Saturday, January 17, 2015

Second cup of coffee

Sacred Space

In the last few years, I've begun to think differently and, I think, more intentionally about the classroom--and what goes on there. The last two years, I've started inviting my students, especially but not only, in those classes that are part of the liberal arts core of WPC, to think of the classroom as sacred space--and to invite them to enter that space with that special sense of liminality. The classroom is a place in between; a place of encounter, hospitality, welcoming and encounters--with themselves, with others, and with God. (Parker Palmer has played a huge role in helping me think this through; I still think To Know As We Are Known is one of the most important books I've ever read.)

In fact, I have asked students to literally stand at the door--outside it, inside it, and within it--to make more concrete this idea.

In the syllabus for my course, REL 320, Spirituality, Character, and Service, I have included the following in the syllabus. I hope this will help us all think and practice and welcome liminality:

If you are here unfaithfully with us,
you’re causing terrible damage.
If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,
you’re helping people you don’t know and have never seen.

Places are sacred; they may be sacred because God shows up; they may be sacred because something happens that changes you forever; they may be sacred because you encountered beauty or love or truth—or all of the above. They may be sacred because someone you never thought you would meet is suddenly present and you are present and everything is altered. Everything is altered.

I think a classroom is sacred space; actually, specifically, I think this classroom is sacred space because of what has happened here and will happen here—because students and teachers showed up here in this room, 100s of one and 1000s of the other, and learning happened, and life happened, and truth was discovered. God was discovered. Oh, I could tell you stories. I was changed in this room; I was forever altered by what happened here and in this place and on this campus. So, here we are, in the hall, before we go in because I want you to really think about what is going to happen in there. What might happen in there. I don’t want this day or this class or this hour to be ordinary. I want it to be extraordinary—but I can’t make that happen; only we can make it happen. You see, at this point, although I know some of you, I don’t know all of you—and since we are all mysteries, there is so much more to learn. But I believe this: you are already amazing, brilliant, beautiful, intelligent, creative persons—which some of you know but perhaps not all (although I think you suspect it and might be just a little afraid about it and some of you may be ready to run away from yourself or have already done that). But I know you are not just good enough; I know you are extraordinary and that, together, you and I are capable of blowing our collective socks off this semester and make something truly beautiful—together!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Late at night: My Top Ten Book List for 2014:

The following list is in no particular order; it is a list of books I read during 2014. They impressed me or moved me or provoked me or assured me or taught me or reminded me. They are all worthy of your attention, I believe. For the most part, the comments are brief snippets from my sometimes longer comments and reviews that you will find on Goodreads.

Embrace the Unforeseen by Dennis Plies • Even if you don't know Dennis Plies, a professor of music and jazzist at Warner Pacific College, this is a remarkable book--thoughtful and hopeful, it invites the reader to go on a journey of enlightenment. Enlightenment is defined as living open to the universe, holding loosely and lovingly those ideas and practices we hold dear, with a significant expectancy that the life of faith will always bring newness into a pilgrim's life. If you do know Dennis Plies, then, you will want to read this.

Leading From Within, Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead, and Teaching With Fire, Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach, Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner, eds. • Both of these poetry collections (with commentary) are rich with beautiful selections—some old that I’ve treasured for years or longer and some very new to me (but now becoming familiar companions. Worthy reads for anyone interested in understanding leadership, teaching, or poetry.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, A Righteous Gentile vs. The Third Reich by Eric Metaxas • I’m aware that this book has played to mixed reviews (and sometimes I understand that), yet I found it an engrossing and challenging read. It helped me to understand and fill in some important gaps in my understanding of Bonhoeffer, the church in Germany before and during the war, the rise of the Confessing Church--and most importantly the process that brought Bonhoeffer to the participate in the various efforts to undermine and defeat Hitler and his abhorrent Reich.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman • Powerful...relentless...mesmerizing...want to avert your eyes but cannot...even though the end was known, could not keep from reading. an amazing wonderfully awe inspiring homage to the human spirit against insurmountable odds--the power of mother love and the refusal to be bound or defined by gender, culture, set dogma. Grateful that there are such book in the world.

The Great Bridge, The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough • Such a great large great book! More information than I would ever need (or want) to know about one of the most amazing construction projects in our history--perhaps world history. A celebration of the creative intelligence of thoughtful men and women. A tour de force reflection on a particular heroic epoch. I'm very glad I read it; I am very glad I have at last finished it.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog, On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder by Kent Nerburn • One if those can't put down but want it to go on forever. Moving and challenging. My responses were all over the place: Laughter. Jealousy. Crying. Defensive. Guilt. Dan is a great character. Nerburn's honesty and vulnerability are very impressive.

A Hidden Wholeness, The Journey Toward An Undivided Life by Parker J. Palmer • As always, Palmer challenges me at some of the deepest levels of my life and vocation. A thoughtful, creative, illuminative philosophical, "how to" book that everyone engaged in working with people—teachers, pastors, social workers, managers—should read and contemplate. It is a distinctly compassionate book that invites us to think about the power of trust in relationship, the practicality of love as a way of life, how to live peacefully and holistically in a world that constantly seeks to divide and conquer--to keep us apart from our true selves so that we make little difference and the profoundly entrenched arrogance of powerful people is allowed free rein (reign). (A second read.)

To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield • A remarkable novel. A clear evocation of an era long gone by; sentimental in the best sense of that word—honest about what matters, valuing it, and figuring out how to live in it. The story takes place between two wars, the first and the second--the big ones, as they are often characterized--and follows the career of a veteran of the first who comes to this lonely outpost for healing. He finds himself here—a teacher‚ and grounds himself. It is a nostalgic book; at times, a very sad book--I read often with tears in my eyes, especially as I neared the end.

A couple of others that would belong in a best 12 books:

Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed • There are moments in this book of sheer agony—deep physical and spiritual pain. There are moment of such great beauty that I found myself holding my breath until I was aware I was in need of oxygen. There are moments of such truthfulness in this book that I was almost embarrassed to be looking over her shoulder—even though, clearly, I was welcome. I’m too old, I imagine, to hike this trail, although I’ve been on parts of it around Mt. Hood and further north on the Washington side of the Bridge. This book makes me want to pull on my big boots and head out—even as it warns me away.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry • How I ever missed this, I’ll never figure out, but I am so grateful to Sam Collins for loaning it to me. A wonderfully funny and terribly sad story. Characters are strong and real and vital. The view of the West and its impact on people is both moving and frustrating. It is rich with local color; the language is vernacular and, at times, cringe worthy, but reflective of the terrible ideas and attitudes about people, especially first peoples. I found myself moved to tears at times and, finally, experienced a deep loss as wonderfully human men and women struggled against the wideness of the world, marveling at the generosity of some, the cussedness of others, and the deep, damned meanness of a few. What a wonderful book!

For Whom the Bells Tolls by Ernest Hemingway • I thought this was going to be a re-read but, no; once I began to read, I realized that I'd never read this one. I’ve seen the movie so many times that I think I just assumed I’d read it. Glad I found it.