What happens if. . .

As a "transformative educator," I work to figure out how best to teach material so that learners make a shift in thought and/or behavior.  This space is dedicated to some of the innovations I'm working on now in my classroom.  Perhaps you're working on similar pedagogical problems.  I'd LOVE to hear about your work, so comment below or contact me and let's share!   

Teaching Faith Development

JANUARY 2013.  I've been struggling with how to teach my graduate students about human/faith development models for a couple of years now.  On the one hand, learning the theory explicitly seems helpful but, since the theory is complex, its quite easy to get caught up in the weeds and lose sight of  its usefulness.  And, of course, I don't want to oversimplify the theory as that could do a LOT of harm if it is misused.  What I encounter most are critiques such as "this age-stage theory seems too rigid and does not allow for human difference."  Or, I have also observed that students do MUCH better when they are applying the constructs to fictional characters, and become quite daunted when thinking of how it applies to their OWN lives and worldviews.  Still, at the end fo the day, there is something to be gained from thinking about how, in general, people learn to take on more compleity in their lives.  How can they learn to love/care more deeply?  To hold suspicion at bay so they can engage the humanity of another person?  Oh, I forgot to say, I usually only have about 4-6 hours of classroom instruction  time to get all of this across!  Yeah, it's a challenge!

So, last summer I heard a colleagues talk about the use of board games as a way to help people understand the "type of mind" that is  required to solve problems.   A couple weeks ago, I gave it a try and with great success.  I set up the classroom with board games that ranged from Candy Land to Checkers, to Scrabble to chess to 3-D puzzle blocks.  Students played three or four of the games, and then processed "the kind of mind they brought each of those tasks."   While I got some of the expected cognitive dissonance one gets when teaching these ideas, I ALSO found that students were better able to grasp how a personal "mental model" can be useful to understand.  So, it was a good day for feeling like a "teacher." 

Difference does NOT equal deficit

FEBRUARY 2013.  Back in 2006 when I was writing, “Building the World We Dream About” for the UUA’s Tapestry of Faith curriculum, I conducted a series of qualitative focus groups, asking Unitarian Universalists of Color the question, “what keeps you engaged in your mixed-race congregation?”  Almost to a person, the response was “UU theology,” meaning, the ability to make sense the experiences that shape their lives nested in a paradigm of “possibility” and hope.  As one elder of color quipped, “Honey, if we can’t do it here, it can’t be done anywhere.”  

As a religious educator, I find that response compelling and have been grappling to make sense of that supposition in pedagogical terms.  What is an appropriate developmental response to this question?  In my Fahs Lecture, "Toward a Religious Education for People of Color" in 2011, I began to unpack a bit of that reality, but I’d like to do more. 

Specifically, what I have noticed in the literature as well as in educational settings is the recognition that different objectives must be operationalized in order to promote growth/development.  For the person in a dominant group, the journey toward transformation begins when the assumption of privilege/ power/authority is interrupted.  The white person or the heterosexual or the Christian or the person with a college degree or the black-straight-male in an African American community….any person who assumes his point of view is “the norm” must recognize what my colleague Peggy McIntosh called the “invisible knapsack of privilege.”  While that factoid may seem to be old news, what is often unrecognized – especially in multi-racial contexts – is that those who are targets of oppression should also be encouraged to transform their relationship to powerlessness.  The spark that begins that process, however, is not the act of recognition that they are targets of oppression (they get that newsflash on a regular basis).  The opposite experience is essential to spark growth/healing:  an affirming experience wherein the anticipated act of discrimination, stereotyping or marginalization fails to occur.  It is as if to say, “wow, I didn’t expect to be treated fairly!”  When that happens with integrity, the target of oppression can begin a process of transforming her association with that particular type of event.

It seems to me that we need to take a serious look at this dynamic, especially as educators working to heal broken and dysfunctional relationships.  I consider this notion in the Fahs Lecture [see the podcast], making the point that our educational practices tend to address interrupting “whiteness” with little attention to healing the wounds that targets of oppression internalize over the course of their lives.  What do those practices look like?  How can we create learning conditions that ALSO encourage developmental  growth for the targets of oppression?





 Creating Theology Together.  

Our newest curriculum is a learning exercise that invites individuals to not only identify their theological commitments, but to do so in the company of others who may or may not share your same beliefs.  Led by ministers and religious educators,  to inform & shape a public theology that grounds our faithful actions in the world.  Curriculum launch:  June 2019.


Gathering Our Selves: Faith Formation for the Melanin Majority. Based on the ourcome of my work over the last five years, it's clear to me that the human and faith development of people of color in  primarly White cultural context can cause psycho-spiritual distress among non-dominant cultural groups.   Gathering Ourselves reverses that trend and orients participants toward flourishing ways of thinking, feeling, and being.








UUA Commission on Instituional Change.  Walnut Creek, CA   Oct. 1-3


Race and Formation as a Family Matter.   Eno River, Durham, NC. Oct 19-21.



Keynote:  Tools for The Shift: Foundational Insights for Transformive Communities"  Mosiac Makers National Conference.  San Diego, CA.  Oct. 28-31.

Workshop: Gathering Our Selves Spiritual Direction for People of Color.   CENTER Institute for Excellence in Ministry.  Jan 22-26, 2818








Liberal Religious Educators Association, Fall Conference.  Houston, TX  Nov. 2-5


Multicultural Congregations as Faith Formation (with Rev. Kierstin Homblette Allen).  All Souls Church and The Church of the Restoration.   October 28-Nov 2.  Tulsa, Oklahoma









Just published!   "Religious Education and the Traditions," in The Oxford Handbook on Religion and Higher Education (2018).  The article is a review of the history, trends and practices employed by religious workers in transmitting religiosity to its faithful. The chapter is also an excellent resource for teachers and those curious about exploring how faith formation “works” as well as the role specific teaching practices. The handbook features preeminent scholars from the fields of religion (some excellent scholarship on faith formation!) education, law, and political science to craft a comprehensive survey and assessment of the study of religion and education in the United States






ChicagoLand BC Retreat, Oak Park, IL (Unity Temple); Nov 16-17


Cedar Lane, Maryland; January 18-19


San Luis Obispo, CA; Feb 1-2


All Souls, Unitarian, Washington, DC Feb. 22-23







October 2013 was an extrordinary month for many reasons.  Stll hard to put it all into context but I was joined by 18 Unitarian Universalists from my home congregation to connect our African American identities back to Africa.   Titled, “Sankofa: Looking Back in Order to Move Forward,” pilgrimage to Ghana, site of the slave castles that were the point of departure for The Middle Passage.  A few insights from my journey are posted here.