Learning again

Many of you know I’m on sabbatical. Having witnessed other people take sabbaticals, I had a vague idea about what it would be like. I thought I’d enjoy it but wondered if I would be a bit lost without a regular schedule and if I would have a had time getting motivated each day. Others worried I would have a hard time not being around other people on a regular basis. (A far concern from my perspective.) Almost one-fourth of my way through and I am happy to say – I am loving it.

It didn’t take me long to develop patterns for organizing my time. (Working with a coach probably helped! Thanks Dawn!) I do commit to showering and “going to work” each morning (in my office across the hall) and I have enough connections to the outside world that I haven’t lost contact with colleagues and friends or my social skills. And, believe it or not, I run out of time each day, each week, and each month to do all I had hoped to do. Needless-to-say, motivation has not been a problem. My lists of books read and to read are both growing. My time writing is both focused and spontaneous. My networking is strategic and open to new possibilities.

Reflecting on this first chapter, my biggest discovery is I’m learning to learn again. I love learning, well mostly. I love the kind of learning that happens on my terms – when I get to choose the topic, the timing, and the grading scale. I don’t love learning that is forced on me,  that disorients me, and that exposes my weaknesses or blind spots. As an educator, my “business” is to cultivate environments were others learn and to learn myself. Most of my world lives in the first category – learning that happens on my terms. I am in this work because that is an environment where I can thrive. And I got to this place by being a learner…mostly through traditional avenues of campus classrooms and accredited degree programs, with some contextual learning thrown in. Yet in today’s networked, information age, traditional pathways of learning (at least in my 53 years experience) are being disrupted and learning itself is being reimagined. This places me more in the second category – learning that’s hard and not on my terms. This disruption has challenged me as a teacher. In the past several years I have been rethinking “the classroom,” and even more importantly, my own approach and paradigm for learning. But I’ve been doing it all in the midst of a long to-do list. Learning with limited time and tight deadlines is instrumental, and while there is a place for that, what I need is to do the harder, transformational work that comes from the second category.

This year, I get to open up space to rediscover what it is to be a learner in the midst of new realities and challenges. My learning is not guided by a professor, and I’m not learning to get credit for a course. I’m learning because as an educator, I need to rediscover the joy and pain of transformational learning. I have goals for my learning (mostly attached to my writing project and to the courses I teach), but they serve more as guideposts along a journey than agenda items for each day. As you can see by the picture above, the pile of books on my desk is diverse, and that is just the current “to read” stack. I’m also learning from podcasts, online lectures and presentations, and experiences in the world. Finding resources for learning is not the problem, the challenge is creating space for reflecting and processing the ideas- that is where I need to exercise discipline (and perhaps interrupt my preconceived schedule for the day).

This morning I had the joy of stumbling across a podcast with one of the authors in my stack of books. (Kate Bowler is the author of Everything Happens for a Reason and is a colleague I’ve appreciated for years.) Wavering between curiosity and procrastination, I started my workday by listening to the podcast. Kate’s words provided theological language for my own experiences, challenged my thinking about leadership, and expanded my thinking about this journey of learning I am currently on. I invite you to take a listen – the link is below. And here are some ideas and phrases that stood out to me today:

  • are we willing to abandon our own assumptions? about life and about God?
  • facing our own arrogance is painful and a deep sense of gratitude might be a gift on the other side.
  • there is freedom is knowing our limits.
  • the resurrection is real – and all around us.
  • resurrection is preceded by death – real dying and decade.
  • death is coming to the end of ourselves.
  • hope (and faith) is knowing God is present.
  • God makes things new.
  • community matters – and maybe we need to lower our bar and receive what others have to give.
  • needing others is hard – at least for those of us who value individualism and illusion of autonomy.
  • loving a preschooler through the journey of death and new life makes it real – and perhaps forces us to name the hard parts of life in simple, honest terms.

Podcast – Can These Bones w/Kate Bowler

I’m going to dwell in Kate’s words – and these takeaways – today as I get back to my previously “scheduled” day. I’m going to let these ideas interrupt me, as I also am not going to force myself to name three concrete lessons I have learned by dinner time.

So how is your learning going? Do you have some practices that allow you to shift from pragmatic learning (think YouTube videos to fix the toilet) to transformational learning? As I continue on this sabbatical journey I will use this space to periodically pause and offer some resources and reflections. Drop in if you are interesting. And I’d also like to hear from you about your own journey of learning in this information age. How are you pairing old ways of learning with new ways? In what ways is your learning being disrupted? How are you finding learning partners?


I’m doing what I normally do during my holiday break – grading.

For over ten years while my family has these days around Christmas and New Year’s “off” (or at least some version of being on vacation), I have work to do. It’s hard to see my work because I do not head into the office or have meetings, but my time between the fall semester and J-Term is filled with something important – grading papers. With a January 4th deadline looming, I have work to do and people waiting to hear how their semester turned out. Yet during this holiday season, the thought of grading does not get me excited. (In fact, I can usually find many things to do to put off grading each and every day.) But grading is part of my job, and it is part of the learning process that I value. So I press forward.

When I finally get mentally (and physically) prepared, I open my computer and lean into the work. Looking at the rubric for the assignment, I remind myself of what we were doing in the course and I open a paper – glancing at the student’s name, I start reading their work. These assignments are their final ones, so I not only read the words on the page, but also see their faces and remember the encounters we have had throughout the semester. I now have a relationship with these students having spent 13 weeks together. Therefore, these assignments are rich; there is more to them then what I read on the page. Maybe one of the questions a student asked in class has found its way into their paper or echoes of the ministry situation we talked about in break sits behind what is described in their work. I read aware of how personal and taxing this work of ministry is for many – and the price some have paid to lead and study Christian public leadership. Grading these assignments is only partially about the content of the course, it is more about their call to lead. Over time I stop watching the clock and let myself be transported to various ministry settings – literally around the world – and into the lives of these students.

Grading in my line of work is never solely about a grade. Grading is simply one way I join current and future leaders of the church in discovering who they are, what is happening in the world (and church) today, and wondering what God is up to. Assignments provide the opportunity to reflect and put on paper new learnings on a particular topic and grading is one way I offer them my feedback. Both are snapshots in a dynamic learning process that breaks down previous understandings and opens new possibilities. The tearing down is real, and hard. Deconstructing – understandings of the church, the world, and ourselves – opens up wounds, is confusing, filled with pain, and is a journey of letting go and lamenting. Building up is exciting and scary. Constructing is creative, filled with joy and epiphanies, invites dreaming and makes space for new possibilities. Learning needs both. And learning in a seminary recognizes that both movements are truly human or embodied (they are not just theoretical) and God is present. The pain and the joy are real. The tears flow from deep within, the people involved have names, and the situations matter. And at the same time God is with us. Healing happens, hope is found, and love expands and is deepened.

So as I grade, holding these assignments as a sacred trust to be stewarded. I treasure the way students offer their lives to this calling and trust me with their stories. And I try my best to faithfully serve my calling as a teacher of the church. #thankful #blessed #WeAreLutherSem

Changing Education Paradigms

Many of us are living in the transition from summer mode to school mode. For me that means preparing lessons for new courses. For you it might be supporting people going through this transition or preparing yourself for this transition. No matter your place in this transition, this transition is in the air and we can sense it almost like shifts in the sky before a rain storm.

In my preparation, I’m thinking deeply about how the ways we learn are different today than the ways we learned thirty years ago. These changes impact young people, for sure, but they also are impacting me, both as a teacher and learner. Teaching and learning use to be delegated to a particular realm of my life – formal education environments. As a lifelong learner that meant I spent many hours (and dollars) engaged in learning in academic institutions. (SCHOOLS!) Now my teaching and learning is more integrated in all aspects of my life. Like when I get a new piece of technology, I go into learning mode and seek out teachers. Some teachers I pay (Geek Squad, for example) and some are people within my regular networks (my kids, colleagues at work, friends, neighbors, etc). Sometimes I’m clearly the student and someone is clearly the teacher. In other cases, I can be both teacher and learner. Like as a knitter, I sometimes ask others to teach me something, a new stitch, and as they do they may ask something that I know and I shift into teacher mode. When I step back and look at my life today, teaching and learning, learning and teaching is a regular, normal part of all areas of my life. Sometimes my teachers are people and sometimes my teachers are videos of teachers or posts of interesting articles. With all the digital tools we have today, I have access to so many more places and ways to learn then ever before.

As a lifelong learner, I’m wired to learn and I will seek out learning opportunities. Given the flattening of learning and access to learning tools, learning is so much more integrated into life. This reality means formal learning (the school-like learning environments) have to revisit the ways they engage people in learning. Sir Ken Robinson has been studying learning and education for some time and has some great insights into the shifts taking place in learning and what it means for education. Here’s a great video on his discoveries. Watch, learn, and perhaps let it ignite your rethinking of learning.

This RSA Animate was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert and recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin award. (If you want some other videos on teaching and learning go to the video section of my website and see the teaching and learning tab.)

How will you use your words today?

i am a person of words. I use words at home. (And usually more words then my family would like!) I rely on words at work. As I teach, write, and engage students words are the primary vehicle. And as I wrestle with the current problems of our world today, where do I go? To words.

Today I saw this video and it challenged me to think about my words. As a realist that wants to lean into a new future I often think my job is to state the problem. But maybe, just maybe, recasting my words in light of the new future I picture might help the world move a bit closer to making it come true.

A visit to South Carolina

I’m wrapping up my time in South Carolina. It has been a great opportunity to teach seminary students located in a different region of the country. I have learned from them in class, I have discovered a bit of South Carolina’s history, and I have even tasted some southern cuisine. It has been nothing but delightful to join another learning community, even if for a short amount of time.

In class we have been talking about, rather wrestling with, ministry with children in this time. So many forces are shaping children today – consumerism, digital media, social networking, athletics – and it can be overwhelming for parents and ministry leaders as they try to engage in faith practices and learn about God’s story. While we are ending with more questions than answers, a few things have surfaced:

1. Our identity as people of faith comes from God, not society. Ground kids, ground us all, in that promise. Our identity as children of God never changes. While the world wants to commodify life, tell us what to wear, try to influence our values, and turn us into objects, God claims us and makes us subject of God’s love. That’s pretty cool.

2. Subjects need to live in community. As subjects of God’s love that means living in a relationship with God and with other of God’s subjects. Being in Christian community we are reminded of our identity and of the one who loves us and created us. In community we are formed and shaped as subjects of God’s love. In community we are informed of who is God is, and we grow deeper in our love for God, ourselves, and the world. And in community we are transformed, made new and empowered to love and serve others. And that leads to…

3. As subjects of God’s love we are also agents of God’s love. Yes, we gather with other Christian periodically, but we spend most of our time scattered in the world. And when we are scattered in the world, we have a role to play. We are to embody God’s love in the world, we get to give God’s love hands and feet and hearts and ears.

What if, at the heart of ministry with children (and their families), we helped children know theses three things? What if we shared these ideas with words and actions? What if we helped families do this as well? I don’t know what a typical week would look like in our congregations, but I’d hope we’d be spreading God’s love in the world.

Oh yea, and we have a guest who joined us. Check this out.

Curiosity and Inquiry

We, at Luther Seminary, are preparing to roll out a new curriculum in the fall. It’s a shift spurred on by changes in theological education, in the need to reduce cost, and a recognition of the dynamic nature of Christian public leadership today. It also takes into account the changes in the way we learn. While a lot of things will be different, the biggest change is at the center – we are shifting from a content-driven series of classes to an inquiry-driven learning process.

For many, it’s exciting. Exciting because there is more flexibility in the curriculum and more choices for students. Exciting because it recognizes students already enter as leaders, with unique gifts, experiences, and questions. Exciting because it takes into account the whole person, not just their head.

For most, it is also scary. Scary because it’s moving into unknown territory. Scary because more is left “to chance” then to a list in the registrar’s office. Scary because we are on the front side of a new education paradigm. It’s exciting, and scary, for teachers and students alike…but it is the right move – for the church.

This morning, as I was working on some of the details, imagining how students will receive this and getting a bit concerned, I came across a chemistry teacher who calmed my nerves and encouraged me to keep moving ahead. I share it with you with hopes of encouraging any of you who also are imagining a new way and trying to push into a new future of teaching and learning.

a new paradigm for education … educators as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry

Identity and Way of Life


Yesterday I finished teaching one of my favorite courses – Discipleship and Vocation in Children, Youth and Family Ministry. Not a sexy title, and there are no gimmicks in the class. In fact, the class is pretty simple, it is about exploring Christian discipleship and vocation. In everyday language that translates into what does it means to be and live Christian? It’s about identity and way of life.

Now just because a course can be summarized in a sentence does not mean its subject matter is easy or simple. In fact, each week we gathered we discovered some things can be reduced to a simple statement, but putting such statements into conversation with our everyday experience is often complicated.  Life is messy. There is brokenness and pain. People are selfish, and self-centered. The world is noisy and vying for our attention. But there is hope, and promise. We all do have a purpose, gifts and agency. And while there are BIG things in life to figure out, there are also little ways we can make a difference everyday. Knowing the basics can be really helpful. And having conversation partners along the journey really matters.

But there is another thing we discovered.  Some of the ways we have been “doing” church (or at least practices those of us in the class grew up with) are not actually helping people get at what it means to BE Christian and LIVE Christian.

Perhaps that’s troubling news. It once was for me. But now my attention has shifted from being disappointed to being curious.

Why am I curious? Because I know, at least the way any gut knows things, many of our current ministry practices are not going away. In fact, many have a very long track record. Take worship, for example. It would be very surprising if worship suddenly became meaningless for Christians. Why? Because as I look back across time, I can’t think of one Christian community that didn’t exercise some worship practice. Does it look like the worship I am familiar with? No. But they drew on many of the same elements we do today.  The same can be said of prayer and serving others and telling the Christian story.  In addition, I think Christians are more open to asking questions these days. And I find that encouraging. Like the two-year old who wants to know why or the teenager trying to discover the deeper meaning of family practices, many Christians are hungry to know why congregations do what they do, and they are not content being passive participants. They want more, they not only what to know the meaning, they want participation to be meaningful.

So what does this mean for ministry? As I play with, and imagine, ministry in the years ahead, it seems more critical now to ground ministry in the basics of what it means to BE Christian and then help people discover how such an identity IMPACTS and SHAPES life. For preschoolers that might include reading stories about God’s people in the past, telling stories about Christians today and helping them wonder about what it will mean in their life. For adolescents it might be reminding them, day in and day out, that they are a child of God…loved as they are…gifted and capable, with the ability to make a difference in the world and impact the lives of those around them. For young adults it might include helping them form really good questions about life, and love, and relationships, and work, and the world. And it’s questions shaped out of an honesty about our limitations and selfish desires, yet full of possibility and with an eye to the future. It could include learning about prayer, as one prays, or engaging Scripture with an eye to the world and an eye to God, or serving others, not to fulfill our needs, but because someone else needs us to. And the list could go on.

Ministry today, for people raised in the church or new to the Christian faith, is both more basic…starting and ending at who we are as Christians…and more organic….in that it takes seriously the lived experiences and questions of each person and their communities.

This summer I turn 50. And, like many, am going to need to be reminded of who I am and what it means to live out of that identity in this time and place (and at this age). I hope the communities I am apart of will remind me of the basics, as they also join me on the journey. And I hope to do the same for them, curious and open to whatever the future brings.




Would love to hear your thoughts on this TedTalk on creativity by Elizabeth Gilbert. It begs lots of questions … and provides openings for rethinking creativity – not only for those in which it is in the center of their work, but also for those of us who dance in and our of it periodically.

So watch…and share!