My Baseline

It seems that at the heart of God is the heart of communion and community, so if we want to know God, we must know each other. We cannot know each other when we do not eat, live, talk, wonder and cry together. My pain and my joy are particular but rarely are they unique. Yet we do not see the world the same way. How could we? Our lives have been constructed, formed and influenced so differently. It is exactly this difference that we need to begin to understand: not take as our own, not flatten by calling it same, not qualify it as less than but to begin to understand and appreciate what makes one different from another.

I understand my life and my journey as being one full of discovery; discovery of who God is and who God created me to be. The more fully I can live out my vocation and call, the more fully I am living into the particular humanity that God created in me. My particularity, however, is virtually worthless in a vacuum. Who I am matters and comes to light in community and in relationship. I am meant to know you: you are meant to know me.

I believe that we, as Christians, are called to wholeness; that we are called to heal and confess, to forgive and reconcile. We are called to be intertwined, interwoven and interdependent. We are called to be unique, particular and a blessing. We are called to speak truth and preach the message of God’s radical grace and promises for us as well as acknowledge and challenge the unexpected realities of life. When we speak and preach the gospel message, it needs to be delivered in relation to its context if it is ever to be heard.

Inspiration for this Proposal

I’m struck by the divisions amongst which we live in the United States: divisions of socio-economics, race and religion.  I am even more struck by the reality that depending on your context, these divisions may seem unimportant, absent or even celebrated. Such divisions may not be celebrated overtly but recognized and encouraged by routines, exclusion, memberships and gates. We are not unique in the world. These divisions have manifested themselves in prejudice, strife and violence all over the globe. These divisions are contrary to an understanding of the Body of Christ wherein uniqueness and particularity are welcome. We Christians should have something to say to, into and about prejudice and violence of any sort and especially about prejudice falsely rooted in difference of any kind. For the purpose of this proposal I would like to focus on prejudice based on socio-economic, racial and religious difference throughout the world with the hopes of better informing my own understanding of prejudice in America. My hope is to collect a series of experiences from which to learn and to inform my future ministry.

I want to find ways to justly speak about division and prejudice. It is not an easy or welcome discussion. Venturing into conversations about the reality of prejudice often produces rolling eyes and dismissive attitudes. One can be accused of “overreacting” or talking about something that has since passed. Prejudice is something about which no one wants to hear. Some won’t talk about prejudice because they don’t want to believe it’s still a problem. Some won’t talk about it because they’re embarrassed, ashamed, or even connected to it. Some prefer walls, silence, and the status quo. But our walls and our silence can be brought down and exposed. Beyond our walls and beyond our silence, there are other faiths, other economics, other races dreaming of family, life and hopes vastly different and yet virtually the same. To know this we have to know people, we have to reach out beyond our walls.

Strangers, Neighbors, Enemies and Friends

If we can do nothing else, can we at least work on not being Strangers?

“The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears and listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope.”[1]

I would like to travel to places in the world that are known for their extreme examples of division and separation. I’d like to be present to different contexts, all at various points on the spectrum of reconciliation and willingness to confront division. I would like to meet people who are struggling in their desire to end or at least minimize division. I would like to live amongst the divided and travel between these separate worlds. It is in the other that we often learn the most about who we are. It is through our differences that we begin to understand difference and find words to help us move from enemies and strangers to neighbors and friends.

Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian novelist, speaks about the “danger of a single story.”[2] A single story is one in which we know people in only one way. We then understand them with a flatness which is ripe for stereotype and though what we know might contain some element of truth, it is not complete. We rob the individual or the community of their humanity and their dignity. She has even suggested, “When we reject the single story of a place we begin a kind of paradise.”[3] When we move beyond an initial veil of knowledge, we move into information, relationship and reality. We move into knowing what we never knew we didn’t.

Agenda, Itinerary and Frame (Proposal Specifics)

At each location I would be connected with an academic institution and/or a church and a non-profit (or NGO) that has a part of its purpose, healing and reconciliation. Upon arrival I would seek out a women’s prayer group to join for the duration of my stay. Being part of a women’s prayer group will not only be nurturing for my heart and my faith but I have found repeatedly that these groups are incredibly enlightening to the cultural and communal realities that are not necessarily communicated in public company. Theologians like Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz have built their theology in conversation with these types of interactions which brings about a way of understanding theology and scripture that speaks to our experience, practice and reaction to our real life daily living.

Biblical Context

I would use as a point of Biblical reference, reflection and study Luke’s travel narrative, (Luke 9:51 – 19:27.) I would work through these ten chapters at each destination. At the beginning of the narrative, Jesus turns his head to Jerusalem. He takes his disciples on one trip, as convoluted as the route may be, towards their destination. The actual route is a secondary priority to the teaching given along the way. For this trip, I will be a learner, my hosts and my encounters will be my teachers. The route to the destination will reveal what it will through the stories, parables and proverbs of the cultures, communities and individuals I meet. These stories will teach me how these communities understand reconciliation, healing and forgiveness and even further how their culture informs their reading and understanding of scripture.

India — Socio-economic Division

As an initial point of learning and investigation I would like to travel to India. I would like to meet and encounter the world of the Dalits, as well as those who are talking about and working with the social reality that has cast this community as less than, inferior to and even contaminated.  I would like to combine academic investigation with my cultural, spiritual and relational learning.

South Africa — Racial Division

South Africa has a well-known history of apartheid and it continues to work into its new self understanding of being a non-apartheid state. Just because something is no longer legal or sanctioned doesn’t mean its structure and memory no longer affect the present reality. It would be very important to see Robben’s Island and the District Six museum to begin to frame at least one collective interpretation of apartheid.

I have been made me aware of Fr. Michael Lapsley who in 1989 opened a letter bomb sent to him by the South African secret police; he lost both hands and one eye. Since then he has worked effectively to help the victims of torture and terror to work through pain and rage toward peace and reconciliation through Healing of Memories, an organization he heads. I would work with an NGO such as Healing of Memories; an organization that serves the black population; preferably one that touches a variety of generations. My work with the NGO would be as hands on as possible, so that I could meet and serve people in a contextual, even gritty way.

Israel/Palestine — Religious Division

I would go to Israel/Palestine with the primary mindset and intent of service and tracing the steps of the biblical story. After spending eight months in India and South Africa focused on socio-economic and racial prejudice I would turn my head to the Holy Lands. There I could see the birthplace of my faith alongside the various ministries and human struggles in which I have been recently immersed. With the experiences of India and South Africa fresh in my mind, I will then engage the sphere of religious difference and interfaith dialogue in Israel/Palestine.

                             Standing in the Tensions of our Great Divides:                             The Questions of Discovery and Learning.

How do we speak to and of change? How do we name what we see without alienating and ending communication? How do we speak in ways that matter, in ways that people hear? Must our ways of speaking be only words or is there more to telling, believing and encouraging healing …forgiveness … reconciliation … change? Who is tending the healing and forgiveness? How are they? What are they saying and what are they doing? What connections can I make that influence my preaching in a way that helps reshape or even eliminate boundaries?

It is my hope during such a year to prayerfully engage all that I learn and encounter. It will be through the questions and dialogue that I will start to dissect, question and analyze what I currently understand as true. Just the process of assembling such a proposal has been extremely enlightening; I can only imagine how powerful a year in India, South Africa and Israel/Palestine could be.

[1]Krista Tippet quoting Lord Sacks. On Being November 11, 2010

[2]Adichie, Chimamanda. TEDGlobal 2009, Ted Talk.


2 thoughts on “Proposal

  1. Kirsten, this brought tears to my eyes. As I sit in a church office in middle America, where sometime today, President Obama’s bus will pass through a virtually empty main street of this particular, once thriving town, I wonder how shall we live together when so much has been taken away? And I marvel at the hope that still resides in this town that is so typical of small, rural towns throughout America. As you explore the main streets of various places in the world, I am thankful that your eyes will be opened to the hope and the pain, the resiliency and the stubbornness of the people of the world. May the narrative of Jesus’ hope and stubbornness and singleness of heart and purpose give you inspiration to be for others, God with us. May you be shaped more and more into the person God has created you to be.
    I look forward to your posts and your insights. Hope and Peace, Rev. Debra Jene Collum

    • Debra, thank you so much for this heart felt note of encouragement. This will be and is already a journey that has my eyes wide open. There is so much to learn and maybe just as much to question. I have already seen much hope and much pain and I am completely confident that the resiliency and stubbornness will dramatically reveal themselves in time. I do take this walk with hope and peace. Many Blessings! Kirsten

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