by C. Wess Daniels who is the William R Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College. Writing here about Quaker faith, participatory culture and pedagogy, Quaker faith, Christianity in the West & sketchnoting.
I had the opportunity to spend time with a number of Friends in New England this past weekend to discuss the importance of Quakers practicing outreach. I am still processing what I heard and what I learned from that very rich and deep time. Here is one thought that arises.
There is a need to relink the life of the Spirit with our thinking around outreach, or as some would say, “the mission of the church.” I realize that this language – outreach or mission – is normal for some Friends and sounds really scary for others. I’m less invested in reclaiming the word “mission,” than I have been in the past, but it gives us a jumping off point. I know that when we hear this word we think of colonialism, gentrification and church growth. So let’s talk about that. And let’s look at where we are guilty of these things, rather than assume that only those Christians over there are the guilty party on this. And let’s talk about alternative ways of understanding what it means to practice outreach, “witness” or in the words of George Fox, “let your life preach.”
Ever since the origins of Christianity, there has been a push and pull between word and deed. This has been exacerbated by the rise of the sacred and secular split in the West with the dawning of the Enlightenment and modernity, but it is nothing new and it still impacts how we frame these conversations. In the Jesus’ teachings, there is no distinction between a faith that is vibrant and a faith that is embodied publicly, or in the world. Jesus’ view is integrated and non-dual. One’s life in God informs one’s life in the world, and one’s life in the world informs how we approach, speak of, and narrate our experiences of the Divine. Faith in a non-dual perspective is a way of life, rather than a series of scheduled events, responsibilities, or labels we apply to ourselves and others. Continue reading Renewal and Outreach
In The Way of Love, Anthony de Mello writes about the prisons we each live in created by layers of beliefs, ideas, habits and attachments and fears. Each layer is added by culture, traditionalisms, mass media, families, religions, etc. Each is a layer of prejudice that keeps us from being awake, leaves us reactionary and with little sense of self or courage in the face of angry mobs. Sound familiar?
In response de Mello writes:
Realize that you are surrounded by prison walls, that your mind has gone to sleep. It does not even occur to most people to see this, so they live and die as prison inmates. Most people end up being conformists; they adapt to prison life. A few become reformers; they fight for better living conditions in the prison, better lighting, better ventilation. Hardly anyone becomes a rebel, a revolutionary who breaks down the prison walls. You can only be a revolutionary when you see the prison walls in the first place (65).
One of the fears that I have struggled with all my life is the fear of “what people will think?” I am afraid that I will reveal myself as someone who isn’t as smart or creative as people imagine or as I want to project, so I often remain quiet. I am afraid that I won’t be the kind of friend in solidarity with those I aspire to be in solidarity with; that I’ll say the wrong thing, or worse, say hurtful things, and in the process damage relationships. So I don’t always risk the kind of vulnerability needed to create deep friendships. I am afraid that people will think I am a self-promoter, so I have an uncomfotable relationship with being a leader. I am afraid that I’ll reveal my own ignorance and my blindness to my privilege, so I avoid the hard conversations. I am also afraid of what happens once these things are revealed. In the age of the Internet, folks can be merciless. Two seconds of misspeak on the Internet can equal years of dealing with collateral damage.
I am trying to be honest about my fears here because I want defang them. I want to move past them as a friend and as a leader. When I became a pastor, I slowed down in my writing due to workload and because it was hard to know how to be a public writer and a pastor whose work is primarily local and often confidential. Now that I am at a College, and my relationship to work is different, I am again wondering where my voice fits and how do I speak in ways that are authentic and true, while facing these fears that leave me within a prison of self-doubt and questioning?
Before I knew about the word “sketchnote” I had some idea of taking notes and thinking visually. I “bumped” into this idea when I was stuck writing my dissertation and didn’t know where to go with it. I had written out notes tirelessly trying to summarize ideas, arguments, etc, but it wasn’t until I actually sketched the ideas that I had a breakthrough. I have written about that process before, but the main point is that I learned something about myself, the way I think and the way I learn. Drawing, even very simple images, helps my brain make associations that I struggle to do with bare-bones text.
Now, I use this process to create class presentations, as well as a communication tool while I teach. I use it when I take notes during a meeting to help me pay attention, remember key points or just stay awake. I use it when I read books and when I write. In other words, at this point, I sketchnote as often as I can.
The fireweed flower loves the hurting and dying places. It helps to heal the ground…
During Advent, I want to remember that the frozen soil never forgets Spring.
I want to never forget the light within, and the reality of Jesus in all life, and live into Heaven here and now, as it is, and in so doing to anticipate and feel the truth of Jesus’ words, that it is already here, and that it is coming.
And here and now, I think it looks and feels a lot like bomb craters and industrial clear-cuts ablaze with Fireweed’s purples and reds and greens. And Korean elders singing, holding hands and standing in the way of cement trucks trying to lay foundations for a new naval base on top of their home, Gangjeong Village (Jeju Island, South Korea). And standing in the streets of every major city in the US, demanding a better and more just society in which Black Lives Matter. And learning traditional ways and affirming elders on Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota, while crying for the earth and future generations and swearing to do everything in one’s power to stand up to the Keystone Oil snake trying to illegally run through native lands against the people’s wills.
And it looks a whole lot like eating and singing and telling stories together. Face to face.
I believe very strongly in creating a participatory learning environment for students but when it comes to creating a syllabus it seems like the only option is to use the standard “banking” model of education (Freire). As the instructor for a course, I lay out specific texts, assignments and themes for the students to digest in class and organize it in an easy to follow document we call the syllabus. [^1] But I want something that can move beyond this parameter and allow the students to participate in the actual development of the content within the syllabus.
My question is: How do I get the students more involved and interacting with the actual syllabus from its very creation to how it gets used in class throughout the semester?
I have, for most of my life, been someone trying to organize community, bringing people together, and building connections. For a lot of that time, I put emphasis on showing up for one another: presence is key I would say.
I got a monumental lesson in presence twelve years ago. When my step-father committed suicide in 2003, those who were the most helpful during that crisis, were the people who showed up. Those who came and sat with us. Brought the ministry of cookies and casseroles. They offered no grand theories. No trite explanations. What they offered were silent bodies, sitting in prayerful support. Like a silent cloud of witnesses visible to the naked eye. It was here that I learned how presence is the roots and the ligaments of community. It was faithful presence that got us through that dark night. Continue reading Moving Deeper Still: Three Roots of Community
A revolutionary age is an age of action; ours is the age of advertisement and publicity. Nothing ever happens but there is immediate publicity everywhere. In the present age a rebellion is, of all things, the most unthinkable. Such an expression of strength would seem ridiculous to the calculating intelligence of our times. On the other hand a political virtuoso might bring off a feat almost as remarkable. He might write a manifesto suggesting a general assembly at which people should decide upon a rebellion, and it would be so carefully worded that even the censor would let it pass. At the meeting itself he would be able to create the impression that his audience had rebelled, after which they would all go quietly home – having spent a very pleasant evening. -Soren Kierkegaard (The present Age, p. 35)