Saturday, October 26, 2013
Life, in many ways, is like a research project. We, as researchers, try to control all the variables in an attempt to rule out the effects of chance. Those of us who have been around for awhile realize that when humans are involved there are countless things that could interfere with the desired outcome. Nevertheless, we take note of the anticipated risks and we proceed, having given our informed consent. Unfortunately, even with all the advanced preparation, the outcomes of our life experiments often fail utterly.
Jesus, on the other hand, is the perfect researcher. Consider this: Jesus controls all the variables; he has stacked the deck against sin and death. He has controlled the treatment by giving his life on the cross. No elements of chance are involved in the project he conducts, because the outcome has already been written before the foundation of the world! Jesus is also sensitive to our needs as human participants. He has informed us exactly what he intends to do. Now he gives us a choice whether or not to participate. “Here I am!” He has said. “I stand at the door and knock.” And like the perfect researcher, Jesus still waits for us to give our informed consent!
Inspired by Rev 3:20
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Achieving equilibrium in the highly structured ecological system called life hinges on the very idea of synergy. Change in any one human subsystem requires adjustment in another subsystem. When these systems are out of balance, dissonance is the result. Our systems make every effort in these instances to restore the balance and harmony that are missing.
In my former work as a quantitative researcher, I examined complex relationships among variables using simple linear regression as a prediction tool. The general idea is that given information about one variable, linear regression gives us a way to predict characteristics of another. The equation for the “true” score is that the observed score equals some constant plus a coefficient plus the variable plus residual.
"Residual” is the statistical term related to the unexplained portion of the variance in the linear regression equation. The inclusion of the residual term is also known as “error” term. Looking at it another way, the residual term acknowledges that the predicted values in the behavioral and social sciences are almost never exactly correct and that to acquire a “true” value requires the inclusion of a term that adjusts for the discrepancy between the predicted score of the actual score. The residual is simply the true value minus the predicted value.
The one thing that struck me in every case of linear regression I encountered was that these hypothesized prediction equations always contained an error term—something that could not be explained by the known variables or by their interactions with each other. This suggested that the whole was always greater than the sum of its identifiable parts. The more I studied these relationships and examined them through theological eyes, the more I began to ask: Is there another way of looking at this so-called “error term”?
In any given human situation, holistic wellbeing is based on the contribution of many variables. Now we know that as humans our attempts to achieve ecological balance will be subject to all types of error. The so-called “error term” in our prediction equations, then, represent our human limitations. This unknown factor accounts for what the finite mind, body, and human spirit cannot explain or take into account. Therefore, I submit to you that the so-called “error term” in the human equation might not be an error at all! Looking at the concept through theological eyes, if, indeed, the error term balances the equation and results in synergy, perhaps that so-called residual or “error term” could be the working of the Transcendent Holy Spirit in the human life and is a force that can bring about equilibrium regardless of the variables or the circumstances involved.
Holistic Fitness = Mind + Body + Human Spirit + “error term” (residual)
When our human equations don’t account for all the variability we experience in life, the difference just might be explained by the residual or “error term.” The “error term” balances the equation and, in doing so, makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
Labels: Holy Spirit, linear regression, residual, synergy, Synergy and the "Error Term" | 0 comments
Friday, October 4, 2013
For domestic violence victims and former slaves, sin can conceivably be viewed as the abuse of power. In relationships involving both forms of abuse high-power individuals take for themselves whatever their power can command. During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I take this opportunity to argue that both the institution of slavery and the crime of domestic violence are intrinsically and morally evil in all of their manifestations, affecting individuals and cultures in deleterious ways.
When it comes to high-power people abusing low-power people, the “sins of the fathers” have been visited upon the children for generations through the institutions of slavery and domestic violence. Domestic violence is defined as a pattern of behavior used to establish and maintain power or control over others in dating, family, or household relationships. Abusers often use privilege as a mechanism to subjugate others: male privilege, heterosexual privilege, white privilege, immigration status, religious privilege, intellectual privilege, and economic privilege, to name the most prevalent. Violent manifestations of this power dynamic may include economic abuse, emotional/ psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse.
Many similarities exist between modern-day economic abuse and its counterpart as practiced during slavery. For example, in the modern day, a perpetrator commits economic abuse by controlling the victim’s access to family resources such as time, transportation, food, clothing, shelter, and money. Other examples involve excluding the victim from decision making about how resources are to be used and requiring the victim to get permission to spend money on basic family needs. In a similar manner, economic abuse during slavery entailed slave owners’ imposing such things as forced labor, control of the slave’s economic resources, and prohibiting the slave from earning a living outside of slavery. These behaviors relegated slaves to a permanent lower class in the society of their day.
Surrogacy was another form of economic abuse. Theologian Delores Williams reported that poverty among African Americans often pressured some black women into surrogacy roles. For poor black women voluntary surrogacy often meant that, as domestics employed by white families, these women were pressed into service to perform nurturing tasks for white children. At the same time the historical record shows that enslaved black men, women, and children alike were subjected to brutal punishment and prohibitive laws and social structures designed to keep them ignorant and materially impoverished.
In addition to economically incapacitating its victims in many cases, domestic violence almost always leaves emotional and psychological scars. In the modern day, as in slavery, these scars are inflicted by the use of psychological harassment, excessive possessiveness, isolation from family and friends, and deprivation of emotional intimacy. Intimidation is also damaging and often takes the form of controlling the victims’ access to wardrobe, friends, and other amenities. It may additionally involve threats of physical injury or attacks against children, pets, and personal property.
Illiteracy is and was another form of emotional abuse employed both in the modern day and during slavery. Its impact is far reaching. Black people were the only people in the United States ever explicitly forbidden by law to become literate, according to ethicist Katie Cannon. Denied this basic societal prerogative, they were dehumanized, their spirits were crushed, and they were robbed of their sense of personal agency, as their lives and their labor became basic commodities of production and reproduction.
Although the cycle of violence typically begins with economic and emotional abuse, it later often escalates into physical aggression. Physical assault always results in physical as well as emotional trauma to the victim. During slavery physical abuse often involved long work hours in fields and kitchens, castration of men and surrogacy of women. Additionally, physical abuse took the form of ritualistic torture, such as lynching.
Sexual abuse is another prevalent form of domestic violence. In the modern day, some high-power individuals have used sexual abuse as their control mechanism of choice. They have forced victims to engage in unwanted sexual acts or to view pornography against their will. They have also used guilt, shame, manipulation, or a perceived God-given privilege to reduce victims to nothing more than sexual objects.
Womanist theologian Joanne Terrell noted that during slavery, rape, in particular, was used as a form of terrorism and control. Moreover, because they were property, black women had no claim on their own bodies or on the bodies of their children from whom they were often separated at the auction block. Such coerced surrogacy in the area of sexuality was threatening to slave women’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
Not only that, all of the forms of abuse mentioned so far had detrimental effects on the spirit of its victims. Spiritual abuse can be defined as maltreatment of another person in the name of God, faith, or church. It involves unreasonable control of one’s religious autonomy, interference with a one’s practice of faith, and forced estrangement from family and friends outside the religious group. During slavery, spiritual abuse occurred as the result of misuse and misrepresentation of the Bible, rejection of the slaves’ African traditional religions, and dehumanization of the slaves by designating them as chattel.
On the basis of this analysis I conclude that slavery might very well be deemed an act of domestic violence against an entire culture. In many cases of domestic violence, trauma ensues. Trauma, as research indicates, can manifest in stress-induced behaviors in individuals. I pose this question to you for your consideration: Can similar indicators of stress appear in a culture at large? And, if so, how are we to address them?
I’d like to hear your thoughts on this!
 Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man & Immoral Society, 9.
 Delores Williams, Sister in the Wilderness, 61.
 Joanne M. Terrell, Power in the Blood.
 Katie Geneva Cannon, Katie’s Canon, 33.
 Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network (CMBWN), Interfaith Committee against Domestic Violence.
 Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network (CMBWN), Interfaith Committee against Domestic Violence.
 Joanne M. Terrell, Power in the Blood, 24.
 Delores Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness, 67.
Labels: abuse of power, domestic violence, Male privilege, Psychological abuse, slavery, theological reflection, Violence and Abuse | 0 comments
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
The need for change, especially in the urban school context, is ongoing, inevitable and driven by social, political, and economic factors at any given time. The debate among disparate stakeholders rages on in spite of the fact that most of them have not bothered to look long and hard at the grass-roots, big picture. Instead, special interest “marksmen” from outside environments continue to shoot random arrows at targets blurred by social, political, and fiscal uncertainty. And in too many cases their so-called "expert" solutions miss the intended mark. Until the focus becomes clearer, trying to improve schools from the outside will remain little more than the practice of shooting arrows into the wind and hoping they land somewhere near the stated targets.
In the mean time, the need for meaningful change continues. It has become apparent that change affects every aspect of the institutional environment, having the potential to throw off balance the delicate ecology of the school as an organism. Until educational entities have a way of monitoring the ecological impact of change on school outcomes, schools will continue to operate with uncertainty, leaving largely up to chance what many people see as the one best hope for advancement for generations of young people, especially those in poor and minority neighborhoods.
Although change is inevitable and rarely easy, it does, in fact, consist of a predictable process. Back in 1990, Michael Fullan identified a number of factors that impede meaningful change. Today, concerned stakeholders are well advised to revisit Fullan’s “10 Assumptions about Change.” They are as insightful now as they were more than 20 years ago. As we collectively address the ongoing need for change in schools, we should move forward with caution and pay attention to the lessons of the past:
1. Do not assume that your version of what the change should be is the one that should be implemented.
2. Assume that any significant innovation, if it is to result in change, requires individual implementers to work out their own meaning.
3. Assume that conflict and disagreement are not only inevitable, but fundamental to successful change.
4. Assume that people need pressure to change (even in directions that they desire). But it will only be effective under conditions that allow them to react, to form their own position, to interact with other implementers, to obtain technical assistance, etc.
5. Assume that effective change takes time: 3 - 5 years for specific innovations, greater than 5 years for institutional reform.
6. We should not assume that the reason for lack of implementation is outright rejection of the values embodied in the change or hard core resistance to all change. There are a number of possible reasons: value rejection, inadequate resources to support implementation, insufficient time elapsed.
7. We should not expect all or even most people or groups to change. Progress occurs when we take steps that increase the number of people. Our reach should not exceed our grasps ... by such a margin that we fall flat on our face.
8. Assume that we will need a plan that is based on the above assumptions.
9. Assume that no amount of knowledge will ever make it totally clear what action should be taken.
10. We should assume that changing the culture of institutions is the real agenda, not implementing single innovations.
Labels: 10 Assumptions about Change, Innovation, Michael Fullan, Organizational Change, school change, urban schools | 0 comments
Thursday, August 22, 2013
When it comes to communication in the face of diversity, it’s probably a good idea to pay attention to cultural cues. Many interpersonal problems are the result of inadequate or faulty communication. This could be communication involving different cultures, age groups, value systems, or other ideological differences. Successful problem solving depends on the abilities of those communicating with each other to look beyond the words and discern the meaning underneath.
Cross-cultural understanding gets complicated when we are called on to communicate across social, racial, and cultural lines. In such cases we need to learn how to listen not only with our ears, but also with all our other faculties that send subtle messages. This might involve paying attention to volume, body language, proxemics and other things that may impede getting our message across in the manner in which we intended.
Communication across cultures also involves putting our beliefs on hold temporarily and giving consideration to divergent points of view. This may require us to reflect on our own experiences, analyze our own cultural conditioning, then examine and compare a range of perspectives. Communication works best when parties involved are aware of crucial factors that tend to enhance or impede communication. In many cases such factors consist of cultural variations that exist among participants.
As our communication mechanisms become more sensitive they also become more effective. Our consciousness about critical factors tends to bubble to the surface where it can be inspected in light of common and disparate points of view. Highly effective communication just might require us to allow ourselves to be vulnerable long enough to let the realities of others enter into our consciousness. Only when this happens can there be a true meeting of the minds in a cross-cultural sense. Only when this happens are we truly hearing, seeing, and "feeling" each other.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Music has been on my mind lately. One song in particular lingered with me this morning; it was “If I Could” by Regina Belle (1963- ). From my perspective, both the artist and the tune are remarkable.
A New Jersey native and preacher’s kid, Regina Belle cut her teeth on jazz and R & B early in her career and gravitated – perhaps inevitably—toward gospel over the next 20 years. On her official website, she said that when she first started performing she was in a place where she could share intimate things with her audience – things that would help them get through their mountaintop experiences as well as their valleys of despair. Her songs suggested a kind of unity across the generations, giving guidance and comfort to others who listened to it.
If you glance beneath the surface of this song and read between the lines, you just might discover a transcendent reality that gives direction to listeners in the here and now. The lyrics speak of the finitude and vulnerability of human existence. They raise questions about pain and suffering and how one confronts it. These lyrics assure me that someone else has been to the mountaintop; some kindred soul has wandered in the same valleys; and some victor has made it through to the other side.
Some of her other songs speak of a stark reality and direct our attention to the One who authored the Truth. In other words, there just may be theological messages embedded in the lyrics of Belle's music. What one discerns depends a great deal on what one brings to the experience and what one expects to get out of it.
Friday, August 2, 2013
My husband and I were driving back from an outing the other day. Allured by the balmy day and the scenery that stretched ahead of us, we decided to take an alternate route. We drove along for quite some time before my husband decided that we were lost.
“No, we are not lost,” I responded. “We can’t be because somebody already blazed this trail and set up signposts for us to follow. Now, all we need to do is slow down and pay attention.”
Instead of absent-mindedly wandering down streets and back tracking, we began to notice when we had passed a certain way before. We knew that if went down that road again, we would arrive at a dead end. We remembered that if we made a right turn at a particular intersection we would reach a waterfront. On the other hand, if we turned left at that juncture, we would reach the open highway that would lead us to our destination. So we directed our attention to the markings and the memories we accumulated on our journey. Before long, with calmness and confidence, we found our way home.
I submit to you that these same insights can be used to guide us through life in general. There is nothing new under the sun. Somebody has already blazed the trail. Somebody has already pioneered the way. Somebody has already lived through what we are experiencing, suffered through what we’re feeling, and engaged the enemy in the very same battles we are fighting. Our forebears – often brave and valiant warriors – have already been able to perceive the Truth beneath the truth. And they have stored it up in a variety of warehouses so that it can be passed along from one generation to the next. Now all we have to do is slow down and pay attention if we are to find our way home.
Labels: collective consciousness, Finding Our Way Home, generational knowledge, lost and found, reflection, trail blazer | 0 comments