Thursday, June 30, 2011

Adrift in a raft of firsts

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Talking with my hands,
which I learned from my dad.
(Photo by Paulette Moore)
In the run-up to my family's trip to Ethiopia - which begins in two short days - it has struck me that much of this trip constitutes a number of firsts in our lives. Geographically-speaking, I've never been off the North American continent. The handful of times I've been to Canada and Mexico were in the days before you needed a passport, so we had to figure that out a few months ago. We had to decipher the fear-mongering going on the CDC website and other literature when figuring out what immunizations to get (and upon getting them, being reminded that my body does not like needles thrust into it). And while I've had a handful of Ethiopian friends here in the EMU community these past three years, this will be my first immersion in the Ethiopian landscape and its rich culture(s).

And most pressing on my mind is this: This is the first time I've taught a college course!

While it's true that my syllabus is done (see below) and I'm fairly happy and confident about it, I still have this nagging sensation in my gut and a whisper in my ear: "You don't know what you're doing."

Part of me knows this isn't entirely true (but it partially is) and I know this experience will go quite well and be a transformative one (God willing). Thankfully, one of my favorite Christian scholars, James K.A. Smith, offered some reflections on his blog a few days ago which offered some retort to the nagging within me:
To achieve "success" is often just the privilege of being able to insulate oneself from failure. The reward for competence becomes monotony and one becomes enslaved to one's expertise. We become more and more failure-averse and instead carve out worlds without surprises, without tests, without risk. We polish all our shiny new trophies, but they're all from the same sport, so to speak... What's lost in this "security" is precisely the virtue of failure--the strange thrill of trying and not succeeding (the first time, the third time, the 27th time).
Again, I know this experience will be smashing and far from an abject failure. Yet I also know there will be mistakes, perhaps a string of them, as I go about teaching this course and whatever else happens across our month in Ethiopia. And that's not only OK, it's good. Welcoming and stepping into the unknown while trusting God is risky business and indeed it has to be. The Christian faith divorced from risk is a weak faith. My family has known risky leaps of faith: Three years ago, leaving the familiar life we knew in Iowa, moving to Virginia for grad school. Certainly since that time I've made a number of mis-steps but the sense of faithfulness to God's calling us out here has never wavered. Why would our trip to Ethiopia and my teaching there be any different?

Pedagogical firsts
Below you will find the first syllabus I've ever written for a class I haven't yet taught but soon will: "Intro to Conflict Transformation." As I signaled in another long and boring post, my hope with this class is to teach theological peacebuilding in ways that are elicitive and integrate the learning from my two graduate programs.
The three primary texts I'm using for this class are:
Along with an assortment of other essays and articles, which you can find in the syllabus...
CHM 322 - Intro to Conflict Transformation

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