Dr. Carla Hayden’s Swearing In

This happened last month, and there are so many things I love about this. To see Dr. Carla Hayden in this beautiful space, to imagine her walking through the long underground passageway, to know that she’ll be inspiring and leading us to read… This is a tad long but you need to see Dr. Hayden’s video explaining her vision even while you hear the words of every other person in the ceremony. Paul Ryan even discusses Jefferson’s way of cataloging his library, which is a treat to visit in the LOC if you can visit.

The Activity of Making Sense

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

Photo Thanks to Glen Noble

I am reading slowly The Evolving Self, a book by Robert Kegan, about the coming together of psychoanalytic theory and cognitive developmentalism. It’s heady and I’m being patient with myself, especially since the reading is deepening me and my theoretical basis for the more practical, and perhaps more intuitive, work I do.

Egan took a moment to reflect on his daughter’s development and his response thereto. I read this father’s recollection of when she was sounding out words and thought of recent experience with our firstborn, Bryce.

“Being in another person’s presence while she so honestly labors in an astonishingly intimate activity—the activity of making sense—is somehow very touching” (p. 16).

It is true in my experience as well. I was reading over words with Bryce the other week. And Dawn gave me a compliment about how I was with him, which is proof that human beings can grow!

Dawn is the better, more patient, nurturing teacher with Bryce. I’m the guy who cooks dinner while they do homework. It’s a more fitting use of our skills and temperament. Dawn with him, coaxing and instructing and illuminating, and me pulling pans and throwing together a nourishing meal. We get it done in our way.

On that particular night, I was reading with him before bed, and Dawn was feeding the new boy. I was to read two pages and then Bryce was to read a page. Little did I know that a page could take so long. I’ve since been carefully told by a teacher how to change this up, and I’ll post about that later.

Now, this boy knows his sounds, thanks to the good work we did with Riggs cards and good teaching last year at his preschool. He’s been “reading” and learning and growing all year in kindergarten. But to be honest, we’ve slipped a little.

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

Photo Thanks to Taylor Leopold

We’ve let him be taken into the world of books he’s preferred to read rather than those slim volumes with encircled number 2 or 3 on the right hand corner. We’ve read to him. And he’s been at the work of reading, but he’s really been cheating when we haven’t supervised his reading. He’s looked at comic pictures, which, of course, is a good thing. But he hasn’t been reading.

And he forgets. A lot. He will forget a word that I rehearsed multiple times, and he’ll forget it in three minutes. Now, I have a degree in psychology. I have coursework, dusty it may be in learning and memory and other cognitive psychology courses. But those courses were not my strong areas. I did well if you count the As and honors I always got in psychology, but those As were different than the ones in the clinical/applied courses. So, when I meet with my son’s unique developmental milestones, it frustrates me.

It makes me question my competence. It reveals my anger at him and myself and it shows where my values are: in getting things quickly and in getting things done quickly. This is something he does too, at his six-year-old speed. And of course, when he rushes through something, I catch him and call him out. Even though he’s doing what I do. Even though at his age, he’s doing what I often model: going through the motions. My motions are tutored by what learning I have, and his is too. I just have more in my box than he does. We’re doing the same thing. I’m his model. It’s sobering.

So, seeing him read is an entirely destabilizing endeavor. It’s constructive. It’s good. But it’s disorienting. He’s where he “should be” if we look at him through the gauges people we don’t know have made for him. He’s on course if we take counsel in the collective wisdom of curriculum writers who tell parents what their kids ought to know when. I’m not worried about Bryce in that respect.

But I am worried about how this kid has a way of continually teaching me about me. He’s a teacher to me who exposes my hidden and implicit biases for movement and productivity and fast-gained knowledge and quick wit. Even if those things complicate the simplicity of being at one’s own, real, natural, splendid, unrushed pace.

That is the activity that makes sense. Slowing down makes you. Pacing yourself has a way of making the sense I need. It prevents me from having sense made for me. It’s the activity I need of in my life.

Differences in Worldview


Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

Working across cultures can provoke strong negative responses and reduce trust. The outsider or stranger may appear even more strange and untrustworthy. Those of us with training and expertise in communication skills, such as pastoral care providers, may find it hard to bridge certain cultural gaps and resist becoming siblings in a common struggle when differences in worldview appear to threaten cherished beliefs and values. The differences in worldview may appear insurmountable when there is a single, limited, or exclusive focus on one’s own cultural group. Where this is the case, it will be impossible to build trust and face the complex issues of interethnic group oppression.

(From Siblings by Choice, 28-29)

Stories of God Question Dominant Directions

This summer I’m starting a practice of quoting or reviewing most of the books I read. I want to keep more of the materials with me, remember words, and appreciate what I’m learning, so I’m putting in a bit of effort to capture things in a few hundred words.

I just finished John Shea’s Stories of God. I was introduced to John Shea (in thought and writing, not in person) by my first clinical supervisor, Sister Barbara Sheehan at Urban CPE. She told us that according to John Shea, “Our feelings are the word of God to us.” I heard that and immediately liked John Shea.

This is the first of his books I’ve read. It develops the idea that when Christian people get together, we tell stories and that our stories are our ways of making sense of the world that God has created. Stories are “inevitable companions of people bounded by birth and death.” They are not incidental to life, but essential. Stories are the inescapable ways we talk about the Mystery that is itself inescapable.

Shea says that we relate to five relational environments as human beings, the first and most baffling of which is ourselves. The second environment is family and friends, those who are continually near us and with whom we have sustained interaction. The third and fourth are institutions in society and the nonhuman universe. The last environment is the relation with God or the Transcendent (or commonly Mystery in this book), which is known by diverse “acknowledgements of its presence.”

We are made for these environments, made by them. When it comes to Mystery Shea says that there is an immediate, intense desire for communion in us. “We perceive the dimension of Mystery” through feeling, and we perceive feeling through dialogue and communion. He says on p. 25,

The human person comes to be through dialogue with others. Out of this ongoing dialogue, people develop a sense of who they are and where they are going. People speak to each other words of acceptance and love, but they also speak painful words that call for conversion and new lifestyles.

Communion means love and acceptance; it implies freedom. But human communion goes beyond humanity. It facilitates our awareness of Mystery. In other words, being in relationships of love and acceptance open us to the One who accepts and loves us into freedom. At times this is not a delightful path but a dark one, filled with disenchantment.

But “Disenchantment is an experience of Mystery reasserting itself.” In darkness God comes. In pain we are freed from an idol’s hold upon us and we reach into Mystery. Shea does a lot to describe relationships with Mystery, gives it qualities that anyone “walking with God” can meaningfully relate to.

He writes the second part of the book into three types of stories: 1) Story of Hope and Justice; 2) Story of Trust and Freedom; and 3) Story of Invitation and Decision. When he speaks of stories and, I’d suggest, language broadly, he says:

Although the only way to the unknown is through the familiar, there is a danger. Titles and stories are not the reality. They only serve the reality. They are the way into the Mystery revealed in Jesus Christ, but they are not the Mystery.

For the first story, he discusses two ways of reading the stories of Mystery regarding justice and hope: an interventionist interpretation and an intentional interpretation. The first views historical activity as chaotic and separate from the mythical activity of God. An interventionist view sees all of life from the future, the eschaton, the moment when all things will be redeemed. Justice or hope look ahead to a future which frames life now. “It is this future, always-impending moment which shapes consciousness and directs activity.” Though it leads to a privatized eschatology and, perhaps, a privatized ethic, everything hinges on an invading God who comes after we’ve waited.

Waiting happens in lament, through provocation of the reluctant God to act, and by engaging in “presumptuous activity” that looking upon our works, “Christ will recognize as his own when at last he comes.” This interpretative view of God’s story is characterized by increasing anticipation, purposive waiting, patience, and practice that’s framed by a future vision. I see a lot of this view in practice in the church of my upbringing and the church I currently serve by the way.

The second way of seeing the story of Mystery is an intentional interpretation. This approach is about God’s reasons for interacting rather than God’s ways of interacting with the world. God’s values are present and experienced.

Rather than coming from “a future act of God,” this approach is from “God’s present nature.” God moves toward justice out of a heart of love and compassion for creation. Justice is “an act of respect” and, while its demands are absolute, its forms vary.

In the chapter “The Story of Trust and Freedom,” Shea works with the “combination of stories which attempts to uncover the meaning of Mystery which was revealed in Jesus,” particularly “Creation, Fall, Incarnation, Crucifixion, Spirit, and Church.” He discusses common renderings of those moments and then offers a compelling alternative of relating the symbolic elements of the events in terms of an “inner theological logic.”

He talks about dignity, friendship, and the common aims of Christian events which intend to underline the presence and indwelling of God in the world. He does considerable biblical and theological work in the chapter, touching upon the strong above-mentioned events, quoting folks like Walter Brueggamann, Leonard Bernstein, and biblical authors. Here’s a quote that may capture a chunk of the chapter’s themes, and I love that I hear echoes of James Cone:

The cross is the grounding of the Christian community, its symbol of realism, and its ongoing principle of critique. It is often noted that ecclesiology has its roots in Christology, but it is often overlooked that Christology brings us back to theology. The foundation of the Church is the experience of God symbolized in the crucified Christ. The cross reveals God’s self-giving love which frees us from our self-serving apathy. Out of God’s total acceptance comes the freedom and power to form community, to belong to each other in a life-giving way.

God has taken into divine reality all that is worst about us and turned it toward good. The law of the cross is not that evil has been eliminated but that it has been transformed into possibility…

The last chapter is about a story of Invitation and Decision. In this chapter Shea focuses his vision on the parables of Jesus.

Underlining what it means to proclaim and live the kingdom of God, the parables (and the scriptures as Shea writes) keep God as the plot of the stories. They press forward “invitations into the life of God” and don’t stop at allegorical interpretation where we have examples or particular paths to live. ” A vision of God active in human life is the home of the parables” (pg. 142).

Shea goes through interpretative methods relative to these central teachings of Jesus and leaves us hungry for participation in life with God. We are met with an invitation from and by Mystery to make decisions to neglect or jump into life with God.

He says that the parables focus on immediacy of action, rather than contemplation or morality. Response is critical. Decision is integral. A final quote to capture the sustained thought of this chapter will close my review well (pgs. 152-153):

Put in another way, every person has a faith, a set of presuppositions which are tested out in everyday life. If this foundational structure is too conscripted or self-centered, a crippling lifestyle develops. Attitudes and behaviors become destructive of both self and community. The depth of sin, therefore, is not in the destructive activity itself but in the consciousness which encourages and validates that activity…Parables take aim at these presuppositions and dominant directions. Their goal is subversion. They are meant to penetrate to the core of what we unquestionably hold and question it. In the realm of parable, nothing is safe.

Reading To You

We had been to the Harold Washington Library before, but you were too young remember.  So when we walked in from the State Street entrance, you looked around and your eyes trained up, especially when we walked into the round atrium that, as a space, feeds the soul.

We went to the children’s library, to get books and to read.  You pointed out the security, the police, like you always do, and the matronly officer who I wanted to call auntie spoke with a smile that you exchanged for one brighter than her own large grin.  You walked around pulling titles, saying “This one” and “That one, daddy.”  We sat on a multi-colored bench, the one like the old benches that you used to be in parks on the south side when I was a boy, before the city built shelters on corners, when churches like our family’s bought advertisements to tell people waiting on 95th or 87th or Halsted to come and worship.

After we read our first book, we went downstairs and thumbed through the four books we checked out because we would really read them later.  You were excellent in quieting down and listening to three authors read excerpts from their fiction, listening and only occasionally murmuring, as if each of them was pulling you next to them, lowering their voices, and, for a few minutes, reading to you.

At HWLC for Story Week

At HWLC for Story Week

Writing Rules

I saw this list of Zadie Smith’s Writing Rules a couple years ago, before I started blogging, I think.  Since I saw it again here, I thought to pass it on.

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

3 Ways to Stay Engaged

I saw this here and wanted it on my blog.  What would you add to Maria Lloyd’s list?

Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult to work a full-time job and raise a family- especially as a single parent. Thanks to technology, we’re plugged into work even when we’re at home. It’s imperative to balance your life in a way that is rewarding for you and your children. Spending quality time with your children is imperative for your role as a parent and also for their growth as a child. Although I do not have children of my own, I am someone’s child, so I can relate to the need for attention from parents. Below are 3 ways you, a working single parent, can stay engaged in your child’s life:

1. Eat with them.

You have to eat. Instead of eating breakfast before your child wakes up or putting your child to bed and having dinner alone, eat with them. Children have a wealth of information to share with you about their day. Listen to them very closely. There may be some negative, external influences that you may need to remove them from.Time allotted: 30-45 minutes

2. Read with them.

Share your favorite bedtime story with your child. It is a memory that you and him/her can cherish together for the rest of your lives. It can also become a tradition in your family, so that when your child has his/her own children, they will read the same story and share the same appreciate for it with their own family. Time allotted: 20-30 minutes

3. Give them “homework” in your absence

I strongly encourage you to consider another career if spending face-to-face time with your child is impossible; however, if you’re temporarily unable to spend face-to-face time with your children due to a short-term assignment at work, give them “homework” in your absence. It can be as simple as having them journal their day or as complex as writing a book report. Whichever assignment you give them, make sure you actively check it and leave them feedback on their work. This “homework” helps them to remember that although you’re not physically in their presence, you’re still actively involved in their life. Time allotted: 10-20 minutes (checking the assignment and providing feedback)