a moment’s meditation: yearning for more

deep to deepSince finishing my formal studies in 2010, I’ve been on a journey.   First, I moved from Chicago to Graceland University, Lamoni, IA, to be the Director of Religious Life and campus minister in 2011.  I’ve spent the last three years settling into this position: learning Graceland’s current institutional culture, getting to know the students who come to GU, developing the courses I’m teaching, and finding my alchemical vision for Christ’s mission and Community of Christ’s mission on campus.   These responsibilities, and other denominational activities, have thoroughly absorbed the last three years of my life.

Beginning my fourth year, I can’t say “I’ve arrived.” I’m still navigating these areas and learning things.   But, I’ve come to a place where I have my bearings and some sense of direction.  I’ve identified areas that I think need long-term attention and collaboration.  I better know my circle of influence verses my circle of control.  I find meaning in daily life among students and colleagues at Graceland.  I also have more opportunities to be present with Margo and my two daughters at home.  Katy, my oldest, is a teenager this year.  She’ll be a freshmen in high school a year from now.  Kenzlee, my younger daughter, began middle-school this year.  Both are in sports and playing two instruments.  My best friend and wife, Margo, loves her faculty position in the Gleazer School of Education at Graceland, and has been working on an Ed.D. year-round for three years from Drake University.   Currently, she is writing her dissertation.  Journeying to this point has been exhausting, but meaningful.   As I consider the future and try to navigate work and family, I still have a dull nagging feeling within me.  It’s like the murmuring of a still small voice trying to speak, or the distracting feeling of drips of water landing on the back of my neck.

I believe that living a whole spiritual life means responding to the s/Spirit within us that yearns to give birth to something.   I call it “s/Spirit” because this fountain of life-giving and life-bearing energy is God’s Life and Creativity entwined indistinguishably with our own.  It is a summons to live a life of freedom and creativity.  That s/Spirit within us is the creative energy or vision, impulse of inspiration, and quietude of potential that haunts our working mind and resting moments.  Paying attention to that s/Spirit at work within us leads us to what our spirituality is about.

I don’t point to that s/Spirit, however, to be prescriptive.  This isn’t about giving advice.  You and I have heard enough from the spiritual marketplace and its self-help culture.  We know how much it tells us that we need to express ourselves freely.  We must connect with our inner-child, play and live creatively.  We’re too busy, paying attention to the wrong things.  The voices go on:  blah, blah, blah…..

OK. Fine.  Maybe.

But, spirituality is not just another thing to do. <sigh>

When I stop and pay attention to that “dull nagging” desire in me, I don’t miss the obvious.  I don’t miss the fact that my family and daughters are, quite literally, part of this “birthing” in my life.  They are part of my life’s work.  They call forth my disciplined and creative energies.   Miraculously, Katy and Kenzlee are forming into generous, crazy, obstinate, and surprising young persons right before me every day.

I also don’t overlook that my work at Graceland is creative.  It, too, takes creative energies and inspiration.  It, too, gives life.  But, apparently, there is something more or missing.

The dull nagging or spiritual drip that’s thudding on my neck as I hunch over focused on “today’s tasks” keeps coming.  It doesn’t frustrate me or give me angst.  drop-of-waterI think I just need

to try to listen to that small voice, or pay attention to that refreshing drip pooling on me.   The distraction could be life-giving.  To disregard this nagging in the name of busyness, or to appease some insatiable need for productivity, only keeps my life locked in a cycle of deadlines and want for mindless entertainment.   So draining.  Still, “deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls,” Psalm 42: 7 says, “all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”  Maybe that’s what I’m yearning for.

Day 3 – Teaching Peace in the 21st Century: David Cortright, Peace Studies Proposal

Today also began with important practical presentations in peace studies.  David Cortright and Hal Culbertson presented “How to Change the World,” an overview of two courses they teach in the Notre Dame Peace Studies program.  David Cortright spoke on non-violent social change;  Hal Culbertson spoke to us about NGO’s.

David Cortright is a peace scholar and activist.  His books include Gandhi and Beyond: Non-Violence in a New Political Age and Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas.  He is also Director of Policy Studies at Notre Dame; you can catch his blog at http://davidcortright.net.

One of the most interesting and noteworthy items from Cortright’s presentation came from the work of Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan.   They are co-authors of the book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Non-Violent Conflict.  Research by Chenoweth and Stephan concludes that non-violent social change works and is more effective than armed conflict.  Their research argues that non-violent strategies create more stable democratic outcomes.  Their empirical research on non-violent strategies for political and social change marks a decisive development in peace studies as a academic and practical field.  You can learn more about their work in their recent article inthe most recent edition of the online journal, Foreign Affairs.

ngo_logoHal Culbertson’s presentation on NGO’s was plain and helpful.  Many students with professional interests in peace studies will gravitate to NGO’s.  NGO’s seem to be the “go-to” in “making a difference” in the world.  While there are certain advantages and often overlooked disadvantages to NGO’s, Culbertson’s observations and basic outline of the components of an NGO – their theory of change, method and effectiveness of evaluation (outcomes must be measurable!), management structure, and financing – informs a basic understanding of how NGO’s work, how they differ from other public and private institutions, and where NGO’s can go wrong.  Hal Culbertson is the executive director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace studies at Notre Dame.

Our final presentation of the day was a very important session on peace studies as a profession.  Anne Hayner, who works directly with the 1,400+ alumni of the Kroc Institute, shared what career paths in practical peacemaking look like.  Below is a chart created by John Paul Lederach and Katie Mansfield.  A helpful and full explanation of the above chart can be found at http://kroc.nd.edu/strategic-peacebuilding-pathways.  If you have any interest in peace studies as a profession, or believe peace studies is not a “real profession” with manifold professional opportunities, click the link and learn more.

For the rest of the day, Priscilla Eppinger, Tony Chvala-Smith and I worked together on a proposal for an MA in Community, Justice, and Peace through the Community of Christ Seminary.  Our work is still forming, and its results are provisional.  Several factors must come together – resources, marketing, and institutional commitment – to make such a proposal possible.   But, it has begun.  It is both achievable and promising.  The lasting effects of such an MA could be long-lasting for both Community of Christ and Graceland University.   The practical resources for developing, improving, or beginning a peace studies program is a task given to every institutional participant of the Summer Institute for Faculty.    We are among excellent colleagues.  It’s been a privilege to be here and be a part.

More tomorrow.

Day 1 – Notre Dame: Teaching Peace in the 21st Century, Summer Institute for Faculty

Today was my first day at the Teaching Peace in the 21st Century, Summer Institute for Faculty hosted at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.  Our host is George A. Lopez, who is Professor of Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute and Vice President and Director of the Academy for International Conflict Management and Peacebuilding at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington, D.C.   I’m hear with Community of Christ Seminary faculty, Priscilla Eppinger and Tony Chvala-Smith.

The purpose of our visit is to learn.  President of Community of Christ, Steve Veazey, met George A. Lopez at the US Institute of Peace, who invited us to participate.  The Community of Christ is called to peace.  Its Temple in Independence is dedicated to the pursuit of peace, reconciliation, and healing of the spirit.  Our visit is exploratory, to seek opportunities for connections and learn from scholars from others Peace Studies programs, to cultivate ideas and perspective about possible peace studies curriculum for Community of Christ Seminary and Graceland.

Today was orientation and introductions.  George Lopez gave two helpful presentations introduction to Peace Studies as an interdisciplinary and changing field of study, education, and action.   After dinner, we received a presentation on the History and Changing Themes of Peace Studies.  Both presentations offered practical advise and an outline of key components for developing Peace Studies programs, from undergraduate minors to masters level.

My goal is to chronicle key insights from the day.  Below are three things that I think stuck out as both insightful and critical areas for me/us to consider.

1. In developing a Peace Studies program or curriculum, integrate both your institution’s identity and mission.  Be able to express to students, administrators, and faculty what Peace Studies is, what the program’s purpose is, and why it reflects (or is essential) to your institution’s overall mission and educational goals.   Connecting your program to your institution’s mission and community is important.

2. Identify the academic niche your program offers.  Peace Studies is a challenging, interdisciplinary, and changing field of study.  It must include research, educational, and action-oriented components.  What is unique about your programs’ approach, emphases, and/or understanding of peace studies?

3. Take advantage of your faculty’s interests and strengths.   Because peace studies is a large interdisciplinary field, it is often difficult to find a focus.  But, it also means an entire university can be deployed in research, teaching, and developing aspects of peace studies at your college/university.  How do the sciences, economics, literature, and religious studies shape or contribute to peace studies at your institution?  How can your program take advantage of your faculty’s research and teaching interests?

Throughout our exploratory session tonight, I thought consistently about two things.  First was what Community of Christ offers the global and interdisciplinary search for peace?  What does Community of Christ theology, tradition, or perspective offer the global peace movement and our approach to peace?  Second, I thought about Graceland’s values:  learning, wholeness, and community.   To me, these values have always been more than a list.  They share an interrelated perspective on Graceland’s approach to education, formation and service to others.   Learning, wholeness, and community all increase with each other.  The more we learn, the more we integrate with others and become a whole person.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow and more time spent with the Kroc Institute faculty and faculty from other peace programs across the country and world.  We have an international gathering, here.

Coming to Graceland

It’s been several months since my last post.  Margo (my wife) relapsed with TTP May 7th.  We hoped this disease was behind us.  Margo had two hospital stays and daily visits to the cancer center (4-5 hours a piece) in Chicago from May 7 until July 1, when moved from to Lamoni, IA.   Her treatment initially transferred to Des Moines, then to Decatur County where we now live. The transition, itself, holds a wonderful testimony.

Remarkably, Margo found a doctor in southern rural Iowa who has been treating TTP since 1974.  Chance or not, this is some kind of miracle.   Statistically, TTP cases are 3-4 per million people per year.  That means all of Iowa should have only 9-12 cases of TTP annually.   The odds that a doctor with thirty (30) years of experience with this disease would come to Decatur County (pop. 8500), where we live, two days a week is a blessing no one could plan.  Margo feels she is in great care, and we feel as if we are meant to be here.

The transition from Chicago to Graceland University and Campus Ministries has been an adventure.  Many things are as I anticipated.  The campus is incredibly busy.  There are several questions that hang over my new position:  Is Graceland a Christian institution?   What does it meant that it was established as “non-sectarian?”    How does Graceland’s 100+ year relationship with Community of Christ shape the university and my responsibilities?   Would there be a “Graceland experience” without the church’s faith and historical influence?   These are fascinating and important questions that deserve time and good answers.

Graceland is a liberal arts school with freedom of academic inquiry, dedicated faculty, and a palpable sense of community.  The majority of students, over forty percent (40%), identify as Community of Christ at Graceland.  So do many faculty.   However, Graceland also has a significant Catholic student population, as well as other Protestants, non-denominationals, Mormons, Restorationists, and many others who do not identify or prefer not to be identified with a particular faith.   Graceland also has about 12% International students, who identify with other faiths, including Jewish and Muslim.

With Graceland’s unique heritage and diverse environment, what does it mean to do campus ministry here?   Whom do I serve?  What should be my mission and goals?

Popular thinking about identity lays traps to avoid in answering these kind of questions.   America’s politics and religious tribalism could easily run these questions aground.   Starting from a defensive position, some feel that a diverse campus like Graceland’s would put its history with Community of Christ and its identity under threat.   Of course, the opposite is likely more true.

We learn more about our faith, our history, who we are, what we practice and what we confess, by interacting with others different than ourselves.   This is true across ecumenical differences and interfaith groups.   It’s equally true with the diverse perspectives in any church community.   Intentional interaction and a disposition for learning actually strengthens self-hood, faith and conviction.  Moreover, the Community of Christ is a world-wide church with members of diverse cultural backgrounds across many nations.  It is important to think of Graceland as a microcosm of what a global people really experiences, interacting with diverse people everyday.

Alot more can and should be said about these question.  At this point, I only want to name them and touch on how to approach good and faithful answers.   If you want to read more about my view of Graceland’s relationship to the Community of Christ, see my page Graceland and Community of Christ Share a Mission.

Back to campus.  🙂