Brotha, did ya forget your name?: Reflections on Education, Memory and Identity

By João Chaves

La versión en español está disponible al final de este documento.

Most of us have heard the story of the lion that thought he was a sheep. Yes, that one we hear in motivational speeches that try to awaken the metaphorical lion that is supposedly sleeping inside of us. The story goes sort of like this: a lion cub gets lost from his family and is adopted by a flock of sheep. The lion grows up among sheep and, therefore, he thinks he is one of them. He bleated instead of roaring; ate grass instead of meat. The lion was a vegan—how hip—and that made him weak. The lion had forgotten who he really was.
You may, of course, feel free to use this story in order to try to awaken the beast that may be sleeping inside of you; that is, in order to recast the suspicious notion that you as an individual have full control over your destiny and that, if you only act right, all will be fine and dandy. My sociological commitments question the motivational-speech approach to the story, but you are welcome to give it a try.
The reason I am mentioning this well-known story, however, is because despite its shortcomings, it illustrates well the epistemological dynamic that became an increasing concern of mine on my ongoing development as a minority teacher who teaches minority students. We may not be able to change our destiny by bumping up our self-esteem. But we can, no, we must be able to tell our own story. In order to better serve our students, our community, the people we lead, and ourselves, we must understand and pay attention to the interdependence between memory and identity. In a very deep way, we are what we remember and, in turn, we remember the stories that we are told. That seems like a fairly innocent observation, but it is one with deceivingly complex ramifications. Let me illustrate parts of this dynamic with a personal story.
When I was in seminary, one of my professors, asked a question in class: “when you think of a Latino person, what comes to mind?” There was tension in the air! I was the only non-white person in class and they already knew I was less than shy. A friend of mine, now a pastor in a mid-size church in Texas, had courage and took the lead. He said: “I think of janitors and cooks!” Most of the other students—all of whom had at least one college degree—had similar opinions. A number of questions came to mind at that moment: how about Dolores Huerta, Cesar Chavez, or Cachao? Had they ever heard of Paulo Freire, Oscar Romero, Gabriel García Márquez, Frida Kahlo, or Gloria Anzaldúa? Have they never read Pablo Neruda or Isabel Allende? Surely they’ve heard of Rudolfo Anaya, right? There is, of course, nothing wrong with being janitors or cooks. I have cleaned houses for money and I worked in the restaurant industry—and those aren’t even the less prestigious jobs I’ve had. The issue is the implicit (and sometimes explicit) essentialization of Latinas/os as a pathological sub-class; a widespread practice in contemporary U.S.
I know, reader, what you may be thinking: “well, Disney is coming up with a Latina princess. Look how far we’ve gotten,” or “Didn’t you see Eva Longoria speaking at the Democratic National Convention? She’s my favorite housewife.” Yes, I’ve seen that and much more. So don’t say I don’t recognize a level of improvement. Despite the fact that I am not impressed by the commodification of Latina/o image as businesses discover the Latina/o market or politicians cater to the Latina/o vote, I get that we may be doing better.
But the issues surrounding the image and history of Latinas/os in this country have deep structural roots. The fact that my college-educated seminary colleagues knew next to nothing about Latina/o and Latin American role models is a far-too-common reality. This reality thrusts us inevitably to the production of knowledge and, as some of us may know, the production of knowledge thrusts us to the dynamics of power. “History has its own story,” said Michel Foucault, and he was right. Save a few exceptions, U.S. schools and colleges do not teach about the value and richness of Latina/o culture and history. Just ask yourself: “outside courses taken in Latina/o studies departments, what books written by Latinas/os were assigned to me in my high school, college, and even graduate school education?” I suspect the numbers will—to use a British-like understatement—not be very high. That illustrates, among other things, that the lack of awareness of the richness of Latina/o and Latin American contributions to American culture and history is, to a great extent, sustained by institutional practices.
Awareness that Latina/o and Latin American people may have internalized a distorted narrative of their heritage is important. It is important because our stories are an integral part of who we are and the stories of our ancestors are inseparable from our biographies, both for us and for those with whom we relate.
As Latinos/as who may have been trained under the shadows of the very disseminators of distorted narratives, we must constantly question the canons of our disciplines in the name of expansion; in the name of inclusion. We must include into our educational and leadership models creative ways to raise the awareness of the richness of the Latina/o heritage. A former Mexican-American student once told me she was so much more proud of her heritage after I taught, on my way towards explaining the invention of modern racism, about the former greatness of Tenochtitlan. How much prouder would she be had the story of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Geronimo, and José María Morelos not be stolen from her memory?
If we are leaders concerned about the subjectivity of those we lead and who indeed appropriate the vision of valuing our heritage, then we must embrace the challenge of rescuing formative stories that were neglected along the way. In this qualified sense, there are many lions to be awakened from their sheep-like slumbers. 
joao-chavez

João Chaves, BUA adjunct professor, is a Brazilian-born historian of Christianity. He loves trying to catch up to his marathon-running wife and playing board games with his two American children. João is the author of Evangelical and Liberation Revisited (Wipf & Stock, 2013) and of several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters.

La versión en español está disponible aquí Continue reading

What Lies Beneath the Surface: Lessons from Faithwalking

By Mario A. Ramos

La versión en español está disponible al final de este documento.

About two years ago, my wonderful wife, Linda, asked me to fix her NordicTrack ski machine. She had worn it out. There were a number of parts that needed to be replaced. I thought it would be easier just to buy a new one. But they don’t make them anymore. You have to order the parts and they don’t come with instructions. You have to call a guy and ask for guidance, and he is not very good at giving instructions. 
So after spending $130 on parts and working hours and hours on the machine, I finally came close to finishing this very frustrating project. I put the parts together and took them apart and back together more times than I can remember. All I know is that on the final day I was eager to get done with this machine. I called my wife to try out the machine, believing I had successfully rebuilt it. So I said, “Linda, please get on the machine and see if it works.” As she was getting on the machine, she noticed a small mound of loose nuts and bolts on the floor. She asked, in a small inquisitive voice, “Mario, what about those nuts and bolts?”  I lost it at that moment. In a much louder and firmer voice than I had anticipated I responded, “Get on that machine and see if it works!!” She quietly got on her NordicTrack. It worked. 
I walked back to the study and prayed. I was surprised by my overreaction and that what she had said bothered me, no, hurt me so much. While in prayer, a thought came to me that said, “It sounded like your father.” 
I grew up with a verbally abusive father. Throughout my childhood, I heard hurtful words and phrases trying to convince me that I was incompetent, a loser. And that I couldn’t do anything right. It was an emotional wound that had been revisited by Linda’s innocent question. She had no idea that I would interpret what she said by what my father had said, but I did. Because I had taken a class called Faithwalking, which is a spiritual, emotional and intellectual journey of self-awareness, I understood the dynamics of how our emotional wounds affect us today and why it hurts so badly. But I also learned that I can overcome this vicious cycle of shame.
I thanked God for helping me understand my unpredictable response and I was also able to ask Linda to forgive me. Since Linda had also taken Faithwalking, she understood my request for forgiveness which she gave graciously.
What would have happened if Linda didn’t respond so maturely? What if my mean-spirited retort irritated a wound in her life, causing her to respond to defend her dignity? What if she gave tit for tat and responded with equal venom? I can only imagine the escalation of anxiety, stress, anger and conflict.
So many of us do not understand why we do what we do, why we think such reoccurring negative thoughts, why we overreact over minor occurrences, why we take things so personally.  These and many other reactions have little to do with what is currently happening but are the result of emotional woundedness.
Faithwalking helps us become more self-aware. It is designed to help us understand: how our emotional wounds have affected us, how we have believed lies that we carry with us today, how we have made vows that dominate how we deal with anxiety, how we have developed defensive behaviors to be safe as we live our lives, how this leads to unintentional destructive behaviors that undermine our relationship to God, ourselves and others. Through the spiritual direction of the Holy Spirit in God’s Word, prayer, accountability, learning spiritual and psychological principles and mutual support in the small groups and coaching, Faithwalking students are able to become more self-aware and experience healing as they bring their wounds to our Lord. They find freedom from the vicious cycle of shame and sin, and improve their significant relationships.
Because of my father’s verbal abuse, as a child I believed the lie that I wasn’t good enough. I believed that I was unworthy of his acceptance. I felt worthless. I felt shame. Guilt is feeling that we have done something wrong. Shame is the feeling that we are wrong. It is an issue of identity. This lie formed in my subconscious. It is very painful for a child (or any person) to be rejected by someone who is supposed to love him/her. The child develops vows/promises to protect him/herself from being hurt again. Because of my father’s verbal abuse I made a number of vows. One of the vows was, “I will please everyone” (because I did not want to be rejected). You can see why I had a very difficult time saying “no” to requests for help. I wasn’t primarily motivated by love or mercy but by the subconscious fear of being rejected. 
One can imagine what happens to people like me. We burn out; we begin to secretly resent people who take advantage of our weakness. We are easily manipulated. We overcommit and fill out calendars with too many promises to keep. It was through taking the Faithwalking course that I came to discover the hidden forces that motivated me to unhealthy behaviors. I came to better understand that my worth is found ultimately in my relationship with God. Our worthiness is reaffirmed in our creation and redemption through Jesus Christ.
I am constantly amazed at the commitment and desire of students who come to BUA to keep serving Christ, and through him to keep experiencing a more abundant life. However, due to my years in the classroom, I know, too, that many of them have experiences in their past that wounded them like my childhood experiences wounded me. Thankfully BUA’s faculty and administration saw the value of making Faithwalking available to those students, as a way to help them to start their healing process.
Working on personal issues is hard and challenging, but it is worth it as it opens the possibility of richer lives. Students often say: “Faithwalking changed my life.” This course is simply a tool used by God to bring about much needed healing in people who are willing to go through a process of growth. I have spent years in the pastorate and in education, and teaching/coaching Faithwalking has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life because of the transformation I have seen in myself and in our students.
I invite you to consider ways in which you can grow in this area of your life. One approach that I highly recommend is enrolling in a Faithwalking course. For more information please visit https://www.faithwalking.us  
 Mario Ramos

Dr. Ramos teaches Practical Theology at the Baptist University of the Américas. He earned his Master’s degree in Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theology Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas and his Doctorate in Ministry from George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University. Ramos has pastored in different churches in South Texas for more than 15 years. He is married to Linda for 41 years. They have three grown sons of which two are married and have four grandchildren.

La versión en español está disponible aquí Continue reading

Conflict, Worldviews and Faith

By Teresa Martinez

La versión en español está disponible al final de este documento.

A recent educational leadership class I took focused on the issue of conflict. Abigail and Cahn (2011) say that conflict has been given a “bad name” not because in itself it is bad, but because people do not have the skills and understanding needed to navigate the waves of conflict present in everyday living (Abigail & Cahn, 2011, p. xi). One of the course texts, Managing Conflict Through Communication touches on issues like saving face; leveraging power; understanding and managing emotions; and communication strategies for conflict resolution. Five themes around which conflict develops are:  1) relationships; 2) data; 3) individual interests; 4) organizational structures; and 5) values. Ample opportunities exist in higher education to experience all of these conflict situations.
Leaders can hone their leadership effectiveness (George, 2007) by accepting the critical work of recognizing conflict and managing it for good (Abigail and Cahn, p. 288).
Because leadership is primarily relationship driven, the greatest threats to our leadership often arise out of unsettled or mismanaged conflicts (Wilmot and Hocker, 2011, p. 4-6). Conflict occurs whenever one person’s goals are interfered with by someone else’s goals. Just like organizations, individuals bring strengths, weaknesses, opportunities for improvement, and threats to their success. Therefore, conflicts can occur between individuals, between an individual and the organization and even within the individuals themselves.
The book, Leadership and Self-deception: Getting out of the Box, reminds us that as leaders sometimes we get stuck in our box when we encounter conflict. Our box is forged of our established experiences, premises, and achievements. Leaders, in particular, may have a high regard for their thinking because of the professional or academic successes. They develop tried and true expressions to live by. For example, one saying goes like this, If you want something done right, do it yourself. The problem with this in the box thinking is that it does not allow for true relationship to happen; that particular belief limits communication.
So how can we contribute positively to the current polarizing global conversation? Could we apply Christ’s mandate to respect and love? Can a focus on mutually beneficial outcomes improve the inevitable conflicts of interests, values, and ideas present because of globalization?
As Christians, we are called to authentic living where we engage one another and the world through a posture of service using the gifts, talents and strengths God has given us.
Conflict prevention, management, and resolution include creating a supportive and constructive environment (Abigail & Cahn, 2011). 
Furthermore, as believers we are called to transformational activities—love, respect, empathy. Jesus said it best, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” ( John 13: 34-35). According to the apostle Paul, transformation is part of our calling “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). Then there is the Old Testament Proverb that says, “As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). 
Conflict is inevitable; sparks will fly; however, conflict is beneficial. Communication is a key to promoting an open useful environment at home, work or the global community. At Baptist University of the Américas, we want our students to learn to be global citizens, prepared for global challenges. Abigail and Cahn (2011) write about our propensity to only think within our own box this way: “Our worldview has a ‘taken for granted’ aspect to it. We assume others believe as we do. But that is not the case because we live side by side with other races, nationalities, ethnic groups, and cultures. [We must] try to live together to forge answers to the most pressing social, political, and economic problems in a way that neither denies nor magnifies the differences inherent in our worldviews” (p.  273).
The world is in conflict. The church is in conflict. Polarizing thoughts and activities are rampant.  There is personal pain and global pain. Pollyanna as it may sound, let us actively seek to understand and develop skills to navigate often powerful emotions and perhaps we can train ourselves and others to generate mutually beneficial ideas to bridge the gaps.
As an example, let me offer how academic librarians are adapting amidst ever-changing conditions (Budd, 2005). In their roles as instructors, it is no longer sufficient to understand cognitive theories. As student populations become more diverse, one must also take into account the social context from which they start (Budd, p. 242).
Whereas in the past librarians functioned primarily as gatekeepers of information, increasingly they are faced with creating pace-setting strategies to not only respond to technological innovations, but to perform their jobs with greater tolerance and empathy to teach students how to evaluate sources of information and not simply consume sound bites and tweets without study or investigation.
Historical and cultural cues are a necessary part of understanding and evaluating any source. Often the internet is filled with bias, propaganda, misinformation and outright lies. Positive and thoughtful interactions not only model good communication, they provide valuable contexts for the interpretation of arguments and ideas.
Baptist University of the Americas remains poised to develop those “cross-cultural Christian leaders” who manage conflict and communicate outside the box for the greater Good.
Along those lines, congratulations to BUA graduates, Rolando Aguirre and Ruben Burguete, as they join the other like-minded leaders of the Hispanic Baptist Convention to continue to encourage Kingdom values in Texas and the world.  

Martinez_Teresa-218x300

Teresa Martinez serves as the Director of the Learning Resources Center and Chair of the Associate of Arts in Cross-cultural Studies at Baptist University of the Americas.  

 Works Cited
Abigail, R. A., & Cahn, D. D. (2011). Managing conflict through communication (4th ed.).  Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Arbinger Institute (2010). Leadership and self-deception: Getting out of the box. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.
Budd, J. M. (2005). The changing academic library: Operations, culture, environments. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
George, B., & Sims, P. (2007). True north: Discover your authentic leadership. San Francisco,  CA: Jossey-Bass/John Wiley & Sons.
Version, N. I. (1984). Thompson Chain-Reference Bible. Indianapolis, IN.: B.B. KirkBridge  Bible.
Wilmot, W. W., & Hocker, J. L. (2011). Interpersonal conflict (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

La versión en español está disponible aquí

Continue reading

The Essential Change: Learning to Awe

By Rick McClatchy

La versión en español está disponible al final de este documento.

American Christianity is in the throes of some big shifts, which call for tremendous changes in the church. For the past seven years there was a one percent decrease in the number of people connected with organized religion. At the same time, there was an increased interest in spirituality. These trends are most pronounced among the younger generation.[i] The message we need to hear from this is that our churches are not adequately connecting with the spiritual yearnings of many in the younger generation.  
This shift can be seen in some of the data shared by Diana Butler Bass in her book, Christianity After Religion: The End of the Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. When people were asked in 1999 to indicate religious orientation the following was reported:
30% Spiritual Only
54% Religious Only 
6%  Both Religious & Spiritual
9%  Neither Spiritual nor Religious
In 2009 one sees a tremendous shift occurring: 
30% Spiritual Only
9% Religious Only 
48%  Both Religious & Spiritual
9%  Neither Spiritual nor Religious
Interest in spirituality has more than doubled to include 78% of the respondents. Subsequent studies also found this rise in interest in spirituality, but there is a corresponding decline in institutional church membership happening at the same time. People, especially the millennial generation, are becoming skeptical about the institutional churches’ capacity to connect them with the spiritual dimension of life.[ii]
To connect better with this growing spiritually-seeking segment, the church needs to focus upon helping people experience God in their life journey. Churches, focusing upon the theological divide between progressives and conservatives, fail to interest these young people. They do not want to join in a theological conflict. Instead, they want ways to experience the awe of this cosmos. This shift toward awe marks a shift from an intellectual-centered faith (orthodoxy) to an experience-oriented faith (orthopraxy). 
Awe does not have to be irrational but the experience precedes the rational dimension. Jason Silva describes this type of cosmic awe as “an experience of such perceptual vastness you literally have to reconfigure your mental models of the world to assimilate it.” My faith formation in the church, college, and seminary taught me how to think about doctrines and issues, but not to awe. That has to change.
Feelings of awe can be experienced in multiple ways: e.g. immersion in nature, music, art, literature, movies, dance, scientific observation, serving others, encounters and interactions with people, worship, prayer, contemplation, meditation, and sports. At the core of these experiences is a beauty which points to a cosmic vastness to which we are connected. This feeling of connectedness to the vastness of the cosmic life—what we describe using the term God, as well as Logos, Wisdom, Mystery, and others—has been at the heart of the Christian mystical tradition that has persisted from Jesus to the present. These feelings of connectedness to the Cosmic One propel us toward realizing that one is deeply connected to all people and that we are indeed our brother’s/sister’s keeper. Furthermore, we are connected to all that God has created, and we are expected to be its caretaker.
This emerging awe-filled spirituality that values experience can be challenging for evangelical churches, which value personal conversion experience at the start of the Christian journey, but immediately after conversion turn toward a Bible rationalism that diminishes and belittles experience. This would be true across the theological spectrum of evangelical churches—conservatives, moderates and progressives. 
Evangelical churches will need to recover some insight from the Christian mystical found in scripture and church history. A theologian that is attempting to renew the Christian mystical tradition is Matthew Fox, who has been both admired and despised for his innovative/provocative ideas. This of course indicates the real danger for theologians in this era of transition. The church needs a new theology centered upon an awe-filled spirituality, but it castigates and reprimands theologians who try to do so.  
On the positive side, this type of cosmic awe is friendly to the new science that sees the deep connections that exist throughout the cosmos. No longer do we have to engage in the faith vs. science conflict. This type of awe finds common ground with other religions and philosophies as we learn from each other. This means we no longer need to be fearful of the stranger but can truly welcome him/her. This awe changes our awareness of God.  God is no longer a being up there separated from us, but the God in which we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28).  Diana Butler Bass in her book, Grounded: Finding God in the World—A Spiritual Revolution, describes it as shift from the distant vertical God to the intimate horizontal God. 
We have a ways to go yet, but given the trends and the Christian desire to fulfill our mission of sharing the Gospel, it is essential for our churches to find ways to recover this cosmic awe.

rick mcclatchy

Dr. Rick McClatchy is State Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas and an adjunct professor at Baptist University of the Américas.

[i]  Pew Research Center (http://www.pewresearch.org/) has multiple issues on the millennials and religion. I would suggest starting with these four recent articles.  Millennials are less Religious than older Americans, but just as Spiritual (Nov. 23, 2015); Millennials increasingly are driving growth of ‘nones’ (May 2015); Why Millennials are less Religious than Older Americans (Jan. 8, 2016); Millennials views of the news media, religious organizations grow more negative (Jan. 4, 2016).  
[ii] Ibid.

La version en español está disponible aqui

Continue reading

Cultural Matters: The Power of Cultural Studies

By Sophia Botello

 La version en español está disponible al final de este documento.

 In 1994, I decided to take a semester off from my second year in college; I was tired of working so hard and being broke all the time. Plus, I felt I really didn’t belong to any particular group.  I worked in the university cafeteria so I was friends with much of the student body. I played intramural basketball and belonged to several clubs so I was sociable. But, in hindsight, I just didn’t feel that I mattered to the campus.
 Fast-forward twelve years later – I am married with children and an undergraduate student. At this point, I am finally finishing the education I started. In my last semester of an English program, I take a course that completely rocks my world. The course was Studies in the American Novel. (Up to this point, I had studied the typical literary canon: Chaucer, Shakespeare, Steinbeck, Bradbury, Hemingway…). The American Novel course focused on contemporary American literature and one of the short stories we studied was Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek. My English professor informed the class that there were universities with entire departments that granted degrees in Mexican-American Studies, Chicana/o Studies, Multi-cultural Studies, and Ethnic Studies.[i] I never knew that there was an entire field of academic studies devoted to studying me and my culture.
 I had never felt so validated in my academic life. 
 Now I know why I didn’t connect to my first college campus in 1994. There wasn’t a curriculum that connected to me. Sadly, I did not learn about my Mexican-American history, literature, and culture until I was an upperclassman in an English literature program in college in 2010. I realized that many Mexican-American students like me and students from various other cultures were missing out on learning about their very own heritage. For this reason, I changed my career path. Instead of becoming a literary librarian as I had planned, I decided to teach literature and writing because I knew doing so could be life-changing for students, as it was for me.
 Why is there an increase in ethnic and cultural studies? One of the reasons is that humanity is connected like never before. Technology and social media have the power to easily connect us to people on the other side of the world. Cultural programs in higher education have developed in response to this instant form of communication. As students traverse this new global society more readily than ever before, many leadership, business, and educational programs in higher education now include courses that teach students cultural awareness and cross-cultural communication.
 Many in higher education get the big picture of cultural studies. But what about high schools and other institutions of higher education? 
 The inclusion of cultural and ethnic studies in American high schools is debated. Proponents of these studies contend that students who take these courses are less likely to drop out because students connect to the curriculum. A 2016 study by Emily Penner and Thomas S. Dee at the Stanford Graduate School of Education found that “a high school ethnic studies course examining the roles of race, nationality and culture on identity and experience boosted attendance and academic performance of students at risk of dropping out.”  (http://news.stanford.edu/news/2016/january/ethnic-studies-benefits-011216.html). In other words, students excelled academically when students took courses on cultural awareness.
 Brooke Donald, who writes about the 2016 Stanford study, reports that “…opponents have argued they [ethnic studies] are anti-American, teach divisiveness and may displace opportunities for students to take electives of their choice.” However, these opposing arguments to cultural studies are barriers to communication. It’s essential to learn about other cultures and cross cultural barriers. 
 In the Bible, Jesus gives us the ultimate example of crossing cultural barriers when he shares the Good News with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4: 7-26). At this time, no respectable Jewish man would talk to a woman of mixed race, known to be living in sin, and in a public place. Yet, Jesus does what is socially unacceptable and crosses the barriers of prejudice to communicate with her.[ii] His actions teach us to transcend the barriers that tend to divide cultures and ethnicities.
 Jesus’ actions show us the importance of building bridges instead of walls. For me, that’s what cultural studies do. They allow us to build bridges of communication and understanding. As a professor in higher education, I have witnessed the transformative power of crossing cultural barriers and understanding one another. Students gain a sense of self-worth in their education; they connect and they advance even further in their studies. To this end, students thrive in cultural immersion and excel in academics. My hope is that students do not drop out of school like I did; validating students’ cultural backgrounds matters in education.
 My experience with cultural studies has allowed me to learn about myself and reinforces the fact that Jesus loves everyone. I am important to Him. As a result, my heart has been opened even further to Him. I know that through my own experiences, I have learned the best way to share the Good News – by showing students that their culture and their stories matter

Sophia Botello Picture

Sophia Botello is Instructor of English and Director of the Writing Center at Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio, Texas.

[i] Culture refers to the non-biological or social aspects of human life.  Ethnicity refers to social traits that are shared by a human population.  In essence, culture is a feature of one’s ethnicity.
 [ii] Matthews, Victor H. “Conversation And Identity: Jesus And The Samaritan Woman.” Biblical Theology Bulletin 40.4 (2010): 215-226. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 May 2016.

La version en español está disponible aqui Continue reading

Classroom aflame: Encountering the Great I Am in students

By Craig Bird

La version en español está disponible al final de este documento.

A solitary burning bush surrounded by desert tends to get noticed. Especially by lonely shepherds weary of looking at nothing but sheep.
Hundreds of flaming shrubs not so much. Especially in a world aswarm with distractions.
But a miracle is no less a miracle because it is present in multitude instead of isolation.
This semester I’ve been reminded once again that walking the halls of BUA might best be done barefoot. It is holy ground, a place where God repeatedly and consistently puts miracles in my path, challenges me to pay attention to what He is doing—and invites me to be part of His process.
Early morning is not a prime time for college students but last January, two dozen students signed up for Speech Communications, Tuesday-Thursday 8 a.m. I’m not always wide awake then either so it took a couple of weeks for me to notice the blazes all around me.
As they gave their self-eulogy speeches I got to know: a 77-year-old man who had buried his wife four months earlier; a 21-year-old woman married less than three months; two women who had met Christ through prison ministry; a young man who had prepared for ministry at a don’t-attract-attention seminary in his home country; and a political refugee from Myanmar/Burma who struggled with his accent because English was his ninth language.
Another young man shared about being adopted out of the cartel wars of Mexico as an eight-year-old and of his biological relatives still caught in the violence. Another young woman told how God had found her living under a bridge six months earlier and led her to BUA.
Hispanics, Anglos, African Americans, Asians. Raised in stable, Christ-centered homes. Born into shattered families.  Male and Female. Young, old and in between.  Single. Married. Engaged. Widowed. Single moms. New in the faith. Wizened in the faith. Championing the faith. Questioning the faith.
Twenty-four unique individuals all made in the image of God. Twenty-four miracles-in-process, throwing off sparks and calling for their professors to fan the flames of their minds and souls.
Jesus said God expects much from people who have received much. Paul points out that teachers will be judged on how faithful they were to their tasks. (I remind every class that, Biblically speaking, my final exam will be tougher than theirs.) I regularly thank God for letting me be part of the BUA faculty. I have been given much.
No wonder Moses was scared. I am too. 
Recently another scripture has come alive for me as I prepare for Speech class. As we talked about speaker’s anxiety, compassionate listening, research methods and audience analysis, this took up residence in my mind:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Heb. 12:1 (NIV)
I’ve always been comfortable with the dominant interpretation that the great cloud consists of the spirits of those who labored long and well in their God-called tasks—often suffering for the privilege—cheering us on in our life’s race. We draw strength and inspiration from their examples.
That still sounds right.
But I’ve begun to see our students as another cloud. Surrounding me are active and avid spectators as I run my race as a teacher. They are investing time and energy and interest in what I say and do. What they learn about Speech Communications—at least as college students– and how to use those skills as Christian serving leaders, they will mostly learn from me.
If I do my job as unto the Lord then God can bless that.
But when I mail it in, when I don’t study enough, prepare enough, pray enough, then I can’t run the race of my calling the way God intends. They are witnesses, every Tuesday and Thursday at 8 a.m. of my dedication—or lack thereof—to being true to my professed name of Christian.
I must confess I’ve long been intrigued with the burning bushes that appear in our lives, how at times we ignore them, at times we embrace them. But our response, or lack thereof, doesn’t change the nature of the fire calling to us.
Almost 50 years ago, I wrote on the inside cover of my Bible a passage from Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “Aurora Leigh:”
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries
That has proved true. God shows up to remind me that He is, that he has called me to Holy places to do what he gifted and prepared me to do.
And when I turn aside from my business-as-usual rush to confront and consider and interact with the burning bushes at the classroom desk, I pray I never lose the sense of wonder when I see the flame of the Great I Am in their hearts and minds.
I like blueberries. But I love and need the burning bushes in my classes.

wilderness point mug

Craig Bird is Assistant Professor of Missions and Cross Cultural Communications.

La version en español está disponible aqui

Continue reading

Student Use of Technology: Help or Hindrance

By Kyle Ashley

 La versión en español está disponible al final de este documento.

We live in the age of information revolution, marked by technology innovation, and human capital surpassing physical capital in perceived value. This age is also dominated by a growing population of millennials, born between 1982 and the early 2000’s. That same generation is now the overwhelming majority of undergraduate students in higher education.
Another characteristic of the information age is the continued integration of technology into the traditional classroom environment. This pervasiveness of technology in the classroom begs the question: is student use of technology a help or hindrance?
Over the next few paragraphs I will attempt to shed light on this question. Specifically, this blog discusses the use of technological devices, which include, but are not limited to: laptops and mobile devices (smart phones, tablets, e-books, etc.), by students as they attend classes in a traditional learning environment. This blog will not discuss the integration of technology into effective pedagogy, policies on student/instructor use of technology, technology use in virtual learning environments, or infrastructure and support for Internet-ready devices in higher education. While these application areas are critical to the higher education experience, their discussion will be reserved for future blogs.
Multiple research studies suggest that an increasing number of students have laptops and mobile devices in the classroom (Wright, 2013), and student use of technology is becoming more widespread over time as well. An important question: Does student use of technology actually enhance students’ academic experience, or are students simply checking social media web sites and watching the latest YouTube video to go viral?
To help answer this question, I suggest two areas need to be explored: first, we must immerse ourselves in the millennial culture and gain a greater understanding of how this generation learns; and second, we need to understand the role technology plays in the academic life of students.
Millennials are often referred to as digital natives (Prensky, 2001) as they have literally grown up with technology integrated into nearly every aspect of their lives. Millennials are highly skilled in technology use (Frand, 2000) and learning new technology is accomplished through trial and error. Additionally, millennials are often marked by their acceptance for others, and a strong sense of community, as seen in their prevalent use of social media (Chen, Seilhamer, Bennett, Bauer, 2015). Constant communication with others is taken for granted, as millennials expect immediate and regular communication (Kvavik, 2004). Rather than solve problems, many millennials expect to find answers online. The preferred learning modality is an extension of what is important to millennials; they prefer to experience life, and thus are partial to experiential learning. Students learn by doing and collaborating with others as an integral part of the discovery process (Frand, 2000).
Medical students in a 2014 class at the University of California Irvine scored 23% higher than previous classes, on national exams, because of immediate access to information (Comstock, 2013). It should also be noted that students in this class collaborated with students from the school of Information and Computer Science to develop 19 health apps for mobile devices.
Ability to organize, access, and share information easily was a significant factor in college students’ claims that tablets help them learn more efficiently and perform better in the classroom (Pearson, 2015). The Oklahoma State University News (2011) reported that over 75% of students agreed or strongly agreed the iPad enhanced their learning experience. Students were able to collaborate electronically outside the classroom, and they felt they were able to learn on an “equal playing field” with other students.
A recent study suggested the top five reasons technology had a positive impact on academic experience (Kvavik, 2013):
  1. Communicating better with instructors
  2. Receiving prompt feedback, incorporating feedback into future work
  3. Increasing collaboration and communication with other students
  4. Improving presentation of their work
  5. Using technology to increase opportunities for practice and reinforcement
Clearly, there are reservations regarding students who take laptops and mobile devices. Many instructors prohibit students from having mobile devices in the classroom. This concern over the use of technology in the classroom is shared by students as well. Nearly 50% of students and two-thirds of faculty surveyed had concerns that mobile devices are distractions in traditional learning environments (Dahlstrom and Bichsel, 2014).
Can student use of technology in the classroom be a hindrance to students’ higher education learning experience? Evidence suggests student use of technology in the classroom can be a distraction not only to the individual student, but to other students as well. However, an equally strong claim can be made that technology, and more specifically, mobile devices, not only enhance learning, but students expect and anticipate the integrated use of technology into their educational experience.
It is worth noting that a claim can be made that what has been learned from student use of technology in the classroom may also have strong application in youth and college ministries. A common theme between these research studies, which demonstrate at a minimum, a correlation between and quite possibly causation between student use of technology in the classroom, and perceptions of and/or demonstrated increase in effectiveness of learning, is the fact that studies focus on post-millenials, i.e. individuals the same approximate age of youth and young adults. Clearly, there is an opportunity for further research to test the hypothesis of student use of technology in church ministries focused on youth and young adults. 
As we prepare this current generation of students to serve in a pastoral, vocational, and secular setting, we are faced with the realization of the interdependency between millennials and technology, and the challenge of responding to their demands for further integration of technology into the higher education and ministry learning experience. I will save that discussion for a future blog…
References:
Becker, D. (2013). Anticipating the Exception, Not the Rule: Forming Policy for Student Use of Technology in the Classroom. Ejournal of Education Policy, Fall 2013.
Chen, B., Seilhamer, R., Bennett, L., Bauer, S. (2015). Students’ Mobile Learning Practices in Higher Education. Educause Review.
Comstock, J. (2013). Ipad Equipped Medical School Class Scores 23 Percent Higher on Exams. Mobihealthnews.
Dahlstrom, E. Bichsel, J. (2014). ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology. Educause.
Facer, K. (2012). Taking the 21st Century Seriously: Young People, Education and Socio-Technical Futures. Oxford Review of Education, 38, 1.
Kvavik, R. (2013). Convenience, Communications, and Control: How Students Use Technology. Educause.
Montano, J. (2014). Do Students Have the Right to Use Technology in the Classroom. Top Hat.
Oklahoma State University. (2011). Oklahoma State University iPad Study. Oklahoma State University News.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9, 5.
Roberge, G., Gagnon, L. (2014). Impect of Technology Policy in the Higher Education Classroom: Emerging Trands. Ejournal of Education Policy, Spring 2014. 
Ashley

Kyle Ashley serves as the Department Chair of the Business Leadership Program and Assistant Professor at Baptist University of the Américas.

La versión en español  está disponible aquí. Continue reading