Gathering looking up (Ephesians 1)

Destined for Adoption (Baptism & Ephesians 1)

A sermon for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29

**

“If … you ever chance to spend a little time around a Substance-recovery halfway facility … you will acquire many exotic new facts.”

Thus begins my favorite passage in David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest. It’s almost seven pages long, and it’s composed of a series of observations about life, about being human. Here’s a sampling:

“[1] there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness … [2] everybody’s sneeze sounds different … [3] the people to be most frightened of are the people who are the most frightened … [4] the cliché ‘I don’t know who I am’ unfortunately turns out to be more than a cliché … [5] 100% of the things [compulsive thinkers] spend … their time and energy … trying to prepare for … are never good …* [6] ‘acceptance’ is usually more a matter of fatigue than anything else.”

You get the idea. Seven pages of the stuff we don’t notice, or don’t want to admit, or that we always assumed was uniquely bad about us. Reading it for the first time, I still remember wondering how long Wallace could go on with this list, and how much more of it I could take.

There’s so much to celebrate about being human, and so much to mourn. Reality touches us so deeply that sometimes it does just come pouring out of us, heaving out of us, as it does in those pages. It comes with tears and laughter and the occasional long pause to gather our strength.

And then at some point we’ve said our piece and the narrative of our life continues, which is what happens in the book. Lying there in an upstairs flat on Old University Avenue, I continued reading as seven beautiful, heart-rending pages just sort of give way to a digression about the permanence of tattoos. The spell was broken, but I never forgot the passage.

**

The verses we heard this morning from the Letter to the Ephesians are a little like that passage from Infinite Jest.

The grammar is similar, for one thing. To make it easier to read, the translators have split these verses up into six sentences, but in the original Greek it’s just one long run-on, going and going and going.  

Like Wallace, the author of Ephesians uses this approach to … unspool a series of profound truths. It’s as if the message is too important for more traditional phrasing. “Just let me get this down and then I’ll worry about readable sentences. I just have too much to say about God’s blessing.”

There is a lot to say about God’s blessing. In this passage, we hear about the blessings of spiritual gifts, forgiveness and redemption, wisdom and insight, divine guidance, the scriptures, the gospel, belief, joyful praise, and the seal of the Holy Spirit. I’m sure I missed some.

Ultimately, the author speaks of the great blessing of a divine plan, but not in the simplistic way that assumes everything that happens to us as individuals is the direct result of God’s allow-powerful will. “God’s plan” is for the whole human community and indeed for the whole creation of which we are a part.

The plan is an ever-expanding circle of relationship and love. The plan is full inheritance of God’s good gifts, shared freely by all—no prerequisite, no litmus test, no questions asked.

At the center of the passage, at the center of this vision, is Christ. From the very beginning and for the fullness of time, Christ is the Holy One, the Chosen, the Beloved.

Christ who invites us to share in God’s abundance, Christ who frees us from shame and regret and whatever else holds us back from living with devotion and with joy. Christ who shows us God, models unselfish love, binds us together, and who—whether we notice it or not—is with us always unto the end of the age.

Our destiny, says the Letter to the Ephesians, is to be gathered up.

God longs to see creation flourishing and free and also one. And by God we are longing for it too. How could we not, whatever our political or cultural or other myriad identities and affiliations, how could we not long for an easing of the division and the strife and the struggle and the separation we experience?

Holy Baptism, the sacrament of Christian initiation we are honored to celebrate today, is at the center of the part the Church can play in accomplishing God’s mission of making whole. In baptism, we practice what it is like to be gathered up in Christ.

Baptism offers us a new beginning, and not just in the sense that today is a new beginning for Daniel Rosario, whom we will baptize today [at the 10 am service].

When we are baptized into Christ, we are invited into a lifelong process of ongoing renewal. We commit to the traditions of Christian living that invite us—week by week, season by season—to drink anew from the waters of God’s cleansing and energizing Spirit. Every day we are a new creation by God’s mercy.

Baptism reassures us that we are part of something bigger, a household of God that looks ever outward, ever onward. We’re a people that at our best get caught up in this divine mission: more listening, more caring, more serving. More love. More life.

Most importantly, baptism reminds us that it is not our actions alone that will bind all creation together in loving and just relationship. Yes, we make promises, vowing to grow in our faith, proclaim the Good News, love our neighbor, strive for justice. These are actions and responsibilities.

But we do it all with a need for grace and goodness that is beyond us. Each year we renew our covenant with a humble trust that God in Christ will make possible what we cannot accomplish by ourselves.

That reality, for me, is at the core the Church’s teaching on baptism. It is a declaration and a promise: You are not alone. We are not alone. No one, ultimately, is alone. No matter our foibles and brokenness.

We are destined for adoption. We are born for redemption and relationship. We wait, in hope, with Christ, to be finally and fully gathered up, drawn together in God’s everlasting arms.

My friends, pay close attention: We are about to witness—and participate—as God draws the circle wider. Let us rejoice and be glad.

Photo by Benny Jackson on Unsplash

Stock photo matters: Swings

In praise of improving stock photo libraries

When I recently commended a particular online discussion tool in response to a query on the Forma Facebook Group, a friend noted “I wish it was a little prettier. But that’s the curmudgeon in me.”

I contend that you don’t have to be a curmudgeon to want learning tools to be beautiful. No less an educational authority than Maria Montessori put it this way:

“Another character of the objects is that they are attractive. Colour, brightness and harmony of form are sought after in everything which surrounds the child. Not only the sensorial material, but also the environment is so prepared that it will attract [them], as in Nature brilliant petals attract insects to drink the nectar which they conceal.

“‘Use me carefully,’ say the clean, polished tables; ‘Do not leave me idle,’ say the little brooms with their handles painted with tiny flowers; ‘Dip your little hands in here,’ say the wash basins, so clean and ready with their soap and bubbles.”

The Discovery of the Child

If you can read that bit about the broom handles without going a little watery … well, you might just need some more beauty in your life.

My work on Creative Commons Prayer has been largely motivated by the growing importance of art and music to my own spirituality. I suspect working at St. Michael’s Church has had something to do with that, but so has studying with so many gifted designers and media makers.

And the truth is, many of our educational resources, especially free ones, are drab at best, and downright alienating at worst.

Stock photo collections have been a mixed blessing in this regard. Sure, it’s easy to get photos, including free ones, that are individually gorgeous. But as many commentators have noted, together they have too often had an ugly side effect: reinforcing white supremacy by excluding the experience of people of color.

We can do better in this respect by searching for Creative Commons photos on a site like Flickr, but some projects do not lend themselves to required media attribution.

Pastor leading prayer
Photo by Haley Rivera on Unsplash

I thought about representation a lot as I was working on my Holy Eucharist Illuminated teaching cards. I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, but I think I did way better than I would have been able to even just a couple of years ago.

That’s partly because I continue to get a better handle on the limitations of my particular experience as a white, ordained man, and partly because the libraries are getting better.

Free stock photo sites like Unsplash and Pixabay are slowly getting more diverse in their racial and cultural representation. I assume that’s partly because of small-but-growing collections like Nappy (and others), which are tackling the problem more head on and whose photos I’m starting to see show up on the bigger sites.

I also think questions of representation and equity are slowly starting to loom a little larger on (white) creators’ minds. (Emphasis on slowly—see, for example, Season 7 of Gimlet’s StartUp Podcast, which chronicles both the successes and the grueling struggles of Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton.)

I say all this with two explicit intentions in mind:

(1) To challenge us all to attend to the aesthetic dimensions of the work we do. I’m coming away from my most recent resource development experience more convinced than ever of this need. Beautiful learning tools and experiences help us learn better.

(2) To remind those of us likely to need reminding that with the great power of stock photo libraries and the like comes the great responsibility to be thoughtful and critical about how we select and deploy them. Our efforts to make media worthy of the best of our traditions will fall short if we don’t continually challenge ourselves to capture the full range of beauty represented in our whole human family.

Cover photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

People praying photo - eucharistic prayer

Teaching Sermon: The Eucharistic Prayer

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter:

Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8

This sermon was preached as part of an Eastertide series examining different parts of the Sunday liturgy. You can find the “Praying Cards” I mention near the end over on Creative Commons Prayer.

**

“Do this in remembrance of me.”

These words of Jesus are at the center of the remarkable prayer we offer each week as we celebrate the Eucharist. We think of this observance as a commandment and an invitation and a gift he gave on the night before he died.

What does Jesus want us to recall, to make present? That’s our investigation for this morning, as we continue our sermon series about the major pieces of our Sunday morning worship.

**

So imagine yourself as a participant in that very special meal some two thousand years ago.

Your teacher has arranged for your motley crew to eat the Passover meal in the upstairs room of a dwelling outside Jerusalem. The ritual itself and frankly the luxury of a quiet meal in private have you pretty excited.

On the other hand, Jesus has been acting weird lately, and you have the sense that something important is about to happen. He confirms your hunch as he begins:

“I’ve really been looking forward to sharing this meal with you before I suffer. I won’t eat again until after my work is done.”

Then he picks up a loaf of bread. Gives thanks. Breaks it into pieces. Raises his voice in that way he does when he really wants you to remember something: “This is my body, which is given for you.”

What does that mean? What can that mean?

You realize he’s trained you pretty well for this kind of reflection about holy symbolism. You rifle through some options in your head:

  • Our teacher and his teachings sustain us, like the mana in the desert sustained our ancestors.
  • Our teacher is a holy presence, like the bread the priests in the temple leave on the altar each week, as an offering.

As an offering. You get a pit-of-the-stomach feeling as you consider a third option:

  • Our teacher’s very life, his very body, is an offering, a sacrifice. Freely given, for our sake.

That he might be alluding to this last option doesn’t sound so crazy in light of what Jesus has been up to lately.

You realize he’s definitely serious when picks up the wine: “This cup that I am pouring out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Your mind races when he says “new covenant.” It races immediately to that place in the scriptures where God promises to write the law on our very hearts.

It’s the next part of that scroll that always sticks out for you: “No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” Hmmm.

Until the night is interrupted by more urgent matters, you ponder what this all could mean. And you return to this moment again and again in the years to come, as does your community.

**

OK, so please forgive my somewhat absurd telling of the story. Holy Eucharist means all this and more, of course: presence, sustenance, sacrifice, an intimate meal.

Also the chance to know and experience God with our bodies, to taste and see that the Lord is good. And the chance to remember that Christ’s death was not the end of this story of sacrifice.

But it’s not like all that could have gotten through to any single disciple in the moment it was happening. That’s not how meaning-making works.

It works by people working things out, together, slowly, guided by God through successive retellings of the story. We see that process happening in the scriptures, with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul passing on what they were told about what happened and what they think it all means. It’s a process we’re engaging still.

But what about John, and today’s gospel passage? Well, John takes a completely different tack on that momentous evening, focusing not on the meal but on Jesus pausing to wash the disciples feet. And then on a seemingly endless speech that Biblical scholars call the Farewell Discourse.

To my ears, that speech can be read as a meditation on what communion with God and other means. Listen again to a tiny part of it:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Abide in me and I will abide in you, just as I abide in the Father and the Father in me. This basic idea sort of rolls through the Farewell Discourse, repeated and remixed in endless permutation.

Even though the metaphor here is vine and branches, it’s connected to the metaphor of bread and wine. I will abide in you, says Christ. I am a part of you. You and I share one substance. We all share one substance. We are connected. We are intertwined. We are both many and one.

 

**

OK, but what about this Eucharistic prayer? How does all this actually work?

“Do this in remembrance of me.” The Eucharistic prayer is how we remember. We retell the story to make the events present today. We retell the story to claim our part in it.

Since we can’t hit every point in every prayer, there are many to choose from in a variety of sources, most obviously our Book of Common Prayer. So whenever you participate in the Eucharist in an Episcopal Church, you get some version of each of a predictable set of elements in a pretty consistent order.

We turn our hearts to God, joining our voices with the saints and angels. We recall the story of God’s relationship to creation and to us, and then of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, and this ritual he gave us to celebrate it all. Finally, we ask the Holy Spirit to make Christ present in the bread and wine and among us as a community.

If you want that outline chopped into smaller pieces, or you want to learn the Greek and Latin words we use to label them, there’s a link in the bulletin to some illuminated notecards I created

**

Perhaps the only sure thing we can say after 2,000 years of reflection is that the Eucharist can and should mean many different things to us. We can and should experience a wide range of spiritual benefits from participating.

We might feel closer to God. We might feel closer to each other. We might feel hope that for for us, as for Christ, death is not the final word.

But in my opinion, the most important thing we should feel is empowered. My favorite line of any Eucharist prayer is this:

Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.

We do what we do in here so we can do what is needed out there.

The fullness of this vision of communion is what we might call Eucharistic living. It turns our acts of seeking and serving into an integrated movement of worship and witness. You might even call it the Jesus Movement.

If you don’t believe me, recall once again what Jesus said on the night before he died for us:

“My Father is glorified by this: that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Visualizing religious affiliation screenshot

Visualizing religious affiliation over time

I’m currently working on a presentation about my research proposing that we more actively investigate alternatives to what I’ve been calling Sunday School As We Know It.

As a part of that work, I’m arguing that we need models that take more explicit account of religious diversity and work toward what Mary Hess calls a “community of communities” approach to faith identity (disclosure: affiliate link).

I wanted an easy visual way to capture the difference in diversity during that historical aberration known as the baby boom versus how things are today. I couldn’t find a graphic visualizing religious affiliation over time, so I made one:

Suggested attribution: “U.S. Religious Affiliation, 1948-2017”
by Kyle Oliver at prayr.cc/relig-affil (CC BY 2.0)

As I said on Facebook after this post really took off, the thing I believe we need to say anytime we look at affiliation data is they mirror pretty strongly the broader social picture that Putnam documented in Bowling Alone (disclosure: affiliate link). Dis-affiliation is a broad social story as much as, and probably more than, a religious story per se.

None of this means people of faith don’t have work to do, but it should shape for us the character of that work, in ways we’re obviously still figuring out. It also means it’s not “all about us,” which I take some comfort in.

If you’re interested in thinking more about all this, the best thing out there right now, in my view, is Elizabeth Drescher’s Choosing Our Religion (disclosure: affiliate link).

A few notes about reuse:

A few methodological notes:

  • I’m not a sociologist, of religion or any other kind. So take that for what you will in terms of my expertise for visualizing religious affiliation data.
  • The data comes from a Gallup survey covering these same years. I sampled every seven years except for 2017, which was the most recently available datapoint.
  • As I put in the little footnote, “Mormon” appears as an option in 1979. I don’t know how they coded that answer previously. I’m guessing as “Other”?
  • As I also put in the footnote, I recoded the “Christian (nonspecific)” category as “Protestant” when it appears in the data in 1999, just to simplify things. Obviously, this choice assumes that the vast majority of people selecting this category are Protestant and either don’t know it or don’t like the label. This seems supported by the fact that adding this category didn’t seem to introduce any discontinuity in the Catholic numbers. Complicating this, of course, is the likelihood that Orthodox Christians might prefer “Christian (nonspecific)” over “Other,” unless the interviewers make that choice for them. I don’t know if the Gallup codebook is available, but I didn’t investigate. To give you some sense of the scale of this latter issue: Pew currently puts Orthodox Christians at 0.5%.
  • I was as surprised as some of you that at least “Muslim” and perhaps also “Buddhist” and “Hindu” weren’t pulled out explicitly. My guess is that’s because each comes in at less than 1% (0.9%, 0.7%, 0.7%, respectively), again according to Pew.

Thanks for taking such an active interest in this graphic visualizing religious affiliation data! Let’s let this phenomenon spur us on to clear-eyed realism and action rather than anxious hand-wringing.

Digital Learning @ TC photo - tool-rich culture

On Display: The power of tool-rich cultures

In his book Changing Minds: Computers, Learning and Literacy, educational researcher Andrea diSessa extolls the learning potential of “tool-rich cultures.”

Don’t let the technological connotations of “tool” overwhelm your imagination. “Tool” is a pretty broad category.

  • As an Episcopalian, I count on The Book of Common Prayer as one of my most powerful and versatile tools.
  • At the evening service I lead most Sundays, little more than candles and a Shruti Box can create an atmosphere ripe for encountering the mysterious presence of God.
  • My pastoral toolkit also includes the healing oil and Ministry with the Sick or Dying booklet I carry with me practically everywhere I go—just in case.

By diSessa’s definition, even the idea of ordo, the deep and ancient ritual wisdom that structures our forms of prayer, is a kind of tool.

I’ve been thinking about tools these past few weeks because I just finished a project in one of the most tool-rich spaces I’ve ever worked in: the Smith Learning Theater at Teachers College, Columbia University. Regular readers will recognize the venue’s name from the Podfest event the Media and Social Change Lab hosted there last December. This project was even more ambitious.

Digital Learning @ TC is a broad survey of the ways faculty, staff, and students at TC incorporate a wide range of digital tools in their teaching, learning, and educational research. In two months, we interviewed 21 TC faculty and trustees and identified common themes in the way digital media contributed to their research and practice.

This exhibition is (one of) the result(s).

I was blown away by the variety of experiences we were able to create for participants with the tools available in the Learning Theater: contributing to the overall effect were giant legos, location-tracking ID tags, and a small fleet of iPads, laptops, projectors, and whiteboards.

The tools expanded our sense of what was possible, even after our design was complete.

As I watched people move through the space, I kept worrying about whether they’d “get it,” whether our message would land, whether our invitation to engage would be accepted.

I was reminded again and again that meaning-making is a conversation, and that this delightful array of both high- and low-tech tools convened an especially rich dialogue between the teachers we interviewed, our team of curators, and the learners who came to explore and play with us.

So in this season when Christians celebrate new life and new possibilities, I invite you to seek out a new tool or two for your work or recreation. Better yet, make inviting tools available in your learning and even worship spaces.

As people of faith have done since the beginning, trust that tools—broadly conceived—can richly mediate our experience of the holy.

Happy Easter!

Photo: “Amy Gallatin / Montclair Film” - media literacy

Why religious educators must be media literacy educators

Note: This piece first appeared in the Winter 2018 Special Issue of Episcopal Teacher and is published here by permission. Amazon links include my affiliate code.

A few weeks before writing this article I saw a tweet from British comedian, actress, and writer Bethany Black. It’s the kind of sentiment bound to get a graduate student in a learning media department nodding sagely.

Still, as a relative newcomer to the interdisciplinary field of media literacy education—little more than a bystander, to be honest—I should probably stick to just retweeting such thoughts and avoid the sweet temptations of the personal “I told you so.”

If there’s one religious media scholar who does have a right to such boasting in times like these—and, I suspect, would absolutely never exercise it—it’s Luther Seminary Professor of Educational Leadership Mary Hess.

For years, Hess has been a rare if not quite singular voice in theological education. She’s been inviting us to recognize that media cultures matter, including to people of faith and especially to those of us who teach in religious communities. Hess wrote the following in the introduction to her 2005 (yes, 2005) book Engaging Technology in Theological Education:

To me, theological reflection lives and breathes amidst movies and music, in the interwoven webs of the Internet, and in the daily and quite ordinary ways in which digital technology is built into just about every form of media we now engage. If we are to teach and learn in contemporary culture, we have to engage these media.

As a theological educator and a media literacy educator, Hess has been a living example of the kind of leadership consciousness we all need to develop in these days of Tweeting popes, religious blogger authority wars, and the digitization of Bible reading.

We all know that faith formation ministers are strapped for time and resources. Why should they—why should you, dear reader—add media literacy education to your ministry toolbelt?

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that I made a list:

(1) The people we serve—including adults—are spending more and more time on their screens. We should be there in digital and hybrid spaces to meet them.

For educators who can walk the tightrope that spans playfulness and planfulness, the new media ecology offer perhaps unprecedented opportunities to reach faith learners from all walks of life. It’s not a panacea and it certainly isn’t easy, but the Internet is a place where people consider ideas and connect with their loved ones. That can make for a wonderful learning environment.

Incidentally, I’m not discounting that when we meet our people online, we might occasionally encourage them to spend a little less time on their screens. Helping guide generations of smartphone users into spiritually wise digital habits is a rich, meaningful, and urgent calling. But in this particular teaching role, I think Jesus is a better mentor than John the Baptist (see Matthew 11:18-19; Luke 7:33-34).

(2) Creating media is a much better learning activity than consuming media.

One of the core commitments of today’s media literacy educators is to encourage students to learn by doing. Yes, we should we become detectives sleuthing out hidden messages in advertising and media releases.

But we should put those same skills to work in crafting our own statements on behalf of the causes we care about and the traditions we hold dear. As we embrace our calling as media literacy educators, we can help guide our communities toward becoming more effective advocates and evangelists.

The same goes for more traditional faith formation outcomes. I had the pleasure this summer to co-facilitate a media-making workshop with BimBam (formly G-dcast) founder Sarah Lefton. As she reflected with our students on what they had learned creating storyboards to animate famous proverbs, I was reminded that there’s no better way to teach a story than to help learners tell it themselves. She said,

I’d like to think that six months or a year from now, you will remember your proverb in a different way. You’ve gone pretty deep, you’ve made something you could share, and I hope you’ve observed a process you could use with your students.

(3) Media-literate Christians can contribute to a culture of truth-telling, transparency, and responsible discourse in the public square.

We’re not going to singlehandedly change the cultural and social practices of the world’s spinmasters and power brokers. But since the first days of the early church, it has been a central part of Christian vocation and witness to resist patterns of domination and manipulation.

Whatever our political loyalties, the only Christian response to public discourse that would have made Orwell and Huxley blush is to model something different, teach our children and our peers something different. That will require our own continued formation and learning.

(4) Media cultures are fun, and we should have that sometimes.

The first draft of this list had a lot more items cut for space, but I couldn’t bring myself to cut this one. As many are pointing out, to play, to laugh, and to hope are acts of resistance to what we (and most other generations, incidentally) have euphemistically labeled  Times Like These.

Change is hard for religious people—perhaps cultural change particularly so. To be active, critical participants in the process can help us have our say in it. Such participation also gives us the chance to enjoy the journey as often as we can.

There are richer and poorer definitions of fun to be had among our media cultures. Most of them have their place, and many of them can positively benefit us on our learning journeys.

With their help, we can change our media literacy narratives from “too much, too big, too chaotic, too intractable” to something that evokes the guidance of the Holy One and our regular liturgical charge to live in the world “rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.”

Image by Amy Gallatin / Montclair Film via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Glory and mercy in Victory in Heaven window photo

Glory and mercy at the heart of Mark’s Gospel

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent:

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

**

“O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy …” That’s how our Collect of the Day for this second Sunday of Lent begins.

It’s probably characteristic of our … indirect church communication style that such a profound insight into the Christian faith is shoved into a dependent clause—a clause from a prayer that I, at least, frequently fail to pay any attention to.

But perhaps that’s the charm and power of sticking our best theology in as asides in the sacred syntax: it allows us to be surprised in the Spirit when we do stumble across those insights.

That’s what happened to me when I read those words: “O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy.” I was surprised because glory and mercy are two words we use often in church, but seldom together.

Let’s spend a few minutes thinking about what that might mean.

When I hear the word “glory,” I think immediately of something like “fame and glory,” the glory of renown, of possessing admirable and perhaps enviable fortunes. Plenty of God’s servants possess this kind of glory in our religious tradition, especially the great kings David and Solomon.

Of course, the Bible also speaks to the spiritual danger of such glory: the temptation to forget that we can possess it only partially, and that it doesn’t make us above the law. We learn, sometimes the hard way, that whatever glory we may come into should ultimately be ascribed to God, the source of all good gifts.

The kings of Israel lost touch with that important truth, to their own detriment and, we are told, that of their nation as well.

So there’s a second, related sense of glory for us to consider: God’s own glory, to which the treasures of Solomon and our modern-day cathedrals and basilicas are meant merely to point.

Indeed, the image of God being worshiped for all eternity in the heavenly temple by choirs of angels and the communion of saints—that’s the ultimate expression of this idea. We need “sounding trumpets’ melodies” to wrap our hearts around this idea of glory, plus the best poetry we can muster.

**

Or, perhaps you prefer a visual aid. If so, have a look at our “Victory in Heaven” window [in the nave / behind me], which depicts a similarly glorious scene after St. Michael and his forces have defeated the great enemy.

A few details always jump out at me. There are the requisite trumpets over on the right, of course. Gotta have trumpets to signal glory.

Simultaneously funny and quite poignant are what I take to be the cherubim in the upper portions of the central panels. Sure, the close ones look like little baby heads with wings. And that’s a little distracting.

But as our gaze moves from the nearby ones to the distant, I think we get the artists’ full effect. They seem to be a literal “throng” of angels—wings on wings on wings all the way up to the blazing cross of glory which I take to be symbolic of God’s very Being.

Indeed, it’s as if the ranks of God’s attendants are both countless and unwilling to settle for anything but the closest-packed position near their Creator. To be in God’s glorious presence is to be caught up in a truly irresistible grace.

That’s my interpretation of this scene anyway.

What’s pretty inarguable is that the image is a feast for the senses. And that’s the rub. Remember, it’s Lent, so it feels a little strange to be feasting.

While I do not think Lent is meant to be dour or joyless, I’ll admit that, at first blush, glory in the sense we’ve been exploring seems like a strange theme to focus on right now.

**

Mercy, on the other hand, is never far from our thoughts this time of year. We heard of it in Genesis and Romans this morning.

Though Sarah’s womb was barren and Abraham’s body “already good as dead,” these two great ancestors nevertheless “hop[ed] against hope” for the mercy of God’s deliverance. And God, in turn, promises them bounty beyond their wildest dreams.

Part of Paul’s point in our reading from Romans is that Abraham and Sarah’s story is our story too. By God’s mercy, we Christians can claim an inheritance in the promises of covenant loyalty. Of each of us, then, can it be said, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Of course, the mercy we receive from our Lord is wider by far than just this sense of deliverance from need and despair. Probably the aspect of God’s mercy that is most with us in this season is mercy as regards our guilt from “dust and sin.”

And more often than not, we reflect on our sinful state in a minor key. The emotional tone of our reflection is the humility of a “troubled spirit” and a “broken and contrite heart.” Perhaps the more subdued palate of the “I was thirsty …” window is more seasonally suitable: deep greens and blues, purples and reds. No vibrant pastels here.

**

That tone certainly puts us in a more appropriate headspace for processing this morning’s story from Mark’s gospel. Just before our passage from today, we hear Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. And so the curtain falls on Mark’s Act I, because finally even the thick-skulled disciples get it. Jesus is the Christ, the promised savior. Glorious indeed.

When the curtain comes up today, though, we first hear this: “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

It’s simply not in Jesus’s vocation to hang around reveling in the glory of messiahship. Once the disciples understand that he is the Christ, immediately he strikes out toward Jerusalem on his final journey, his great errand of mercy.

In case we don’t get the point, the gospel writer says practically the same thing again in the next chapter in the story of the transfiguration, again through Peter. Beholding the dazzling spectacle, he says, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings.”

No, Jesus says, it is not yet time for me to reign in glory. Or, if you prefer, from today’s lesson: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Here’s the point: We can’t understand glory until we understand mercy. That’s what Jesus says to us again and again and again.

That’s a message we need to cling to as Christians, as New Yorkers, as Americans. It’s one I need to cling to as a straight white man with a passport, and a collar, and a retirement account, and a couple of graduate degrees. We can’t understand glory until we understand mercy.

I love trumpets and temples and the transfiguration, but I am also convinced that the glory of the Almighty and Everliving God cannot exist apart from the humility of the ever-merciful one who became obedient to the point of helplessness and death.

There’s a cross at the center of that glorious depiction of our Triune God. And so at the heart of Mark’s gospel lies the paradoxical truth that is at the heart of our faith: blessed are the merciful, exalted are the humble, worthy is the lamb.

Note: This is the first time I’ve based a Sunday sermon text on a previous version. It was fascinating to learn what feels “outdated” about how I wrote the last one and what doesn’t.

Studying for learning media exam

#CertStudy, Day 13: Learning media crib sheet!

This post is part of a series wherein I blog my way through studying for the doctoral certification exam in the Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Read the first post here.

Full disclosure: Amazon links in this post have my affiliate code built into them. If you follow one and purchase something, I’ll get a small commission. Thanks for supporting Learning, Faith & Media and my other work.

OK, I’m basically out of time for doing longer-form writing-to-learn exercises, though I’m still hoping to do at least one writing-to-practice session between now and Feb. 9 to satisfy myself that I’ve gotten my writing speed up to the point where I can write a 6-10 page essay in three hours.

So what follows is my master “learning media crib sheet,” a way of collecting what I have to say about the scholars I’m conversant enough with to possibly reference them in the course of answering whatever question I get asked.

Not sure how useful it will be, to be honest, but if you’re at all interested in this work, I guess having a bullet point or two about a big list of authors in learning media isn’t the worst thing. Probably focus more on the summary/concept bullet than on the connection bullet.

I’m organizing by our program’s social / cultural / cognitive framework, though the categories obviously aren’t mutually exclusive. I just picked the “bin” that seemed best—and helped me equalize my coverage.

Cultural

Berger

  • “Ways of seeing”: There’s always a connection between the person looking at something and what they’re looking at. This includes lots of necessarily-non-neutral “built-in” assumptions, like that the audience for a nude European painting is a man (that this assumption itself assumes all men would be and no women wouldn’t be interested is of course part of the point).
  • Connection: Explicitly identifying religious imagery as constructed and viewed in particular cultural and historical milieus presents an opportunity for faith learners to critically examine their own relationship both to the imagery and to these prior contexts and construct new and personally meaningful interpretations and connections.

Campbell

  • “Networked religion”: I’ve got this one pretty well internalized, but it’s hard to remember the five attributions so I’m writing them down: networked community, storied identities, shifting authority, convergent practice, and multisite reality.
  • The relationship between religious practices and digital practices is complex. Campbell’s work gives us concrete theoretical tools to name and better understand the empirical realities of religion online.

Carey

  • Ritual view of communication (central to thesis of “communication as culture”): We’ve over-emphasized the transmission view of communication (message from sender to receiver) and underemphasized the ritual view (mutual participation in a corporate act that works to create / structure / maintain a shared reality—or at least shared understanding of same).
  • Connection: We can theorize process-oriented meaning-making activities as ritual communication. Indeed, this is an especially appropriate framing in the context of structured community-based faith learning, particularly in so-called “liturgical” traditions that already conceive of ritual as formative/educational in itself (“praying shapes believing,” etc.).

Hall

  • Encoding/decoding: Defines communication process according to distinct and relatively autonomous phases (production, circulation, consumption, reproduction). Decoding is as important to encoding in a process that is truly discourse, contra “hypodermic needle” media effects tradition. The codes from producer and consumer can cohere or clash, resulting in hegemonic, negotiated, or oppositional position between encoder and decoder.
  • Connection: These ideas lay a lot of groundwork for social semiotics and other ways of theorizing and enquiring of media and communication. Remix as an activity has the affordance of inviting explicit reflection on how a semiotic resource can be deployed with these different valences. Here we can see where critical media literacy and Digital Storytelling as faith formation practice form a virtuous circle of supporting the construction of complex, agentive understandings of religious and spiritual concepts, resources and practices.
  • Race is a “floating signifier”— changes over times, takes our projections of cultural beliefs and anxieties, etc. The problem isn’t putting people into categories per se; indeed that’s inevitable. Problem is assuming those categories communicate unambiguously and authoritatively. Leads to an applied ethical and political philosophy that resists the desire for a “guarantee” and instead stays curious about possibilities and invites us to engage each other as unique individuals.
  • Connection: It’s an argument in favor of flexible meaning-making activities that don’t assume particular group will be interested in a particular set of semiotic resources. Nothing wrong with using basketball stats as an invitation to authentic mathematics reasoning (Nasir), but it works against both culturally relevant pedagogy and anti-racist approaches to cultural studies if we assume that all black boys love basketball and want to think about math from that lens.

Ito, et al. (book, free PDF)

  • HOMAGO: Collective ethnographic investigation of young people and their media worlds identified as key themes:
    • “Patterns of representation” (textual genres) are engaged with in “social, routinized ways (participation genres); two they saw were friendship-driven and interest-driven (engagement in latter sometimes leads to former); participation frame extends notion of transfer to “supporting social and cultural world”
    • “networked publics”: kids’ participation w/ media production tools in/on social networks is similar to past socializing processes with these differences: persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences; networked publics afford the opportunity for engagement that is multiple and layered
    • “peer-based learning”: very effective, hard to transfer to in-school settings, often mediated by commercial interests at expense of school and family
    • “While what is being defined as ‘new media literacy’ is certainly not the exclusive province of youth, unlike in the case of ‘old’ literacies, youth are playing a more central role in the definition of these newer forms.” (commentary below)
  • Connections:
    • “Participation genres” framing combined with final bullet about NML suggests that young people have something important to teach us about broader patterns of participation in the social and cultural structures of religious practice
    • Digital Storytelling methodologies explicit privilege peer-based learning in a realistic setting and mode and have the potential thereby to positively affect the participation gap in.

Nasir, Rosebery, Warren, & Lee

  • Students who aren’t necessarily high educational “achievers” as understood by normative schooling models and settings learn just fine in the midst of cultural practices outside of school. But young people from nondominant groups need explicit opportunities and support for connecting in and out of school learning in authentic and relevant ways.
  • Connection: Traditional “Sunday school” classroom learning carries many of the same assumptions, approaches, and liabilities as in-school classroom learning. Digital Storytelling has the potential to bridge “in [Sunday] school” formal learning with the everyday cultural practices of faith learners. This is particularly important for learners from nondominant groups.

Pahl

  • Participatory multimodal ethnography: My interest in Pahl is primarily methodological. She does the multimodality move of considering non-textual semiotic resources (time and space, delightfully) in meaning making, and the New Literacy Studies move of caring about language and literacy as hyper-local social practice (here, in the home).
  • Connection: Methodological mentor text, basically. I also think her stuff on spatiality (“By seeing space as something not given but made, it is possible to interrogate space as bifurcated with
    discourses of power”) can be a useful jumping off point for theorizing the role of the spatiality of church in my eventual sites of learning.
  • Visual culture and social semiotics of space: “My focus on the home as text encouraged me to ‘read’ the arrangement of stuff in the home as a set of signs”
  • Connection: Definitely want to think about churches as a text young people read. Again, the idea of an arrangement of objects comes to the fore, although in this case the young people might not have a lot of agency in that. Though that’s not the case in more participatory churches.

Ricoeur

  • “Emplotment” & the productivity of storytelling: The latter is from Aristotle and stresses the process of, as it were, curating a storyline. It’s not just “one thing after another.” History and fiction writing are both creative acts that remake the world by colliding with it: “even the most ironic relation between art and reality would be incomprehensible if art did not both disturb and rearrange our relation to reality.
  • Connection: Story as process rather than product is obviously a structural observation that goes well with the Digital Storytelling ethos. Diddo the creative part about creativity and (meaning) making, which also fits together well with a constructivist theory of knowledge and learning.

Sturken & Cartwright

  • “Viewers make meaning”: It’s an active, curatorial process, a “visual culture” practiced by individuals and communities of viewers (of film, TV, etc.). What they “do with” the products creators put out there is at least as important as what’s in the products themselves. In other words, viewers are as much “sign makers” as creators, to borrow language from multimodality/social semiotics (Jewitt).
  • Connection: Digital Storytelling has the potential both to put faith themes in conversation with the visual cultures that predominate the lives of particular faith learners. And long-term engagement with such methodologies offers the opportunity for hyper-local languages of faith to emerge among particular communities of learners: strengthening group ties and providing opportunities for agentive enactments of identity and meaning.

Taylor (Secular Age definitely goes here—Language Animal is tougher to classify but nevertheless feels to me ultimately anthropological, along with Ricoeur)

  • A Secular Age: Key insight is that “subtraction stories” of secularization (separate spheres, religious decline) don’t tell the whole story. Need to grapple with the cultural reality in which God’s existence is not assumed—there are viable alternatives.
  • Connection: Need a religious education pedagogies that speak to the subtraction story, yes, and increased diversity. But also supports a posture of openness and critical thinking (and clear disciplinary epistemology if we can get to it). We won’t get to Fowler’s “individuative-reflective” moment if faith seems like a fairy tell forced upon us rather than a viable option that we may choose to explore.
  • The Language Animal: Building on Ricoeur, he claims that moving “beyond sentences to texts” (a sort of critique of more cognitivist understandings of language, I think) we see stories as a constitute purpose of language and come to understand that stories are irreducible to the generalized lessons we draw from them—the lesson doesn’t fully signify without the context and the passage of time. Moreover, the creative function of stories is essential: “however I do it, through my story, I define my identity … It is through story that we find or devise ways of living bearably in time.”
  • Connection: Religious educators can’t content themselves with teaching religious texts, however modern or relevant. We have to help the people we learn with treat their own lives as texts with something to teach them (see, of course Lambert).

Vasudevan

  • Research pedagogies (w/ Wissman, Staples, & Nichols): An approach to ethnographic educational research that is multimodal, participatory, and (in) (co)-created spaces.
  • Connection: A realistic and relevant research orientation for studying Digital Storytelling in any setting, but particularly one that is at least partly pedagogical (in this case, interested in the development of skills for faith reflection)
  • Digital geographies: “emerging landscapes that are being produced through the confluence of new communicative practices and available media and technologies” (2010, p. 62) that connect the physical sites where people compose and edit new media “texts” or artifacts to the online social spaces where they share, discuss, and remix these texts
  • Connection: An especially rich framework for understanding an activity that (1) is explicitly hybrid (digital media making in physically gathered spaces) and where (2) the material richness of the physical space and its connection to the subject matter of reflection may spark interesting connections (i.e., “How does it change the prompt to ‘tell an important story from your life'” if the workshop is happening in obviously sacred space?)
  • Mobility & multimodality (w/ Leander): experience of online spatiality itself is multimodal (e.g., “map cycling”), and mobility further enriches this relationship (mobility is what makes the “DS in a cathedral” thought experiment possible).
  • Connection: Projects like mine are a response to this article’s call to reconceptualize “current educational practices … in light of evolving digital capacities”

Williams

  • Culture is “common” in more sense than one. Yes, it’s shared. But it’s also ordinary. It’s not just or primarily the rarefied formality of the tea room; it includes recognizably valuable productions across class and other dividers.
  • This expansive understanding of culture parallels an important and later conversation about popular / everyday / “lived” / “everyday” religion (McGuire & Ammerman, respectively) as interesting, worthy of study, and always in complex conversation with church- or academy-sanctioned teachings and practices.

Social

Bakhtin

  • Dialogic interaction: For Bakhtin, language “comes alive” through exposure to the “dispersed light” passing through an atmosphere shaped by tense and productive ideology, shared and contested meanings, etc. There is a concrete individuality to language in use, and to participate in the dialogue between speaker, hearer, word, and object is to get caught up in both centripetal (unitive) and centrifugal (chaotic) forces.
  • Connection: In addition to inspiring the theoretical lens (watching for centripetal/centrifugal) in studies like Pleasants’s, I believe there’s a lot to say about Bakhtin’s dialogic thinking and remix (where a word or other sign’s “baggage” gets leveraged in creative and often very explicit ways—see also Hall) as well as in the critical move that pulls social semiotics in a more explicitly dialogical direction to becoming multimodal participatory ethnography (this is Kress + Street, I learned Thursday from Lalitha, who had a really powerful story about a particular lunch with Kress and how theory is often the child of researcher relationships). Regarding the latter, we need to better account for the particularity of the participants in the dialogue as we make and remake signs together.

Cheong

  • Churches as social collectivities: Cheong claims churches today are enacted and even in some sense composed of the communications exchanged between and among leaders and members. Cheong notes that theorizing faith communities in this way presents an opportunity for research into “new forms of spiritual organizing and religious authority.” As social media posts and other online artifacts of congregational communication accumulate, they have the effect of making visible “a social collectivity that acts as a coherent whole, and whose aspirations, operations, and success depends on communicatively constitutive forces.”
  • Connections: I like that latter point of artifacts as “tracings” in the ethnographic sense. And I like that this is a “secular communication scholar” reaching basically the same conclusion about what a church is as theologians Scharer & Hilberath, to whom Hess appeals in the theological portion of her digital storytelling as faith formation proposal.

Drescher

  • Nones: Drescher’s ethnography of the religiously unaffiliated makes the crucial insight that answering a demographic question in the negative does not a social or cultural group make. Her data clearly show that the very meaning of religious affiliation and non-affiliation is becoming (even more) highly contested. Nones choose not to affiliate for a wide variety of reasons, and many of them nevertheless assemble a rich and often religiously varied palette of spiritual practices.
  • Connection: Expansive understanding of religious education in the age of the None will need to explicitly account what she calls their Noneness. This has implication for sites of learning (maybe not at the church), motivation (certainly not to “become a better Episcopalian”), access, and more. In this respect and for this audience, Digital Storytelling is best understood explicitly as a spiritual practice of identity development rather than a faith formational (and especially not religious educational) intervention.
  • Habitus: Drescher’s extended discussion of the faith implications of today’s digital habitus (marked by immediacy, transparency, interactivity, co-creativity, integration, and distribution) provides both thick description and practice-oriented.
  • Connection: Drescher’s explicit connection between Bourdieu’s sociological concept and the longstanding Christian tradition of a “rule of life” provides an enduring way for congregations to talk about the faith values involved in online participation and offer some faith-based understandings for the critical use (and sometimes non- or decreased use) of new media tools and spaces.

Gee

  • Enactive and recognition work: Gee’s “social turn” article helped me get my head around NLS and the broader movement of which it was a part. And it introduced me to these two terms: the work I do to try to get you to see something a certain way, and the work you do (see also Hall’s hegemonic, negotiated, and oppositional readings).
  • Connection: The “enactive work” stuff is one way of framing some of my advocacy for a particular future of religious education (in light of Taylor, Drescher, etc.). Here’s the argument from an earlier post:
    • Educator does enactive work showing that a religious worldview makes sense. Students recognize such work as sensible or not. We who hope to pass on the faith think this piece is the most important, and we are wrong.
    • Educator does (partly enactive, partly recognition) work of modeling moderate, critical religious belief in a world where religious diversity is a fact of life and in which religious fundamentalists of all stripes are a significant contributor to global conflict and play an outsized role in tacitly defining faith amid widespread religious illiteracyThis piece, I believe, is actually more important to the future of denominations like mine.
    • Educator, together with students in either an affirmative, negative, or ambiguous mode, make sense of what these God beliefs mean for the business of everyday living. This piece, I believe, is where activities like Digital Storytelling, play a crucial role.

Goffman

  • We can understand “presentation of self in everyday life” through the metaphor of theater: “front stage” performances assume a public audience and certain types of social practice and “decorum” between audience and players, whereas backstage different kinds of player-to-player relationship exist. Again, there’s no “neutral,” no stable / monolithic / singular / essentialist identity. There is role and context and the masks associated with them.
  • Connection: Goffman’s understanding of identity is foundational to (but not sufficient for) a paradigm wherein agentive identity negotiation is recognized and encouraged. In particular, the idea of “different stages” whereon we perform our identity has a particular richness for thinking about the relationship between “in church” and “out of church” religious identity and belonging.

Jenkins, et al.

  • New Media Literacies: Jenkins’ could easily be filed under “cultural,” but for me the thrust of the participatory cultures/NML work is that the skills in question (play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, negotiation) stress, on balance, the sociality of online spaces and the work young people are doing there. Moreover the titular challenges (the participation gap, the transparency problem, the ethics challenge) are predominantly social.
  • Connection: In addition to supporting the conclusion that the various skills Jenkins names and Digital Storytellers employ (play, performance, appropriation, collective intelligence, transmedia navigation, and negotiation—at least) have a role to play in participants identity development, this work also underscores the way that religious education can play a role in broader issues of social justice and social capital. Many of those served by—or potentially served by—congregational after school and (to a lesser extent in historically wealthy denominations) Sunday school, need the opportunities that NML work provide. Opportunities for young people to increase participation in digital social spaces, critically examine the role of media in constructing our social world, and engage/mitigate “[t]he breakdown of traditional forms of professional training and socialization that might prepare young people for their increasingly public roles as media makers and community participants,” etc.—this is the potential intersection where “21st century skills” (a contested term, admittedly) serve both churches’ faith formation mission AND their justice mission.

Jewitt

  • Multimodality and screens: New technologies are remediating reading and writing practices. We can see this via a multimodal analysis of classroom learning artifacts, among other places. School-based conceptions of reading and writing need to adapt to these new contexts, applications, and texts.
  • Connection: This is a secondary or tertiary sort of benefit of my research (wanting to take seriously diSessa’s “tool rich cultures” point and Nathan’s dislike of “21st-century skills”), but I do think that part of “selling” Digital Storytelling workshops to certain participants (or more likely their parents and teachers?) is the promise to get in some “practice” for these new literacies (probably with an explicit appeal to “21st-century skills”), particularly if schools continue to be slow to change curriculum and teaching practices.

Kress & van Leeuwen (especially via Jewitt, Bezemer & O’Halloran, where these quotes all come from)

  • Social Semiotics: Taking “language as a social semiotic” (Halliday) acknowledges that there are more general grammars that apply to a wider variety of modes, of which linguistics is the relevant study in the written mode. Social semiotics “emphasizes the agency of the sign maker”—and note that both “writer” and “reader” ultimately make signs through the original construal and the interpretation (see also Sturken & Cartwright, Hall, etc.). The key insight here is that visual structures “realize meaning as linguistic structures do also … [but] the way in which it will be said is different.” Social semiotics as a multimodal method aims “to recognize the agency of social actors and social/power relations between them.” Extending it to multimodal ethnography aims “to make visible the cultural and social practices of a particular community.”
  • Connection: Basically my whole plan is to operate in the space. The research participants and I are sign makers using the variety of semiotic resources available to us for particular communicative purposes and with particular communicative effects that I want to better understand. I even took a first stab at an overarching research question in an email earlier today: How do young people deploy the semiotic resources of their daily lives and interests when telling meaningful personal stories in a faith or faith-adjacent setting?

Lewis & Moje

  • Sociocultural theories (communities of practice, activity theory, etc.) fail to adequately account for dynamics of identity, agency, and power, including sometimes reinforcing the assumption that there’s a one-to-one correspondence between context and choice of Goffman’s “mask.” Power is claimed / enacted by individuals participating in agentive and non-agentive ways in larger social structures. Incorporating critical theory (e.g., critical discourse analysis) can mitigate this liability of sociocultural theory.
  • Connection: As a straight white male researcher studying a largely white and privileged and very conflict avoidant system, failing to incorporate critical perspectives would be a wasted opportunity and merely contribute to the mire of social problems already active in many faith and faith-adjacent communities. The decision to incorporate multimodal inquiry and learning methods into the work is a first step, since criticality is “baked in” to the decision to expand notions of “what counts” as text (Vasudevan) and as educational activity in learning spaces (recall the “fancy literature” versus “horror movies/comics” anecdote from the article’s introduction).

Literat

  • “Stakes of participation”: Youth-oriented online creative activity happens in a social spaces where contributors are especially delirious of the approval of their peers, and in which they are working out a whole host of socio-developmental questions (e.g., anxieties about the 2016 election on Scratch and elsewhere). These windows into youth sociality can help us strategize about social support and new kinds of education for civic and community engagement, etc.
  • Connection: In-person digital making activities may provide opportunities for adult mentors  to provide such support (church people would add “pastoral support”), and the confidence and “precedent” for further creative media making that has the potential to span the spaces and themes of school, home, faith, community, and online setting.

New London Group

  • Multiliteracies: The group’s “attention to the growing variety of texts and design practices made possible in a world of increasing technological, cultural, and linguistic diversity” (a Vasudevan summary) was characterized in my reading by a focus on pedagogy, a concern with various work contexts, a multimodal understanding of text, and a prescient understanding of the need for students to navigate disparate, layered lifeworlds and participate in a newly pluralistic civic life.
  • Connection: Here again, an argument something like this might have a secondary or tertiary place in my study by serving as the sweetener for why one would want to participant in an activity like this (“preparation for 21st-century multicultural working and living” being a somewhat sexier proposal than “development of mature and health religious identity” in an era when the priorities of religious institutions carry little cultural cachet.

Pleasants

  • Theoretical framework for a digital storytelling participatory ethnography (phew): Pleasants attended to Bakhtinian ideas in her study as director of a community digital storytelling project: Centripetal forces “allow[] us to be ‘seen’ by others as enacting recognizable identities,” and centrifugal forces “provide opportunities for innovative interpretations of existing language and discourse in the service of making each of our identities a uniquely fashioned construction rather than an essentialized and static caricature.”
  • Connection: Mentor text for framing a study like the one I’m interested in doing.

Putnam

  • Social capital: Putnam notes its steady decline in the second half of the twentieth century (and more recently beyond), that is happened across nearly every sphere of American life, and that the Internet cannot be the cause (because it wasn’t around, certainly not impactfully, until very late in the game).
  • Connection: Congregational decline should be interpreted against the backdrop of this wider social story, and proposals for rebuilding capital in and through religious institutions should not be proposed in isolation from that story. Community-based, faith-adjacent Digital Storytelling projects (and broader HOMAGO initiatives hosted or co-sponsored by religious organizations) are just such a holistic attempt.

Scharer & Hilberath

  • Communicative Theology: These theologians make the case for communication as the act of theology (God to humanity, communion and community as communication, etc.) and construct a participatory method from Ruth Cohen’s Theme-Centered Interaction. Could also have “filed” more appropriately under cultural for their emphasis on the importance of theorizing “church-within-world” (“globe”) rather than “church-against-world.”
  • Connections: Love this theological framing and its setup for a sociocultural and social semiotic study of “participating theologians” (!) being the church by working out their theology in community (see also Cheong above).

Cognitive

Ackerman

  • Experiences of artifacts: Ackerman thinks through the consequences of a radical constructivist stance in the context of design, which of course is oriented toward creating objects that others will experience in certain ways: “How can designers take responsibility for the qualities of their creations if they assume—I caricature the constructivist stance—that people will use them as Rorschach stains anyway?” For me her key point is “Artifacts set limits to people’s reconstructions. They do so by opening up greater or lesser mental elbowroom (Spielraum in German).” There’s a parallelism here between sign making (social semiotics) and tool making (constructivist design). And thus: “People learn by switching roles from being producers to being critics, from being actors to being audiences, from holding stage to moving into the background,” and sometimes it happens in their own heads.
  • Connection: Ackerman frames in Piagetian terms (the push-pull of assimilation and accommodation) the same kind of design thinking questions present in frameworks like multiliteracies and social semiotics. I resonate with her warning that to move too far in either direction risks a debilitating over- or under-determinism and robs us of the chance to engage in “Learning as a conversation with artifacts.”

AndersonSchank & Abelson

  • Cognitive structures: Categories (like data types in computing), semantic networks (like trees), schemas (like objects w/ “isa,” member data, etc.), and scripts (duh) are all empirically supported cognitive structures that have implications for how we think about people’s cognition and learning. Hence early educational focus on naming- and sorting-type activities and the usefulness of ritual.
  • Connection: Not a huge connection, but this is my weakest “bin” and so having some basic ideas on the crib sheet is a good thing. The clearest connection I can make is that learning that relies on ritual has a tendency to be undermined by the power of scripts, precisely because scripts allow you to ignore details that may be important. Awareness of how faith learners are using religious categories, ritual scripts, etc. is important for breaking open concepts, i.e., making the familiar strange.

Barsalou

  • Embodied/grounded cognition: Here’s the schematic account of this way of thinking about the body’s role in thinking: “As [a bodily] experience occurs … the brain captures states across the modalities and integrates them with a multimodal representation stored in memory … Later, when knowledge is needed to represent a category … [the] multimodal representation captured during experiences with its instances are reactivated to simulate how the brain represented perception, action, and introspection associated with it.” This has implications for the kind of learning where we move around, including between spaces that represent meaningful difference.
  • Connection: A theory of cognition that speaks to the wisdom of religious tradition like various kinds of movement-based prayer, including movement in space (think pilgrimage, sacred architecture, etc.). This passage ought also to remind us of Lambert’s account of the cognitive “work” of multimodal/multisensory storywork. Basically there’s too much resonance between the embodied account of multisensory memory and multimodal theories of social meaning making. These theories should work well with each other.

Collins & Kapur

  • Cognitive apprenticeship: There are six facilitation methods in this tradition to help pass along the tacit knowledge needed for strategic action: modeling, coaching, scaffolding, articulation, reflection (both metacognitive, note), and exploration.
  • While LPP / community of practice mechanisms may somewhat apply in a digital storytelling workshop, it’s definitely possible to have a room of all novices. Moreover, Lambert’s Digital Storytelling takes its method from both the cognitive model of the work to be done and the media logic of the design task. So it’s worth it to bring to the facilitation task the wisdom of this well respected situated pedagogical framework. It wouldn’t be hard to do a “cognitive apprenticeship analysis” of the Lambert method as a kind of check or extension. A lot of it is built on, I think.

Design-Based Research Collective

  • DBR: Proposes closing the “credibility gap” in education research through a methodology guided by an iterative design process. Critiques the “randomized clinical trials” method for its inability to grapple adequately with context in many situations (required if one is to control all but one variable). Instead, “explicit concern in design-based research for using methods that link processes of enactment to outcomes has power to generate knowledge that directly applies to educational practice. The value of attending to context is not simply that it produces a better understanding of an intervention, but also that it can lead to improved theoretical accounts of teaching and learning.”
  • Connection: I think it’s quite likely that initial learnings from my research would need to inform a program of design-based research intended to iteratively work through the inevitable challenges we’ll identify in developing a pretty radically different approach to religious education from “Sunday school as we know it.”

diSessa

  • “Conceptual ecology”: Acknowledges the need for greater precision in theorizing of scientific reasoning about concepts, including their type, “grain size,” and configurations. If we’re not clear about the precise nature of a given conceptual ecology, it’s hard to (1) know if students have reached competent understandings, and (2) conduct cognitive research in such a way that leverages the value of complex systems theory as a cognitive model.
  • Connection: I wouldn’t want to lean on this too heavily, but it seems to me there’s an analogous point to be made about research into student understanding of theological concepts. A celebration of the adaptability of theological concepts is surely appropriate, but frequently student conceptual understanding is fuzzy rather than flexible. Especially in an educational domain where assessment is minimal, finding ways to be precise about the concepts we want our students to learn and how we might observe such developing understandings in action might be a useful exercise. One wonders about the existence of conceptual structures representing an entirely different sort of “phenomenological primitives” when you get a group of people talking about their experiences of prayer, for example.
  • “Tool-rich cultures”: “Scientific tools in school are almost always ends in themselves, or they are related vaguely and artificially to ‘doing well in school’ or ‘preparing for the future.’ Problems are assigned and understood by everyone as thinly veiled occassions to exercise tool knowledge or skill rather than as reasons for the existence of the tools. Many schools are really designed around incompetence in the sense that any real understanding is a sign to move on to the next topic. Pride in accomplishment is seldom reached.”
  • Connection: This is the pitfall of “21st-century skills” discussions. Point of my work is not to teach the software or even storytelling per se. It’s to help students develop their inherent desire and skill in telling powerful stories that are meaningful to them. I have a high level of trust that beginning by valuing student perspectives about what’s important and trusting that tool skill, content knowledge, and identity negotiation will happen if they have the chance to explore their perspectives in well-supported tool-rich cultures.

Efklides

  • Efklides reviewed the metacognition literature and proposed a “multifaceted, multilevel” model. Instead of just the object level and the meta level. She names the object level as explicitly nonconscious and notes that loops of cognition/cognitive regulation and emotion/emotional regulation happening within the object level. The metalevel, reached through monitoring, is the personal awareness level and begins with a metacognitive experience before identifying metacognitive strategies with which to control the object level, possibly with the intervening help of metacognitive knowledge. There’s also a meta-metalevel, a social level, reached through inter-personal monitoring or reflection, that begins with an appeal to metacognitive knowledge before again choosing a strategy with which to control the lower (here: meta) level, possibly with an intervening appeal to metacognitive judgments. (This is what happens when you try to turn a picture into text, and when you study a topic that is so full abstractions, so … well, meta, that you can’t help but resort to jargon.)
  •  Connection: Metacognition is essential throughout the Digital Storytelling methodology. As participants examine the experience and memories associated with a particular digital story, they’re asked to “own their insight” and “own their emotions” through a process of that is inherently metacognitive (What was I thinking when this event happened? What was I feeling? What do those thoughts and feelings mean to me know? How did they change me?). Efklides model is especially helpful for thinking about the Digital Storytelling enterprise in that it incorporates the meta-metalevel, acknowledging that we can skills in monitoring and reflecting on our thinking and experiences through our conversations as we do this work together. On the explicitly religious side of things, I’m surprised religious educators don’t think and write more about metacognition. Theological reflection is treated as the formation activity par excellence, but it is usually theorized as a hermeneutical experience (interpreting the tradition in light of life experience and vice versa) rather than a metacognitive one (critically examining one’s own meaning-making processes). In any event, I believe explicit metacognitive development is probably essential for the tacit benefits of making to be realized in this or maybe any context. Metacognitive monitoring is just too essential to the process of making (and discovering, and remaking) connections.

Fowler

  • Flawed but useful “stages” model of faith development (following Erikson, etc.) names a key transition from “synthetic-conventional” faith to “individuative-reflective” as requiring the believer “not simply to replace their old tacit ideological system with a new one but to choose from a place of freedom. Authority must be relocated ‘within the self’ (p. 178–179).”
  • Connection: Point of contact between cognitive theories of faith development and the dynamic theories of agentive identity negotiation discussed elsewhere (Bakhtin, Hall, Lewis & Moje, Pleasants, etc.). See also Robert Kegan’s third- and fourth-order meaning-making (cross-categorical connections and constructions, respectively) from his adult learning theory.

Ginsburg

  • Clinical cognitive interviewing: If we hold a constructivist theory of cognition and learning, then we expect personal knowledge constructions to vary greatly from person to person. Something like clinical cognitive interviewing—where we ask our participants to explore with us the nature of what and how they’re thinking—is ultimately essential.
  • Connection: In my reading, the move from “pure” social semiotics to participatory multimodal ethnography represents a dissatisfaction with traditional ethnography’s distance from participants’ subjective experience in precisely this way (Sarah Pink via Bella Dicks). Plus I continue to be intrigued by the possibility of researcher-participant podcasting see also Soep & Chavez) as a way of turning the clinical cognitive interview into a more participatory research method.

Greeno & Engeström

  • Activity theory: There are three patterns of learning in this situated theory of learning, a general model that accounts for the interrelations between instruments, subject, rules, community, division of labor, and finally the object of learning that leads to some outcome.
    1. “Top down” explanation where individual learns by participating and the “learning is explained by properties and processes within the activity system”
    2. “Bottom up” explanation where the system (as a whole) gets better through “change over time” and “learning is explained in terms of mental representations and behaviors of the participating individuals”
    3. “Horizontal” explanation where system (as a whole) learns “and this learning is explained in terms of properties and processes of the activity system” (I think there’s some distributed cognition assumptions in here?)
  • Connection: Honestly I don’t really get/like activity theory but I wanted to have some notes just in case.

Hess

  • There’s no obviously right bin in which to place Hess’s advocacy for Digital Storytelling as faith formation, but I think cognitive is probably the most appropriate. This is partly from her cautious appeal to the mirror neuron literature, partly from her appeal to Kegan’s adult learning theory (and its attention to cross-categorical connections and constructions), partly because of her desire that religious education join the new educational culture emphasizing learning over teaching, and partly from her sense that it is compatible with a “community of communities” ethos appropriate in light of growing religious diversity.. In many ways, this final aspect of Hess’s proposal taps into the wisdom of Papert’s quip that “the goal is to teach in such a way as to produce the most learning for the least teaching.”
  • Connection: Hess makes clear that these cognitive appeals connect well to the religious values of this kind of learning. There’s a connection, I think, between a “tinkering” mindset and what Hess calls “meditative” meaning-making: slowing down, trying things out, getting feedback, etc.

Lambert

  • We could put Lambert in any bin, but I really appreciate his synthesis of the cognitive literature of how stories work on us. Memories formed through rehearsal; pathways stronger in the presence of “affective relationship to the sensory information”; “life lesson”-type memories inevitably the result of strong emotion or interaction with people we’re close to; here we have access to the embodied “simulation” (Barsalou) in the form of a multimodal representation (a story that we relive and can retell); retelling sets scene for inter- and intra-personal exploration.
  • Connection: We reconnect with positive experiences and “redeem” negative ones through the rehearsal and reinterpretation of story.

Lave & Wenger

  • Situated cognition & situated learning/LPP/communities of practice: Cognition is situated. It takes cues from the environment as well as from the dynamic and contested goals and strategies that take place (e.g., Lave’s study of grocery store arithmetic). Moreover, learning is situated in that it takes place within communities of practice. Within particular domains, practice is held by the community and passed along (or not) to novices through the course of their “legitimate peripheral participation.” First they make smaller contributions, then larger ones as they gain confidence and experience.
  • Connection: The model here raises important design and methodology questions: Is my learning activity sufficiently “dilemma-driven”? Is there a range of experience within the community of practice, beyond just the “expert” facilitator and “novice” participants? Are activities designed such that peripheral participation is possible/encouraged for people of all skill levels?

Papert

  • Constructionism: I’m not going to not cite Papert. We build new knowledge in our minds as we build/tinker with our own creations. Especially rich and meaningful learning happens when we “play with problems.” This gets us a little closer to learning French by going to France than by taking a French class, to borrow a famous example. Papert saw computers as offering the possibility of learning math in “Mathland.” One thing I resonate with very strongly in Papert’s work is his embrace of the concrete, which is refreshing from a mathematician.
  • Connection: My whole interest is getting people to think of their whole lives rather than the church narrowly or “church school” more narrowly still as the analogous “faith land.” Nevertheless we know church is an important (possible) site of religious knowing / being / practicing / meaning-making, so connecting that little island “faith land” to, as it were, the mainland is important. A digital geographies approach (Vasudevan, Leander & Vasudevan) seems especially rich here. And the affordance of creative production really support the movement from abstract theological concept to concrete experiential reality.

Piaget

  • Constructivism: Have been actively discouraged from citing Piaget directly, but again, certain concepts would be embarrassing to screw up so I want them down on paper. (Yes, I’m literally going to print out this blog post and bring it with me.) Constructivism theorizes that learning is a process of building our own knowledge/understanding. When we encounter something we want to understand, we either assimilate it—fit it into our existing knowledge—or accommodate our existing knowledge to the new information.
  • Connection: This cognitive model fits well with the values of participatory research, communities of practice learning, etc., de-emphasizing expert deposit of knowledge and celebrating the existing understandings and experience of all participants (see also Freire, of course). More specifically, this model supports certain built-in strategies for religious educators, including building on the baseline understandings of theological concepts formed in liturgy and of spiritual experienced formed both in liturgy and everyday life (practices of rest/Sabbath, say).

 

Photos - digital storytelling - Mary Hess

#CertStudy, Day 12: Why digital storytelling? (Hess)

This post is part of a series wherein I blog my way through studying for the doctoral certification exam in the Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Read the first post here.

Full disclosure: Amazon links in this post have my affiliate code built into them. If you follow one and purchase something, I’ll get a small commission. Thanks for supporting Learning, Faith & Media and my other work.

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been effusively thanking/citing my colleague Mary Hess as often as I can in these posts. She really is the thinker in religious education who’s been grappling with the implications of media literacy for communities of faith—and in particular, in recent years, making a case for Digital Storytelling and other media-rich learning opportunities in seminaries and churches.

If you care at all about theological education, I highly recommend her Engaging Technology in Theological Education: All That We Can’t Leave Behind. I think several of the chapters are reworkings of earlier journal articles, but Mary Hess journal articles are a joy and not a chore.

Let me walk you through three related articles. The first, “Mirror Neurons, The Development Of Empathy, And Digital Story Telling” (non-paywall conference version here), speaks into the space of hope and anxiety created by popular acknowledgement of the ways digital cultures are changing social practice. Hess briefly surveys recent neuroscientific findings about mirror neurons, which fire in our brains’ motor pathways when we watch someone else do something, especially a goal-oriented activity. She continues

I am writing this article primarily as a way to juxtapose these three lines of inquiry: religious educators’ concerns for developing practices that support health religious identity, neuroscientific observations of the role of mirron neurons in the development of social cognition and empathy, and digital story tellers’ work with media education. I am not suggesting any definitive conclusions, but I would point to the confluence of ideas that appear here …

I also think that this work suggests that there is a balance to be achieved between the legitimate concerns raised by Sherry Turkle [Alone Together], and the optimism of Cathy Davidson [Now You See It]. That balance requires recognizing the crucial role played by practice, and the necessity of intentionally creating learning environments that allow us to “practice the practices” involved in empathic relationship. We ought neither to be drawn solely into “robotic” relationships, nor into blithe disregard for the importance of slowing down and attending to silence, to practices of presence, and so on. (p. 11-12, emphasis mine)

In other words, we might choose other empathy-building practices, but we need to choose something, and the story circle experience is “a process of attending to meaning-making
that [is] significantly contemplative, in the deep sense of that word” (p. 11).

A couple years later, Hess published “A New Culture of Learning: Digital
Storytelling and Faith Formation
” in theology journal Dialog. Here the framing zooms in a little more closely on learning in/with digital cultures. She summarizes some of the work of the various super-rad MacArthur-funded digital learning initiatives I’ve probably cited a bit, the most well-known of which is Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out, aka HOMAGO. Here’s the table:

The MacArthur work describes cultures where facilitators establish a framework through which learners can explore and express their passions and interests subject to the rules that create the necessary tension in any “playful and yet serious space” (p. 21).

After this many days of me writing about Digital Storytelling, you can probably connect the dots of how it relates to the right-hand side of the chart above. In short, Hess believes it provides one such productively constraining ruleset, and as I said yesterday, its use in church communities is consistent with the view that the work and substance of Christian theology is communication.

A more recent paper still, “Playing our way into complex adaptive action in religious education,” moves beyond Digital Storytelling into gameful learning. But it uses some of the same framing (including Drescher) and theoretical underpinning (Robert Kegan’s work on adult learning—which sounds great, but honestly I can’t be reading anything new at the point…). I mention it here primarily because this paragraph so eloquently gets at what I’ve been trying to say throughout the case-making part of my study work in these posts:

Can we embody religious education that educates within and for specific religious communities, but also and concurrently with and for people who are not part of religious communities? Can we reach people who might have very little interest in, or perhaps even hostility towards, religious institutions? I fear that until and unless religious communities can communicate – in all the rich senses of that word – our integral and inextricable commitments to relationship across, among, within, between and amidst various kinds of difference, we will lose even more ground with a generation of people growing to consciousness within the rich and varied landscapes of the US. (p. 1, emphasis hers)

More than anything I’ve been able to cobble together, this short paragraph captures why I think Digital Storytelling and other forms of playful, production/creativity-oriented, self-motivated, community-based practices need to help us remake religious education / faith formation / spiritual learning

  • in the image of today’s culture of learning,
  • for our peculiar cultural moment of decreasing religious affiliation and increasing diversity, and
  • by imitating a God I believe invites us to a kind of divine practice of both creation and communication.

When, OK. Tomorrow: a crash course (for you and for me) in multimodality.

Group process Scharer & Hilberath

#CertStudy, Day 11: Why digital storytelling? (Scharer & Hilberath)

This post is part of a series wherein I blog my way through studying for the doctoral certification exam in the Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design Program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Read the first post here.

Full disclosure: Amazon links in this post have my affiliate code built into them. If you follow one and purchase something, I’ll get a small commission. Thanks for supporting Learning, Faith & Media and my other work.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how much attention I should to give in my research to … let’s call it the explicitly theological.

Obviously, my work is going to explore methods for effective religious education / faith formation / spiritual learning in the twenty-first century. And obviously, I care that other religious educators and ministry leaders generally find the work to be valuable from a pedagogical and theological perspective.

But I’m also not expecting faculty members who aren’t religious educators or even necessarily religious to evaluate the theological appropriateness—let alone value—of the work I’m putting forward. I realize I’m hardly the first religious person to be in this situation at a secular institution, and I realize I don’t need to fully tackle the puzzle now. But I want to say a few words in this post for a way I might theologically frame the work.

Some of that framing can come from what we might call “a secular case for a religious/theological need.” For example, anyone can look at some of the thinkers in previous posts (e.g., Putnam, Drescher, Campbell, and Taylor—A Secular Age, though, rather than The Language Animal) and understand that religious educators need new ways of understanding and supporting their work.

My advisor doesn’t need to personally hold Christian convictions to say, “Huh, yeah, these data and stories obviously show that your site of research and teaching is changing a lot. Better take that into account.”

But I do think it’s worth me citing enough explicitly theological work to convince a curious if affiliatively disinterested reader that developing a methodology for incorporating multimodal storytelling into spiritual learning is a sensible idea. That argument should refer to terms that people deciding whether to support, fund, or implement such work (e.g., religious leaders) are likely to care about.

At the advice of the wonderful Mary Hess, one source I’ve dived right into is Matthias Scharer and Bernd Jochen Hilberath’s The Practice of Communicative Theology: An Introduction to a New Theological Culture.

Unfortunately, a lot of the support work for this impressive volume is in German and hasn’t been translated. Thankfully, I studied German for six years and have kept it up by being married to one. Don’t get me wrong—reading German theology would be pretty slow going for me; the only language requirement in my doctoral program is Java or JavaScript.

Still, it kind of makes sense that the kind of theology I need to support my work would come out of Europe, where the trends toward religious unaffiliation and outright secularization are way more advanced.*

Scharer & Hilberath take everyday experience seriously as a site of legitimate theological reflection in a way that too few strands of American theology† do:

Theology springs from the consciousness of and the reflection on one’s own lived faith … in the interest both of internal clarity and of making this faith plausible to others … In denouncing [the] status quo, theology needs to demonstrate to itself that what is at stake here is not only something that affects the mere application of theology … but something that goes to its very heart; Christian theology fails itself if it does not remain oriented to the lived faith of the church as the community of believing subjects. (p. 15)

For Scharer & Hilberath, “theology is not ‘some thing’ that then is to be communicated; rather communication is the central content of theology” (p. 13, emphasis theirs). The act of communicating is both what God does to reach out to people and the world, what we do (or choose not to do) in response, and everything in between. This notion corresponds well with the view of communication scholars like Carey (maybe also Pauline Cheong writing about churches and their leaders), who believe we overstress the transmission understanding of communication and understress the ritual dimension.

So from Carey:

[The ritual view of communication] sees the original or highest manifestation of communication not in the transmission of intelligent information but in the construction and maintenance of an ordered, meaningful cultural world that can serve as a control and container for human action … not to alter attitudes or change minds but to represent an underlying order of things, not to perform functions but to manifest an ongoing and fragile social process. (p. 5)

And from Scharer & Hilberath, quoting Peter Hünermann:

Among the many kinds of communicative actions are a few that are constitutive for a particular group. In and through the performance of these actions the group comes into being and preserves itself. Without these communicative actions there would be no group. These constitutive actions become metaphors of living together … Only in an ever-renewed acting out of this metaphor of life does it continue to exist. (p. 17)

Thus, for Scharer & Hilberath, it’s the ongoing dialogue (remember Bakhtin?) of the community of faith that actually constitutes the theolog(ies) of the church(es).‡ That means they advocate “doing theology” via processes that intentionally structure expression and conversation for maximum empathy, respect, understanding, etc.

The method they commend is called Theme-Centered Interaction, developed by Ruth Cohen. It’s basically a group process methodology used in therapeutic and other community working/learning settings.

I don’t think it’s probably the best use of my time with the Cert Exam at t-minus 11 days to do a deep dive into TCI. But it seems pretty clear that it has some values and methods in common with Digital Storytelling, which is also a pretty heavily programed group experience aimed at identity development through self-expression and attentiveness to others.

But the bigger point here is that Scharer & Hilberath conceive of this kind of communicative theological process/reflection—which is a sort of sacramental encapsulation of the churches’ bigger conversations with themselves, each other, and the world—as a venue for “participating and cooperating theologians”:

Only suitable communication procedures, by which we mean those that deny any inherent hierarchy between professional theologians and practitioners, will alter practice in the long run. These are processes of communication that draw on the skills of everyone, where expertise remote from real life has no place, where people cooperate in striving to find a theological practice that answers the needs of the community. (p. 22-23)

If that’s sounding like a set of theological values that resonate strongly with the convictions of participatory research (and of course draw from the well of critical Latin American thinking that educators access via Pedagogy of the Oppressed and theologians access via A Theology of Liberation), well, you’re getting why I’m grateful once again to the wise and generous Mary Hess for putting me on this promising path.

I’m excited to continue with this theological geek-out after Certs.

* I get that the U.S. and Europe are apples and oranges and that representing the Europe as “further along” a monolithic trend isn’t quite right, but cut me some slack for the time being.

† I’m thinking of theology as something like “the churches’ reflection on their own life together,” as opposed to more sociological works like McGuire’s Lived Religion and Ammerman’s Sacred Stories, Spiritual Tribes, and of course Drescher.

‡ These guys are delightfully pluralistic for Roman Catholic theologians. Though again: Europeans.