State of Formation: #2

My second piece for the interfaith megablog, State of Formation, is now live, and is titled, “Drinking the Dregs: Tepid Thoughts on Indecision.”

This piece was sort of a tough one to write for me. Recently, I’ve been stuck in a kind of limbo-land (not the Chubby Checker kind) where I see myself as forming some big ideas about the world, and how to be a transformative agent for good within its pluralistic culture. At the same time, I don’t actually do all that much about these grand, “progressive” ideas. So, this piece is sort of inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s seminal work, “Letter from Birmingham Jail“–an essay addressed to his “fellow clergymen” that, after reaching common ground with them, he boldly calls them out for being “lukewarm” in their actions. He goes as far as to say that lukewarm acceptance is a worse evil than being an outspoken racist.

The essay showed me that being peaceful doesn’t mean being a patsy. You sometimes do have to “go there” and say things that may, at first, cause division. However, if you follow King’s model of creating common ground first, it’ll be a lot more difficult to divide. As in, put the humanity before the ideal. And, so:

My tea is getting cold.

As December wears itself threadbare into an unswerving New Hampshire winter, I have to keep a space heater in my office. If I want to get any writing done, I have to remember to give the room an hour to warm up, seeing as how my building’s archaic take on heating is a single, rust bucket of a gas heater at the other end of the apartment. Sometimes I loathe how much my actions are based on the temperature gauge—my activism blanketed in a liminal state of dissipating warmth.

* * *

In the college essay-writing course that I teach at the University of New Hampshire, I often find my role as teacher to be lukewarm. That pessimistic cliché often parades as true for me: “Those who can’t do, teach.” Is that me? At age 28, am I already to feel comfortable being the one to leave after my students, as if I’d given up all pretense of doing the things I try to teach them to care about?

Lately, I’ve decided to start dispensing with the typical rules of teacher-as-authority. Half of my students can grow a thicker beard than me anyway, so why pretend I’m some well-published Ph.D. in tweed and elbow patches? This attitude has been inspired by two assigned readings we covered a few weeks ago: John Gatto’s “Against School,” and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Read More

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About bp

I'm writing a book. It's called, Wake, Sleeper. My writing revolves around this idea of art: attempts to recover what is lost.
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