Friday, August 19, 2016

Second Cup: Fifty years and counting….

In 1966 I walked into my first classroom.

Well, technically, I’d been in a classroom of one kind or another ever since I started kindergarten with Miss Allen at Lowell Elementary on S. Flower Street, Santa Ana, California.
At the end of second grade, I moved to Glenn L. Martin Elementary; after sixth grade I moved on to Julia C. Lathrop Junior High School and from there, in 1957, to Santa Ana Senior High School—home of the Saints. I graduated from high school in 1960 and enrolled for the next two years at Santa Ana Junior College—the Dons. In 1962 I enrolled at Warner Pacific College, Portland, Oregon, graduating from there in 1965. On to Cal State at Fullerton and Chico; Anderson College School of Theology, Indiana; and Lewis and Clark, Portland. Back to WPC in 1972 where I served on the faculty and as an administrator for 23 years. In 1995, we moved to Anderson, Indiana, where I joined the teaching church for 15 years. Even during the years working for the national offices of the Church of God, I was involved in teaching at the University and in the life of the church. The reality is that I’ve rarely been out of a classroom—or away from my calling. I’m now (2016) back at WPC and again teaching. On Monday I will walk into AF Gray 11 (once part of the WPC cafeteria) and begin my fiftieth year.

The key word, however, in that first sentence is my. In all of those other too many to count classrooms, the owner was someone else: Miss Allen (Kindergarten); Miss Boyd (third grade); Mrs. Duke (fifth grade), and Mrs. Lilly (sixth grade)—to name my truly influential and unforgettable elementary teachers. No one, really, stands out at Lathrop, which is probably more my fault that theirs. (I had other teachers during that time: at Lathrop Branch Library, there was Miss Leona Calkins, Betty Wimpress, and a few other marvelous librarians; and at church, there was Sister Bessie Peterson, my Sunday school teacher until junior high) and various pastors, but especially the pastor we called Brother Shackleton.)

Until that day in September 1966 when I walked into my classroom at Red Bluff Union High School, the classrooms I was in always belonged to someone else. But I remember this particular day with particular clarity.
(I'm pretty sure that the door just to the left of the "breezeway" in this photo is the door to my classroom.)

I remember a deep sense of achievement when I crossed that literal and liminal threshold. It was a relatively new classroom. One half wall of bookshelves, a desk, and a closet. The windows were transom and there were only two because of air conditioning (for which, in Red Bluff, I was always grateful). Two walls were pretty much covered with blackboard. Yes, we still used chalk. The fourth wall was the window and door wall. There was nothing really remarkable about the room; I think the empty walls were covered with wood paneling and some space for bulletin boards. And, of course, the ubiquitous neon lighting. Oh, yes, and a podium where I leaned and rows of movable desks (that were seldom if ever moved). As plain and utilitarian as it was, that room became sacred, liminal space for me and, sometimes, for my students. I crossed that threshold and said, I think aloud, “Yes, this is it.”
I don’t remember being nervous, although that would come later when the students showed up and I began to doubt that I had anything to offer them. At that moment, however, I was home—this was the place for me to be whomever and whatever I was or was becoming. I was there for five years and, as I’ve written elsewhere in this blog, I think I could have stayed there. I think I could have retired from there, as my friend Dennis Allwardt did.

Those were hugely formative years. I came to be comfortable there. I became increasingly at home. I began a life long pilgrimage as a teacher, thinker about teaching and learning, and a discoverer of the joy and terror of teaching. Living into my calling. Many years later I read this by Parker Palmer—

Vocation at its deepest level is not, “Oh, boy, do I want to go to this strange place where I have to learn a new way of life and where no one, including me, understands what I’m doing.” Vocation at its deepest level is, “This is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling. (Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, p. 25)

And I thought, “Yes, this is it.” I cannot conceive of my life out of the context of teaching and learning and helping others learn and teach. At times my courage has failed me and anyone who has ever read this blog or talked with me about teaching knows that I often feel like a failure—and a fraud. Yet, when I think about giving up and walking away, my knees quake, my heart constricts, and tears form. Teaching is one of those professions in which the doing and the being are one. Yes, I am a human being but my essence and my expression of my essence is summed up in this one word—Teacher.

My idea of what a teacher is has changed over the years and certainly my sense of what a teacher does has changed over the years. I’ve always tried to pay attention to my teacher-friends and teacher-colleagues; I’ve always tried to pay attention to my students—what concerns them, what they are seeking, and what they are hoping. And, in light of paying attention, I’ve tried always to ask, “How, then, shall I live?” “How, then, shall I teach?” “How, then, shall I connect and relate?” I’ve always tried to ask, “What is it about what I’m doing that matters most—and how can I do it better?”

Over the next several entries, I’m going to attempt to think “out loud” about what I’ve learned—or think I have—as I’ve stood before and walked alongside those questions, my students, and my colleagues. I’m not sure why I’m offering this in my blog—I know that I think better when I write it. Perhaps a discussion will develop, although I have no real hopes for that because my blog just sort of hangs out there and none to few have ever responded; in fact, this blog is really my personal effort to tentatively answer those questions for myself. I do not presume to have anything to teach anyone else about teaching; the only presumption I have is that I might provide a kind of model or direction for how to live into and out of a vocation—any vocation, really—but teaching in particular.

No order to this; it’s randomly developed and written…. From time to time there will b a poem or two—some new and some old (because the old seem to fit again in this new context).

So, then, the question is “What have I learned?” Beginning with the next entry, I’ll introduce you to the first of my student/teachers—Sally Hrdlicka.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Second cup: Hope, faith, and dancing in the dark

Not that anyone has been pounding on my virtual door begging for my take on life and politics, but I have been silent about the state of our world, now more clearly defined by the word Orlando. I have been silent for mostly good reasons—I have not had much to add to conversation and certainly did not want to add to the irrationality, polarization, and politicizing of our current reality (perhaps realities). I have "liked" a few things on Facebook and have felt my heart beat in rhythm with Ben Irwin’s articulate outrage and several other voices who are equally articulate and thoughtful—and often recoiled from and sometimes shut down (i.e., unfriended) the voices of anger and hate directed at victims and the president.

Yet, now, here I am writing to post on Facebook. Why? I’ve been struggling with an idea that will not go away and, finally, sat down recently with a friend at Starbucks and asked, “As dark as these days seem—and are—and without any desire to take away the pain, anger, shock, or bravery of people in response (and I certainly do not want to diminish it), I wonder if we are not in one of those times that Thomas Cahill calls “hinges of history?”

We normally think of history as one catastrophe after another, war followed by war, outrage by outrage—almost as if history were nothing more than all the narratives of human pain, assembled in sequence. And surely this is, often enough, an adequate description. But history is also the narratives of grace, the recounting of those blessed and inexplicable moments when someone did something for someone else, saved a life, bestowed a gift, gave something beyond what was required by circumstances….

"[a time when] everything was at stake, when the mighty stream that became Western history was in ultimate danger and might have divided into a hundred useless tributaries or frozen in death or evaporated altogether. But the great gift givers, arriving in the moment of crisis, provided for transition, for transformation, and even for transfiguration, leaving us a world more varied, more beautiful and strong than the one they found." (Cahill, Thomas. (1995). How the Irish saved civilization. New York: Doubleday)

Here we are, perhaps, in one of those times. The hate is very strong and the fear often feels stronger. We are all struggling to understand how we came to recite such a growing litany of places and names where hate lashed out and claimed lives and destinies. I know I am. I find myself fighting against—as I hope all of us would—the fear in my own heart. The fear in my own heart that makes we want to run away and hide even as I know there never has been and never will be such a place to hide—“No hiding place down here.” This fear that makes me angry enough to want to inflict pain somewhere. I hate that I have to sit on the couch with my great-grandson as I once sat on the couch with my son during another war and attempt to explain why people want to hurt each other so badly.

I have to make myself watch the evening news, listen to NPR, and read The Oregonian because I’d rather pretend that my little bubble will protect me—even as I grow anxious; anxious every night when I double check the locks on our doors; anxious nearly every time I walk into a classroom, have a difficult conversation with a student, or walk out of my night class into a dark and empty parking lot. Anxious that nearly every time I am in church, at least once, I think about Charleston and how vulnerable we are. "No hiding place"—but oh how I wish there were.

Resistance is a term that is usually associated with unfair governmental practice: the French underground resisted the Vichy Government as the Polish underground resisted both the German and Russian war machines and governments. After Rick Blaine and Captain Louis Renault sent Ilsa and Victor to safety, they marched out to join the Resistance. The civil population resisting the government. Resistance also means a refusal to comply. I resist and I refuse and J’accuse!

I must practice another kind of resistance. I must resist my desire to avoid; I must not run from the darkness; I must not yield to it; I must not give ground to any hate monger who asserts his or her “biblical” conviction or second amendment right or wall building plan or “better than anyone else” rhetoric. However deeply I may fear the stranger, I must resist my desire to run from the stranger. I must work to turn strangers into friends. I must try to see through and beyond the strange and unfamiliar and faithfully maintain that not all is as it is presented on the news. I must even understand that there are reasons why others hate my country and, by extension, me. I must try to understand and live out of my conviction that “love is love” and that I am called to love God and love others without condition.

I must keep my eyes open, tuned to the eyes of God, to see where despair butterflies into hope and hope into faith and faith into action. “Hope is believing in God’s future now. Faith is dancing to it”—this quotation, a beautifully calligraphed aphorism was given to us by some very dear friends; it hangs in our dining room, impossible to miss.

I want to dance.

Even though this is a time when it is hard to conceive of light at the end of the tunnel let alone to actually see that light, I am wondering if, maybe, something more is going on. I remind myself of the time when our country in conflict with itself almost came permanent divided; the times when we found “strange fruit” hanging from our trees; the times when we thought the country was about to fall apart, again, over race; all of the times when the best and brightest of our youth marched off to war never to return—or never to return whole; the times when the water cannons were brought out and turned on those who said can’t we be better than this; the time when our own were killed by our own on college campuses.

Sometimes it feels to me that what I should ask is what Yeats asked in “The Second Coming”: “What rough beast slouches toward Bethlehem to be born?” I know the dangers of romanticizing and the risk of trivializing—but is it possible that we are living in one of those times when we will look back and see another kind of story altogether. A time when we again discover our better selves and repent and change our ways?

I am thinking of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., summarizing Theodore Parker:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

I keep thinking we are better than this. And I remind myself that we used to call the Middle Ages dark because we couldn’t see beyond plagues and fears to the real and emerging brilliance of that time. I remind myself that there was a time when the early Christians had every reason to expect to be destroyed, even while God was at work calling faithful Jesus followers to something more and greater. I remind myself that as dark as it may be—and as it has been—we discover that we are better than we thought we were.

We discovered that we can be better when we owned again our own values. A statue in a harbor still sings, “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. / Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" From time to time it surprises me to realize that my father was an immigrant and that on his side, I’m a first generation American. True, my father came from England through Canada at a different time; still, he was an immigrant who chose to become an American and stood, like so many other thousands, and pledged allegiance.

Shall we now build walls and say "Go home, stay away, we don’t need you"? Shall we turn away from those who have always given us new hope, new vision, and new purpose (not to mention new good food)? No, I don’t think so. I want to affirm hope and faith and the promise of our own lives—and our lives together. I want to appeal to our better selves. I want to call us to remember our own stories and our own story. I want to remind us that the journey is often hard and always demands courage (heart strength), but that we need to be on the right side of history—the side Martin Luther King was moving on when he called us to remember that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” The side of history described by Jesus when he told us "Blessed are the poor in spirit, the sorrowful, the gentle, the hungry for the right, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers..." (Matt 5:3-9 REB).

Monday, February 8, 2016

First cup: Thinking about saints or Saints I have Known

Saturday I attended the memorial for Sharon Skaggs and listened to friends and family share their warmest memories about their friend and mother. She was a remarkable woman. I worked with and around her for 15 years through the last days of the old national regime, through the challenges and disappointments of the transition to the new, into the strange new world of Church of God Ministries. She was a remarkable woman. We all struggled with these changes, some more than others. I think we all worried about what was going on and whether or not we would find a home in this brave new world that was rich with disenchantment, hope, and irony; I know most of us worried whether or not there would be a welcome mat—would there be a place for me and will I want it.

The journey was difficult for everyone, but I think no agency had greater challenges than what was once called the Board of Foreign Missions, now Global Strategies. A pioneering agency of the church, it carried the distinctive teachings of the Church of God reformation movement into the uttermost parts of the earth. A remarkable history. A remarkable story. Not without error and not without floundering along the way—still, an amazing story of vision and true grit.

I think I’ve known a lot of saints in my day. I’m going to name a few even though I know that most of them would get angry at this designation—even though once upon a time we in the Church of God used to call ourselves “The Saints.” Yet, here they are, some living still and some part of the cloud of witnesses: my pastor Al Shackleton; my dean and friend, Tom Smith; my boss and friend, Sherrill Hayes, and his boss and our friend, Don Courtney. My professor Irene Caldwell; my mentor, dean, and, at times, pastor, Milo Chapman; my friend and pastor, Jay Barber; and many another friend and colleague at WPC, AU, Park Place Church, and Church of God Ministries. Oh, I could name many more. I’ve been blessed (and cursed) with saints in my life.

Cursed? Well, we tend to idealize saints, don’t we? We tend to enshrine them in stained glass, build monuments, and name buildings. But my experience also says that saints have rough edges, sharp elbows, and deep, deep commitments that are often visionary and in the service of those commitments and vision can be fierce and dogged and uncompromising. Saints can be very, very difficult to work and live with.

Which brings me back to Sharon. I heard her described Saturday as a saint—which is what got this rumination going—and I would tend to agree with that. But only if we scrape away the stained glass and the haloes and remember that all saints were humans—really seriously human, being transformed by the call of God on their lives, and focused on living into and through that call. Someone, I think, said that a saints are persons who live on fire, gloriously open to God, which, I think, makes them difficult and wonderful. That’s Sharon. I worked with her for 15 of those difficult years I wrote about earlier, leaving the soon to be forsaken halls before she did. At first, three halls separated us—she was in the Outreach hall and I in Resource hall. As time went on and we all kept trying to figure out how to make this new thing work, our halls came closer together and increasingly there were opportunities to see her at work and to work with her. She was all of the characteristics we heard about in the eulogies—funny, kind, compassionate; she did have a great laugh, although I have to say that we didn’t hear it often in that building. She was also the best friend a missionary ever had; if it’s possible for one person to do this, she had their backs, individually and collectively. That’s where the real saintliness came in: She was determined and uncompromising and tough when it came to the life and needs and times of the field missionary. I had the opportunity to sit at some tables with her and I saw that compassion in full color—and I saw the uncompromising tough and determined woman. And I’m grateful that she was there. As her son-in-law, Patrick remind us Saturday, it seemed at times that the whole enterprise of global missions was at risk. I’m pretty confident when I say that Sharon would have done her work for nothing if she understood that was necessary for missionaries in the field to do their work.

The church would be well-served by more such difficult saints.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Following up....

NOTE: The following was published March 1980) in the Warner Pacific College News; its title is "The liberating arts: A Christian view."


A good deal of dissatisfaction is being expressed over the state of education in the United States. Various pleas appear in the media for us to get “back to the basics.” When this appeal is made with regard to our elementary public schools usually what is meant is a return to the three R’s. When this appeal is made at the college level it frequently has to do with that type of education which is commonly referred to as the “liberal arts.” It is with this latter concept that I wish to deal.

The phrase “liberal arts” is not a theological term.
It is not a matter of putting “liberalism” over against “conservatism” or “fundamentalism.” Rather it is a term which refers to that body of knowledge which helps the individual understand him [or her] self, his [or her] world, and his [or her] relationships. In a real sense then, “liberal arts” are to be viewed as liberating the individual from ignorance and superstition.

On occasion a further distinction is affirmed or implied. The Bible college curriculum is placed in contradiction to the liberal arts curriculum. Of course, a Bible college may say that the only worthwhile subject to be studied is that which relates directly to the Bible. Such an extreme position is rarely taken. Rather, it is agreed that the Christian needs to know him [or her] self and his [or her] world. [All need] to be liberated from ignorance and superstition. At this point the Bible College and the Christian liberal arts college which maintains a strong emphasis upon biblical and theological studies are very similar.

Warner Pacific has historically maintained a liberal arts program that offers a full program in biblical studies as well as the “liberal arts.” The fact is, we refuse to admit that such a distinction is valid. To be properly education a person must know scripture, [and] a college that leaves out religion is offering a grossly imbalanced program.

We at Warner wish to go a step further. We also wish to put into daily practice what is being learned. Consequently our students are involved, as required by various majors, in off-campus activities such as internship, field experiences, practicum, student teaching assignments, field observation, week-long counseling positions with Outdoor Schools, and long term relationships with both public and private agencies and churches. This gives the student an opportunity to experience real work situations as well as to come to grips with his or her Christian witness in a world gone seriously wrong.

Thus we affirm that human beings are whole, not parts, and that we seek the truth of God wherever it may be found. God’s truth is found in the most profound of [human] attempts to understand him [or her] self, his [or her] world,his [or her] relationships and his [or her] God. We wish to be a community actively in pursuit of such truth, even as we know God’s love preserves us.

Several years back, the college choir had as its theme song a great choral work expressing the role of the Christian liberal arts college:

"God’s Son has made me free
From Satan’s tyranny
From fear of death, and bonds of sin
From all that plagues my soul within.
God’s Son has made me free."

The faculty and staff of Warner see themselves as agents in that continuous liberation through the open and honest exploration of the many sources of [human] knowledge, including that of revelation from God. With the human must come the divine. In Christ and with Christ, in the context of Christian education, the humanizing arts become what they are meant to be: not just liberal arts, but the liberating arts.

The Truth shall make you free.

SECOND CUP: Thinking about Christian higher education

Disclaimer: The following is the result of some of my reflections about what is going on in Christian higher education today. I have been involved in this endeavor in one way or another since I started at Warner Pacific College as an instructor in Language Arts Education—and have served there in a variety of roles and responsibilities; so I claim some expertise in that area. However, I am not a church historian, although I read in the field and count a few such historians in my friendship circle. But I claim no particular formal credentials in that area—nor do I want any of my friends who have formally or informally over the years of thinking about church and college to be blamed for what follows. This reflects some thinking about what’s going on and about where I am; certainly, I invite any one who wants to join in this discussion to do so.

WARNER PACIFIC COLLEGE is not an evangelical school—and therein lies its charm and its freedom.

In the last score or more years, evangelical as a descriptive and identifying term has grown looser and broader and, finally, less helpful and, sadly, often divisive. It’s become a term used widely as synonymous with conservative (sometimes, fundamental) Protestant Christianity. In the current political process, evangelical is also recognized or utilized as a term for a particular voting block. Evangelicalism is rooted in the Protestant Reformation, which, most of us know, grew as a reaction to corruption in the church, and, as the reformers saw it, the triumph of reason and tradition over revelation. It intended to be a reassertion of a biblically based faith.

Under the banner of “sola scriptura,” the growing protesting church began to grind out a series of doctrines and dogma intended to clarify what the Bible actually said. These clarifications became creeds and the creeds became more defining (and perhaps more restrictive) of what a particular brand of Protestantism understood the scripture to teach. That brand was, often, held up as Truth. Increasingly, persons were asked, then required, to sign on to a Creed, thus establishing their credentials as Christians. Being a Christian was more about believing right things—right knowing—than right living or engaging in serious, personal, prayerful devotional study.

During that reformation, another group emerged, generally lumped together under the rubric of “Pietist.” Seen as a more radical group, these persons reasserted a number of practices and convictions intended to restore greater personal connectivity and responsibility for truth in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A key summary of this new/old approach is found in Spener’s Pia Desideria (“Pious Yearnings”).

In brief these are (From the Archives: The Pia Desideria (Pious Desires); The Manifesto of Pietism):

1. A more serious attempt to spread the Word of God. Pastors should preach from the entire Bible and Christians should meet in small groups to study the Bible.

2. The … doctrine of the priesthood of all believers should receive a new emphasis. The differences between the laity and clergy should be minimized.

3. More attention should be given to the cultivation of individual spiritual life. Love for God and man [sic] should take priority over theological disputes. Knowledge is secondary to practice.

4. Truth is not established in disputes but through repentance and a holy life.

5. Candidates for the ministry should be “true Christians.” Their training should include small groups for devotional life and personal Bible study.

6. Sermons should not show the preacher’s erudition, but attempt to edify believers and produce the effects of faith.

The Church of God reformation movement, part of the holiness revival of the 19th Century, had a radical perspective on living out of this understanding of scripture and truth.

WARNER PACIFIC COLLEGE, an agency of the Church of God (Anderson, IN), is not an evangelical school because it is rooted in the Church of God Reformation Movement that not only condemned creeds and refused to establish its own (other than scripture), but also affirmed the possibility that there is more truth to be found. This Movement disparaged and denounced denominationalism and, therefore, creedalism; it affirmed that the Holy Spirit will and does make scripture plain—and motivates us to live out of those affirmations. There are beliefs that this movement affirms as true, but I won’t go into those in this blog; however, they are understood as affirmations that do not bind the believer and, frankly, for better and worse, have changed over the years. But more than “right beliefs,” this movement emphasizes “right living.” Whatever else it might be, our understanding of holiness is that we have a deep commitment and a high expectation to live in, out of, and open to the all truth, as revealed by the Holy Spirit through scripture, and we do not, in fact, own the truth but rather are owned by it. We live in between times and are called to live with integrity as kingdom dwellers.

(Even Wikipedia: “One of [this movement's] more distinctive features is that there is no formal membership, since the movement believes that true biblical salvation, which will result in a life free from sin, makes one a member. Similarly, there is no formal creed other than the Bible. Accordingly, there is much official room for diversity and theological dialogue, even though the movement's culture is strongly rooted in Wesleyan holiness theology.” [My emphasis]

Of course, the Church of God (Anderson, IN) has roots in more than one plot (e.g. Anabaptist and Wesleyan); but they are strong in Pietism, which emphasizes how we live in the world more than what we believe in or about the world. So, we often avoid the boxes that not only define but also constrict and result in inquisitions of one kind or another. (Not that we have escaped such purges entirely but given the non legislative power of our assembly, they seem best defined as efforts to clarify and affirm rather than legislate and convict.) Instead we desire to live well out of an understanding of holiness that connects our understanding of truth/Truth as how we live in the world—free in the Spirit and open to the possibilities resulting from a creative and surprising God. This sometimes makes us seem without a center, and we grow uncomfortable with that, leading to a flurry of resolutions and efforts to more clearly define ourselves.

But there is a center and it is powerful; rather than limiting it is liberating because it believes God is at work in the world in ways and with others that we cannot even imagine. These roots make it (or should make it) possible for a school like WPC to avoid the kind of “creedal correctness” that schools in the evangelical tradition (like Wheaton, much in the news of late) struggle with; they also provide us with a more robust and “liberal/liberating” conversation. WPC defines itself as a Christ-centered, urban, liberal arts college. The term Christ-centered (rather than Christian) is an intentional choice that invites the kind of questions the answers to which are often assumed to be explicit in the term Christian.

Christ-centered, as a center, provides the ground to which all else is tied but not in a legalistic or creedal sense rather in a dialogical sense in the same sense that the people asked who is this son of man (John 12:34)? Further questions emerge about how is Jesus the center of what we do, how we live, how we think, and how we teach and learn? Rather than stand before some creedal definition of the truth, we stand before this Jesus and ask, as the demoniac asked, what have you to do with me (Luke 8:27-29)? Whatever else Jesus is, he is a living question demanding an answer; it is a personal answer and a communal answer, which we stand before, eager to understand.

Rooted, then, in a tradition that invites us into relationship with a living Jesus, in pursuit of the truth that will make us free, we are both freed and bound to faithfully live and learn in a context of love, mutual respect, and honesty. It is what makes it possible for a faculty member to sit with neighbors of other faiths and engage in conversations in and out of the classroom that explore similarities and differences but keeps open channels for relationship and mutual growth. It is what makes it possible for a faculty or staff member to sit with students struggling with their faith and not feel compelled to convert or convict or condemn but join them on a journey of faith that is freeing and engaging for both. It is what makes possible the porosity of our classroom walls, allowing students and faculty to move out into the world to engage to understand world so that we might better talk with it, change it and be changed by it (rather than run from, hide from, bunker down). It is what makes it possible for the College to be a safe place for students of all backgrounds, identities, paths, orientations, and ethnicities, and “creeds” to sit together, talk together, and grow together.

Because we believe God is at work, the Spirit is at work, in all these conversations and together the Truth that makes us free is revealed.

This is not new; I am not the first to call our collective attention to this. In March 1980, in the pages of Warner Pacific College News, Dr. Milo Chapman, then president, wrote about this reality in his time and in his language. I will post that in my next blog.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Third Cup....

(written two days ago and only now published)

It's been a long morning already, and it's only 9:30 am. Jaydyn woke up shortly after I did at 6 am and wanted to get up. Wouldn't be encouraged to sleep a bit longer and so my ohsonecessary quiet time was lost. Such an approach-approach conflict! Spend time with him: spend time with coffee. Both high values in my life, but, yes, I chose wisely (or perhaps lovingly); I chose him, which lead to bath time and ninja warrior time and finally off to school for him and me....yes, I did get my coffee and so the integrity of this blog remains intact.

What's on my mind this morning? Ohsomuch. Thinking about the world we live in, the students I journey with, and the college/mission I still get to serve--a perfect combination for me.

The chaos of the world--hardly need to elaborate, do I? Never at peace, it seems shalom is farther away than ever. I wonder if there is any place on earth where it is, even briefly? I wonder what is meant by the evocative phrase “the reign of God”? The world is challenged at nearly every point and sometimes feels that it is falling to pieces. Here and abroad, we struggle with neighbors and strangers and fundamental human need/desperation at every turn. The period of time might best be labeled: "To wall or not to wall." Germany tears walls down and opens borders and then, in the country of The Wall, begins to talk again as if walls might be good; Hungary builds walls to close out; Croatia says we are open and then, oops, nope, we are closed. The US build walls to, what, close us in or keep others out? I vote for tearing them down or, at least, creating larger openings—but who is interested in what I have to say?

The pleasure of my students--
As anyone who reads my peripatetic blog knows, I'm in my early 70s. They also know that I am still able, willing, and allowed to teach. An amazing gift to me--to live out my calling at a time when many think I should be settling down somewhere and waiting for what? Godot? The grim reaper? Jesus? Don't know but I'm not settling down somewhere, and I'm grateful that I don't have to. Instead, I get to be with young and not so young men and women at crucial times in their lives that are, more or less, eager to learn and allow me to sit with them and enjoy the pleasure of their company. And, what do I teach: I teach about neighbors and strangers and fundamental human need/desperation--and how to tear down walls. Tear down the personal walls that separate us from the closest strangers; tear down walls from the anonymous neighbor; tear down the internal walls that we erect, we hope, to keep our own internal chaos at bay--and that keep us from knowing the most intimate stranger: ourselves. Pretty damn amazing!

What's even more amazing is that I am welcomed into the lives of these student/persons! I'm allowed/invited to know them and to speak into their lives. Better still I get to hear the stories they carry and watch the stories they are writing. These stories, oh, my Lord, are stories of such power and pain and joy and bitterness and anger and love and exclusion and inclusion--the list is endless. I'm allowed to laugh and cry with them as they embrace and tell and reflect on their stories--and to help them to grow with and through those stories. Sometimes I even get to be co-author. I am so fortunate I can barely speak at times. So grateful. So very, very grateful.

The focus of a mission--And on top of all that I get to serve in an institution that owns and lives out of a mission that not only allows me to engage in these ways but holds me accountable to doing so. A real mission. A lived mission. A thoughtful mission. It says that I get to follow Jesus in my work and life and with my students--to bring Jesus into the classroom and say welcome. Not in any prescribed or proscribed sense, but in the same sense, I think, that Jesus himself walked into the lives of the folks he encountered and said, "Come, follow me." In class, yesterday, we were listening to reports on various aspects of the human condition; the one we were learning about was "curiosity." I asked, "I wonder, if we are created in God's image, if we can say God is curious?" In some places that question might be seen as absurd or even heretical: How can an omniscient God be curious--about what would that God be curious? Ha! Well, the point is, the question can be asked and we can wonder what a curious God might be like....

But, in addition to following Jesus (i.e., WPC is Christ-centered), the mission I serve also says we are urban. That is what? We are connected to the world outside the classroom. Yesterday, the campus shut down as it has for 11 years. Yes, in the third week of classes, we shut down, and a huge number of us got into vans and headed out into our urban world--our classroom--to serve. I think I heard that students, faculty, and staff were engaged in service projects in the greater Portland Metroplex at 20+ sites. I joined my co-teacher, Bill Dobrenen, our two peer mentors, Olivia and Milo, and 13 students.

We traveled to NAYA, a complex service and education entity serving Native American youth and families. (Did you know that Portland is accurately an urban reservation with nearly 40,000 Natives living here?) There we engaged in those tasks that often get overlooked because there are so many more urgent demands taking the attention of staff. Some of us cleaned out a refrigerator, recently donated, so that the food pantry to supply more than canned foods. Others stacked and sorted clothing, so that seasonally appropriate clothes can be available. Others cleaned out a space that is used for the food pantry, creating larger and cleaner space. Some engaged the outdoors, in the pouring rain, to work in the educational garden so that the students who study at NAYA can learn what they need to know about food survival and the value and importance of Native natural medicines. One person’s weed is another person’s lifeline. That, I think, may be a life principle?

Beyond the service is the joy of being with my students, engaged in serious and humorous conversations, working hard, getting dirty, ruining shoes, and generally emerging as a community that begins to understand not only in intellectual and emotional ways but also physical, dirty handed and kneed ways, what community is and how really valuable it is.

I am so fortunate and so deeply grateful!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

First Cup: If I taught….

As I walked this morning, a certain refrain kept occurring to me: “If I taught according to what I believe and what I teach….” A challenging refrain because I teach courses that are part of the Humanities Core of Warner Pacific College. These courses are, in and of themselves, challenging learning environments. They function like the backbone of the curriculum, a spine that extends from the freshman year through the senior. Depending on the entry point, all students are required to take these. I usually teach these classes in three out of four years: in the Freshman Year Learning Communities program; the two junior year courses—Spirituality, Character, and Service and Faith, Living, and Learning; and the senior capstone course, often referred to simply as Hum 410. Its title is Senior Humanities Seminar.

These courses provide a specifically mission driven set of lenses through which students engage the College’s mission—“Christ-centered, liberal arts, urban, diverse”—and convictions: “a worldview that is ethical, respectful, and promotes stewardship through acts of service; self-knowledge, integrity, and awareness of others through responsible decision making; and sensitivity to and valuing of diversity among and between persons.”

I often say to students, however, that the subject of these courses, regardless of the context and skills taught and utilized, is “you,” that is, the student him and herself. In these core courses, finally, nearly everything comes down to one question: “How, then, shall I/we live?” Whatever I believe and whatever is the content of my character, how I/we live with others in a rich and diverse world becomes the “end” of what I teach—if there can be an end in such courses. This would apply as well to me, the professor, instructor, teacher, guide, coach, mentor. Finally, what I believe and who I am must be play out in response to “How, then, shall I teach?”

This begs the question: If I taught in ways congruent with my beliefs and convictions and congruent with what I teach my students, how would I be present in those relationships both in and out of the classroom?

• I believe that God is fundamentally relational, created all persons as fundamentally relational beings, and seeks in ways too mysterious to say to be in loving relationship with all persons, yes, even the entire created order
• I believe and teach that all persons are loved by God without condition and have inherent value;
• I believe that God invites all persons to sit at God’s table without regard to status, privilege, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, talents, skills, intelligence
• I believe all persons embody a personal narrative that has meaning and value in and of itself—and are persons who want to be heard;
• I believe all persons are on journeys of great significance and meaning—journeys of mystery and wonder and purpose;
• I believe all persons are part of a community—Ubuntu—and are who they are because of who we are

Which means:

• That I teach as a vulnerable and transparent person, practicing hospitality that invites students to learn in and live out of vulnerability and transparency
• That I spread a classroom table that is wide and accessible and expandable
• That I strive in every way I know to create community in the classroom—community that is sacred space into which all persons are welcome to the extent they are able to enter
• That I treat learners as teachers and myself as learner
• That I see my student-learners and myself as pilgrims, individually and communally, on a journey of self-discovery, other-discover, and God-discovery—and that these journeys are one journey and interwoven and inseparable
• That I enter a mutually developed covenant with my students that is mutually binding
• That I treat each student with respect, generosity, and wonder, and invite each one to treat each other with respect, generosity, and wonder
• That I listen not only to what they say but also to what they do not say
• That I practice grace and hospitality
• That I never ask student-learners to go anywhere I will not go or will not go first
• That I never take advantage of the power I have to coerce, manipulate, or shame
• That I strive to express myself in loving, personal and formational ways that contribute to the student’s own growth as a loving, personal, and forming adult
• That I pray during the development of my syllabus, pray as I teach, and as I grade; I will pray for each of my student-learners

I’m sure there is more to be said, and I know I don’t have a corner on this matter. Therefore, I invite any reader out there to add to the list. This really matters, I think. I look forward to what you might have to say.