Community Informatics Studio, Summer 2016

Co-instructors: Martin Wolske and Kirstin Phelps
Weekly Meeting Time: Tuesday and Thursday, 6-8:30pm, June 14-July 7
Simultaneous Meeting Location: LIS242 and Online

Community informatics studio projects have regularly focused on design of programs and space in response to needs and opportunities brought to the class by community partners. For summer, 2016, we’ll zoom out a bit more to explore various dimensions of adapting and implementing a library trend to a new context, and how we can develop our capacity to lead such an initiative. This class will be open to both on-campus and online students, and is also available as a continuing education course. 

Driving our work will be the following key question:

What if, as an LIS professional, you’re asked to take a look at a library trend — e.g., makerspaces, information commons, artist-in-residence, knowledge center, civic engagement — when no similar initiatives currently exist at your library, in your community, or even in your region?

Too often such trends are offered as packaged products that can be dropped into place. But how can we know if the community is ready for some or all of the components of such a trend? Are stakeholders informed and aligned regarding design and implementation of a trend? What leadership roles are available in the process of developing, championing, and implementing the trend? What adaptations need to be made to fit the historical and existing social ecology of the community and the library? What work needs to be done to secure approvals given the specific forms of municipal, city, school, board, director, administration governance of the library? What parts of the trend fit within, or conflict with, the strategic plan of the library? What policies might need to be reviewed and revised to support implementation?  

Using a CAOS heuristic to consider the Cultural, Administrative, Organizational, and Social dimensions affecting work within the organization and with community stakeholders, this course will help prepare students to engage as change agents and leaders. Students will work in teams to prepare a plan of action to implement the CAOS heuristic for one or more case studies — class participants are encouraged to propose a case study from their own field experiences as a focus for a project team. Two- and four-credit hour students (LIS490ST2 and LIS490STG, respectively) will work together in teams and jointly present their plan of action; four-credit students will be tasked with creating final written documentation of the plan of action.

While this course is offered through the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, we seek graduate students from multiple disciplines, such as education, social work, human and community development, gender & women’s studies, African-American studies, informatics, etc. On-campus students traveling during the summer can elect to join class online as needed.

Pre- and Co-requisites: Consent of instructor for non-LIS graduate students.

Learning Objectives:

  • Individual: To advance the development and exercise of student’s leadership role as a professional by combining real-world community informatics project-based research, studio-based learning pedagogy, and student’s rich past experiences and education.
  • Team: To promote collaboration and teamwork across different domains of knowledge by having students work as a member of an interdisciplinary team within a studio space and in the field applying a critical interpretive socio-technical framework in collaboration with community partners.
  • Community: To prepare students to play a lead role in inclusive partnership development and community engagement on behalf of their community anchor institution by guiding students in a process of racial and cultural awareness, consciousness, and positionality through their engagement with different socio-economic and culturally-based communities.
  • Project: To foster their project management skills by affording students the opportunity to engage in multiple phases of a large-scale community project.

Course Structure Overview: Studio-based learning (SBL) is rooted in the apprentice model of learning in which students studied with master designers or artists to learn their craft. The pedagogy emphasis is on “learning to be a professional” as opposed to “learning knowledge needed to be a professional.” SBL is also closely related to John Dewey’s inquiry-based approach to learning.

Using SBL methods, this course will bring together students, instructors, professionals from related fields, and community members in a collaborative environment to address a real-world problem or “case.” Project work will be very much student-led, with the instructors and outside experts serving as mentors and professional role models. Students will be asked to work individually and in teams in a working environment meant to closely mirror a professional workspace.

Readings, class discussions, and pre-recorded lectures may be used to provide students with background knowledge and information related to the case for the semester to inform creation of an initial plan. However, the majority of the class is used to primarily emphasize “learning through doing”, with class time being dedicated to peer support and instructor mentoring to inform project development.

Doing project work will require more than the limited time available during class, and students should expect to spend time each week working individually or together as a team outside of class. In this way, as implemented the studio brings together the best of class lab and class discussion formats with a group practicum/service-learning experience. In some cases, this will include travel to partner sites as necessary to collaborate and conduct interviews with stakeholders and collect information needed to create a viable proposal/implementation in response to the needs of the case.

Using a Critical Friends approach, critiques will be incorporated into class meetings at regular intervals throughout the semester. Some of these will be informal or “desk critiques” while others will be more formal presentations of progress, culminating in the final presentation of project(s) and critique on the last day of class. Project work will be posted on appropriate course-related sites throughout the semester.

SBLDiagram-Rev1The overall flow of the course is represented by our adaptation* of Brocato’s** SBL design path proposal, highlighting the role that readings, discussion, and community engagement play in our studio design process.

 

 

* Wolske, M., Rhinesmith, C., and Kumar, B. (2014) “Community Informatics Studio: Designing Experiential Learning to Support Teaching, Research, and Practice.” Journal of Education in Library and Information Science, 55(2).

** Brocato (2009) Studio based learning: Proposing, critiquing, iterating our way to person-centeredness for better classroom management. Theory Into Practice, 48, 138-146.

 

Assignments and Methods of Assessment: Students will be graded on a 90% (A), 80% (B), 70% (C), 60% (D) scale. Graded assignments and the overall percentage for each category of assignments are listed below.

Professional Journal (40% of grade): Each week students should spend about an hour writing down their reflections on the in-class discussions and in-field experiences from the past week. These will be posted to the Professional Journal forum. Students should also periodically comment on the reflections of other students to affirm and expand upon lessons learned. In all posts, students will be expected to develop their capacity to bring into dialog: 1) personal histories, field experiences and knowledge; 2) the insights of authors from this and other classes; and 3) lessons learned from in-field professionals and community members. Overall, in lieu of more classroom contact hours, students will be expected to use professional journal entries and open discussion forum to extend dialog on in-field experiences, readings, and project ideas as a form of field notes and collaborative offline discussion.

Development and Presentation of a Plan of Action  (50% of grade): Students will work in teams to apply the CAOS (Cultural, Administrative, Organizational, and Social) heuristic fora case study — class participants are encouraged to propose a case study from their own field experiences as a focus for a project team. Two- and four-credit hour students (LIS490ST2 and LIS490STG, respectively) will work together in teams and jointly present their plan of action; four-credit students will be tasked with creating final written documentation of the plan of action. This score will be prorated according to credit hours. Class time will be used to learn about different aspects of the heuristic, to report back on progress, to participate in critical friends feedback sessions, and to collaborate as a community of practice. Most of the project work will require outside class time to accomplish.

Instructor Evaluation (10% of grade): The instructor  will evaluate student attendance, active participation, and overall progress throughout the course of the semester. The following rubric will be used to assign a score at the end of the semester.

  • 10 = Student has been an active participant in class discussions based on assigned readings and lived experiences and is demonstrating an increasing grasp of the key concepts covered in class.
  • 8 = Student has been an active participant in some of the class discussions based on assigned readings and lived experiences and is demonstrating some gains in grasping key concepts covered in class.
  • 6 = Student is occasionally active in class and is demonstrating some learning, but it is clear they are not performing to their full capabilities
  • 4 = Student has missed several classes and/or is not always active when attending class
  • 2 = Student has been absent frequently and/or rarely is active in class
  • 0 = Student has consistently missed class during the rated period

Attendance and Participation Policy: Students are expected to attend all class sessions except in case of emergency. If you have an emergency, communicate with the instructor as early as possible to prevent negatively impacting your grade. Unless otherwise negotiated with the instructor, students with an excused absence will still be expected to complete professional journal entries.

It is expected that students will participate actively in the class activities and discussions in a professional manner, showing respect for differing ideas and a willingness and ability to defend their ideas by referring to relevant readings.

Library Resources: http://www.library.illinois.edu/lsx/; lislib@library.illinois.edu; 217-333-3804

Academic Integrity: Students should review and follow the University policy on academic integrity, available online at: http://admin.illinois.edu/policy/code/article1_part4_1-402.html . When you submit an assignment, you are certifying that the work is your own, or that of your project group, and that all use of other people’s material is used in accordance to fair use and copyright policies and is properly referenced.

Statement of Inclusion: The following is adopted from the Chancellor’s Commitment Statement (http://www.inclusiveillinois.illinois.edu/chancellordivstmtswf.html#ValuStmt):

As the state’s premier public university, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s core mission is to serve the interests of the diverse people of the state of Illinois and beyond. The institution thus values inclusion and a pluralistic learning and research environment, one which we respect the varied perspectives and lived experiences of a diverse community and global workforce. We support diversity of worldviews, histories, and cultural knowledge across a range of social groups including race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, economic class, religion, and their intersections.

As applied to LIS490ST, technology is broadly defined as a socio-technical system that includes the physical component, its design, its application, and the training on and use in community. The class recognizes that technology as applied in society is not socially or culturally neutral. Every technology instance reflects the cultural and societal history, norms, and values of those who participated in its design and implementation and equally reflects the absence of the cultural and societal history, norms, and values of those who did not participate in its design and implementation. Further, the adoption of technology will have unique positive and negative impacts within each community. However, considered, participatory adaptation of technology has the potential to help make its adoption more inclusive. The readings and in-class discussion are meant to help each of us take a more considered approach to the adaptation and adoption of technology in community. Difference is a critical resource in this process, and every student is asked to complete readings in advance of class and to bring their insights to the discussion to inform us on the issues as expressed in the statement of inclusion.

Accessibly Statement

To obtain accessibility-related academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids, students with disabilities must contact the course instructor and the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) as soon as possible. To contact DRES you may visit 1207 S. Oak St., Champaign, call 333-4603 (V/TTY), or e-mail a message to disability@uiuc.edu.

Posted in Community Informatics, Miscellaneous, Syllabi, Teaching | 1 Comment

Trump and the Need for Just Peace

Would Hitler’s Germany have been any more acceptable had they not had expansionist ambitions? Certainly not!  Would it have been any more tolerated by the other nations of the world? Probably so. As Trump unmasks the fear and willingness to react violently and with hate, as we live into a representation of 1930’s Germany, albeit perhaps minus the intent to militarily overtake our neighboring nations, how do we in the US respond? How does the world respond?

This past November I had the great fortune of spending a few days in Berlin. I also happened to be reading Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy, an historical fiction of the century beginning in the late-1800’s and going through the late-1900’s. Combined, these brought home some of the factors leading to World Wars one and two, and the atrocities of Nazi Germany. But I was already keenly aware of some of those, with relatives who fought for the Allies, those who were in the Nazi youth program, and those who were refuges from the fighting during World War II (my mom was in that latter group, especially from the time she was 4-8 years old). I’ve also studied some about pacifism and just peace.

I am quite convinced that we are on a dangerous path in the United States. While no one can predict the future, there is most definitely cause for sufficient concern that we should be mobilizing now for a peace offensive in order to ward of the risk of needing to agonize over whether to participate in violent forms of defense later. This may seem an over reaction to the current political context, and perhaps it is. But it also may not be, and regardless people are today all around the country are already paying a price, sometimes with their lives, for the hate-filled rhetoric in the Republican presidential campaign.

Charles Blow’s article “Demagogue for President” in the New York Times outlines some of the reasons it is likely as serious as I am painting it to be. Neal Gabler highlights in “How The Media Enabled Donald Trump By Destroying Politics First” the ways media’s interest in show over substance has brought us the first pseudo-campaign of a pseudo-candidate.  Amanda Taub has written a great post called “The Rise of American Authoritarianism” provides a research-driven context for what appears to be happening with regard to a longer trend of fear-based politics.Wendy Rahn and Eric Oliver look further into claims of authoritarianism and instead argue that Trump supporters may be true populists in their Washington Post article “Trump’s voters aren’t authoritarians, new research says. So what are they?” These are all helpful perspectives of the “dark tendencies toward nativism, racism and conspiracism” as Rahn and Oliver suggest, but do they provide any sense of what we can and should do now to prevent worse?

I believe rather than finger pointing, we need to take ownership in the phenomenon and personal responsibility for correcting this nefarious trend.

I came across this quote by Nazi prison camp survivor Reverend Martin Niemöller in Anne Bishop’s book Becoming an Ally:

First they arrested the communists — but I was not a Communist, so I did nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats — but I was not a Social Democrat, so I did nothing. Then they arrested the Trade Unionists — and I did nothing, because I was not one. And then they came for the Jews, and then the Catholics, but I was neither a Jew nor a Catholic, and I did nothing. At last they came and arrested me — and there was no one left to do anything about it.

Today we can and must do something about the hate-filled speech and actions around us. If we hear someone expressing hatred or distrust towards people groups such as Muslims, or immigrants, or people of color, we need to immediately make it clear it is unacceptable. If we find our own words and actions accusing people groups we need to check ourselves and ask why. Study after study has shown how our nature leads us to overly trust people we perceive to be like us and distrust those who are different. And while a certain level of generalization and even stereotyping has evolved as a helpful tool to let us respond quickly in new contexts, it is almost always based on weak correlations that need to be constantly challenged. We must not make important legal/political decisions based on such, and it is unproductive to enter into even casual conversation from such a starting point. If we don’t defend others now, it will be our turn later. And that’s not to speak of the horrors happening already to people on the receiving ends of such speech and actions! We need to hold each other accountable as a commitment to justice.

Much of the fear- and hate-filled speech has served the interests of a few over others. Whether it serves to entertain, and in so doing extract resources from some to the benefit of others, or to motivate political choices, or to justify our large military, prison, petroleum, and other industrial complexes, most of us lose. There are real reasons to worry, but too often we are left tilting at windmills rather than looking at the root causes of which we should be concerned and should take action. Each of us need to develop a richer set of lenses with which to question why our political and business leaders, media, advertising, peers, and other “trusted” sources say what they say. And we need to question why we respond as we respond. We then need to learn to ask why we answered what we did to those questions, digging two, three, and four times deeper than we’re used to going. We need to do this in dialogue with others, and especially with those different from ourselves. Indeed, many have suggested it is in this type of community of inquiry across difference that we begin to see true democracy form.

But ultimately I think really getting to the root is going to require that we, as a nation, come to terms with our historical acts of genocide and oppression. Indeed, our very existence as a nation is founded upon these acts. It is interesting that we will be quick to take pride in the wonderful things generations past have done in the name of our nation — and there have been many. But bring up the slaughter of Native Americans, or the ownership of Africans forcefully imported and then labeled as only 3/5ths human and the claim is that it wasn’t us. We need to take shame in these acts and repent of them as much as we take pride in the other acts and take motivation from them. Only in this process of truth and reconciliation, a process that will require years and decades of committed effort, will we truly begin a peace offensive that will help reduce further hate-filled acts against our fellow humans here and abroad. And along the way, perhaps we can right the significant oppressions to which we contribute each and every day right now.

The alternative is to face the agony known by people committed to justice in places like Nazi Germany because too late did they take the threat seriously and act urgently upon it.

Posted in Reflections, Social Justice | Leave a comment

Critical Theory and ‘Radical’ Social Justice : The LIS Response

I greatly admire the work of the author, Ken, of John Pateman, Annette de Faveri, and all the folks of Canda’s Working Together Project. How do we exercise praxis that brings theory and inclusive practice into meaningful dialogue? How do we make sure all participate in that dialogue?

Social Justice Librarian

Dealing with ‘Intellectual’ Jargon

After all the years of graduate school I went through, I am happy that I quickly understood (at least from my perspective) that the smartest faculty could explain the most complex concepts in the most simplistic terms. Instead of hiding behind jargon, some faculty are very comfortable teaching concepts in laypersons terms. There are huge benefits to students that take this advice to heart. Unfortunately, hiding behind disciplinary jargon has become a scapegoat that provides various academic faculty with a tool to legitimate their discipline to others in academia. Teaching MLIS student, who will eventually be primarily working with the general public to use jargonese vernacular, is a disservice to the profession.

Addressing Critical Theory in LIS Education

I recently came across a blog posting which advocated for the teaching of critical theory and its application to ‘radical’ social justice in LIS programs. Originally, having…

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Posted in Miscellaneous | Leave a comment

The Garden Calendar

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Shhhhh… they don’t look like much, but just waking up under that plastic are the first seed starts for 2016!

It’s mid-February and according to our Wolske Urban Farm calendar it’s time to start gardening for 2016. The last of our leeks were only pulled from the ground 2 weeks ago, and there’s still a few parsnips hidden for us to enjoy as a late winter fresh harvest treat. The dreams of what we might plant, looking through seed catalogs online in person, and the planning of plots and ordering of seeds, now gives way to pruning and planting. Last weekend the grapes, fruit trees, and raspberry vines were pruned. Today the first 120 seed starts were made. Next week the hoop houses will go up and in 4 weeks or so the first transplants will go out. Within 8 weeks, another 250 seeds will be started and the first harvests of the outdoor plots will begin.

It’s taken us decades to get to this point of year round gardening, both with regard to skills and with regard to a mindset of constantly staying in tune with the living world around us. And there’s still so much traditional knowledge to rediscover! We’ve gone well beyond wondering if the effort is worth it. Now the question is whether we could be whole if we didn’t have our fingers in soil and micro-organisms, and our feet in chicken and rabbit manure. For these more-than-human associates are truly as much of our community as our neighbors, friends, and family. It all started with a few plants tossed down between apartment and sidewalk over 25 years ago as a young married couple in a small Highland Park, NJ, apartment.

For those wondering what a year-round urban farm calendar might look, or for those wanting some ideas of what they might start doing at what times in their own yards to mow less, pick more, here’s our evolving personal gardening calendar.

Thank the snow for replenishing soil moisture, the cold for helping to restore natural balance, and consider how you might take a step forward in this grand journey of meeting more of your own community in your own yard!

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A Little Free Garden Movement

It’s been very exciting to see the popularity of Little Free Libraries in neighborhoods around the country. Today I’d like to propose a counterpart, Little Free Gardens.

Two years ago, while planning out our ever-growing city garden, a scripture popped into my mind. Today that scripture came once again, along with a thought-provoking quote from W.E.B. DuBois, by way of my Sojourners daily Verse & Voice email:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and for the alien: I am the Lord your God.

– Leviticus 23:22

To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.

– W.E.B. Du Bois

The response two years ago was to plant a community free pick corner. The result has been conversations with newly met neighbors, opportunities to coach others in starting their own gardens, and a realization that there are many reasons why some right now can’t start a garden but still would like fresh produce. We’ve heard from some that they are poor in time: they are new parents, they commit long hours to volunteer or to public service, they’re new to the area and are just getting settled in. They may be poor in health: injuries or age make it difficult to maintain even a small garden. They may be poor in geographic resources: they have a small yard, or a heavily shaded yard. Meeting new people, learning a little about their lives, and sharing a little about our lives, happens because of necessity a Little Free Garden needs to be someplace where your neighbors can readily gain access. And it requires you to spend time in that space where neighbors have access to you, too.

What would our neighborhoods look like if we took a small section of our front or side yards and opened them up as a Little Free Garden?

Here’s a few thoughts if you’re thinking of getting started:

  1. You can start very small. A few plants can go a long way to getting a feel for things.
  2. Start with extended harvest fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Go for varieties with optimal taste and nutrition rather than those bred for durability during transport. Tomatoes, peppers, squash, and herbs have all been popular. We have a few children and young people in our neighborhood who just love to come pick a few mint leaves to add to their water.
  3. Be ready for the cost, be ready for the benefit. One neighbor wondered aloud how I can manage it, given anytime I go out to do a 10 minute job multiple conversations may turn it into a 2 hour activity.
  4. Use signs to help people know what to harvest when. Many people may never have seen a tomato or squash on the vine and won’t know when to pick them. Small signs with hints (pick when fully red, when about 6-9″ long) can be very helpful.
  5. Complement the Little Free Garden with a Little Free Library to not only share gardening books, but recipes and gardening tips on note cards.

Give it a try and provide a comment on your experiences!

Posted in Community Engagement | Leave a comment

Does a Library Need Books, and Other Silly Questions

I get up, get dressed, eat breakfast before heading out into my shop. As I stretch and look around, I wonder, do I need a table saw?

I visit a friend and take a seat in their gourmet kitchen. As we chat over a fine wine, we ask, do they need a meat clever?

I head out to the farm and lean up against the railing of the wrap around porch overlooking ripening crops, and speculate, do we need a shovel?

Silly questions can be a fine way to pass the time, but they’re not the basis of real work. But are the above questions really silly? It all depends on whether they are THE question.

Back to the saw for a moment. Doing a quick mental inventory, I have the following saws:

Table saw, sliding compound miter saw, bandsaw, hole saws, back saws, cross cut saws (both for shop, and 5′, two handled tree cutting versions), ice saw, bow saw, folding tree saw, reciprocating saw, circular saw, jig saw, scroll saw (table and hand), drywall saw, keyhole saw, hacksaw, and flat saw

As I sit typing this blog post, those saws are doing exactly nothing. Zip. Zero. They are not sharpening themselves, they are recharging themselves, they are certainly not cutting material. The chickens are just waking up mere feet from where my saws are stored. They are grooming themselves and each other, feeding themselves, protecting themselves. So too the rabbits in the same run. But the saws, nothing. Saws are inanimate, chickens and rabbits animate. Duh!

I have each of those saws because I have had projects requiring at least one of those saws. I expect sometime down the line I will take on a project for which I will struggle because I do not have the right saw, and at that time I will ask whether I need a new saw. And there are times when I take stock of my tools as I reorganize the shop, and I will ask whether I still need one of my saws or whether the storage space that saw takes up might be better used for something else. Waking up, heading out to the shop, and asking whether I need a table saw only makes sense in light of the upcoming projects. The answer may be informed by my past projects — 50% of my projects have greatly benefited from a table saw, 100% of my fine cabinetry projects have needed a table saw to do well. But history is not an absolute for determining the answer for a future project, because the context will have changed. For instance, what if I’m doing a fine cabinetry project, but I’m also taking a class with Roy Underhill at the Woodright Shop on traditional hand tool woodworking.

CPLEntrance

The beautiful Champaign Public Library

Does a library need books given the Internet? Does a library need the Internet given it has books? Silly questions! Silly questions?

Information is as inanimate as my saws. Books are information. The part of the Internet posited as a replacement for books is an alternate storage medium for information. We might say a reference book is like my table saw — a little bit movable but not too much. A circulating book, one that can be checked out and taken home, is more like my circular saw. A random bit of information from the Internet is probably more like my reciprocating saw — portable and can be used to hack on about anything, but not all too neatly.

Some have suggested information is power. But that’s no more true than to say my saws are power. Turning information into knowledge, the contextualized processing of information to make it actionable, is first required, and that’s done by animate beings. Some have suggested knowledge is power. But knowledge, too, is inanimate. It needs to be put into action by animate beings. And while action is a certain type of power in motion, real power comes from reflection and discussion in community in ways that help us to ask better questions, to do better investigations, to inform better actions, to guide better reflection and discussion. This is the building of community power. When the capacity of every member of society allows for their full participation, it is democracy. When axes of exclusion precluding full participation of all in the process are destroyed, it is justice. Supporting people engaged in community power, democracy, and justice is the past, present, and future of libraries.

Does the library need books? Silly question! Will we need books to support our current community inquiry project? I’m not sure, maybe. They sure have been extremely helpful in the past.

Posted in Civics, Libraries, Reflections | Leave a comment

Why does the argument of white vs black have to carry on?

The other day I shared a video from Sojourners magazine, that highlights and builds upon the results from a recent Public Religion Research Institute survey.  From the article introducing the video:

While about 80 percent of black Christians believe police-involved killings — like the ones that killed Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and so many more — are part of a larger pattern of police treatment of African Americans, around 70 percent of white Christians believe the opposite … that they are simply isolated incidents.

It’s time for white Christians to act more Christian than white.

One comment to my Facebook post asks:

Why does the argument of white vs black even have to carry on and focus more on individuals christian vs nonchristian we have to get the Christian belief back into this world and erase the race division that the worldly people want to argue about?

I’m making my response here on my blog, since this is a question asked beyond just one of my Facebook friends. And I’d like to respond with a story.

By the early 2000’s, I was suffering such severe upper back pain that I could no longer ride an upright bike, but had to ride a recumbent bike. Some days I couldn’t get out of bed because the pain was so bad. Some days I couldn’t roll over because the pain would become more severe. The pain was affecting more of my body, from digestive track to mental health. I lived on prescription strength medicines for years, threatening internal organs. I had seen various specialists, gone through a range of treatments, and there was some suggestion I might need back surgery. Then a friend and physical therapist Bill Terry had me light flat on my stomach and try to lift my extended arms upwards. I couldn’t do it. He properly diagnosed my problem. Through a lifetime of bad practices, the muscles of my chest had become excessively strong at the expense of my muscles of my upper back. Indeed, I had almost no muscle strength left. This severe imbalance was impacting all aspects of my body and my ability to function in the world. Exercise and changed ways for doing everyday things, and not drugs or surgery, treated the root cause and has helped me to get back to normal. But I periodically get those twinges in my back that let me know I’m returning to old practices, or haven’t done the right exercises lately, because I will never totally overcome that lifetime of poor practices that had created my muscle imbalance.

After centuries of practices in the U.S. that have strengthened whites at the expense of people of color, we see ongoing symptoms whose root cause is those practices. At times we’ve taken steps to treat the root cause and we’ve seen decreased inequality in our nation. But always that unconscious muscle memory combined with personal and societal selfishness and greed threaten to draw us back to bad practices of which we’ve reformed. And other bad practices linger, deeply embedded in our systems and culture unseen. This will always be the case because our formative centuries indelibly imprinted those practices into the fiber of our being as a nation. Today we stand at one of the more unequal times in our nations history, and the symptoms are flaring. Our attempts to treat the symptoms only make things worse. Reform only happens by identifying, repenting, and treating the root causes, now, and everyday for the rest of our national life. Failing to do so only foreshortens that national life.

Speaking to my Christian readers in particular now to answer the other aspect of the Facebook comment. In Luke we read:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The good news Jesus brought to this world was that we have entered into the year of Jubilee as a new way of life. Ours is a faith that works to treat the root causes of injustice in our nation and the world, acting as the body of Christ every day. We do this as a body, not as individuals. This is not a call for us to simply evangelize to get people to say a few magic words so that we can then hang on until some future better afterlife. It is a call to an upside-down way of living in the world that exactly focuses and leads on issues such as racism in America. It is to hear the cry of our black brothers and sisters and to enter into allyship with them. Anything less is to reject Jesus.

Posted in Liberation, Social Justice | Leave a comment