Technology in Theological Ed…It opened a Big Can of Worms

Mary Hess is a professor at Luther Seminary in St Paul, MN. What’s more…she’s my professor. What’s even more than that…she’s the professor of the class that I’m writing this blog for.

Does this sound like a disclaimer?

Yah, I thought so too.

The third book that I’m writing about here (and you can see my comments on the other two in my last two postings) was written by Hess and published a handful of years ago (2005). It’s called Engaging Technology in Theological Education. Now, Hess’ book is thought provoking, though admittedly as I read it I had two main reactions. I don’t know if negative reaction is the right way to describe either feeling.

The first reaction that I experienced was “Mary, you’re preaching to the choir.” I really got the sense that this book was aimed more at faculty/administration of seminaries or colleges that deal with theological education. It really felt like a push for acceptance of online educational opportunities within theological education. Now, this book was published at the time that Luther Seminary was in the process of creating the Distributed Learning program for earning a Master’s of Divinity degree.

As one a member of one of the first groups to begin this program, I’m fully an advocate of the approach. Now that being said, I did feel that this book, though applicable to the class because of the Media focus, is better suited for the academic audience…namely, not the students but the teachers that are in the process of engaging in this type of teaching.

Now, as I transition to my second point, I must finish my disclaimer that I began at the beginning of this post. Mary, I’m going to disagree with you. I will attempt to do so respectfully and simply present my opinion based on my own experience, limited though it may be. And so I respectfully request that when it comes to grading this particular portion of the class for me, that you would be gentle (and for those of you that know me well, you likely realize that I’m both making a joke as well as being serious here, because that’s the type of guy that I am).

One particular chapter of Hess’ book is aimed at the inherent issue of embodied racism in our American society today. Admittedly, this is still a hot-button topic, though likely in some areas of the country more than others. Hess’ point, if I understood it correctly, is that our society is so profoundly engaged in the privilege of white culture, particularly white males that we have grown immune to recognizing it.

Namely, it’s so common that we don’t know we’re doing it.

Now when I read this chapter, I disagreed. In fact I was offended. I felt like I was being accused of being a racist and a sexist simply because of the demographic that I am a part of.

But is true? Do I fall into this trap without even knowing it?

My experience is in the context of a small Midwestern town that does not have a great deal of racial diversity. Likewise, I was born into a generation that has not seen the battles of gender equality that were so clear to my parent’s generation. In short, I just didn’t see the tension on either front. Did I have a blind eye, or was it simply not present? I really don’t know.

I like to think that my context is a sign of tolerance and acceptance in our culture. Is it perfect yet? Probably not, but are moving in the right direction? I hope so, but I don’t know.

As I ponder more on Hess’ book I wonder if I am in any way able to make that call. I don’t experience the same hurdles or obstacles. This is not to say that I don’t have obstacles of my own, but do they fall in the same category? Or by trying to categorize them, are we simply continuing the same problem?

Shifting gears, I wonder how our global community, made so much smaller yet so much more diverse thanks to the connection of social media can help to move society beyond these hurdles. Last semester, I took Worship at Luther Seminary. One of our readings was the Lutheran World Federation Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture found on the ELCA website. It is aimed at learning how to adapt features of different cultures from all over the world into our own worship practices. In my opinion, it is a way to strengthen the body of Christ by learning about and learning from our brothers and sisters from all over the world.

It is my hope that this trend will continue so that human equality is not just something that we talk about (or worse yet don’t talk about) but that it becomes something that we live without having to think about it.

So am I on the right track here? Honestly, I really want to know…Sound off.

4 responses to this post.

  1. smile — I would hope that you would know by now that I relish disagreement, and enjoy students who engage with me!

    I suppose I would further the conversation by saying it’s not that we’ve grown so familiar with racism that we don’t see it, it’s that we’ve institutionalized it in ways that make it hard to undo. I think most white folk are trying very hard not to act in racist ways interpersonally, but do we have any idea how we benefit from institutionalized forms of racism that we do not identify? forms that aren’t about interpersonal relationships, but educational and economic ones?

    Part of my point with that chapter in the book, is that if we’re going to argue — as I do — that embodied learning takes place in digital formats, than we have to recognize that the sinfulness that pertains to our embodiedness in non-digital contexts, doesn’t miraculously disappear here.

    Reply

  2. Or, maybe a different way to further the discussion, would be to point to a blog post like this one: http://pullthisblogover.blogspot.com/2011/06/we-dont-talk-about-skin-color.html

    And then to think about how, as pastoral leaders, we might help our congregations support all families in learning to talk about race.

    Reply

  3. Mary,
    I appreciate your clarification there. Honestly I really wondered what that chapter was doing in the book. But now that you give voice to the motivation I get what you were doing. And I agree with your perspective on the depth that sin permeates our lives and our relationships. Heavy stuff…makes me thankful for Jesus.

    Reply

  4. Thanks for bringing this up. Having been a minority [racially, culturally, educationally (is this a word?!), and economically] for eight years of my childhood in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papua_New_Guinea, I am intrigued by the “isms” which we all carry to some extent. I think it is essential to be aware of them and how they shape us, and that we are wise to learn from the diversity God blesses us with. I do hesitate when our sensitivity to the other our differences further apart, rather than bringing our similarities together. For instance, why feminist theology? Isn’t it really liberation theology? And isn’t the Cross really liberation?

    Reply

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