hooks on “addressing universal concerns”

My experience as a southern working-class black female from a religious family has shaped the way I see the world. Yet the specificity of that experience does not keep me from addressing universal concerns. It is not an either/or issue and never has been. Both in our past and present the tyranny of race, gender, and social biases has meant that disenfranchised writers have had to struggle for voice and recognition in ways that highlight identity. That struggle has not ended, as we must now resist the form recognition takes when these categories are then deployed to confine and restrict our voices. If long-standing structures of hierarchy and domination were not still in place and daily reinscribed, calling attention to a writer’s race, gender, class, or sexual practice would illuminate work, expand awareness and understanding.

bell hooks (in “Writing Without Labels”) discussing life as a writer working around, with, and without labels, articulating a core piece of identity on display through the universalizing work of words.

Men We Reaped

One of my favorite people saying things that matter at an event I couldn’t attend some time back. I come to her memoir each year in a different way since I’ve gotten it.

Jesmyn Ward possesses a joy that doesn’t come through in this, but so much does come through this. Her new book is out; she’s being celebrated having gotten a genius grant! Many blessings to Jesmyn. May the deep truths she discusses in this memoir, even as she launches into every next thing, abide with us.

May her tomorrows be blessed with all she needs to stay strong.

Perspective Transformation

Perspective transformation is the change to how you see something. I think a lot about perspective transformation. I am sitting with an educational theorist (Mezirow) whose theory is about the power of perspective transformation. I’ve also found reframing to be a pretty nifty pastoral skill over my years. The two are very related.

When I was getting consultation on a paper draft last month, one of the supervisors scribbled something on the page. Now, I should back up to say that when we present at this particular monthly meeting, we get immediate verbal feedback. Your work is engaged and your person is engaged. It’s great but it’s labor. You get a massive amount of constructive, careful, powerful, and pointed critique from pastors who have been therapists, educators, and chaplains for years. I can’t live without the stuff in some ways. But, again, it’s work being in the room!

I bring all my papers to the hospital the next week and flip through my friends’ comments. I imagine that I also review the event, almost writing a verbatim in my head about the presentation and the feedback in particular. Of course, the presentation comes up in my own supervision with my training supervisor as a major conversation topic.

Well, one piece of feedback on my theological theory was to consider writing it as a devotion. We had been working through the expectation of me exhibiting “mastery” (something on the grid that tells you what you need to pass essentially) and how I thought about that. The supervisor knew I wrote devotionals and he asked me how my theory would come across if I looked at it similarly. “What if you wrote this as a devotion?”

He was offering me a potential perspective transformation. He used something I could relate to and employed it in what has become a change of my view. Not all changes of view are comfortable. And they always require work. But they can be gifts. They can be good gifts.

Being Secure Enough to Be Open

I’m getting feedback on a writing project. It’s a devotional for Lent. I’m dealing with prayer and endurance. I’m listening to Hannah’s story and being her student. The other night my friend and colleague brought my pages and over tea told me many things I needed to hear.

I’ve done that before: shown my pages and asked for feedback. Linda and Aja commented on my Advent devotional. Aja will see the next draft of the forming work. Feedback is always a discovery. I never know what I’ll hear. I never know how I’ll react.

In my current educational process to become a CPE Supervisor, I’ve learned a lot about defensiveness. I know that there are times when I’m more susceptible to being defensive. I know when I feel secure enough to be open. In my developing personality theory (which draws from interpersonal psychology and Carl Jung), I’m spending time thinking about anxiety and how it can either motivate a person to become or close a person off from becoming. Anxiety can make me open to what’s said. Anxiety can shut me down before words are spoken.

I think one of the critical features for my being anxious is when I don’t feel secure. When Allie talked with me at our kitchen table, I knew she was contributing for my good. I knew she was a friend. I knew I didn’t need to defend. The same is true with Aja and Linda. They’ve read my stuff but, more importantly, they’ve known me so well, that I know there’s no reason to fear. I can be secure enough to be open to what they say.

8 Writing Lessons from the FLOTUS

“How we urged them to ignore those who question their father’s citizenship or faith. How we insist that the hateful language they hear from public figures on TV does not represent the true spirit of this country. How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level.”

Lesson four: Unleash the power of three. Notice how often the speaker relies upon a pattern of three to make her point. This is one of the oldest tricks in the orator’s book. In literature, three is always the largest number. “Of the people, by the people, for the people.” Four examples or 40 become an inventory. Three encompasses the world, creating the illusion we know everything we need to know.

“Our motto is, when they go low, we go high.”

Lesson five: Express your best thought in a short sentence. This is one of the best lines in the speech for a number of reasons. It’s a short sentence, only seven words. Each word is a single syllable. There is parallelism between “they go low” and “we go high,” emphasized by the repetition of the word “go.” The sentence is complex, that is, it begins with a subordinate clause “When they go low,” which describes the opponent’s weak move, followed by a main clause that gives greater weight to the speaker’s values.

“Kids like the little black boy who looked up at my husband, his eyes wide with hope, and he wondered, Is my hair like yours?”

Lesson six: Find a focus. Stick with it. In the story “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson, the winner of the town’s annual lottery gets stoned to death. It is a surprise ending, but there are several mentions of the word ‘stones’ as foreshadowing — never “rocks.”

If I had to choose one word to describe the speech, it would be “kids.” It is repeated five times on a single page. She also uses words like children, sons and daughters, but the informality of kids draws you in: “So, how are the kids?” There is a significant literature in African-American culture about the issue, the problem, the glory of hair. Of “good” hair, and “bad” hair. It feels almost daring for Michelle Obama to refer to this incident, to turn a taboo into a parable and a blessing.

See Roy Peter Clark’s full piece at Poynter here.

See Mrs. Obama’s speech here or below.

Thanks, Ed!

Little Images

I wrote this four years ago and came back to it in my draft folder. The storage unit is not ours anymore since we’ve moved, but the sentiment in this post remains.

Photo Thanks to Nuno Silva

Photo Thanks to Nuno Silva

The other day I spent a few hours rummaging through old things. I went into our basement storage unit and opened a few boxes. I’ve avoided those boxes for two years. My last real vist was soon after the boy came along. Since then I’ve stacked and restacked boxes. I’ve thrown out a couple bags. I’ve given books away.

But I needed to look through things. I need to remember. I needed to let some things go.

I do this regularly: letting things go. My wife is the keeper of things. I’m the one who discards the unused. I used to give boxes of books away–after U of I, after Wheaton, and then after Garrett. I am of the mind that books are worth sharing, especially when they’ve given their gifts to you.

Still, it’s been awhile since I’ve actually gone through the articles and stuff of earlier days, since I convinced myself that I didn’t need as many things as I once did. It’s interesting how what we keep can be its own record.

So I waded through things. There are those cards and letters from my college days and there’s something Mr. Everett gave me in high school. I found a picture with a friend from a dance, the program from a wedding, a hand-written letter from my pastor, a note from my niece, and one of the most creative pieces of writing I’ve ever read, which happens to also be one of the most troubling lies I’ve read. That was from a letter written by a friend impersonating a physician when we were in college.

Each one of these things is a little image of me, a small indicator of the routes my life has taken.

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)

“Exchanges Between Fathers and Sons”

Thanks to Patrik Gothe

Thanks to Patrik Gothe

I read John Wideman’s Fatheralong, and here’s a great quote:

The stories must be told. Ideas of manhood, true and transforming, grow out of private, personal exchanges between fathers and sons. Yet for generations of black men in America this privacy, this privilege has been systematically breached in a most shameful and public way. Not only breached, but brutally usurped, mediated by murder, mayhem, misinformation. Generation after generation of black men, deprived of the voices of their fathers, are for all intents and purposes born semi-orphans. Mama’s baby, Daddy’s maybe. Fathers in exile, in hiding, on the run, anonymous, undetermined, dead. The lost fathers cannot claim their sons, speak to them about growing up, until the fathers claim their own manhood. Speak first to themselves, then unambiguously to their sons. Arrayed against the possibility of conversation between fathers and sons is the country they inhabit, everywhere proclaiming the inadequacy of black fathers, their lack of manhood in almost every sense the term’s understood here in America. The power to speak, father to son, is mediated or withheld; white men, and the reality they subscribe to, stand in the way. Whites own the country, run the country, and in this world where possessions count more than people, where law values property more than person, the material reality speaks plainly to anyone who’s paying attention, especially black boys who own nothing, whose fathers, relegated to the margins, are empty-handed ghosts.

(From Fatheralong, 64-65)