Listening and a blue swing

Puzzle Pieces

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Ours is a society which values the written word. And not without reason. Words are powerful—they have the ability to express emotion, unify people, even change a mind. What’s that old saying? “The pen is mightier than the sword”? Where would we be without works like Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Elie Wiesel’s Night (or the Bible, for that matter)? Words change us. But I fear that sometimes the elevation of the written word comes at the expense of the devaluing of other forms of communication. When you picture the idea of “communication,” you’re most likely to imagine words in one form or another. Nonverbal communication, such as body language or augmentative communication devices (like the ones used by the students at the Virginia Institute of Autism) may not be the first things that pop into your mind.

Certainly, this is no grievous sin, but it does highlight what I think is a discernibly negative consequence of the written word’s supremacy. It has to do with vulnerability. This is a theme I feel resurfaces in every book I’ve read for this internship. All communication, written and otherwise, necessarily entails varying degrees of vulnerability. When you communicate with another, you open yourself up to the possibility of being misunderstood; there is never (ever) a foolproof method for ensuring another’s complete comprehension. Interestingly, it seems to me that we assume the written word is “invincible.” We consider it the most professional and efficient means of communication. The success of an academic’s career, for example, depends in large part on the success of her written publications. But even the written word is far from universally communicable. Disregarding the fact of the many different languages in the world, the written word certainly doesn’t mean much to the 774 million people in the world unable to read.

I wonder: is there any form of communication that is truly universal? I think Taylor* has given me the answer to this question. Yesterday I sat working with him at his desk at VIA just as he had earned a break. Because Taylor is nonverbal, and uses an app on his school iPad to communicate, the words he is able to say are limited to what VIA instructors have made available on the iPad for him to say. He chooses pictured icons corresponding to words, and in this way is able to communicate his wants and needs to us through basic sentences like “I need bathroom” or “I want Little Einstein’s.” Yesterday it was “I want blue swing.” VIA has a wonderful playground behind its classroom buildings, and there is a certain blue swing Taylor loves. So we started making our way outside. Before I knew it, he began to act out. Veering off to the school’s track, away from the playground, Taylor was making sounds which suggested he did not in fact want to be anywhere near the blue swing.

In these situations, instructors are encouraged to prompt the child, “Hey, I don’t understand. If you want to tell me something, you can use your voice!” with the “voice” referring to the child’s iPad. Again he repeated, “I want blue swing.” Alright, I thought, hoping against a repeat of the previous hair-pulling incident. I guess we’ll give this one more try. Still appearing noncompliant, Taylor nevertheless made it to the blue swing. Unfortunately, things did not get better from there. Quite the tantrum commenced; crying, screaming, throwing—the whole shebang. Yikes.

Thankfully, the school’s occupational therapist was also out on the playground. Shooting me a sympathetic glance, she came over and tried to gain control of the situation. When Taylor’s tantrum only escalated, she pulled out a walkie-talkie and murmured something that sounded like spoken Morse code. While I was still trying to figure out what in the world she said, and if she was secretly in the CIA, I saw two instructors from my classroom literally sprinting out to the playground. This really is some sort of secret spy operation, I gaped.

The odds shifted when they arrived: it was four to one, and much easier to control Taylor’s behavior. As we were finally walking back, I expressed my confusion over the situation to Laura, heroic sprinter #1. “I don’t get it—he kept saying he wanted the blue swing, but he clearly didn’t actually want it.”

She thought for a moment and replied, “What may have happened is that he wanted to walk around the track, but didn’t know how to ask for it. It’s a new icon we’ve added, and he doesn’t really know how to find it yet. We probably should have guided him to that icon on his iPad so he could ask for it.”

Oops. “We” definitely means me. Although I sensed no animosity in Laura’s response to me, it did make me realize my true error in that situation. Taylor clearly did not want to be on the swing. But, as a member of this society which prizes verbal communication above all else, I assumed that Taylor’s words were more meaningful than his nonverbal communication and directed him toward the swing and away from the track. His body-language communicated a different message than the words he spoke through his iPad. The lesson I learned was this: especially for people who tend to use alternative forms of communication, we need to be good listeners. Listening is irreplaceably important. And oftentimes it is just when we think we are doing a fine job of listening that we are in fact utterly failing. For the other person, the experience of being misunderstood is aggravating at best and painfully wounding at worst. The consequences are often so much more than a temper tantrum on the playground.

But listening is also often very hard. This week I’ve been reading Places of Redemption by Mary McClintock Fulkerson, who writes an ethnography of Good Samaritan Church in Durham, North Carolina. Recognized as a significantly racially diverse church (a status applicable to less than 10% of churches), Good Samaritan also has many members with disabilities. Their outreach is shaped by the drive to reach out to people ‘not like them,’ largely out of the story of the Ethiopian eunuch as described in Acts. As Fulkerson writes, “The eunuch became a symbol to them for those ‘people who are different from us, people who usually are looked over and passed over, that regular established church folks would pass on the street’ and never think of in relation to their church.” The way this community defines faith—as a networked transformative project rather than merely a set of beliefs or moral laws—is central to the way they have incorporated so many different people into their fellowship.

Good Samaritan UMC

All of this fits together. Listening is hard because it means conceding the control we crave in relationships. It is all too easy to interpret someone as saying what you want them to say rather than what they are actually saying. To truly listen is an act of will which tells the other, “You are free to be who you truly are, and I will accept that.” This takes courage and an openness to being wrong which overshadows our death-grip on control.

I think what Taylor taught me yesterday was that it’s sometimes the less obvious forms of communication which speak clearer than the traditional written word. Nonverbal communication often requires more vulnerability precisely because it requires us to be better listeners. Faith, like other relationships, is potentially life-changing because it is necessarily dynamic. It’s only through good listening and open vulnerability that we can begin to let God transform us and our communities to what we were created to be.

*Names of students and instructors have been changed to protect privacy.

Fulkerson, Mary McClintock. Places of Redemption: Theology for a Worldy Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

When a 5 year-old homeless girl washes your feet

Caring for kids has to be one of the best and worst things for one’s health. For instance, last week a kid’s head was in the clouds and she wandered off during a field trip. That really wasn’t fabulous for my blood pressure. Even so, these children have healed me in ways I didn’t know I needed. They unknowingly have been living examples of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s vision of ministry in Life Together–to me and to their neighbor. They have profoundly shaped me in my successes and failures of striving to live out this vision of ministry through their love and grace.

The Ministry of Helpfulness

“Nobody is too good for the meanest service” (Bonhoeffer 100).

A couple of time I’ve stayed to scrub the floor of art projects gone rogue or accidental goldfish stampedes. One day one of our campers, a too-cool-for-school skateboarder donning a backwards cap and a big smile, asked to help. A domino effect occurred, and I was soon swarmed by tiny hands begging to be of service. Approximately 30 seconds after I asked them to wash the tables, the floor flooded and tiny shoes turned the water into mud as effectively as Jesus turned water into wine. A five-year old girl from the camp, who is homeless, erupted into her trademark crazed laughter when she saw my muddy bare-feet becoming culprits in the mess. She commanded, “Wait there,” grabbed wet paper towels, and began intently to wash me. With each stroke this tiny, fierce, homeless girl imprinted her love and mercy into me.

Three dirty towels later she squinted at me with her devious eyes, stole my shoes, and ran down the block laughing the whole way.

These children could have been doing anything else, yet their hands proclaimed to me, “God’s message of love and mercy” (Bonhoeffer 100) through their seemingly trivial acts. In this upside-down kingdom, a homeless girl that I was so glad to serve pulled a Jesus and literally washed my feet out of love. We focus so much on teaching children, we forget what they can teach us. They teach us to embrace interruption and to joyfully love through small acts of service that probably mean a lot more than we think.

Art projects

Art projects that will be used to beautify the community garden

The Ministry of Listening

“The beginning of love for brethren is learning to listen to them” (Bonhoeffer 97)

Narrative is an integrative process. Through sharing personal narrative, we put together the messy pieces of our lives and explain how we are somehow still hanging together. Narratives help us discover what is meaningful in our lives. To honor a narrative, we must cultivate a spirit of listening.

One day in the after hours of camp I was painting a sign: “Community Starts Here!” Ty* approached me, laughed at my horrendous artwork, sat, and began to share his narrative, his own difficult life story, with me. After half an hour he said in a half-joking accusatory voice, “Why are you being so quiet!?”

With probably too much honesty for a 10 year old I slowly replied, “I wish I had the right things to say to make everything better. But I don’t.”

His gaze dropped to the ground.

I was paralyzed by Bonhoeffer’s words, “What can weak human words accomplish for others? Are we like the professionally pious, to “talk away” the other person’s real need?” (Bonhoeffer 104). I couldn’t bring myself to speak false hopes that his absentee parents or his daily bullying would magically become easier if he just accepted Christ. I couldn’t quote a couple of bible verses to make everything alright. God gives us His word and lends us His ear. I forgot that the purpose of listening, “with the ears of God is so we can speak the Word of God” (Bonhoeffer 99).


The Ministry of Proclaiming

“The speaking of God’s word is beset with infinite perils” (Bonhoeffer 104).

But what does it mean to speak the word of God?

“That unique situation in which one person bears witness in human words to another person, bespeaking the whole consolation of God, the admonition, the kindness, and the severity of God” (Bonhoeffer 104). The only thing I could do was look Ty in the eye and tell him what I know with the deepest fiber of my being, “You are loved, so loved; by God, by me, by your friends. You are stronger than you think.”

His eyes lit up, “Me? Strong? Really?!”

This is the beginning of my discerning process of learning when to listen, and when and what to speak. I learned that we must all put to death both the impatient-uninterested listener along with the pious prattler of words.

Kids at camp

The Ministry of Bearing

“Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

The second day of camp, the leaders were entrusted with stories of children’s past: a father’s recent murder, escaping the Burmese war, houses that were burned down, a father who tried to drown a mother. When Ty told me his story, my heart was painfully overwhelmed. I saw his kind-hearted, goofy nature was slowly eroding away. Part of me wanted to steal these children away and other part wanted to run away and forget all I’ve seen and heard.

One day a nursing classmate asked our dean, “How do we care for our patients without being too emotionally attached?”

The dean of the nursing school kindly laughed, “That is not possible.”

The Christian has no choice but to bear, to sustain, to suffer the burden of a brother or sister: “It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother and not merely an object to be manipulated” (Bonhoeffer 100). God bore with us from the fall, through our unfaithfulness in the desert, to God suffering in the person of Jesus through the cross. A Christian’s life in community can be seen entirely through the framework of seeking to bear the Cross that Christ bore for his brothers and sisters.

At the zoo

I fully admit, I am in no way qualified to supplement Bonhoeffer’s categories of ministry with a my own construction. However, I’m an impetuous undergrad so I’m going to go for it.

The Ministry of Accepting Love

Only when we allow ourselves to be served by others can we look upon them as Jesus– the ultimate servant.

No more of this “individualization” crap.

“Out of place” is a generous descriptor, as I resembled a gangly teenage boy awkwardly asking a pretty girl out when I began canvassing. Thankfully I was with Russell Jeung, my site mentor, who lives in the community and is known and loved here. When the neighbors saw Russell approaching they would smile and eagerly invite us in. Every threshold we crossed, I was privileged to catch a glimpse into a vibrant cultural enclave, intentionally invisible from the public eye. Each home we entered held stories of woe (robbery), joy (green cards), fear (drug lords), tragedy (murders), strength (family), and hope. These narratives were intricately sewn into tapestries draped on the wall; they slowly wafted in like the smell of a traditional Thai dish; they looked like three barefooted grandmothers graced with wrinkles laughing in Burmese. I, a 20-year old white upper-middle class girl, a stranger, a foreigner, was embraced by people of peace; I was given water and invited to sit, rest, take off my shoes, and accept love. In this upside-down kingdom I was accepted as a foreigner by foreigners, and I felt oddly whole.

Accepting love requires humility; one of the highest virtues espoused by the early church fathers. Allowing oneself to be served fosters trust and interdependence; it kills colonizing mentality and the Western god of nirvana through individualization, and allows others the blessing of being the hands and feet and eyes and ears of Jesus.

Kids with sphynx

At the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, the grand Sphinx was humbled by the nose-picking love of these kids.

Notes from the field: mid-summer reports from the PLT interns

Learning about autism, communication, and theologies of disability…
Encountering and learning from women who have experienced exploitation…
Confronting social injustices and promoting ethnic and socio-economic reconciliation…

These are just a few of the themes of the blog posts by the 2015 Project on Lived Theology summer interns: Caitlin Montgomery, Rachel Prestipino, and Melina Rapazzini.

We invite you to follow them on their powerful journeys this summer through our intern blog here. To be notified when new posts are published, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology.

Here is a sampling of the PLT Interns’ work:

“Jesus, the disabled God”
by Caitlin Montgomery

PLTblog4againI realized that I’ve been playing into these notions of the “cult of normalcy” even in the way I describe this internship to people. The key line I always used was: “I’m reading and writing about how the Christian church can learn to better serve individuals with disabilities.” This sort of service language only widens the gap between “us normal people over here” and “those disabled people over there.” I no longer think that learning how to better serve people with disabilities is what the Church needs. This is arguably a dangerous attitude which can give us a messiah complex and turn disability into something to be treated rather than a person to be known. I believe what Christians need is nothing less than an entirely new way of thinking about and relating to people, including themselves. This requires a fundamental anthropological shift which privileges mutual vulnerability and interdependence as the new ‘norm.’ Time to cancel that subscription to the cult of normalcy, people. I don’t believe anything less will do.

To read more of Caitlin’s post, please click here.

“How then shall we live (this theology)?”
by Melina Rapazzini

Jesus New HopeI learned something valuable in the body of Christ this past morning in church. I learned the necessity of being confronted with my own racial prejudices particularly within a multiethnic church. I participated in lived theology as a church, a living chaotic body that mysteriously communes together with the Lord. As a structure we were able to acknowledge our broken world, our broken bodies, collectively repent, accept grace, and begin to turn away from our sin. That is the goodness of the church; it has power as a corporate body, given life through individuals, to enact radical change in ourselves and as a body.

The Church has this power. Every week. Far too often we are too cynical, hardhearted, disenchanted, (insert adjective here) to imagine the possibility of genuine individual and structural change. So we half-ass our confessions and repentances, and as a result we cannot help but half-ass working towards the kingdom of God. And people wonder why millennials are leaving the church for humanitarian agencies.

To read more of Melina’s post, please click here.

“The God Who Sees Me”
by Rachel Prestipino

Hagar and IshmaelIn her landmark work of womanist theology, Sisters in the Wilderness, Dolores Williams connects the story of Hagar, with which the black community has long identified, to black women’s experience of surrogacy/motherhood, oppression, and survival in the United States. She points out that Hagar is the only character in the entire Bible who has the privilege of naming God. When Hagar flees a second time, this time with her son Ishmael, God enables their survival by helping Hagar find water for her dying child, and “God was with the boy as he grew up” (Gen. 21:20). This God, Williams claims, is different from the “malestream” God of Abraham. She is different even from the God of black (male) liberation theology, who is always portrayed as the Great Liberator of the Exodus, in spite of stories like Hagar’s (in which God’s provision does not come in the form of liberation from slavery). Hagar’s God is not the God whose authority Sarah probably cited when she forced Hagar to be Abraham’s concubine. Hagar’s God is the one who sees her.

More than anything, I want the Muslim girls in dance class to encounter the God who sees them. This God might not look like “Papa God” or even the “Christian God” as we describe Him. I later heard that two of our girls (who did a similar activity in another one of our dance classes) wouldn’t stop writing letters to God all week long. They were told to write just one, but, as their older sister reported, they didn’t stop there. When I heard this my heart leapt. By writing these letters to God they are interacting with God in an environment that isn’t mediated, or restricted, by us.

To read more of Rachel’s post, please click here.

Caitlin Montgomery

Caitlin Montgomery is a third-year religious studies and speech-language pathology student with a passion for helping children with special needs. While interning at the Virginia Institute of Autism and navigating new methods of behavioral therapy for children with autism, she hopes to explore what it looks like to construct a theological framework that empowers individuals with disabilities.

The Virginia Institute of Autism is dedicated to helping people overcome the challenges of autism through innovative, evidence-based programs in education, outreach and adult services. Learn more about their work at their website.

Rachel PrestipinoRachel Prestipino is a third year student majoring in religious studies and global development studies. She is particularly interested in notions of human dignity, especially with regard to women, as they are presented by various Christian theologies. She is spending her summer serving women who have experienced violence and exploitation in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.

Rachel is working this summer with the organization Because Justice Matters whose mission is to reach women who are victims of sexual exploitation and domestic violence, and offer support to those experiencing isolation due to economic and cultural challenges. Learn more about their work here.

Melina RapazziniMelina Rapazzini is a third year student majoring in religious studies and nursing, which has naturally resulted in a passion for studying the intersection between ethics and direct patient care. A native from the San Francisco Bay Area, Melina is excited to live in in Oakland and work with New Hope Covenant Church to develop a reading, art, and gardening program for inner city refugee children. Melina is mostly looking forward to learning from these children how to see and understand the Kingdom of God in a neighborhood with historically one of the highest rates of robbery in the United States.

The vision of New Hope Covenant Church is to worship God and embody the good news of Jesus through Community, Compassion, Discipleship, and Justice. Learn more about New Hope at this link.

The Summer Internship in Lived Theology offers the unique opportunity to pursue service as an explicitly theological activity. Interns’ reading, writing, and conversation with their mentors enable them to reflect on their work theologically. They spend the summer exploring how service informs and shapes religious belief, and how religious belief informs and shapes service.

Watch this space for highlights, visit the intern blog, and get all the updates by following their summers on Facebook and Twitter.

A Meditation on Bathrooms

Public Pit Stop

Bathrooms are fascinating. They look different all over the world. In fact, for me they are a good indicator of how far away from home I am (i.e. Bidet or no bidet? Running water or bucket? Do I have to dig my own hole or no?). But for almost everyone, I’ve discovered, they are things we don’t think about until they’re gone. They are easily taken for granted. I realized that the longest I spend without direct access to a nice, clean(ish), private restroom on a typical day is the 20 minutes I spend in the car. This is not so for many people living in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco.

The TL, as many locals fondly call it, is infamous for being a place where you must watch your step to avoid stepping on either needles or human waste. The Daily Caller called the entire neighborhood one big “public toilet,” describing the population using it as “drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes, and mentally unstable street people” (citing the San Francisco Chronicle). This portrayal erases the presence of immigrant families, the elderly, and disabled people (and some yuppies) who also form large percentages of the population. While these reports are insensitive and ignorant, showing no sympathy for the problem of public urination as it faces homeless people or providing any productive criticisms, they reflect a commonplace attitude.

Fecal matter in the streets is a source of frequent joking among YWAM staff. Once, when we were out in Santana Row (an upscale shopping area in San Jose), someone remarked that it was so nice to be able to walk down the street without worrying about stepping in crap. We all laughed along and nodded our heads. YWAM staff love the neighborhood, and they show their commitment through their service. However, I realized that for me, laughing about how “ratchet” the TL is only further solidifies the negative image of the community that we are trying to fight against.

I must admit, there have been times when I have seen the public bathroom a block away from the YWAM base and callously thought, “Gee, why can’t the people who pee in front of our building ever seem to make it over here?” Then, one day a woman ran up to the building in a state of emergency. After being let in and allowed the use the bathroom, she came out and apologized, saying that she had tried to use the bathroom down the street but it was locked. Public bathrooms in the TL have had a poor track record of becoming sites of prostitution, drug use, and other dangerous activities. Now, the best options for relieving oneself are the portable pit stops that come in Tuesday-Friday from 2-9 pm. These bathrooms are monitored by attendants from a city-contracted non-profit to prevent the issues that have come with public bathrooms of the past.

While these pit stops have been extremely helpful, reportedly reducing the number of complaints about human waste in the streets from 27 calls per day to 15, they aren’t a foolproof solution. Human needs do not disappear outside of the 7 hours per day, 4 days a week that these two toilets drop on the block. People are still forced to urinate and defecate in the streets, in plain view, every single day. This is not merely a sanitation problem; this is an affront to human dignity.

In this city of impossible wealth, the most expensive U.S. city to live in, homeless people are often considered an eyesore. For some living in other parts of the city, having to walk by a makeshift homeless camp on their way home is a sure sign that “the neighborhood has gone to crap.” Every day thousands of homeless people struggle for a limited number of one-night beds, getting in line in the middle of the afternoon only to be booted out again at 6 AM. They put their names on impossibly long waiting lists for more permanent solutions: 90-day beds, SROs, or Section 8 low-income housing. Thanks to policies requiring hotels to reserve a certain number of beds for low-income people, there are 9,990 formerly homeless people living in 208 hotels in the Tenderloin’s 23 blocks. And yet, the large number of homeless people still on the streets makes the problem seem impossible to surmount.

Two days ago I averted my eyes as a homeless woman, whose name I know and whose face I see nearly every day, exposed herself to everyone on the street (mostly men) in broad daylight and urinated not 5 feet from me. She seemed nonchalant. I can only assume that this has been such a consistent reality for her that she has moved past the point of shame and embarrassment. Two days prior, I stopped in my tracks as I approached a homeless man that I was supposed to be meeting up with when I realized that he was relieving himself in the street. I tried to make myself scarce, hoping that he wouldn’t be embarrassed if he didn’t see me. But he did. Three days prior to that, a woman rushed into Nail Day whispering urgently that she needed feminine hygiene products. When she came out of the restroom she sheepishly asked for a discrete bag to carry the products in. Like the pubic pit stops, the YWAM base also has times in which the restrooms are available, for one person at a time, with a monitor waiting outside. Although these measures are necessary, they must be so infantilizing. I would not feel dignified if I was put in any one of these situations.

I have one last bathroom story to share. Carly*, one of the transgender women who comes to BJM’s Nail Day, has been looking for a church. After visiting many Christian churches and being unsatisfied with how little they actually spoke about Jesus Christ, she settled on a Baptist church like the one she grew up in. She liked the church a lot and was beginning to feel welcome there. Then, the pastor (a man) pulled her aside and led her through the church building to show her the one-room unisex bathroom. She had been using the women’s bathroom prior to that. She hasn’t been back since that day.

Empathizing with Carly, a transgender pastor of a Lutheran church in San Francisco had this to say about her experience with bathrooms: “If I’m standing in front of the bathrooms I’m thinking, if I go in the women’s I’ll get screamed at, but if I go in the men’s I’ll get beat up.” Carly feared that there had been complaints by women of the church who bring their children into the bathrooms with them (because of the nasty stereotype that transgender people are pedophiles). The idea that anyone would think she could possibly hurt a child disgusts her. Bathrooms, which are a place of relief for many, are a place of uncertainty and fear for trans people.

What these stories reveal to me is that we, as Christians, are really good at loving our neighbor until it is hard. Until it makes us uncomfortable. Until it’s smelly. We talk about people being made in the image of God, and the inherent dignity that all human beings share as a result, and then we turn up our noses when we see them urinating in the street. We assume that they are too drunk or high or lazy or careless to make it to a proper bathroom. We isolate them and push them aside when we are forced to mingle with them in private spaces. We show them that it’s more important to us that they use the correct bathroom, the one with a little figure wearing pants on the door, than it is that they are able to be in the presence of God with fellow believers.

In Life Together, his classic text on Christian community, Bonhoeffer says, “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal but a divine reality” (26). This means that Christian community is not about our notions of perfection. It’s not about bringing the exact “right” group of people into perfect harmony with one another so that we feel loved and find it easy to love one another. No, “Christian community springs… from grace alone” (23). Living in community, whether with Christians, non-Christians, or both, is meant to be hard. And if it is not hard, then the community isn’t inclusive enough. This is of the utmost importance because, as Bonheoffer puts it, “the exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from a Christian community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ” (38).

We have to do better. We have to love better. And we need Christ to do it.

As a Church and as a society, when we think of places like the Tenderloin we must remember this: Just because there is shit in the streets doesn’t mean the people are shit. And if we can’t wrap our heads around that… well then we’re all pretty shitty.

Jesus, the disabled God

The Disabled God


“The disabled God embodies practical interdependence, not simply willing to be interrelated from a position of power, but depending on it from a position of need.” –Dr. Nancy L. Eiesland

Although I’ve technically been working at the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA) for over a month now, it wasn’t until last week that I think I was officially inaugurated. I was sitting at the kids’ kitchen table helping a student with his breakfast when I heard a rush of steps behind me. Thump thump thump… “OUCH!” I was nearly dragged out of my seat by one of our newer students, David,* who decided to grab a handful of my hair on his way to the playground. Before I realized what was going on, his instructor snatched away his hand and led him to the door, apologizing profusely. It was nothing serious (although I do remember looking much more to the left than usual that day), and I learned that incidents like that have happened to most of the instructors in my classroom. Later that day during recess, a fellow instructor called to me, “Glad to hear you’re officially one of us!”

At the end of that week, I met up with my supervisor for a routine check-in to make sure everything was going well. We ended up discussing some of David’s behavior as she pulled up a chart cataloguing his misbehaviors this past month. As I asked questions about his development and previous schooling experience, I noticed how difficult it was to keep from invoking the concept of “normalcy” into the conversation. David does not fit in well to existing paradigms. While it is true to say that he should probably learn to stop pulling people’s hair, referring to all of his behavior as “problem behavior” can sometimes cause us to forget the complex nature of his personhood. It is much easier to view someone in terms of how they relate to one standard or another rather than to define them on their own terms. It’s a problem Dr. Nancy Eiesland describes well in her book The Disabled God as a woman with disabilities herself.

I have to admit, I was a bit apprehensive about this week’s book at first, due to its label as a work of liberation theology. As someone who tends to highly value a rational approach to questions of faith, I’d heard less-than-favorable evaluations of liberation theology as “highly emotional” and “subjective” in the past. Dr. Jones, my theological mentor for this internship, explained to me that, indeed, there are some who conceive of liberation theology as simply “ideology hacking Christian thought” rather than legitimate theological reflection. He did so while gesturing toward the bookshelves above his desk, which held all the sorts of theology I never knew existed: black theology, feminist theology, queer theology, Latin-American liberation theology, and more.

I’m realizing more and more how little I know of theology. In reality, I’d only had experience with systematic theology—which attempts to answer theological questions in an abstract, purely rational, and therefore objective, systematized way. Liberation theology came along and said “NOT SO FAST, BUCKO,” making the point that theology has always been bound to context because knowledge is always mediated through a subject–the person. This is true of all thought—even systematic theology. Although it prides itself on its objectivity, systematic theology is often bound to the context and experience of highly educated, white men. But don’t call Francis Schaeffer on me just yet. Realizing that all knowledge is mediated through a subject does not necessarily make the knowledge itself subjective in the sense that there is no universal truth. It does call our attention back to the mediator and clue us in to what the person’s context tells us about the knowledge itself.

As you can imagine, this makes theology pretty messy (as if Christian theology weren’t messy enough already). There are lots of different people on this little blue-green planet, each with a unique story and outlook on life. The picture is one of chaos, no doubt. But I’m told that some of the best things in life are messy, especially genuine relationships like the ones instructors at VIA have with kids like David. The mess arguably makes theology a lot more interesting, accessible, and meaningful in everyday life.

This is exactly the aim of Dr. Nancy Eiesland in her work, The Disabled God. Through her experiences as a woman with disabilities, she strives to construct a more subject-centered paradigm for the theology of disability. Rather than merely being objects upon which people without disabilities do research, people with disabilities are given a voice. And more importantly, the Christian God is seen for what He truly is: a disabled God. Eiesland conceived of the Incarnation as God voluntarily disabling himself. At first glance, this does not appear to be terribly revolutionary thinking—Christian thought has recognized God’s taking on human limitations for millennia. However, framing the Incarnation as the taking on of a disability is the perfect example of theology which connects the mundane with the holy—for it connects Jesus’ experience as a human with the experiences of other limited humans. Not only does Jesus enter the world as a body, with all the quirks and particularities each body uniquely has, this body is beaten and broken. Even when he is resurrected, the scars are still on his hands and feet. Rather than being a sign of weakness, they are a sign of his true identity and a mark of his love. This blasts away conflations of disability with sin. The Incarnation is “a divine affirmation of the wholeness of nonconventional bodies” (Eiesland 87).

CrucifixionI realized that I’ve been playing into these notions of the “cult of normalcy” even in the way I describe this internship to people. The key line I always used was: “I’m reading and writing about how the Christian church can learn to better serve individuals with disabilities.” This sort of service language only widens the gap between “us normal people over here” and “those disabled people over there.” I no longer think that learning how to better serve people with disabilities is what the Church needs. This is arguably a dangerous attitude which can give us a messiah complex and turn disability into something to be treated rather than a person to be known. I believe what Christians need is nothing less than an entirely new way of thinking about and relating to people, including themselves. This requires a fundamental anthropological shift which privileges mutual vulnerability and interdependence as the new ‘norm.’ Time to cancel that subscription to the cult of normalcy, people. I don’t believe anything less will do.

*Names of the students have been changed to protect privacy.

Eiesland, Nancy. The Disabled God: Toward a Libertory Theology of Disability. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994. Print.

People of Peace

My 5’1” person was punted directly into the development worker’s nightmare. While planning for a community event in the Oak Park neighborhood, a fellow worker approached me and innocuously asked why I was helping out. Like a freshly painted old record player I espoused a worn out answer with a bright smile, “Why, to help foster relationships and community engagement!” expecting him to drop it.

He didn’t.

“…Well it sounds nice and all”

I stiffened.

“…but sometimes I just feel like people volunteer to feel good about themselves. I don’t like feeling like somebody’s project. They feel good about themselves then they leave. That’s where I’m coming from.”

Visceral anger overtook my thoughts:I am NOT trying to just “feel good” (cue dramatic air quotes). I read the pop-Christian developer’s-bible, When Helping Hurts like three years ago. I’m way too enlightened for that kind of crap! Who does he think I am?!

Next came the judgment: Why would he presume I find so much self-worth in this project?! Who does he think he is?!

Finally came the developer’s dejection: Oh god. Am I really a colonizer? Should I even be here? People have been hurt enough without me.

After reimagining the conversation about 78 times, and after reading Bryant Myers’ book Walking With the Poor (because that is how I deal with these types of things: by reading 300-page books), I realized that my anger, judgement, and tail-between-legs guilt were merely unproductive defense mechanisms that kept my brother in Christ at arms length. In More than Equals, Perkins points to the proclamation of 1 Corinthians 13:7 that love always perseveres. I cannot back away from a brother or sister when they disappoint me or when they reveal their pent up bitterness. Instead I need to learn empathy for those who have been hurt by temporary do-gooder imports. I need to foster, “a commitment to understanding them on their own terms” (Myers 182).

It is the unfortunate reality that my missionary and development worker predecessors and I have earned suspicion and distrust. We must begin to see and understand this with tenderness–not paternalistic pity, but tenderness. I too would be wary of any asymmetrical power imbalance not in my favor. For the first time, I recognized my whiteness working against me, and I was pigeon-holed as untrustworthy because of my color. (Gee, I wonder what it would be like to live every day in that unjust reality). Even though I believed I was in the right, I had the obligation to genuinely ask God again to “search me and know my heart” (Psalm 139:23). The purity of motivations ebb and flow; it is wise to daily acknowledge that and daily repent. Colonizers, California-Spanish missions, and many normal churches today who ship their members off for a week to Kenya all have convinced themselves of their pure motivations. Even so, their work tragically damages people groups by committing murder, inflicting deep psychological damage, and enslaving–overtly with chains and covertly in fostering unhealthy economic and social dependance. We must become thoughtful, holistically educated, developmental practitioners so that our work is ultimately sustainable, empowering, and life-giving.

The past months of planning Oak Park Community Builders camp have been as tedious, unfamiliar, and frightening as playing a game of Risk with competitive relatives. “What are your goals?” pastor Dan asked me.

That everyone stays alive.

It’s the little things.

Camp began this week as any typical chaotic whirlwind does. This included but was not limited to some injuries, a diagnosis of lice, and a mild occurrence of projectile vomiting. Monday, we worked the community garden and learned about the garden-to-table movement. Tuesday, we focused on maintaining/improving literacy at the public library. Wednesday, we went to an A’s game to encourage pride in the city of Oakland (…and because I really wanted to go to an A’s game). Friday, at the end of a long week, we had a healthy living cooking class.

Planting tomatoes in our community plot

Planting tomatoes in our community plot

Oakland A's Game

Solidarity was formed due to many unsuccessful attempts of washing off the paint.The residual yellow/green hue suggested a plague of jaundice had stricken our camp.

cooking class

Making fresh fruit spring rolls with honey lime dressing

As Christians have matured in developmental theology, most find ourselves served by those we intended to serve. We have seen over and over that genuine development is relational development where “everyone is poor in God’s world and everyone is in need of transformation” (Myers 17). I can cognitively ascent to that idea, and reading it can even make my heart beat a little faster. However, in the midst of camp chaos I forget that profound truth and instead begin dreaming of how tantalizing fetal position seems at that moment. Like the opening anecdote to this blog showed, becoming frustrated, emotionally withdrawing, and becoming an army commander is an easy fallback where I assume total control. The problem with total control is that it leaves no room for God’s work of grace and reconciliation; I’ve taken it upon myself to solve the problem in my own familiar way. In the midst of camp chaos and interpersonal discord it is hard to re-imagine both me, the children, and the community worker as broken vessels coming together, listening to and learning from the gifts of the other, and moving towards an understanding of what it means to be reconciled as sister and brother. Only when I have slowed down and begun to build relationships of love and honesty has trust been born. Only within those patient self-giving relationships of trust have I begun to receive healing I didn’t even know I needed from these tiny, 6-10 year old, unassuming wells of life.

I, an outsider, a despised foreigner to some, have been shown the hospitality and saving grace of these little Good Samaritans.

Project Contributor Mark Gornik reflects on his friendship with Allan Tibbels

Mark Gornik and Allan TibbelsPLT Contributor Mark Gornik recently reflected on his friendship with fellow co-worker in ministry and community organizer Allan Tibbels in his newest article “Jeremiah is for the ‘Birds’ — Remembering a friendship and ministry” on Duke Divinity’s Faith & Leadership.

Mark and Allan were among the founders of New Song Community Church the neighborhood of Sandtown in Baltimore, Maryland in the late 1980s. Allan is especially remembered for his work with Habitat for Humanity in the Sandtown, where over 300 abandoned homes were revitalized and its residents were made their homeowners. Mark writes…

In the 1980s, America was in the midst of an era of great urban abandonment and division, but Christ was calling Allan, Susan and me, shaping our imaginations, to see the world in a different way. As I finished college and then attended seminary, Allan and I regularly reflected together on our commitment to join in God’s work in Baltimore, to live our lives on behalf of a “beloved community” in and for our home city.

In 1986, called to live in the community and start a church, Allan, Susan, their daughters, Jennifer and Jessica, and I moved to Sandtown, a neighborhood in West Baltimore. After a few years, we joined with others to start New Song Community Church(link is external), which in turn launched a series of community-based institutions that over the course of nearly 30 years has made a very real impact on the social and economic life of the neighborhood.

Across the decades, the friendship Allan and I shared was a gift of hope and sustaining joy for the practice of ministry. Nearly every day, we spoke in person or by phone, even after I moved to New York to start a sister church in Harlem. We talked about everything from sports to politics, from music and our families to our day-to-day work in the communities and institutions we served. But at their heart, our conversations were always about supporting one another, encouraging each other to keep reaching for the calling to which we had been called, whatever the vulnerabilities, obstacles and shortcomings we faced.

To read the entire article, click here.

For a short video depicting Allan’s work in Sandtown Baltimore with Habitat for Humanity, click here.
In 2010, The New York Times featured Allan in their “The Lives They Lived” annual collection of narratives that celebrate lives. To see and read about Allan among the other twenty-two persons chosen, click here.

For more of featured writings of our PLT Contributors, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyWrites.

“The God Who Sees Me”

Hagar and Ishmael

This summer the BJM team is learning how to exist in a place that is not our own. Back in June, the Well, our women’s center in the Tenderloin, was flooded. There was some pretty serious damage and we were told repairs would take at least through the end of the summer. However, thanks to the hospitality of some of our community partners, we have found other spaces that allow us to continue running all of our summer programs. Since the floors of our dance studio are currently being ripped up and replaced, our Thursday afternoon dance classes are being held in the community room of an apartment building on Turk Street.

There is a large Muslim population living in the Turk street apartments and many of the girls who attend dance class come from Muslim families. Thus, as Christians, we are entering a space that is truly not our own. As a staff, we’ve been discussing how to navigate this environment as Muslims and Christians come together. Dance classes normally begin with a short teaching illustrating a concept from the Christian faith. However, something that a few of the Muslim moms said caused us to pause, pray, and examine this practice. They told Karol, a BJM staff member, that the Christians that run these programs always have a hidden agenda. When Karol brought this up in staff meeting I couldn’t help but think, “Well… we do….”

I wondered if I was the only one thinking it. I know that everyone on staff is completely genuine. They all sincerely believe that the Gospel is the most important message that they could impart to these girls and that Jesus can do more for these girls than they ever could. And even though dance class is mostly about promoting a sense of self-worth and providing support for girls in a difficult neighborhood, none would deny that the end goal is for these girls to know Jesus.

As I sat there questioning the implications of this, someone spoke up and voiced my thoughts for me. “Well, we do kinda have an agenda” she said. A shrug passed around the room. How do we do this? If it is true that dance class is about more than creative expression, empowerment, or community support but is actually about sharing Jesus with the girls (in the long run), and this is precisely what the Muslim parents are jaded towards…. Then what do we do?

It saddened me to think that this was the most powerful association the Muslim mothers had made with Christians. The women had not one real Christian friend that did not later pull a bait and switch on them. So we discussed how to find common ground between our devotional topics and the Islamic faith. We decided to avoid back-and-forth comparison of any kind and instead to consider truths about God that the Muslim community would also appreciate. Someone suggested that we even make take-home cards describing the teaching for any parents that are skeptical, feeling that increased transparency could help engender trust. While these measures were all well received by the group, for some I believe they created tension between being respectful and suppressing BJM’s core values. The Gospel is at the heart of BJM, and staff members were hesitant to be any more reticent in their discussion of it. But in the end, we humbly accepted that we are in a place that is not our own and we must respect the experiences of the people whose space we are inhabiting. These women have felt that Christians always have ulterior motives; therefore we must bear the weight of that wrongdoing and the mistrust it has created. We must lament the beautiful potentiality of friendship that has been squandered and perhaps even the barriers to Christ that have been erected by Christians who have failed to love these Muslim women without conditions. And so we prayed. We prayed that we would recognize our hidden agendas and relinquish them. I prayed that the girls would know Jesus within the context of their Islamic world, and that no one would feel the need to take them out of it in order to make that happen.

The next day came and it was time for another dance class teaching. We focused on Zephaniah 3:17, telling the girls that God “takes great delight in them” and that He “rejoices over them with singing.” Then, they were invited to write letters or draw pictures to God. The teacher gave an example of the kind of pictures she might draw for God. She imagines God as a “Papa God,” she said, with a big white beard and a staff like a shepherd. Although the shepherd is certainly a valuable, biblical rendering of God, as I looked around at the faces of the girls in the circle I couldn’t help but wonder, is this the only image of God that is presented to them? When they think of God, do they see a man? Do they see an old, white, bearded, Anglo-American man?

I sat down next to a little Muslim girl named Bria* who was struggling to put crayon to paper. A rather sheepish girl, she sat and stared at the blank page quietly while the girls around her scribbled furiously.

“What do you think God is like?” I asked.

“He’s…. a good guy,” she replied. I smiled.

“What do you see when you think of God?”


“Okay, great! Why clouds?”

“Because… God is on top of us.” She meant above us. I smiled again.

Letters to God

I encouraged her to draw what she saw. Perhaps her image of God is as nebulous as a cloud… and maybe that’s a good thing. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my short religious studies career it’s that a variety of images of God is necessary, and so is the element of mystery. For much of the Old Testament, the predominant image of God is the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” However, in Genesis 16, we are presented with another side of this same God. The God of Abraham, the God of the great patriarchs, appears to Hagar, a poor Egyptian slave woman serving as Sarah’s handmaiden. Sarah, in her impatience to receive the promised heir, forces Hagar to lie with her husband Abraham. After she conceives, Hagar flees her mistress’ abuse by running into the wilderness. It is there, in her most desperate hour, that she meets God. The angel of the Lord (understood to be a manifestation of God on earth) addresses her directly, by name, and allows her to speak for herself. Then, God tells her to return to her mistress, but with a promise remarkably similar to the one that God gave to Abraham: that her descendants would be too numerous to count. In response Hagar “gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are the one who sees me’” (Genesis 16:13).

Hagar saw God and felt seen by Him.

In her landmark work of womanist theology, Sisters in the Wilderness, Dolores Williams connects the story of Hagar, with which the black community has long identified, to black women’s experience of surrogacy/motherhood, oppression, and survival in the United States. She points out that Hagar is the only character in the entire Bible who has the privilege of naming God. When Hagar flees a second time, this time with her son Ishmael, God enables their survival by helping Hagar find water for her dying child, and “God was with the boy as he grew up” (Gen. 21:20). This God, Williams claims, is different from the “malestream” God of Abraham. She is different even from the God of black (male) liberation theology, who is always portrayed as the Great Liberator of the Exodus, in spite of stories like Hagar’s (in which God’s provision does not come in the form of liberation from slavery). Hagar’s God is not the God whose authority Sarah probably cited when she forced Hagar to be Abraham’s concubine. Hagar’s God is the one who sees her.

More than anything, I want the Muslim girls in dance class to encounter the God who sees them. This God might not look like “Papa God” or even the “Christian God” as we describe Him. I later heard that two of our girls (who did a similar activity in another one of our dance classes) wouldn’t stop writing letters to God all week long. They were told to write just one, but, as their older sister reported, they didn’t stop there. When I heard this my heart leapt. By writing these letters to God they are interacting with God in an environment that isn’t mediated, or restricted, by us.

I hope that they continue to speak to God and that God talks back. I hope they know God for themselves and not just the God who is presented to them. I hope that one day, they will see the God who sees them. I hope this for myself too.


*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the women and girls in this community.

Runaway fruit snacks and the “cult of normalcy”

What is normal?

“You are not just being generous, you are entering into a relationship, which will change your life. You are no longer in control. You have become vulnerable; you have come to love that person.” – Jean Vanier

“Sarah*… Sarah… Just a little more work until break.. Sarah, look at me, please.. You’re so close to–WAIT, PLEASE DON’T EAT THAT FRUIT SNACK OFF THE FLOOR!” I said last Thursday as I rushed out of my seat to keep Sarah from eating her classmate’s stray fruit snacks. As I get more and more comfortable working with the children at the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA), I’ve been able to work with them more and more independently. Last Thursday was the first day where I was able to work independently with one student for nearly the entire morning—and what a morning it was!

Although Sarah has very few behavioral issues in general, she struggles to pay attention to her instructor. I had observed this before when she was working with other instructors, but the problem appeared more pressing now that I was responsible for reviewing material with her. It made sense: difficulty paying attention is a key mark of individuals with autism. But when it is my job to teach her, how should I handle the situation?

When I realized all hope of getting any more work done was lost and that my best bet was to guard the room’s fruit snacks, I took a second to gather my thoughts. I took a deep breath. Sarah wasn’t running off from her desk anymore, she was just sitting. But she was doing more than just sitting. I noticed her looking off out the window. It didn’t look like she was focusing on anything in particular, but I got the feeling that she was seeing a lot. And in a non-cynical way, it didn’t bother her that I had been trying to get her attention for 10 minutes so she could finish her activity. It didn’t bother her that Charlottesville taxpayers’ money was going towards her education. All that mattered to her in that moment was—well, I don’t know. She had no way that I could understand of communicating that sort of information to me. I was faced with no other choice than to simply “let her be the way that she is.”

This phrase seems simple enough, but it is packed with theological significance. This week, I’ve been reading a truly delightful book entitled Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality written by theologian Dr. Thomas Reynolds, a man with a very personal connection to questions of disability. His son, Chris, has several developmental disabilities, and from this first-hand encounter, Dr. Reynolds launches a revolutionary theological anthropology which works to empower individuals with disabilities. In his book, Dr. Reynolds spends much time discussing this idea of the “cult of normalcy,” arguing that concepts of “normalcy” are entirely socially constructed, hegemonic oppressions of all deemed the “ab-normal” and are ultimately the only reason why a conceptual category of “disability” even exists.

The only way disability has been defined has been in contrast with the normality of “able-bodied-ness.” And even this is a huge illusion! What do we suppose able-bodied even means? Able to care for oneself? Autonomous? Reynolds offers a powerful critique of autonomy as the measure of personhood by highlighting the centrality of dependence in our society: “For example, we spend the first two decades of our lives being trained to become independent members of society, and increasingly spend the last decades of our lives tethered to life-supporting medical care of some sort or another.”

Furthermore, even during our truly “autonomous” years, true autonomy is an illusion. We are all emotionally dependent on others to a certain degree; to discount this is to commit the all-too-common error of privileging the mind over the body. We choose to live in societies which are quite literally built on interdependence. If Farmer Joe doesn’t work, I don’t eat. Self-sufficiency is really a paradox, because only through dependence on others are we freed to meet our full potential. There is a certain level of trust that must be present simply in living—trust that can easily be broken because relationships are unpredictable. In many ways, people without disabilities are subject to the same sorts of physical and emotional limitations as are people with disabilities. The difference is quantitative rather than qualitative.

It is along this exact vein that Dr. Reynolds advocates his revolutionary understanding of theological anthropology. At the center of our humanity is not ability, but interdependence. He rejects Western notions which privilege efficiency, productivity, rationality, even equality! For even equality is necessarily socially constructed. (Equal.. to whom? The white, middle-class, non-disabled male?) These ideas all are dangerously coupled with the “cult of normalcy.” Reynolds quotes Stanley Hauerwas’ apt summation of the problem: “None of us wants to be treated equally if it means we lose our distinctiveness (Reynolds 82).”

Capitalistic ideals advancing wealth generation have perhaps inadvertently contributed to a view of humans as nothing more than “bodily capital,” good for their consuming and performing power, and deficient insofar as they lack the ability to do either independently. Practically, this amounts to a transactional view of relationships in which the relationship exists for the betterment of both parties. If one party ceases receiving this benefit, the relationship is put in jeopardy.

I began thinking about how I was, consciously or unconsciously, applying these ideas of “normality” to my interactions with Sarah the other morning. Despite the fact that I knew she did not fit into this concept of “normal,” I still held expectations of her that she perform in accordance with this scale. I thought I was “helping her be more normal.” But she resisted that.

While Reynolds does believe a paradigmatic change in the way we think about ability is warranted, he does not for a moment suggest that relationships between those with and without disabilities should be “one-way.” He strongly resists that pity or charity be the motivating factor for helping these individuals. This would amount to simply a different kind of oppression where those with disabilities are instrumentalized and seen as valuable only in their contribution to the moral development of those without disabilities. The relational model for Reynolds is still technically transactional, but in a different way. Individuals with disabilities give us gifts, but not the sort of gifts we likely were expecting. It is not moral progress or proof of instructional competency that Sarah gave me, but the gift of her own vulnerability. She welcomed me into the way of her own unique being–a gift only she could give. Neither did I give her the gift I was planning on giving. Rather than teaching her to recognize four dots on an index card, I gave her the gift of being there with her—of gaining more understanding of her “way of being.”

It is this “attunement to the other” that Reynolds notes as being necessary for compassion, which literally means “feeling along with” the other. His anthropology is more than just theological jargon; it teaches us to love others and ourselves better. Seeing what we all as humans have in common rather than what the “cult of normalcy” dictates we ought to have in common eliminates the pressure to conform to a socially constructed, tyrannical ideal. We are free to see others and ourselves as we really are.

What is the most human thing about us? The need to belong and be recognized as of value. How beautiful that this is exactly what Christianity teaches: you are loved, you do belong, you have infinite value. Thank you, Sarah.


*Names of students have been changed to protect privacy.

Reynolds, Thomas E. Vulnerable Communion: A Theology of Disability and Hospitality. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008. Print.


On the Lived Theology Reading List: “The Open Hands of Kendrick Lamar”

20150715 DD Kendrick Lamar albumOn the Lived Theology Reading List this week is PLT Contributor David Dark‘s recent piece on Pitchfork, “What Must I Do to Be Born Again?: The Open Hands of Kendrick Lamar.” In this piece, Dark offers up the spiritual teachings from Lamar‘s lyrics in his new album To Pimp a Butterfly, describing it as “an experiment in self-examination.”

From the article:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” This sacred insight, attributed to Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospel of Thomas, pulsates within every track on offer in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. A missive of militant transparency, it chronicles afresh Lamar’s tried and true conviction that giving lyrical voice to his deepest fears, anxieties, and resentments is the surest path to shaking free of them. “I could never right my wrongs ‘less I write it down for real,” he once explained in “Poetic Justice” on good kid, m.A.A.d city. But this time around, he puts a diviner point on it: “My rights, my wrongs, I write ‘til I’m right with God.”

To read the full article, click here.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads.