.      Salvation comes in many forms. The church’s focus was Jesus, but the saving influences of the community came through the mundane practices of teaching children to cook, after-school tutoring, playing games, and singing. Each act of religious expression helped me understand the broad ways in which healing, change, and growth happen.

3.     Everybody was welcome. My home church boasted a sign that was a joke and a mission depending on how we felt. Of course, both were true. The sign was “Sinners and Rejects Welcome,” and it was a clear statement of the explicit (and practiced) theology. It sticks in how open I want to be in my teaching and ministry to people.

Sitting with Edits

Q4D99NWK6T

Photo Thanks to Tram Mau Tri Tam

I’ve been spending a lot of my edge time editing. Edge time is time that I have on the edges on my schedule. Frankly there isn’t much. But every few years I get to edit something meaningful. I’ve been working on someone else’s stuff while also writing a few things of my own in the last months. More on that later.

One thing I’ve noticed about editing—my own and other people’s work—is that the space between the readings is the space where the writer grows. That’s particularly true if you sit with the edits long enough to learn from them. The same is true in a verbatim seminar, in a class, or in a meeting with members or stakeholders or friends. The longer you sit with what’s said, the more impact what’s said has.

Feedback is only as good as you allow it be. If it’s dispensable, you’ll dispense with it. Of course, my post is about editing. All those tracked changes can instruct you, change you, improve your ability to communicate. But you have to take the risk and let that happen.

You have to choose to be vulnerable, to admit to poor word choice, to accept that your phrase was confusing, and to surrender to another option. That option may not be what the editor suggests, what you at a different time might choose. But another option may be the route toward clearer, tighter sentences.

Another thing I’ve noticed about editing is that it helps the editing process to pause. There is always space between words in a sentence. Even though there’s only one space after periods, it’s still a space worth respecting.

Giving myself time to think through the questions of my editors or to notice my own literary proclivities or to see how many times I use passive voice will make me a stronger communicator. It’ll make me a poet. It’ll charge my words. It’ll engage me, and an engaged me eventuates into a engaged sentence.

Living the Intersection

I appreciate that my training in clinical pastoral education is giving me reason to enter into a beautiful reading list. I’m covering by necessity pastoral arts, theology, history, and supervision. I’m spending my time becoming a better minister, a slower thinker, a deeper educator of servants, and hopefully a person more responsive to these gifts in a clinical encounter, whatever form it takes.

As I’ve mentioned on my blog, I’m reading, and in an effort to “keep more of what I’m reading,” this review is, in part, in order for me to see again some of the words of the writers I’m encountering. This book, Living the Intersection: Womanism and Afrocentrism in Theology is a book on theology, particularly womanist theology in contradistinction to afrocentricism.

The contributors draw upon their reading of Molefi Asante’s use of Afrocentrism. His conceptualization is widely read and has been a persistent critique to Christianity and Islam with regard to black people. The description of the concept is in the book, so I won’t completely summarize their rendering of Asante. Still, one of Asante’s basic assertions according to the editor of Living the Intersection is the mistaken notion that Christianity is a historically acceptable religious option for African Americans. His basic critique is the mismatchedness of the Christian faith and the better natural fit of, presumably, African Traditional Religions. His notion of Afrocentrism is in conversation in this book with thinkers from the womanist theological posture.

Womanist is a term from Alice Walker who in the novel The Temple of My Familiar “has taken some of her womanist ideas and tried to run them through narratively.” As Gilkes says in the collection, Walker gives writers a rich term to capture her own artistic attempts to debate humanity and reject racism in order to push “for a larger, relational, humanist vision.” Walker used a word (i.e., womanist) started something. Note that she was moving toward a vision. I think that’s an evocative theological motive: vision.

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

To be fair, most will tie Alice Walker’s literary genius to the conceptual offerings of others before her. Living the Intersection does the same. Deborah E. McDowell does this in her chapter on “Slavery as a Sacred Text.” McDowell reminds us of the tenuous relationship between black people and already-determined-and-already-decided-principles-of-somebody-else’s-interpretation, saying, that “Scripture is not sacred as an untamperable given; it is rather a set of texts to be questioned, negotiated with, and variously interpreted” (p. 82). Womanist interpretation is tied to the experience of a slave being told what to think and how long to think it relative to being “free in Christ.”

Youtha C. Hardman-Cromwell connects womanism to the wealth of poetic contributions written by black women. She decorates her chapter with pieces from Alice Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Maya Angelou among others. She’s doing what the biblical psalmists did: pointing to the poetic, musical expression of a sister in order to underline some truth about life and God. Womanist theology comes out of poetry.

Given their nod to the historical connections leading to womanism, the contributors in Living the Intersection give much respect to Walker for snatching up the spirit of such fruitful work in Walker’s careful word choice. Edited by Cheryl J. Sanders, these writers are connecting language with spirituality and theological reflection in order to pursue a vision of beauty and wholeness. “We are here because we believe we have a story to tell to the nation, and our experience has something special to say to the world.” (p. 22) I wish that was on a t-shirt worn by all the people I love: I have something special to say to the world.

Living the Intersection is an anchoring text for those interested in listening to tones and songs of black women teaching foundational theology for the purpose of telling a story of faith which changes lives and builds people. This book, among those I’m reading as I study in CPE supervisory education, is about how we understand God, how we understand the lived experience of black women, and how we take cues from those two understandings for life.

Theology is God talk, language we use to express who we think God to be. It is necessarily risky. After all, theology is language about God. It relates to us, to those God has made, but it starts in relation to the One for whom words could forever be written and read. Eventually that linguistic effort ends in wholeness. Kelly Brown Douglas in the book delineates that wholeness is about triumph over oppression “so that the individual is whole even as she or he struggles for the community’s wholeness.” And “wholeness for a community indicates that it is not divided against itself and that is free, liberated from oppression.” (p. 68)

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

Photo Thanks to Esther Kang

As students, we draw from our various sources to unearth, examine, and interrogate the ingredients of faith, to critique forms of faith, to inspire better uses and practices of faith. In the language of Sanders, our work is about the “survival and wholeness of an entire people” and about the “affirmation, assertiveness, and actualization of women.” The book says enough times for the reader to get that the affirmation of women is never akin to the diminution of men. There is a holistic vision that womanist theologians are pushing us toward, one that names the general and boldly wrong unnamededness of women. Encouraging the regular procurement of black women’s identity from themselves (Hardman-Cromwell), we are “moving the black community toward wholeness” (Douglas).

In this book, womanism stands next to afrocentrism, and the sister theologians–from a decidedly black, feminist, ethical, theological, and literary sphere–offer us an introduction to the foundational elements of womanism as a way of doing theology.

Doing theology is important. I can’t recall what I first meant when I started using that phrase, just after my seminary days. When I use the phrase now, I intend to mean that theology is immediately and always practiced. It is reflection with a purpose. It is considered and expressed language that is Spirit-empowered, generative, constructive, and prophetic. Theology is ethical because it meets the practice of our lives; it tutors us, trains us to be. We don’t simply write theology. We do it. We live it.

This beautiful book is full of my sisters and aunts and mothers, and they are all writing me into becoming…

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.