Friday, October 16, 2009

Community, Distractions, Disconnections

Recently my teaching colleague Steve Fettke spoke to a group of us on faculty about the need and the opportunity for faculty here to create a teaching and learning community and for there to be a sense of welcome into that community. I thought what he said and my reflections in response could be relevant to our community life in Living Stones.

Steve quoted Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach (10th anniv. ed.) telling us that we should be “creating a space centered on the great thing called teaching and learning around which a community of truth can gather” (166). And I felt like I heard the Spirit whisper to me that these words from John 24 apply: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." Yes, I thought, my worship in spirit and truth, includes my teaching and being part of my faculty community.

But I considered how powerful are the realities that create disconnects and distances among us. Different personalities, different spiritual styles, different politics, different disciplines, different family situations, etc. Yes, these are incredibly powerful. Usually in contemporary settings—whether secular or Christian—they are dominant. Why would we try to resist them? Who really cares anyway? It’s an uphill battle. It would be easier to let these external factors keep us distracted and disconnected from one another.

But please forgive me for that cynicism because I hear God saying that he cares—and I remember, for a brief time anyway, that my calling is to be faithful—and let him deal with the success issues in his way and in his time.

In Chapter 1 Palmer says, “Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart—and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be. The courage to teach is courage to keep one's heart opened in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that the teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require” (11-12). I think all of us have experienced what Palmer is talking about here. This is part of what happens in any setting in which we seek to be truly open and vulnerable to God and other people.

But Palmer also gives us news of the freedom and joy of becoming our true selves in God. He offers us a vision of depth, truth, and connectedness that come “from the teacher’s inner life…as I reclaim my identity and integrity, remembering my selfhood and my sense of vocation. Then teaching can come from the depths of my own truth—and the truth that is within my students has a chance to respond in kind” (34).

I want this for myself—as a teacher in my classroom, certainly—but also as I seek to be a good brother in the Lord, to relate faithfully and consistently to my brothers and sisters in genuine spiritual community. Amen.


Paul Corrigan said...

Rickey, Thank you for this. I was there when Steve spoke and when, another time, you responded to him. And it is good to read your reflections here as well.

I very much like this that you said: "for a brief time anyway, my calling is to be faithful."

Amen. I feel this to be my calling as well.

Daniel said...

Thanks, Rickey! As you've admitted, "It would be easier to let these external factors keep us distracted and disconnected from one another." I'm thankful that, in spite of this, you continue to challenge others, myself included, to live in the necessary tension that comes with mutual vulnerability. It is there, I agree, that we are "woven into the fabric of community" as Palmer so wonderfully articulates. Thank you for this challenging reminder!

Rehoboth said...

Those are good reflections, Rickey. Thank you for posting them. In a good community, there is something that attracts, and nourishes people. I think, maybe, that there are many who need community and do not have it.

Rehoboth said...

and Rehoboth is me. Susan

John Orzechowski said...

Thanks for this reflection, Rickey. The realities that create disconnects between us, our true selves, and God are indeed powerful, but you're right to remind us that God cares. I pray for help with this (sometimes) "uphill battle" of continual openness to the Spirit.

Matt said...

This is certainly the difference between vocation and work or discipline, even! Truly the difference shines through when one's faithfulness to her or his vocation can lead another person to find vocation.
By the way, I never did "run away and become Buddhist." But because of your faithfulness to your vocation, Rev. Dr. Cotton, I am able to live into my own.
Gratia ago tibi.

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