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Day 66: Being (not) in Charge

Being the one in charge, while obviously being NOT in charge, is both the blessing and challenge of my vocation in these days.

I’m a firm believer in co-creating space, instituting practices and invitations to encourage that reality in teaching-learning spaces I hold. I also sit as a tenured professor in an academic setting, rife with the hierarchicalism of the academy and the church. I honor the roles I play in this system, even as I also trickster-my-way-in-them as best I can. What I have found, at least with my seminary’s ilk of students, is that they often rise to the challenge, even to calling out inconsistencies in what I say/do…which when I recognize and honor those, allows us to co-create the space.

Take for instance yesterday afternoon’s session in my interreligious-intercultural class. We had just finished hosting a guest via Zoom. A late-arriving student entered the circle, so we did an introductions round for him. As we debriefed, another student put some charged, Real content into the circle’s center. I don’t even remember what she said, to be honest, only that I recognized it as an opening for a deeper discussion about how pain fuels so many of our fires…clean pain…dirty pain…work of Resmaa Menakem.

I saw the path diverge before me—a prepared lecture or an engaged discussion of clean/dirty pain in our cultures today. I paused for 1-2 minutes, breathing, listening. I heard the invitation to deepen the discussion.

Knowing that we live in an adolescent culture, wracked with unresolved grief and projected pain, I set the context for us to read the handout together, to speak what we needed to into the circle’s center, and let it cook in us. We read together. We gave readback lines, popcorn style. I welcomed anyone to speak into the center what they wanted the Center to hold before we would transition into lecture material.

From this side of the experience, I realize now that this is a skill circle-way folks know, but few others. No one knew how to speak one’s own truth without engagement from others. No affirming. No confronting. Letting it sit.

Few or no one in the room knew how to do that but me.

Too late, I realized the energy was moving in a way I could only hold and pray into, not control.

A gently-rugged white guy pointed out my refusal of conversation was white-silencing, asking me to relent and hold the space for the conversation. “Fair point, and yet…”, relaying all my reasons for concern for all.

We wound one another in academic discourse, re-traumatizing unhealed pain. The spaciousness required to listen deeply is unlikely in a 2.5 days classroom.

We are a circle of diverse Christians who do not know one another well at all, nor do we live in a community-container able to hold this conversation…

Trusting divine order, I leaned in while insisting on the talking piece, to slow the pace at least…

(And that’s five hundred words. More tomorrow…)

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