18 August 2016

Experience + Reflection = Learning

Years ago I completed an excellent leadership training that was offered by the diocese of Olympia. It was a full residential week with a small group (under 30 people). It was intensive, interesting, and exhausting. I learned a lot about myself, my learning styles, and my leadership leanings in a supportive environment.

This training was my second brush with the Experience + Reflection = Learning (E+R=L) model and we used it through out the 40 hours of official training and frequently as part of informal, after hours discussions.

My first encounter with the E+R=L model was during Year 1 of Education for Ministry (EFM). My husband and I participated in a local group in Texas, in part, as a way to meet new people and socialize, as we had moved to Texas the year we graduated from college. We were struggling a lot with making friends, and with culture shock and our EFM group was mostly very nice, very thoughtful, very kind people.

I don't know that we went into great detail about the E+R=L model during our meetings. It was a little bit like an equation one learns to use by rote in math class. Helpful in very specific applications but not explored outside of those limited areas.

After a little over a year in Texas my husband's division was sold to a company in Chicago and we faced the choice of trying to stay on in Texas with very little support system, applying for jobs in Chicago and trying to move there, or returning to Washington State and moving in with my husband's parent's while we got back on our feet.

We chose Washington where many of our close friends lived and where we would have support from family. With the help of my in-law's we drove ourselves, our pets and our belongings back to Washington and moved in with them.

Six months later we were moving into our own place with two college friends. My husband found a church for us to join and we settled into our new lives. We were quickly recruited to serve on committees at our new church and progressed over the next few years to running a Sunday School and serving on the vestry. It was during this time that I found out about the leadership training and signed up for it.

During this second exposure to the E+R=L model I really started to understand what it could be used for. It tied into seminar work I had done in college. I had learned how to read, think, and talk about texts; but, I had never really thought about the process of doing so in a structured way. Having a 'formula' to use helped me frame and clarify my thoughts.
I returned from the training full of inspiration. Like any convert to a new idea, I was applying the E+R=L model to everything around me (whether it needed it or not). Over time, this evangelistic fire faded until it all but disappeared from conscious use.

After years of writing for myself and publishing on my, somewhat clunky, personal website, I was recruited to write occasional essays for the Episcopal Café. When writing for myself I only wrote when inspiration struck and my essays could be few and far between even though I enjoyed writing.

Last fall, I was asked to help fill in for a regular who wrote for Speaking to the Soul. The first few weekly essays were fairly easy to write as I had a fair amount of pent up ideas that were percolating in the back of my mind. Regular deadlines also helped prime the pump for a time.

Then my well of ideas ran dry and I still had deadlines to meet. After wresting with several false starts and ideas that went nowhere, "E+R=L" came to the rescue. I remembered the process we had used in EFM to read bible passages, identify what 'spoke' to us, and use the E+R=L model to develop our ideas by applying our experience to the passage we wished to reflect on. Suddenly I had something to write about.

Last week, those modes of thinking came to my aid once more when I wrote Listen to Live. As I read through that essay after it was posted, I realized that it opened me up to a whole different view of the Old Testament.

I used to think that the Old Testament was a collection of stories that showed the way the world used to be; and further, that it was a model world, a world that reflected the aspirations and desires of its authors and storytellers.

Thinking that way made it very difficult to read, let alone, think about, large portions of the Old Testament. There is a lot that is awful in those stories. However, when I applied the E+R=L model to my own essay and the comments of people who responded to it on the Episcopal Café, I saw a new way of understanding the Old Testament stories, starting with Judges.

The story comes to a head in Judges 17:6: In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.

That phrase is repeated again as the last line of the book of Judges and gives weight to the idea that the authors of this book are writing from the future and casting back to to time to show the turmoil and chaos that existed before the coming of the Kings of Israel.

Judges and Ruth are the prequel to the foundational story of a major change in the relationship between the people of Israel, their prophets, and their God. Rather than looking at them as contemporary stories of the life and times of the Judges that represent how life should be lived, it occurred to me to look at them as backstory for how the events in the books of Samuel and Kings came to pass.

Restructuring these stories in my head as a modern novel with Judges as the backstory, Ruth as the prologue, and the books of Samuel and Kings as the main novel opened my mind to see these stories in a different light.

I no longer had to look at them through the lens of 'this is how it was and should be'. I could see these stores as the set up for the main event. They are showing the reader how very bad the situation is and why the people demand a major change from the way leadership has been called into being for generations to the rise of the Kings of Israel.

I owe that insight to the E+R=L way of looking at a text.

I didn't really understand all the ways I was already using that tool when I was first introduced to it in EFM over 24 years ago. It took additional exposure to the concepts behind it and practice with it, to teach me to use it intentionally to disassemble my preconceived ideas about a text and rebuilt my thoughts around a new revelation.

I understand that this revelation might not break new ground for anyone but me. But the process of the intentional examination of my thoughts, reading the actual text, and stripping away the accumulated notions of years opened me up to a new way of thinking about a particular text and shook me into a whole new experience.

It's a amazing feeling.


All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway

10 August 2016

Listen to Live

I find it interesting that in the Old Testament reading for today we have a somewhat exasperated angel having to repeat himself when a husband doesn't seem to fully listen to what his wife says.

In the story, the angel appears to Manoah's wife (she has no name of her own) and tells her that though she is barren she will bear a son and she is to follow certain rules so that he shall be a nazirite to God from birth. This is the beginning of the Sampson story in Judges.

The woman tells her husband what happened and he prays to God: O, LORD, I pray, let the man of God whom you sent come to us again and teach us what we are to do concerning the boy who will be born. God does so, but the angel in the form of a man appears only to the wife and not to the husband or to the husband and wife together. The wife runs to get her husband so he can hear the explanation of what is to come directly from the angel.

The angel doesn't just repeat what he told the wife. The angel prefaces his words to the husband with Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her. Making it clear that the angel already covered this ground with the wife. (And in my own imagining, rolls his eyes a bit with having to come back and explain everything a second time.)

The husband then offers to prepare a kid for the angel. And on my forth or fifth reading, I now wonder if that offer was in part a test to see what the being who looked like a man would do with the offer.

The story says that the husband did not know that this 'man' was an angel of God and it shows again that he does not fully trust what his wife says to him. She told him, after the first visit that: "A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name;".

In this particular story the focus is on the successful birth of Sampson, so the fact that the husband did not accept the truth of his wife's testimony does not appear to have any negative impact on the husband. Of course, unlike the story of the birth of John the Baptist the husband in this story does not directly challenge the angel.

Instead he first asks for clarification of the information given to his wife and then embeds a test in an offer of hospitality. (Which makes me further wonder if this is supposed to be a form of foreshadowing for some of the later acts of his son.) 

We see this pattern of men refusing to believe the testimony of women again in the resurrection of Jesus narrative. The two Marys and Salome go to the tomb and find Jesus risen. When they try to tell the disciples they are not believed. 

What does it say, in a modern context, that women may be a the forefront of an event, but still not be believed until a man comes along to confirm the legitimacy of their experience? We see it still today. When it takes 60 women to get rape allegations against a powerful man to be taken seriously. When a skilled female athlete is identified as the wife of a male football player rather than as a competitor in her own right. When women regularly earns less across the board then men. And finally when, in the United State Congress, fewer than 20% of our senators and representatives are women.

Was the bible speaking to the lived experience of women by giving example after example of men ignoring them (and this story is actually one of the better outcomes for women in Old Testament, later Judges it gets much, much worse for women and children)?

I can point to all of the stories in the Old Testament that do everything from murder to ignore women as a symptom of the brokenness of humans with the idea that these stories show us how evil we can be; and, what a terrible idea it is to treat more than half the population as property.

Over and over again we see that when society, any society, treats some lives as valuable and some as disposable we all run the risk of having someone put us in the disposable category.

 Whether the original compilers of the Old Testament stories mean to or not, they have left us a stark legacy of what can happen when people are treated like things. In that way, Terry Pratchett said it best through one of his Discworld characters. Granny Weatherwax, as she speaks to an earnest young priest, says:
There's no grays, only white that's got grubby. I'm surprised you don't know that. And sin, young man, is when you treat people as things. Including yourself. That's what sin is."

"It's a lot more complicated than that--"

"No it ain't. When people say things are a lot more complicated than that, they means they're getting worried that they won't like the truth. People as things, that's where it starts."

"Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes-"

"But they starts with thinking about people as things…"
~"Carpe Jugulum" by Terry Pratchett
Women are often nameless things in the bible: mothers, wives, concubines, rape victims, murder victims, women and children put the sword as part of a battle, women handed off to other men in the name of hospitality, women whose husbands are murdered, women stoned, women whose stories are only adjuncts to the men in their lives, women who are ignored, talked over, and rebuked.

Women who stand in for ideas but who are not flesh and blood (or who are way too much blood, but not much life). Only when we truly see that treating people as things always ends badly will we learn to listen to all people and honor their
lived experience.


All bible quotes are from either the NRSV or RSV text at Bible Gateway

This essay was originally published at The Episcopal Cafe: Speaking to the Soul
on 9 Aug 2016.