A paradox at the heart of Christian Higher Education

In a recent piece published as part of Christianity Today‘s Creative Studio, Julie Ooms, an associate professor of English at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis, reveals a painful paradox at the heart of Christian higher education. These institutions are in many ways “the academic arm of the church” and therefore “essential to preserving and transmitting Christian traditions.” Yet, given the role that many religiously affiliated private schools have played as “segregation academies,” if they do not change then they may continue in “preserving segregation, consolidating power, and perpetuating injustice.”

Confronting this paradox is a matter of institutional mission, Ooms suggests. And it entails returning to the role that vocation has played as part of that mission.

Continue reading

The Pandemic Mirror

These days, we barely recognize our lives: teleconferencing in sweat pants, teaching skeletal versions of our classes, socializing and exercising only through screens. Yet in some ways the pandemic is a mirror in which we and our communities are reflected with vivid, urgent clarity. We know what matters now, in our teaching and our friendships, our families, in the places we live. We know what matters to our leaders: we see politics playing out with stark and immediate consequences. We see the usually opaque mechanisms of access, equity, race and privilege made visible in who gets tested, who gets care, who gets sick and who dies. We are watching ourselves rise to the occasion, so many of us voluntarily exceeding the directives of our mayors, governors and president. We are seeing what remains when so much is swept away.

Continue reading

The Grace of Troubling Questions

Finding good work to do—work that can enrich and satisfy the soul, not just for a moment but for a lifetime—is an incredible gift of grace.

That gift can enter our lives in such mysterious ways, however, that we often fail to see it for what it is. In fact, grace can sometimes appear in such profoundly negative ways—in defeat or despair or rejection, for example—that we often resist the very grace that can make us whole.

In my case, the grace that opened up a lifetime of good and satisfying work first appeared in the form of deeply troubling questions about the church in which I was raised, the Church of Christ.

Continue reading

The Economy and Ecology of Neighbor Love

My vote for the press photo of the year would be the one taken by Joshua Bickel on April 13 and circulated widely since. Covering a Coronavirus response update from within the Ohio Statehouse, the photojournalist turned his camera toward the angry protesters with flags, red Trump hats, and masks outside—freeze-framing their raw rage and shouts of protest over stay-at-home orders.

The photo captures some of the painful divisions and complex ironies of our political/economic/cultural fabric—including, here, the irony of “law-and-order” conservatives defying local laws and taking to the streets, the President goading them on. One hopes that the new activists will gain some measure of empathy for more experienced protesters within Black Lives Matter, MeToo, or immigrants’ rights movements. One hopes, too, that liberals quick to relish in their anger can see also the real pain and anxiety underneath it. We may yet find ways to connect.

Continue reading

Pandemic reflections: the virtual body of Christ

“The Priesthood of All in a Time of Pandemic,” a short reflection written by Deanna Thompson, the Director of the Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community at St. Olaf College, appeared last week in a blog hosted by the United Methodist Church.

In it, Deanna explores suffering, community, and the body of Christ, themes central to her previous writing which draw from her personal experience with illness.

Continue reading

Minding our metaphors

Jason Mahn (Augustana College) has a new piece in the Christian Century that explores the American reliance upon war metaphors in times of crisis, including this current pandemic. It brought to mind the classic, still powerful book Metaphors We Live By (1980, with a new afterword in 2003) in which the authors (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson) show how metaphors are not merely rhetorical flourish but reveal and even cement how we think about the world. For example, consider how our language about arguments is saturated with war images (“she shot down and destroyed my argument”), how time becomes associated through language with money, and the various ways in which we describe our minds using the terms of machines. (These examples are mentioned in this short helpful overview). It’s one of those books that subtly changes how you think and potentially how you speak.

Continue reading