Relevance #Discernment #SavingSweetBriar

It‘s Groundhog Day, Candlemas, Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or day after the Iowa Caucuses, depending on your orientation. I was thinking of writing about these for my blog post today, until I came across this article

Sweet Briar College gets record number of applicants.

Students and faculty say the number of applications – which increased from 751 at this time last year to 1099 this year — is just another sign of a community that has banded together to pull itself back from the brink.

I decided to retweet it, and so I checked to see if the #SavingSweetBriar hash tag was still active. It is, and from there I found an even more interesting article

Making the Most of Stakeholder Revolt: The Recapturing of the San Diego Opera and Sweet Briar College.

This article starts

Over the past few years, NPQ has been tracking nonprofits whose stakeholders rose up to save them after their boards voted to close the doors. They are in a larger field of organizations that have felt the sting of stakeholder rebellions when a board has somehow broken faith with the community it serves.

I skimmed over the beginning section and the part about the San Diego Opera. I haven’t been following that story as closely as I’ve been following the Sweet Briar story. The section on Sweet Briar starts off presenting some of the history, and then has this quote:

There was a failure of faith in the mission—probably over about a ten-year period—from what I can tell and have observed since being on the inside. There was a belief at the highest leadership level that women’s colleges weren’t relevant anymore. A lot of that was coming from generations of administrative leaders and board leaders who were from classes of an earlier date, when Sweet Briar was the option because…

This particularly jumped out at me, and I’ve included the quote, leaving out the reason people had gone to Sweet Briar on purpose. You see, this Sunday will be my last day as Clerk of the Vestry of Grace and St. Peter’s Church in Hamden, CT. I have loved serving on the vestry. For those not acquainted with Episcopal Church governance, being Clerk of the Vestry is a kin to be secretary of the board of directors.

It is a difficult time. Like Sweet Briar, we have had dwindling participation and have had to rely on our endowment. As a board, we have explored cost saving measures while trying to stay true to the mission. I’ve brought up what happened at Sweet Briar at Vestry meetings. If we had been a different church with different leadership, our story might be more like Sweet Briar’s. As I read the paragraph, I thought of how it would read if it were talking about various churches:

There was a failure of faith in the mission—probably over the past few decades—from what I can tell and have observed since being on the inside. There was a belief at the highest leadership level that churches weren’t relevant anymore. A lot of that was coming from generations of administrative leaders and board leaders who were from churches of an earlier date, when you went to church because…

I remember singing Hymn by Paul Stukey

I visited Your house again on Christmas or Thanksgiving
And a balded man said You were dead,
But the house would go on living.
He recited poetry and as he saw me stand to leave
He shook his head and said I'd never find You.

I don’t know if there were people at Grace and St. Peter’s who believed this, but it certainly wasn’t the case when I got there. At Grace and St. Peter’s there remains a strong faith in the mission, worshipping God, feeding the hungry, visit the sick, sheltering the homeless.

I don’t know what God has in store for Grace and St. Peter’s. I don’t know what God has in store for me, but I know that the mission still matters, and like Sweet Briar College, it will continue in unexpected ways, even when many people question its relevancy for today.

#DigiWriMo: Stranger Danger, Will Robinson

One of my goals for #DigiWriMo is to be more engaged in other people’s blogs and hopefully to have others more engaged in my blog. Years ago, I used to participate in various blog swaps and I work as a social media manager, so there is nothing really new about this for me.

One person who has been really good at this, at least in the early moments of #DigiWriMo is Sarah Honeychurch. She’s been commenting on my posts, thank you Sarah, and responded to Joanne Fuchs tweet about blogging once a week, “I find having a supportive audience in events like #DigiWriMo helps me.”

So, I went over to Joanne’s blog, where her most recent post was Yes, Virginia. You Can Ask Your Own Questions!. Joanne sounds like the sort of teacher I would want my inquisitive eighth grader to have. Joanne was talking about helping students form questions around “letters from service men from different wars”. It fit nicely with the story I heard Arnie Pritchard tell Friday night about This Business of Fighting based on his father’s letters.

Joanne also reminds me of Paul Bogush and I wonder if they’ve met. As an aside, another participant of #DigiWriMo this year is Geoffrey Gevalt. I read his bio and looked at the Young Writers Project. It made me wonder if Geoffrey knew Steve Collins and Youth Journalism International. I sent Steve a Facebook message to see if they knew each other. They should.

All of this is prologue to the key focus of this evening’s #DigiWriMo post. The other week, my daughter Fiona texted me, letting me know that there was some guy at her school teaching the kids about Internet Safety. Now I want the internet to be safe as much as the next guy, probably more so, since my job is social media manager for a health care organization, but I often find a lot of the internet safety talks, at best, misguided. They focus on online predators and stranger danger, and less on more important issues like cyberbullying or how you can help online friends in times of danger.

Stranger danger: I’ve never met Sarah, Joanne, or Geoffrey face to face. Yet if I ever get a chance to, I will jump at it. They sound like my kind of people. I have met lots of other people face to face after getting to know them first online, including my wife. Knowing how to judge and get to know people that you meet through the media, whether it be online, or any other form of media is an important skill. It applies equally to getting to know authors, musicians, journalists, politicians, and others.

Yes, online predators are a danger, but I believe a greater danger may be accepting uncritically what various media personalities are saying. Learning how to think critically about what we experience through various media can address both of these dangers.

Later this week, I will be speaking at Career Day at my daughter’s junior high school. I will be talking about being a social media manager, and what it takes to do that well. Perhaps key areas I’ll focus on include the value of meeting the right people online, collaborating with them, and how to better judge what we consume online.

The Roads to #DigiWriMo

For the past several years during the month of November, I’ve often participated in National Novel Writing Month. #NaNoWriMo. Over the years I’ve completed two first drafts of novels, and worked on several others. I’ve written the 1,666 words a day to get to 50,000 words for the month. I’ve had friends act as readers of draft, and gotten feedback from them.

It has been a valuable writing exercise, and I enjoyed meeting some of the other #NaNoWri participants and write-ins and dinners, but I’ve never gone back and edited the novels, sought to publish them, or shared them with a wider audience.

In January of this year, I participated in a couple of MOOCs. One was on the poetry of Walt Whitman. It was part of a series, and I later participated in one on Emily Dickinson. They would good courses, but I felt even more disconnected from the participants than I did with #NaNoWriMo.

I also took a course on using Moodles to set up a MOOC. It was very helpful on the technology side; how to configure and administer a MOOC. The community was much more vibrant, and while it wasn’t a focus of the course, we did drift into discussions of pedagogy. It was there that I learned about connectivism, which led me to participate in another MOOC, a different sort of MOOC, a connectivistic MOOC called #Rhizo15.

It was great, and I remain connected with the people I met through that event. There was talk about wandering in that course and I brought in my poetry to it. This brings me to the title of this post, The Roads to #DigiWriMo. It isn’t one path. It is a bunch of paths intertwined.

So let me return to the poetry path for a moment. I decided to make writing a poem a day my 2015 Lenten discipline. It went well, and some of the poems aren’t all that bad. I joined up with a group of Episcopalian poets and met with them from time to time. Through them, I learned that Yale Divinity School was having a conference on poetry and I attended.

It was a deep religious experience for me that has brought back into my consideration a path I had looked at years ago, but not wandered down, the path to possible ordination as a priest. I have met with my priest. We have met with my bishop, and my priest is setting up a discernment committee to explore this path more fully with me. I’ve thought it would be interesting to have a parallel, online discernment group. I set up one part of it on Facebook, and I expect this will intertwine with my #DigiWriMo explorations.

One of the speakers at the Yale Conference was Christian Wiman. I’ve been reading his book, My Bright Abyss. In it, I found a wonderful quote, “existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person”. Mixing the ‘journey’ metaphor with the ‘narrative’ metaphor, it seems like this quote is the starting point, the first mile marker on my #DigiWriMo journey.

I am looking forward to mixing a bit of poetry, novel writing, technology, and explorations into pedagogy and my spiritual journey together with what others are posting in #DigiWriMo. I hope you’ll join me and hang on for the ride!

Back to School Night

As we went through our final back to school night at Amity Middle School in Bethany, there were several things going through my mind. This was the school that Kim went to and she talked about remembering which seat she sat in for different classes. Fiona’s social studies teacher gave us a pop quiz in which we were asked things about what we remembered from junior high school. It raises an interesting question: What do we want our children to get out of junior high school?

It seems like by the time junior high school comes around, many parents are focused on making sure that their kids will do well in the rat race. They need to get good grades in junior high school so they will do well in high school, so they will do well in college, so they will get a good job, so they can support their family as their kids repeat the same cycle.

The high stakes testing just reinforces this. Yet is this really what we should be striving for? Or, are we testing the wrong thing?

I thought back to the nursery school each of my daughters attended. It was part of an alternative private school that focused on love of learning as being the ultimate goal. What makes learning exciting? Some of it is how interestingly it is taught. Some of it is how well it is related back to everyone’s life. Some of it is simply, well, how much fun it is.

I believe that love of learning is much more important than just about anything that is tested these days. Love of learning will make just about any career, any life, more enjoyable.

If you look at the current social climate, you can see the effects of what is going on in education. Are more of your friends talking about how much they love their job, or how much they hate their job? Are they talking about how much they like current political leaders, or how much they dislike current political leaders?

Our system is broken, and a big part of it is the loss of fun, something we are losing earlier and earlier in life. So, as I think back on Fiona’s teachers that I met this evening, I find I remember the ones that were talking about what they do to make the material fun and interesting.

Discernment MOOC

In the middle of what I described yesterday as a week that I expect to be very long, I received an email today about another step in my spiritual journey. The Diocesan Dean of Formation sent me an email saying that she had invited my parish priest to form a discernment group for me.

For those not acquainted with the language or the process it describes, people seeking a greater understand of how they can best serve God, including the possibility of becoming a priest, enter a discernment process. In Connecticut, a parish will organize a discernment group for a person in this process. It is a small group that meets around nine times to help the person get a better sense of what God is calling the person to.

As a blogger, living much of my life out loud, online, I am looking for the best ways to connect this process with my online writing. It is challenging because the face to face group is confidential. So, instead of writing about that group I hope to write about the questions being posed and the insights I gain from the group and invite a larger online community to share, in a more public manner, their thoughts which might also help me in my discernment process.

This online process, might take the form akin to a connectivist MOOC. I hope to learn more about my journey both in a private confidential small face to face group as well as in a large public online group. I hope that others, participating in the online group, might learn more about their journey as well, and that we might all learn more about how learning and spiritual growth can take place online in the twenty-first century.

I expect it will still be a few weeks before my face to face discernment group starts, and I’m thinking that the Discernment MOOC should parallel that, so I won’t dive into the core of the discernment MOOC for a few weeks. Until then, I am just floating this idea. What are your thoughts? Are you interested in participating? Do you know others that might be interested? Are there things I should consider or avoid?

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