OWAAT July 1: Relational Learning for Effective Witness and Resistance

I went to the ALA Annual Conference last week as a first-time attendee. There are a lot of really great and interesting things going on in libraries currently, and I got to learn about many of them by going to this conference. One thing that’s been fermenting with me for a long time is where the value of conferences lie. I took a couple of Christian ed courses in seminary that were transformational in their understanding of Christian education and faith formation, but library school was truly where I learned not only about the content of learning (information, knowledge, and the wisdom that comes out of these things), but in particular also a lot about learning processes. Basically, in library school I learned how to learn (finally). The irony isn’t lost on me that in spite of librarians being educators and educational leaders, our conferences, marketed and understood as continuing education events, still by and large use outdated educational techniques (by-and-large lecture-style with PowerPoint, hopefully, but often not well-done). (I am also aware of the limitations of blogging as a teaching tool.) The question that always comes back to me is, “What are the outcomes and end goals we hope to achieve by undertaking this endeavor?” I wonder if conference session formats (not just at ALA but generally) lead to the intended aims and purported goals of the conference and conference attendance. I wonder what conferences would look like if their creators, presenters, and committees applied their own literature, research, criteria, and evaluational rubrics to conference session formats. Would we have as many lecture formats with Q&A to follow? Or would we have more workshop and networking formats and opportunities? I don’t have answers to these questions but need to ask them all the same.

Speaking of doing things that are consistent with best practices and processes; and hoped-for goals and outcomes, I find the entire premise of conferences interesting when compared with what so many librarians value, especially when it comes to open access. Not unlike the way in which scholars’ research and intellect is monetized and regulated via for-profit publishers, in the same way, professional associations such as ALA monetize and regulate professional information and relationships among its members through membership fees and conference fees and publication fees. Don’t get me wrong – I fully believe that ALA does add value to the lives of its members, not everything is, can be, or necessarily even should be free in libraries and their associations. It also takes money to have an association the size of ALA doing the work it’s doing – and yet there that comparison is in my mind. Again, questions, but no answers.

I’ve discovered a whole lot about the value of building and maintaining relationships in every area and discipline – personally, spiritually, and missionally, professionally. What if conferences actually began with relationships instead of content? I feel like I have learned, and can learn, so much related to faith/churches and libraries and activism that I need to know in my head to be successful at these endeavors and anything I am planning on building from these endeavors. But as I keep learning, that knowledge in my head, if it stays in my head, can only go so far. It’s not enough for knowledge to stay in our heads. It needs to be lived, experienced, and shared – let out into the wilds of our world, though we can’t control it once it leaves our heads.

Daily Bible readings:

July 1 – Jeremiah 43
July 2 – Jeremiah 44
July 3 – Jeremiah 45
July 4 – Jeremiah 46
July 5 – Jeremiah 47
July 6 – Jeremiah 48
July 7 – Jeremiah 49


One resource ALA Annual 2018 led me to is the Libraries Transforming Communities resource. This is an entire ALA-wide initiative to help interested libraries transform into community partners, and what fascinates me about this resource is how it connects libraries and librarianship to community organizing concepts. In fact, what’s really interesting about this is the idea that libraries can and/or would want to be partners in community transformation on the levels of community organization. It’s intriguing, since many times libraries have either hidden under an information canopy of neutrality (there’s a raging debate within librarianship about whether or not neutrality is truly what we’re going for in libraries, particularly given our current information (and misinformation) landscape, or are somewhat afraid to stand for something other than the appearance of complete neutrality – meaning that they tend to be afraid to support something that could mark them as not being completely neutral.

While some sectors of librarianship itself have become annoyed with ALA’s stance of having opinions on things that many consider to be well outside the realm of librarianship proper, another argument is that libraries have gone well beyond their original stated purpose of providing people with information in the form of print resources. Libraries still do that and will continue to do that amazingly well, but have also become “third places” (neither home nor work, not unlike some ways in which churches are also third places), and continually in this governmental and societal environment, democracy hubs. While libraries can generally be neutral in terms of content, in some sense, libraries have always stood up for vibrant and thriving communities. This shouldn’t be a radical thing, and yet as some in our society would privatize as many services and institutions as possible in worship of the “invisible hand” of the [Great God free market] economy, there are those who believe that public institutions that exist to serve the common good are just a drain on taxpayers, and if people want their own books they should earn the money to buy them themselves.

What role do you think that libraries should play in community organization and transformation?


This month’s spiritual practice is centering prayer, a popular form of prayer that has enjoyed a recent resurgence in popularity. And you know with what’s currently going on in the US federal government those of us who pray need as much prayer as we can get these days – so that we’re not only praying for our institutions and legislators, but as always, to align ourselves with God’s will for all our lives, including how we live out and express our faith in public.

There is an entire site devoted to centering prayer. From its description of centering prayer,

Centering Prayer is a receptive method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.

You’ll also be excited to learn ”there’s an app for that!” – this page provides more info on the Centering Prayer app available in both the Apple and Android app stores. Try it and see what it does for your prayer life!


This month we’re reading Justice in the Burbs: Being the Hands of Jesus Wherever You Live. If you’re new to social justice movements and don’t have any close personal activist friends, getting involved in the political fray may seem scary or difficult. As someone who avoided politics / didn’t want to be “political” for years, I understand the temptation to lightwash this as part of God’s big but ultimately unknowable plan. However, when it comes down to the question of how God works in the world, God often works through us: it is often said that we are God’s hands and feet in the world. Also, these days more than ever, we are in the fight of our lives for the soul of America. The longer “good, nice people,” including Christians, sit things out, the worse this fight against an increasingly fascist administration becomes. As Kristen Tea (as far as I can find) first said, “It is hard and exhausting to bring up issues of oppression (aka ‘get political’). The fighting is tiring. I get it. Self-care is essential. But if you find politics annoying and you just want everyone to be nice, please know that people are literally fighting for their lives and safety. You might not see it, but that’s what privilege does.”

I know, I too wish everyone would be nice and fair and just get along. But in my time on earth spent listening to people who have different skin colors and ethnic backgrounds than mine, I continually discover that they have life experiences as a result of their skin colors and backgrounds that I never have to personally experience – and to use one of my mom’s favorite phrases, “That’s not fair!”

A variation on this is the idea that “good church people” should separate their church from their politics. It may sound reasonable in theory, especially when we take the separation of church and state at face value, and yet many people in the Bible, the very book of Christian faith, are engaged in politics in its stories. Politics at its core is simply the way we use to decide how we will all live together in our cities, state, nation, and world. We all have ideas about how that should happen, and people of faith’s ideas are formed in part by their faith. It’s consistent, then, that people of faith discuss the role their faith plays in their politics, and while faith communities aren’t meant to be lobbyists for particular political parties or candidates, it is faithful for them to discuss the ways in which their and their members’ values inform political positions they take and to examine biblical positions on issues.

Check the Think! Pray! Act! calendar for ideas and things to do.

Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working together to live out their dreams of a more just world!

What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.

“Family Separations: A Word to the Church.” Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), n.d. https://disciples.org/resources/justice/immigration/family-separations/.

“Reclaiming Jesus.” 17 January 2017. http://reclaimingjesus.org/home.

American Library Association. Libraries Transforming Communities: A Step-by-Step Guide to “Turning Outward” Toward Your Community. The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation (2015).

Broockman, David, and Joshua Kalla. “Durably Reducing Transphobia: A Field Experiment on Door-to-Door Canvassing.” Science 352.6282 (2016): 220–24. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6282/220.

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015.

Digital Theological Library. “Open Access Digital Theological Library | a Virtual Library for Theology, Religious Studies, and Related Disciplines.” Open Access Digital Theological Library, n.d. http://oadtl.org/.

Fretheim, Terence E. “Old Testament: Jeremiah.” Enter the Bible, n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/oldtestament.aspx?rid=44.

Guest, Deryn. The Queer Bible Commentary. Edited by Robert E. Goss, Mona West, and Thomas Bohache. London: SCM Press, 2011.

Henderson, Silas. “Religion Is Always Political, but It Can Never Be Partisan: What’s Jesus Telling Us Today?” Aleteia — Catholic Spirituality, Lifestyle, World News, and Culture, 21 October 2017. https://aleteia.org/2017/10/21/religion-is-always-political-but-it-can-never-be-partisan-whats-jesus-telling-us-today/.

Luther Seminary. “Enter the Bible,” n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/.

Luther Seminary. Jeremiah. Vol. 22 of Word & World. Saint Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, 2002. https://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/issues.aspx?issue_id=88.

Luther Seminary. Prophets and Politicians. Vol. 33 / 3 of Word and World. Saint Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, 2013. http://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/issues.aspx?issue_id=131.

Paretsky, Pamela B. “We Say We Want Free Speech and Civil Dialogue.” Psychology Today, 11 January 2017. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-and-the-pursuit-leadership/201701/we-say-we-want-free-speech-and-civil-dialogue.

Samson, Will and Lisa. Justice in the Burbs: Being the Hands of God Wherever You Live.  Grand Raipds, MI: Baker Books, 2005.

Society of Biblical Literature. “Bible Odyssey,” n.d. http://www.bibleodyssey.com/.

Tea, Kristen. “To My Friends Who Are Sick Of Politics.” MotherWise, 15 August 2017. https://motherwiselife.org/to-my-friends-who-are-sick-of-politics/.