I did not discover that my church actually had a human founding and a human history in the United States until I was roughly twenty years old. But what was that history? What were our roots? What were the cultural and religious forces that had produced this tradition and, by extension, the forces that had shaped me? These questions were hardly academic. These were questions that assaulted my very sense of self since my sense of self was so completely bound up with my church’s claim to be true and right while others were false and wrong.
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.
I had spent years thinking about the Great American Myths. I had taught classes and written books and articles on that subject. While I acknowledged the persistence of racism in American life, not once had I considered the notion of white supremacy as an idea that has been central to the American mythos. I understood that avowed white supremacists stalked the American landscape, but I had always viewed them as standing on the margins of American life. To suggest that white supremacy was a defining American myth struck me as preposterous.
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Kentaro Toyama back in February 2018 when he visited our campus for an engaging seminar on the role of technology in addressing social problems. Dr. Toyama is the W.K. Kellogg Associate Professor of Community Information at the University of Michigan, and his 2015 book, Geek Heresy, articulates what I consider “hard won” insight into the role of technology in society and, more specifically, how technology impacts social change.
Toyama began his career as a computer scientist working for Microsoft in their research division. If you have ever enjoyed the Kinect accessory in Microsoft’s XBox—the stereo imaging system that converts a player’s motion into real-time video game inputs—you are at least tangentially familiar with some of Toyama’s early research that led to the development of Kinect. Ultimately, though, Toyama found this work unfulfilling and a far cry from the idealism of his youth that had drawn him to the sciences in the first place. His original goal was to help solve the energy crisis. Continue reading “A heresy worth considering…”