Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The shape of a conflict transformation course

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Tonight will be the first session of my "Intro to Conflict Transformation" course at Bridgewater College. I just put the finishing touches on the syllabus and sent it off to have photocopies made for the students. At this early stage of my becoming a teacher, I thought it would be good for later reflection to post some of the particulars of this course. So here's a bit of what the course is looking like right now. Who knows what it will look like on May 1st when it concludes, or what I'll think of all this if/when I come back to it down the road to see how my thinking about teaching has shifted. Here goes...

SOC/PHIL 319: Introduction to Conflict Transformation
Bridgewater College, Spring 2012

Course description: This course starts with the assumption that conflict is neither good nor bad. Rather, conflict is an opportunity. How one responds to that opportunity is the focus of this course, because conflict transformation seeks to respond constructively to the natural experience of conflict. Course concepts and activities will progress through four levels of conflict, from personal to interpersonal (micro) to organizational to societal (macro). Analysis tools and intervention strategies will vary from level to level but a nested-systems view of conflict will help illuminate the connections between all four. While the weight the course will be practical in nature, offering students tools for use in their daily lives, various interdisciplinary theoretical frameworks will also be introduced throughout the course.

AMP post: The Sacrement of Mission

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
"I worship and love, therefore I am."
Photo by Petra via Flickr.
For the past four or five days I've been reading James K.A. Smith's Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. It's about time, too, since I've been reading his blog, watching/listening to his lectures for almost two years now. In some ways I feel like I've already read a lot of it, but I'm still very happy I finally got around to reading it.

It was also my turn on the schedule to contribute to the Anabaptist Missional Project (AMP) blog, so I synthesized as much of Smith's key points into a post about...

The Sacrament of Mission
“I think, therefore I am.” This short dictum from RenĂ© Descartes may be the best shorthand summary of the entire Enlightenment project. It is a statement about human nature – our “am-ness” – namely that we are primarily rationalanimals. So successful has this view of human nature become – entrenched as it is in our thought and practice patterns of cultural, political, economic, and (yes) religious institutions in the West – it’s nearly impossible to detect, much less argue with. 
But Christian philosopher, James K.A. Smith, has a bone to pick with that view of human nature. In his recent book, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, Smith has set about to change our minds about this mind-centric view of human beings. Drawing on contemporary philosophy and other disciplines, Smith wants us to shift the understanding of our being from that of homo sapiens to “homo liturgicus,” that is the human being as worshipper and lover. So the dictum here would go, “I worship (and love), therefore I am.”
(Read the rest of the post...)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Time-lapse prayer and meditation

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Two videos that make use of time-lapse photography and musical soundtracks have caught my attention this morning. This form is something I first became captivated by two years ago when the volcano in Iceland (whose name I won't bother to spell out here) erupted, and a photographer went and took some amazing hi-def time-lapse photos and strung them together in video form to the soundtrack of a moving song from Jonsi (of Sigur Ros fame).

The first video came via Wesley Hill on Twitter. His reference to the band, M83, caught my attention (because they're awesome) but the video+music stunned me silence, chills, and a gasping cry of "Dear God!" (Both the following videos are worth watching full-screen in HD w/ headphones if you can.)

Discerning Brethren social imaginaries

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Thanks, Shady...
(Photo by PacificCoastNews.com)
Over at Hermes Table, Brethren pastor and professor, Andrew Hamilton, has a wonderfully provocative post: Will the Real Brethren Please Stand Up?

Inquiring as to the wide gaps in interpretive-theological approaches and ambivalence about the "peace stance" within the Church of the Brethren, Andy argues that:
[T]he distinctions are a result of diverse presuppositions which have emerged more out of...particular cultural contexts and their influences...[rather] than ones drawn from the multidimensional shaping effects of the divine metanarrative (God’s grand story) and its accompanying practices which announce the emerging kingdom of God within the present and future reality.
I think Andy's on to something important here for Brethren to pay attention to, and I don't think liberals or conservatives in the denomination are trained to think in the way he's suggesting. In my response to his post in the comments section, I tried to channel some James K.A. Smith and his work in Desiring the Kingdom, since that's on my reading plate at the moment.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Encircling a falling hero

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Emperor Haile Selassie I
Over the Christmas break I was able to read a book which was neither theological nor philosophical, which needs to happen far more often than it does. The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski details the final years of Ethiopa's last monarch, Haile Selassie, who fell to a communist military junta, the Derg, in 1974, and who died in captivity a year later. The book originally got on my list since it was acknowledged as a key source for Abraham Verghese's breathtaking novel, Cutting for Stone, which I mostly read on the plane ride home from Ethiopia and wrote about last summer.

The author, Kapuscinski, was a Polish investigative journalist who was able to spend time in Ethiopia before and after the coup, conducting interviews with servants and counselors to the august emperor. Much of the story comes directly from interview transcripts themselves, so the subjects speak most and other than "silent" editorial control, Kapuscinski interjects his voice only periodically.

The stories are at once gripping, mundane, and pathetic. What struck me most about this book was the deep ambivalence on the part of the subjects interviewed. These were for the most part people who served their emperor proudly and took seriously the royal mythology that linked the long line of Ethiopian monarchs directly to the biblical Israelite king, Solomon. The ambivalence arises when these loyal servants and subjects reflect on the anachronistic and horrendously corrupt and inefficient monarchial government, struggling mightily for development and modernization in the rapidly changing world leading up to the last quarter of the twentieth century. These subjects were loyal but they were not delusional.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Subverting idolatrous narratives

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Walter Brueggemann,
subversive biblical scholar
This week has been one of these weeks when I've felt absolutely spoiled rotten by being a grad student in a university environment. Monday through Wednesday, the seminary held its annual School for Leadership Training (SLT). This being my last year, it is also likely my last SLT. So what a way to go out, to have renowned Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, as our keynote speaker for the two-and-a-half day conference. Brueggemann played a significant role in transforming my attitude about the Old Testament from one of disinterest and ambivalence to deep appreciation, as evidenced in one of my papers last year. So this was a big deal for me...

In Dr. Brueggemann's three keynote lecture-sermons during evening worship Monday through Wednesday, he presented two competing narratives: 1) the Narrative of Accumulation and 2) the Narrative of Abundance. The organizers of this event have graciously made these three excellent messages available on the EMU podcast blog:
  1. “Conflict from Above: The Drive for Accumulation”
  2. “Conflict from Below: The Possibility of Astonished Gratitude”
  3. “Sabbath as a Means of Transition from Anxious Scarcity to Grateful Abundance”
Read on for more summary of Dr. Brueggemann's messages and a critique of his theological application of his biblical interpretation to contemporary concerns...

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's the final countdown!

Notice: This post related to the above in name only
After coming back from Ethiopia last summer, high on my first major teaching experience, I began my penultimate semester at Eastern Mennonite University in a funk. Having just been a teacher, here I was again in the classroom...but as a student. It took me a few weeks to process what was going on with my bad attitude and moping around, but once I figured it out, I quickly began working to address the problem.

After some conversations last fall with seminary faculty and administrators, combined with a coincidental adjunct teaching position opening up at a nearby college, I arranged my final semester at EMU to consist of just one class, with the rest of my hours taken up by a teaching practicum. So for one semester only, I will be Assistant Professor of Sociology at Bridgewater College in nearby Bridgewater, Virginia, teaching "Intro to Conflict Transformation" to college undergrad students.

My class doesn't start for another two weeks, so I'm in the process of finalizing the curriculum and syllabus. As it relates to my practicum, though, I'm approaching it with the following goals:
  1. Discern the call to educational ministry by the practice of teaching
  2. Explore pedagogical approaches engaging various learning styles with mixed delivery/media
  3. Reflect critically on secularity in Christian institutions of higher education, explore alternatives

Monday, January 9, 2012

Top posts for 2011, Google's and mine

On the heels of my last post about traffic, here are two lists showing the top 5 posts on Restorative Theology in 2011, out of a total of 89. The first is from Google Analytics, based on pure number of views:

  1. Military porn, military infidelity (March 6) - The sad thing about this result is that its placement had more to do with Google searches for "military porn" than the actual content of my post.
  2. In the dappled light of my grandfather (February 22) - My Grandpa Max died this year and this post formed the basis of my eulogy, which I delivered at his funeral later that same week. (This post also gets a nod as one of my favorites. It  really did help me grieve my grandfather, with whom I had an ambivalent relationship throughout my childhood and early adulthood.)
  3. The Avett Brothers' narrative doctrine of Love (and Hate) (October 2010) - A post from 2010 continues to perform well in 2011, due to the Avett Brothers being awesome and Google searches such as "Are the Avett Brothers Christian?" directing people to my lyrical-theological analysis of one of their songs.
  4. Anabaptist party-poopers, sports, shopping, and the military (May 2) - The obligatory "Where were you when they killed Osama bin Laden?" post. Hand-wringing and fist-shaking at the military-consumerist complex that has this country's social imagination in a stranglehold. (Another post I'll indicate as one of my favorites. I'll simply add that the last sentence bears repeating: "the death of a violent man by violent means will not end the insanity of terrorism; far from it. America's story just doesn't cut it. I won't celebrate it. Rather, I will celebrate the broken body of Christ, which is for the healing and reconciliation of the world in ways that any temporal nation-state or market economy could - given a million years - neither imagine nor enact.")
  5. An old Brethren take on Love winning (March 15) - My brief contribution from Brethren history to the brouhaha surrounding Rob Bell's then-newly-released book, Love Wins. No, I didn't ever read the book and don't really plan on ever doing so.
Read on for the second list, my own subjective list of favorite posts from the Gregorian year just past, 2011:

Restorative Theology by the (modest) numbers

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Mmm...charts; 2011 (blue) vs. 2010 (orange) visits
2011 marked the second full year of Restorative Theology's place in the theoblogoshere. As such, it is the first time that I'm able - using Google Analytics - to see some web traffic reports from one year vs. another. The good news is that visits were up 188% in 2011 over '10. The bad news is that average time spent on a particular page fell about 30 seconds, from 2:22 to 1:54. Given that my posts tend to be long, that means that people undoubtedly fall asleep pretty quickly.

From my personal and professional blogging experience, I was recently invited (actually I invited myself) to speak with folks from Mennonite-affiliated organizations who were interested in blogging and social media in their marketing. Professionally, I practice what I've come to call "narrative marketing," which eschews web advertising systems - like Google AdWords and Facebook ads - in favor of storytelling on blog posts and personal, conversational chatter on Facebook and Twitter. It is a qualitative approach rather than quantitative, which is consistent with my own ethos and that of my current place of work, the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. So as I confess my low traffic here, it is done so unapologetically. I go for depth rather than breadth.

So to the folks who follow this obscure little blog, a big thanks for your readership and conversation in the comments, over Twitter, or on Facebook! I continue to ponder what shape this blog will take after graduation in the spring, when I will no doubt continue to read academic material but not nearly as much, and my practice will be refocused more toward "the real world." Stick with me and we'll see what happens...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Individualism in the axial age?

From Eastern Mennonite University, 1200 Park Rd, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Click for an awesome book symposium
at The Immanent Frame blog
Two years ago, when I started reading more "hardcore" academy nerd literature (especially philosophical writing about secularity), I was gifted to find a wonderful online resource, perfect for an almost-digital-native such as myself: The Immanent Frame blog. One of the features of this blog is that they consistently have a significant work of scholarly literature being discussed in an interdisciplinary book symposium. In fact, that was how the blog was born in 2007, with the release of philosopher Charles Taylor's A Secular Age. Most recently they have been posting responses, praises, and questions related to sociologist Robert Bellah's landmark book, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age. I've been reading all these posts with great interest, since there is little chance I'll read the book itself, which sits at a hefty 784 pages.

The most recent post comes from historian of religions, Wendy Doniger: Axial axioms, where she brings her specialty on religious history in India to bear on Bellah's work. In an otherwise fascinating post, I was struck by her following statement:
The new religious movements of the axial age [sometime between 600 and 400 BCE; this includes biblical Israel, see below] located the problem of the human condition, of human suffering, within the individual heart and mind (where Freud, too, located it), rather than in a hierarchical society (where Marx located it). In this way, at least, these movements were individualistic — “Look to your own house”... — rather than socially oriented... This in itself was a tremendous innovation. (Emphasis mine.)
What follows is my amateurish rejoinder...