There is so much contention around conversations on race, justice, and historical consequences that it can be very discouraging to listen in on many civic and social circles without being disheartened. I just keep thinking that there has got to be folks that are speaking for clearly and more charitably on these topics than I am running across. I do think it is difficult to enter the conversation. If you have not listened long enough or done some reading of your own, the chances are higher that you will insert your voice, receive pushback, and then run away from the scene of the crime crying foul. There’s no need for continuing in this sort of unhelpful cycle repeatedly. It just makes us fragile.
This said, I was delighted to come across a tweet from Lisa Spencer.
Lisa Spencer @theochick recently posted on Twitter:
"Newsflash: you can actually be honest about the history of racial discrimination in this country w/o buying into or promoting the prevailing secular ideologies that do nothing but pit groups against each other. You can actually be aware that racism still exists & be against imposing it on everything esp. when other factors can be involved & caution against redefinitions that essentially erase the individual & their agency. You can actually appreciate diverse cultures & diversity w/o promoting the kind of multiculturalism that eliminates certain groups from the equation & creates hierarchies of power as the prevailing secular ideologies promote. You can actually love the big beautiful world that God created full of diverse ppl & cultures while also decrying ways in which “culture” can be the driver of how everything operates. This is why as Christians we need to avoid swift, careless & uncharitable charges just because one either addresses racism and/or welcomes diversity or speaks against secular ideologies. What’s the framework in operation? Let’s start there."
Lisa writes a blog at TheoThoughts. As of today, her most recent blog post is dated Oct. 10, 2022 and titled, “Because its really about people supremacy”.
I appreciate Lisa’s clarity of thought and her commitment to being present in the conversations being had, even if social media is the most anti-social place to have them. It still seems important not to totally abandon this arena. So, if you are in the market for this kind of robust thinking on the issue of racial justice, racial reconciliation, social change, and critical thinking, I would suggest heading over to her blog to take a gander.
Also, if you want to listen in on conversations with a more charitable approach, I would recommend requesting membership in George Yancey's Collaborative Conversations private Facebook page: Collaborative Conversations and Race. His book, Beyond Racial Gridlock and Beyond Racial Division were very helpful in thinking more deeply about a better model for approaching conversations about racial conflict, alienation, and viable possibilities for solutions. (This is Yancey, with an ‘e’, the sociology professor, not to be confused with Yancy, no ‘e’, the philosopher.) Collaborative Conversations is a working model, not a guaranteed formula. However, the folks in these conversations are way more committed to charitable dialogue than I have found elsewhere. It’s worth a step in.
Focus was consistently given to how he did not fit into his school’s mold. I mean, the very notion of an educational philosophy that supports the thriving of all children, no matter how they are wired, manufactured ridiculous in this season of our lives. My response as a mother and as a maker was to create a dance piece for him; to visually show him that we could make place for him to thrive as a family and that I had confidence there were other professionals and laymen in our community that would join us.
Improvisation is a dance form that is open to simple experiments of the ways in which the body moves or the depth and complexity of human relationship. Kent De Spain calls it the fundamental relationship between intention and action. The original students were required to challenge their experiences of dance training to more fully embrace the body that God has created for them as a moving entity and as a vehicle of human connection and meaning to become more practiced at how we create in relationship to one another.
We touch, we connect, we experiment, we empathize, we support, we make meaning, we create, we play. Is this not the way we process life in these bodies of ours?
Image inspiration came from Simone Forti’s, Huddle, a dance sculpture where you could watch people climb and others support that climbing. If only we could all feel that space of being able to climb and feel that support. You'll find a link to Forti's work here.
A quiet rebellion against individualism, The Art of Huddling is a commentary on the ways in which our society scraps to live in individualism when we were built for community.
Title: The Art of Huddling
Improvisation Director: Rachel Bruce Johnson
Original Dancers: Valentina, Alvarez Gomes, Natasha Breon, Sequoyia Farr,
Corrie Hendrickson, Dru Myerson, Annalise Ousley,
Alyssa Robledo, Natalia Rodriguez, Ashten Urquhart,
Courtney Wright, Julianna Yap
Music: Andrew Rothschild, Stephen Andrew Perez
Dedication: To my son, Henry, you are stronger than you think; you are braver than you know, but when you are not, God is.
It's a regrettable reality in today's culture that we seem to be quicker to punish one another for not having the right political stance, moral standards, or ideas in general than we are to practice love, which is claimed to be the highest virtue, even amongst the worst of us. In a bygone era, if someone in town did not live up to the moral standards of the day, the rest of us would shun them, relegating them as a social outcast in order to feel the consequences of their actions. I'm not giving examples and I'm not hashing it out any further than this. We all can think of some and I'm not getting into the weeds of it all. The bottom line is that Cancel Culture today is no different. We are moving toward being a society that punishes one another instead of being truly tolerant (that word has been redefined, so let me be clear when I use the term - to be accepting of another person's decisions and lifestyle choices and continuing to live in neighborly ways with them while not necessarily being in agreement or affirming them). Unfortunately, what I am most concern about is that this practice will lead us, as a society, to being incredibly fragile. It's evident in our inability to disagree with one another and still remain committed to civility. It is obvious in our inability to not take differences in political motivations as anything less than spiritual heresy. We condemn and ostracize and retreat to our "like-minded" circles, all while peeking out from behind corners at "those people" as they pass by. We don't "like" the post, we spread gossip about them being intolerant themselves, or worse, being bigoted. Warranted or not, we wield the power of shunning. We can affect their social currency, their job, or other aspects of their life, and we like that power. On the other hand, we hold to the idea that love is the ultimate virtue, the ultimate advocacy. We claim to be activist for nothing unless it is done in "love". All the while, we act as if we have no idea what love is. Yet, we don't see the disconnect between what we hold in one hand and what we hold in the other. We are cutting down people instead of challenging the ideas themselves. We are burning bridges instead of building them. And we are nurturing alienation all while preaching that if they would just espouse the same things, they could be welcomed back into the fold. This is a revolution, after all. There's bound to be collateral damage, we reason. I wonder how much longer it will be until our society collapses altogether or, in the very least, we finally see that until we commit to more clearly discerning the root of the issues and ideas; until we treat each other as the image bearers of the God that we all are, we will continue to throw maltov cocktails at anyone we feel 'righteous indignation' toward. The resulting carnage, I believe, will one day shock us and shame us that we, ourselves, enabled such destruction. God forgive us.
by rachel bruce johnson
when you are moving through life....God's care is constant.
when you are stuck...God's care is constant.
when time doesn't matter...God's care is constant.
when time is crucial...God's care is constant.
when emotions change your response...God's care is constant.
when emotions overpower in circumstance...God's care is constant.
when you see things as precious...God's care is constant.
when you take them for granted...God's care is constant.
when you are focused...God's care is constant.
when you are rebellious...God's care is constant.
when you are amiable...God's care is constant.
when you are resistant...God's care is constant.
when you are content...God's care is constant.
The movement rocks me back and forth like a wave swaying an abandoned ball in the surf. Movement that would be lost otherwise. The place is empty until its not. The space is quiet until the creators move in and the atmosphere changes...the moment has arrived when we assemble to create, to share, to move together.
There is a way to ‘do justice’ and a way not to ‘do justice’…..
The latter, labeled Social Justice B* by Thaddeus Williams in his book, Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth, rewires the brain away from the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control, and instead toward suspicion, rage, self-righteousness and always assuming the worst of other people’s motives. One’s modus operandi becomes a vicious self-fulfilling prophecy that automatically blames “the system”. This keeps people exhausted, depressed, and riddled with anxiety. It employs catastrophic thinking** that is wreaking havoc in our very bodies.
In an article in The Atlantic titled, The Coddling of the American Mind: In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt write a lengthy article in query of our current practices to understand the emotional cloud of the day, specifically on college campuses. While I’ve seen, first-hand, these trends on the university campus I worked on for 13 years, I believe it applicable to other areas of societal interaction, in short, where any relationships occur between non-like-minded people.
The following are some quotes pulled at salient moments of the article for further comment or application, however the full article is linked below. I do want to note that within this article and suggested by The Atlantic in the postscript are more linked articles studying the reaction to this original article. They are equally fascinating and troubling in this time in our society’s reckoning with the consequences of secularism.
Shame and Honor
“…culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.”
This quote stood out as I recall experiencing some of these symptoms myself as a deeply feeling person. Even though practicing empathy can be a strength, I have often struggled with taking on the offenses of others to the detriment of logical and helpful thinking and actions. Caught up in the pain of others, I sometimes fail to see that a practice of shame and honor as we punish or reward others for their thoughts and “stances” only leads to a deeply flawed sense of self-righteousness. We can easily leave the realm of “putting ourselves in others’ shoes” or “weeping with those that weep” and find ourselves on the grounds of hopeless and constant, unconstructive judgement of others’ motives and guessing about their biases, and, frankly, a state of perpetual anger; the unhelpful kind, the kind that eats at your spirit. It is a veritable mass of quicksand that can destroy our own sense of purpose to the greater good in the world as we spiral into thinking that nothing will ever change unless I am always on the defensive and fighting. No wonder so many are so exhausted and tired.
The Insolent Veracity of Tribalism
“A principle of moral psychology is that “morality binds and blinds.” Part of what we do when we make moral judgments is express allegiance to a team. But that can interfere with our ability to think critically. Acknowledging that the other side’s viewpoint has any merit is risky—your teammates may see you as a traitor.”
Critical thinking is about asking critical questions. These types of questions do not inherently imbue allegiance and yet, we as humans, seem to always be assigning allegiance based on the questions being asked. There need not be a “team” chosen. If we are really interested in the truth of a problem, the root of the problem, and the solving of that problem, we must be courageous enough to ask critical questions and stop vilifying those that ask them. At the same time, we shouldn’t make the mistake of underestimating the pull of mob-mentality. Keeping this in mind for ourselves as well as for others may help assist us to deflect any hostility lobbed in your direction for questions asked.
The cure is that “critical thinking requires grounding one’s beliefs in evidence rather than in emotion or desire…”
Exposure Is Not a Dirty Word
Emotional reasoning as assuming “that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: ‘I feel it; therefore, it must be true.’”
“If our universities are teaching students that their emotions can be used effectively as weapons—or at least as evidence in administrative proceedings—then they are teaching students to nurture a kind of hypersensitivity that will lead them into countless drawn-out conflicts in college and beyond. Schools may be training students in thinking styles that will damage their careers and friendships, along with their mental health.”
There is no good to come of this if we are to endeavor to be a society at all let alone a good society; a non-toxic society. We are undermining the value and necessity of community when we train ourselves to be hypersensitive to our negative feelings. This practice dismisses our human nature to be wrong, to assume and to jump to conclusions and then we have, in effect, burned the bridge we are standing on. What good is this and what good will it do the world to devolve in this way? The fix is willful exposure to critical thinking, or as queued by Biblical Scripture, ‘iron sharpening iron’.
From Storytelling to Propaganda
“People acquire their fears not just from their own past experiences, but from social learning as well. If everyone around you acts as though something is dangerous—elevators, certain neighborhoods, novels depicting racism—then you are at risk of acquiring that fear too.”
Fear can be a healthy indicator to flee or an intuitive flag to avoid danger so there needs to be some practice in discernment here. This is a process-driven pursuit and it is intentional. It also requires wisdom which people have in varying supply, although I hold that it can be nurtured, especially in generational relationship with those younger and older than oneself. However, I think we are at a critical juncture in our society where it would behoove us to reflect on the kinds of culture we are making. There is storytelling and then there is propaganda. It takes wisdom and nuance to recognize both. The prescription is to tell stories with the substance of what is good, true and beautiful even when ugly details are necessary. We ought not re-enforce stereotypes and propaganda that would perpetuate ruts of thinking and drive us further apart. The truth is there are neighborhoods that are unsafe but there are also decent people living in those neighborhoods if we are willing to sit with their stories, their needs and their redemptive potential as we remind ourselves that we all fall short of God’s glory.
Silence is Violence or Speech is Violence, which is it?
“When speech comes to be seen as a form of violence, vindictive protectiveness can justify a hostile, and perhaps even violent, response.”
“… the increased focus on microaggressions coupled with the endorsement of emotional reasoning is a formula for a constant state of outrage, even toward well-meaning speakers trying to engage in genuine discussion.”
I was encouraged one time to cull out the word ‘expose’ (as in, ‘it is an enriching pursuit to expose children to the arts.’) from an MC speech before a performance due to its negative and triggering connotations. The word very well might illicit a negative or triggering response to someone who has suffered trauma, however, this uncovering of wounds is the very way we, as humans, know there is healing to be pursued. However, exposure is not always a bad thing. If not for ‘exposure’, we would never taste the sweetness of raisins. Regardless, words can hurt, yet justifying responsive violence to speech and efforts to curtail any such pain from words is both inane and, again, undermines free thought. You cannot do justice by committing injustice. The following quote says it all:
“If campus culture conveys the idea that visitors must be pure, with résumés that never offend generally left-leaning campus sensibilities, then higher education will have taken a further step toward intellectual homogeneity and the creation of an environment in which students rarely encounter diverse viewpoints. And universities will have reinforced the belief that it’s okay to filter out the positive. If students graduate believing that they can learn nothing from people they dislike or from those with whom they disagree, we will have done them a great intellectual disservice.”
Tethered to the Wind
“One of the great truths taught by Buddhism (and Stoicism, Hinduism, and many other traditions) is that you can never achieve happiness by making the world conform to your desires. But you can master your desires and habits of thought. This, of course, is the goal of cognitive behavioral therapy.”
This is also the reasoning behind the Christian teaching to “take every thought captive” and make it subject to God’s truth. God sets the objective standard for measuring the thoughts and feelings that will or will not overwhelm your life. For the Christian, God sets those boundaries based on what our Creator knows of His creation - us. He also sets the bar in a place higher than happiness because happiness should never be the goal. Contentedness, rather, frees humans from their own thoughts and feelings tossing them psychologically and emotionally to and fro, as being tethered to the wind. We are much more stable and unshakeable when we know how to master thoughts and emotions and make them yield to reality.
Take Back Ground Lost in our Bodies
“The presumption that students need to be protected rather than challenged in a classroom is at once infantilizing and anti-intellectual.”
“It would also tone down the perpetual state of outrage that seems to engulf some colleges these days, allowing students’ minds to open more widely to new ideas and new people.”
The cure for this is, as Lukianoff & Haidt draw together, the willful practice of critical thinking, and “critical thinking requires grounding one’s beliefs in evidence rather than in emotion or desire…” In addition to developing critical thinking skills, Lukianoff and Haidt draw the line to cognitive behavioral therapy. This has a Biblical precedent so we can take back ground lost in our bodies; ground lost to anxiety, depression, rage, and resentment and by taking “every thought captive” and making it subject to God’s truth. We are holistic beings with a body and a soul, so shouldn’t we approach our lives holistically as well by resisting the ignoring of our bodies when becoming burdened with such symptoms?
I want to encourage everyone to pay attention to adverse symptoms in the body. It is crucial that we live fully as the embodied persons that we were meant to be; to be fully connected between the body, mind and spirit in a way that journeys toward thriving rather than devolving into alienated communities of one.
I also want to encourage parents to consider these points and teach your children critical thinking skills. Sign them up for debate, teach them to be brave, carve out time for lengthy conversations, initiate ‘no question too stupid’ night, and nurture them into people that seek truth above personal comfort. You are not alone and the effort is worth it.
**THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MIND By Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt
Not in the too distant past, I was listening to lecture by a fellow Christian about the “way things were” in her explorations of dance and faith. While all those listening seemed to come away with poignant moments of affirmation and tools to keep going in their dance education, some of her theological claims didn’t sit well with me and I couldn’t shake it. In the aftermath of further processing those claims, I jotted down some thoughts on what I thought was important to remember when ideas are presented, and questions arise. It’s just a quick reference that I hope to keep developing.
God is not afraid of questions and doubts, but we need more theology, not less, when it comes to fleshing those questions out. These issues have eternal implications. We can’t afford to be lazy about counting the cost of true discipleship in Christ and we ought not be prideful about our need to live an examined life lest we find ourselves in serious danger of a life wasted.
PC: Living Water Dance Company, AD: Amy McIntosh, promo photo shoot, photo by Rachel Bruce Johnson
This post was originally intended as our Christmas Card message at the end of 2020. I intentionally chose a neutral design because I figured I wouldn’t really get them mailed until January 2021, however, they didn’t arrive in our friends and families mailboxes until August of 2021. It’s hard to say why I was so delinquent in sending them. I think part of the problem was a growing temptation to be a hermit crab in these tumultuous and grievous times. It’s difficult to muster the courage to live the words I wrote at the end of 2020 and yet, here they are all the same. It seems that the world is just as changed as before. Although there was this grasp for the hope of 2021, it has seemed to be more of the same. I guess it all depends on what you are putting your hope in. If I put my hope is feeling different or people being nicer or circumstances looking up, 2021 has more than disappointed. However, if I choose to put my hope in something like the unchanging nature of a Holy God, it is a far more stable reality than any I pretend isn’t as bad as it looks. This is an honest place as well as a safe place.
There has been such anticipation in concluding this last year, as if all the world’s troubles would just disappear on Jan. 1st. While none of us were probably quite that naïve, I know there seemed to be a common thread of hope that 2021 would be vastly different, and yet…..
As humans, we have been tested and tempted; found failing and stirred to rise. The trouble in the world is ultimately a trouble with the human heart. At its’s very root, the human condition has some pretty low lows, but our hope for the future isn’t in humankind although it is, at its foundation, connected to humankind. We need each other to not give up so that we can, as many as possible, continue walking toward the Hope of the world. My family and I are convinced it is only found in Christ Jesus and any reason to hope really has no verification except through the fact that He was killed and rose from the dead, proving Him to be the Christ. You may not agree but in solidarity with keeping hope alive, we want you to know that Truth will guide us, and Love will be our hallmark. We are committed to traveling with you, together. May you find what really matters in life are the things that make it worth living. May you reach out to those in destitution with no hope to help them feel the reality of hope. And may you experience the evidence of a God that Loves through the ability to see Him at work in changing people – real change, lifting us from the low of lows to a place of restoration that can’t be denied. May we ever strive to see the Truth that we are all made in the Image of God who will bring Justice to the world beyond our efforts. May you find reservoirs of Love to call others into His Light and courage to respond with action to those in deep need, for this is Right, Just and Good.
photo by Jeanne S. Mam-Luft
I'm a Christ-follower passionate about moving in truth/love and intellectual rigor through all things faith + art. A professional Dance Artist and fancying myself an amateur Christian Apologist, I’m committed to moving in the liminal space between catastrophic reverence of God and a quaking humility that intentionally keeps the tremors of Grace close at hand.