The Pray-er

“No, I won’t look at it.  You are not praying to those people who are in the room, you are praying to God; trust your own prayerfulness.”

While I do consider public prayer a responsibility, Mitch’s words caused me pause.   Was I concerned about praying before my colleagues for the wrong reasons?  Was I more concerned with sounding holy or intelligent or somehow both?  His words also reminded me of whose presence I was calling upon in that prayer, even in a faculty meeting.

Reading like a writer is a pedagogical practice I not only teach but do. Since I was praying for a large meeting, my first response was to take out my copy of Praymates, compiled by Candida Lund.  I began leafing through the ancient and more contemporary prayers this book contains.  I read the prayers with the express intent of finding one I could pray or remix for my own purpose.

From my perspective, the contemporary idea of remixing and my understanding of the responsibility of corporate prayer are reflected in these words from literary theorist Bakhtin’s, The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays.

All words have the “taste” of a profession, a genre, a tendency, a party, a particular work, a particular person, a generation, an age group, the day and hour.  Each word tastes of the context and contexts in which it has lived its socially charged life; all words and forms are populated by intentions (Bakhtin, 1981,p. 293).

The words I chose to pray did rest, as Bakhtin states, “on the borderline between oneself and the other.”  I wasn’t praying only for myself, nor was I praying only with an audience.  My prayer was ripe with my own intentions and, while it would also become other’s intentions, spoken in that moment.

While this doesn’t seem deeply spiritual as I write this now, my intention for reading the prayers in Praymates was to make someone else’s words our own. As I paged through the prayers in this book, I found eloquent lines that would allow me to put on airs of holiness but kept returning to a prayer by Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland (1542-1587) that almost seemed too personal for my gig.

Keep us, O God, from all pettiness; let us be large in thought, in word, in deed.

Let us be done with fault finding and leave off all self seeking.

May we put away all pretense and meet each other face to face without self-pity and without prejudice.

May we never be hasty in judgment and always generous.

Let us take time for all things, and make us to grow calm, serene, and gentle.

Teach us to put into action our better impulses, straight forward and unafraid.

Grant that we may realize that it is the little things of life that create differences, that in the big things of life, we are as one.

And, O Lord God, let us not forget to be kind!


The line, teach us to put into action our better impulses, straight forward and unafraid, is one that I needed to act upon.

Praying before a faculty meeting, praying publicly “on the job” meant that I am “owning up” to the whole person I am.  Mitch’s words, that began this post, reminded me that I had to give up the idea that I wanted to come across a certain way—a perfect prayer.  Parker Palmer in his book, A Hidden Wholeness, speaks of our yearning to be whole; but living a divided life seems easier.  For me, that division is between my thinking self and my surrendering self that seems at odds rather than intertwined.  Palmer says that “wholeness is not about perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.  Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness—mine, yours, ours—need not be a utopian dream…

So I remixed the Queen’s words:

We come in gratitude, God, for your creating and loving spirit that brings new freedoms, joy, and provision for hope in this day.

Keep us from all pettiness; let us be large in thought, in word, in deed.

May we meet each other face-to-face without pretense; never hasty in decisions or judgments, always generous.

Teach us to put into action our better impulses, straightforward and unafraid.

Grant that we may realize that we are one in your spirit.

Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

And this prayer became and continues to be a kind of talking to myself. I found that when I said the words out loud they reminded me what I needed to do, so I keep on saying them.

Buechner says in Wishful Thinking:

Whatever else it may or may not be, prayer is at least talking to yourself, and that’s in itself not always a bad idea.

Talk to yourself about your own life, about what you’ve done and what you’ve failed to do, and about who you are and who you wish you were and who the people you love are and the people you don’t love too. Talk to yourself about what matters most to you, because if you don’t, you may forget what matters most to you.

Even if you don’t believe anybody’s listening, at least you’ll be listening.


More Than I Intend

Isaiah 44: Doing the right thing for the wrong reason…was the message that simple?

In a recent chapel at the institution where I teach, an English professor, who epitomizes the kind of person I want to be in this world, offered a meditation on Isaiah 44: “When meet ends are met.”   Meet is an archaic word meaning proper, fitting, or correct. It was one of those moments when God speaks gradually through my pondering of my own experience, my reading of other people’s words and now, in this instant, as I listened in chapel and new understandings emerged.

Again and again, I struggle with what I do; more specifically how what I do matters. Not so much my teaching, the relationships I build seem right even though there is tension between dismantling hierarchies of teacher and student and being the “most knowledgeable” one in that relationship.   I spend time wondering about other academic work that I was acculturated to do in graduate school. It has been my experience that some of my work has little to do with what matters. After listening to this chapel talk, I am wondering if maybe I am asking the wrong questions.

I have gifts that sometimes seem paradoxical—like dilemmas to be solved. Instead of asking, “do I do this?” when opportunities present themselves, my question might benefit from a change. How do I, or even do I, do this for the “right” reason?

Dr. MacDonald, the chapel speaker, said that it is not a matter of the “things” themselves, rather, Isaiah 44:12-20 recounts an example of Israel’s improper use of those things. In these verses, craftsman use their skill and resources for right ends and for wrong ones. Each tool and gift a craftsman uses, for example, has its own value or end and it is up to that craftsman to discover that value and make proper use of it. Dr. MacDonald summarized that in its highest sense, “fitting” grows out of respect for the true order of things; finding the true value of something and recognizing it in some appropriate way.

 My troubling revelation from my colleague’s chapel meditation was that I’m looking to the wrong things to “save me,” to make me count in the grand scheme of life.

We all are a part of the kind of Exodus story that Isaiah recounts. We, too, invite distress by an unknowing or even a defiance of God’s presence and purpose.

Dr. MacDonald wondered, “But in the people of Israel’s oppressions and neglects, what were they really doing? Were they, too, seeking salvation and deliverance from something that could not provide that for them?”

How would changing the reason I will write an academic article or present at a conference with other academics (whose opinions matter for all the wrong reasons to me) change what I do?

I’ve been on the look out for something more tangible or maybe intangible to transform what I have felt compelled to do for my academic worthiness. What could change my practice into something that reaches into the core of what matters or do I change what I do?

A couple of summers ago I attended the Buechner Writing workshop at Princeton Seminary in search of putting more of my “heart” in my academic writing. As a result, I began this blog—a very different purpose and practice of writing, or is it? This blog writing has everything to do with whose and who I am; yet, doesn’t hinge on what I am.

I will admit my continual angst about naming my degree, a job title, a kind of education, a kind of place where I work that results in tension. I was using all of those things to save me…to give me a platform…to validate my intellect…to put me above others in particular ways when that was the very thing I was fighting against. Using the right tools to do the wrong job?

While those questions persist, the good news in this story in Isaiah, as Dr. MacDonald pointed out, is in the poetry that frames the prose that troubled my work. In my dilemmas, I also experience the promise and transformation of the opening verses that remind me that I belong to God.

But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!

Thus says the Lord who made you,
who formed you from the womb and will help you:

Do not fear, O Jacob my servant.

I am the Lord’s… The Lord’s.    

I am the Lord’s; more than intend.

Read On…

Over the Christmas holiday, I read several novels by Lee Smith. I read Oral History, Black Mountain Breakdown, Fair and Tender Ladies, and Saving Grace. Now, I am reading her newish memoir, Dimestore. I literally can locate my life in these books because they are set in the area where I live. Growing up in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia, Smith writes the stories of her childhood in Grundy, Virginia, and the nearby isolated “hollers” of the mountains surrounding Grundy and on toward Bristol, where I live.

The truths of stories, those truths that emerge and inform my own life, are tacitly experienced in my reading beyond the geographic landscapes I know. For example, across the four novels, I realized that the strong women that anchor each book go through much of their lives waiting, even longing, for something intangible that will make their lives complete. Often these longings result in hastily made decisions based on strong emotions that challenge the very relationships with those closest and most dear to them—husbands, brothers, sisters, and children.

I understand that kind of longing,

I’m teaching children’s literature this semester and I want the class to think deeply about the power of story in our lives. We use words and the many forms of language we encounter to become human, to connect ourselves with people and places and things in the world, and to connect ourselves beyond our human understanding.

Reading for me is one of those interpretive practices that creates a real “place” where I learn about myself. It’s not always explicitly obvious, though that does occasionally happen. Most often, it is what literacy researcher and writer, Dennis Sumara, calls the gradual instant. He recounts the experience of 90-year-old Hagar, from Anne Michael’s novel Fugitive Pieces.

Near the end of her life, when Hagar realizes Marvin has been the best son, not John, it is an epiphany that has been years in the making. As with all unexpected revelations, there is no immediate accounting for this understanding. For Hagar, insight does not spring directly from a particular episode in her life, but emerges ambiguously from the strange crevices that collect memory, current perception, and fantasy.

 Sumara goes on to say that he reads memoirs, ethnographies, and autobiographies for the explicit interpretations of life that he is only able to make in retrospect. In all kinds of reading of stories, I would argue, I am continually finding myself, giving “words” to my lived experience. So that “gradual instant” emerges from a complex relationship between my history, memory, language, and geography—where I am in-between what I experience and what I imagine.

So, what do I want the young people with whom I’ll be reading stories this semester to know? Those who will be using stories in their own future classrooms to engender the same kind of experience of exploring and eventually knowing?

Reading is an interaction—a transaction with the text. When we talk about stories we not only interact with an author’s rendition of living but also make sense of our own lives in the context of other peoples’ thinking and experience.

Stories speak truths that we may or may not hear. As we identify with aspects of the text and develop a relationship between these identifications and the context of reading, a complex web of associations emerge.

One thing I love about being in a small university is the opportunity I have to learn from others across disciplines. In a recent conversation, a wise colleague from Religion and Philosophy recalled our own power to “speak words” that create out of chaos.

In those moments, those gradual instants, when I am reading a novel, a memoir, the Bible; I come to insights that matter, just as Frederick Buechner says about our stories.

My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but spiritually.

Read on…

Daily Examen

As is my usual, I don’t have too many ideas that are entirely my own.  Maybe none of us really do.  We meaningfully repackage—or a more contemporary term would be to re-mix—other peoples’ words and experience into significant practices in response to our own lives.  This is one of those times.

In a recent yoga class on New Year’s Eve, my wise guide, Nicole, encouraged us to identify barriers.  She used this quote from Rumi, a 13th century Sufi mystic and poet.

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.

I am ever mindful about how I make myself known to God and experience God’s love in tangible ways. One realization for me during that ninety-minute yoga class was how my over-thinking and second-guessing—too much attention on what I’ve already said or done or how I came across that I think I control—is a barrier to joy and being loved.

Mitch has reminded me repeatedly, as I lamented over the day, to focus on what I did do.  It is true that I am often focusing on what I failed to do, however, just as often I think too much about what I did do or say or think that day.  As an academic, I feel compelled to critically examine…everything? Okay, I am placing the blame outside myself and that is not exactly the reason for my self-conscious criticism. The truth is that being critical (over-thinking in my case) is a way that I try to control my life and how I view other peoples’ lives.

Even when the things I’m lamenting don’t seem to matter much—like eating out when I could have fixed a meal at home—the time I consider what I could have done, or said, or why, could be more productively spent. Why is it so hard to let go, to stop those inner conversations?

So, I write in my morning pages and rehash a decision or event and insight does often emerge.  However, the idea that my overthinking is a barrier to being loved or trusting beyond what I do creates new possibilities for a response.

In our faculty retreat before the fall semester began, Jamie Smith suggested a practice to cultivate individual reflection in a healing way.

In Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola developed such a prayerful reflection on the events of the day called Daily Examen.  The prayerful practice is intended to help us see God’s hand at work in our daily experience.  The Examen evolves through five stages of reflection.

1.    Become aware of God’s presence. To look back on the events of the day in the company of the Holy Spirit is different than lamenting over what I didn’t do or selfishly focusing too much on what could have been.

2.     Review the day with gratitude. Walk through the day in the presence of God to focus on the day’s gifts.  For me, when I focus on relationships, not just what I did, the day changes.  Relationships are reciprocal.  It’s not just about what I did or didn’t say or do but what gifts I receive without doing much of anything.

3.     Pay attention to your emotions. This is challenging for me.  And here I will recite what I learned about St. Ignatius.  One of his great insights was that we detect the presence of the Spirit of God in the movements of our emotions. I’m not sure I understand this but I’m reminded of the Rumi poem, “The Guest House,” and wonder what God is saying or preparing me for through these feelings that I either give over to completely or want to avoid.

4.    Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.  I have found this kind of prayerful attention significant.  Most often what I have decided to “pray from” has been a seemingly insignificant experience or one that I am inclined to over-think.

5.    Look toward tomorrow. 

The last step, look toward tomorrow, reminds me of Buechner’s words that name my barriers that would be so easy for me to take up again as I look forward to a new day.

“Let go and let God”—which is so easy to say and for people like me so far from easy to follow.  Let go of the dark, which you wrap yourself in like a straitjacket, and let in the light.  Stop trying to protect, to rescue, to judge, to manage the lives around you…because that is just what you are powerless to do.  Even your own life…is God’s business.  Leave it to God.  It is an astonishing thought.  It can be a life-transforming thought.

How do I know God and how do I open myself up to such transformation?  By taking the time to review the day, I listen to my life; recalling the times that I protected my ego by paying too much attention to what I did, thought, or said and the times when I was open to recognizing others.  When I find myself feeling defensive or trying to change others, I will ask for God’s mercy.  When I notice that I did act with little self-concern, I will be thankful and experience God’s cleansing grace.

There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly.  Listen to your life.  See it for the fathomless mystery that it is.  …All moments are key moments and life itself is grace.                                                   Now and Then

Simple Intention

Every morning, I write a few pages. Not pages for any sort of paper or blog, I write what I am thinking or wondering or whatever comes to mind. Today my writing was filled with questions. On some days, I recall and reflect on what has happened or anticipate what will happen or maybe even what I hope will happen. And somehow, God is in the midst of all the meanderings.

Anne Lamont says that we don’t think our way into becoming ourselves. We take action and insight follows. For me, writing is an action, a spiritual practice, and yes, insight does often emerge. Somehow in the words I write, God speaks; occasionally in that moment, but most often over time. I’ve been pondering across the pages how my life unfolds without so much purposeful striving but with some intention.

 I just finished reading the first novel in Buechner’s The Book of Bebb. Buechner weaves this intriguing analogy throughout the story.

In Hindu iconography, I have read somewhere, the mind of man is portrayed as a monkey swinging from tree to tree, witless, purposeless, grabbing out at whatever new branch happens to come to hand, which I take to mean that it is not we who control our thoughts but circumstances that control them. Let me smell bacon frying, and in spite of myself I am hungry; wave a red flag at me, and I am made as hell. Or subtler stimuli—a drop in barometric pressure, the look in somebody’s eye…

 Buechner goes on as the narrator of Lion Country to wonder how our perceptions of or attitudes toward people (his of Bebb) change “just because these were the branches that presented themselves.”

A few evenings ago, two graduate students were slated to be community readers at parent/child-reading events at two local elementary schools. As the adult students’ instructor, I wanted to be there to support each of them. Leaving another event at the University early, I drove just a few blocks to find Garret welcomed and comfortable in a school cafeteria filled with teachers, parents, and young children. He was confident and assured in the opportunities the evening held. After a few conversions with others there, I headed for the door and the next school, a few miles away.

The school was farther than I had anticipated. I felt a bit anxious that I would arrive in time. Janelle, my other student and community reader, would be beginning in just a few minutes. However, the monkey’s arm presented in that moment made me even more uneasy; actually more than uneasy—indignant and then self-conscious of my own reputation—how I might be perceived instead of her dilemmas.

You see I am trying to establish new relationships between local schools and my University. Some of the schools provide field education and student teaching placements for our students. My desire is to create more equitable partnerships where we support one another. One way is to provide community readers and other support for these “reading parties” where children read with a community member while their parents are encouraged in new ways to support their young learners. Everyone in attendance shares a meal together and the children leave with a new book and a stuffed animal. For these teacher candidates and me, this is an incredible opportunity to share this time with these children and their parents.

As I drove, my phone was next to me giving directions when a text message from Janelle popped up. She simply said she would be “heading that way” as soon as an issue at her work was resolved, She was so sorry.

What??  She wasn’t already at the event like I expected?  That meant there wasn’t anyone from the community there, from my university community that had promised a guest reader for the evening. Like the narrator in The Book of Bebb, the branches that flung in my face as I drove faster moved me from anger to disappointment to action. I was disappointed that she hadn’t made work arrangements that freed her to keep her commitment. I was angry with her for not being there, at the school, as our University’s representative. I felt compelled to make it right—to get there myself and somehow make up for the fact that she wasn’t there.

More texts came but I didn’t have time to safely look at them. I pulled into the parking lot and ran into the cafeteria filled with busy parents and teachers. Fortunately, a lady happened to be passing by the entrance. Anxiously I inquired, “Our community reader is late, could you direct me to the children?”

I paused to introduce myself and she smiled and led me to the kindergarten classroom filled with young readers. A young girl jumped up to grab my hand and ask if I had come to take her back [to her parents]. The teacher who had just finished reading looked my way. I explained the predicament. She didn’t actually respond to me and began handing out books and stuffed animals to the eager recipients. I helped.

After the books were passed out, another adult noted that there was time for another story. I quickly suggested that I read the next one and the teachers could do what they needed to do. I grabbed a book from a nearby bookshelf and began reading.

Funny how reading to a group of engaged five and six-year-olds, taking a logical next action, changed things. I didn’t have time to be angry or disappointed or even think about the “real” circumstances that lead me to this action.

I didn’t see her arrive, but I could see Janelle standing forlornly a few feet away from our group.

When I finished reading it was time for the children to go back to their parents. As I walked toward Janelle, I surprisingly remembered my intention to support her. So I did something I usually only think to do after I say too much, I listened.

Janelle was almost in tears. In fact,she said, “I’m about to cry.” She told me how she did get her supervisor to take over her usual responsibilities at her work, however, she was caught waiting for a teen girl’s parent who didn’t show up on time. Janelle was doing what she had to do, wait. Waiting when she knew she had other obligations. Waiting that required surrender to circumstances beyond her control. Waiting that challenged her own resources—could she… should she… would she…

My learning was to let both our anxiousness and disappointment remind us of our need for embracing God’s love that is beyond our experience and meets us over and over again in these everyday moments as we honor one another.

How can I make this sacred center home? To think from here, speak from here, act from here instead of reacting to a world that controls, rewards, and enables other possibilities. To act in ways to gain insight from these moments when, as Buechner says, we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know.

In No Man is an Island, Thomas Merton makes a distinction between two kinds of intention, a right intention and a simple intention.  Merton says,

When we have a right intention, our intention is pure. We seek to do God’s will…we consider the work and ourselves apart from God and outside of Him. Our intention is directly chiefly upon the work to be done. When the work is done, we rest in its accomplishment…

But when we have a simple intention, we are less occupied with the thing to be done… We are more aware of God who works in us than of ourselves or of our work.

Thankful Recipients

I decided to begin this post as it began for me, with an uncomfortable quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the small book,  Life Together.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.

Isn’t visioning productive?

I’ll begin with something simple (that’s really not). I have a vision of being welcoming here, in my house. So I just rearranged the living room furniture. It looks and feels like it would be an encouraging place to sit and have conversations, however, usually I’m sitting in here alone, like now, pondering. So my vision isn’t exactly realized, yet?

I long for community—in my work-life, in my neighborhood, where I go to church.  I miss the people in my former church– an incredible community of people who aren’t much alike really, yet the conversations and care are ones that thrive in that differentness and common lives of faith.  Yet, I also have vivid memories of the first months I went there; sitting in the back so I could leave right after worship, terrified of going to the “fellowship” happy hour afterward. I do imagine the kind of community I want but that doesn’t quite match what seems real. I also imagine how I think people should be and act in that community.

Bonhoeffer continues to make more sense of my initial troubledness:

 The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, than an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Lately, I seem to be considering more acutely (I don’t want to say judging even if that is true) others whom I perceive as believing or being a certain way – from a distance—some aren’t people I really even know. I act the same way though with people I’m closest to – my next-door neighbors, colleagues on my hallway at work, my family members who live their lives outside my everyday view. Even if they were here, I complicitly make assumptions about how we all should or could live in the world.

My kingdom or Thy kingdom?

When I bring my own ideas of what my life should be and try to realize that vision, I eventually become disillusioned with others and myself. While this quote from Buechner might seem a bit contradictory to Bonhoeffer, on the contrary, he clarifies the distinction between our own vision and what is God’s.

 If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we should know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to use that is greater than our own strength.

The Clown in the Belfry  and Listening to Your Life

 If only…we would know that the Kingdom of God, that community we seek, is already here. Because God has already laid the foundation for community, our common life together, Bonhoeffer contends,

We enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.

 If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary… everything…is so far from what we expected…

 We live as thankful recipients and our community grows when we dare to be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience, and love that has been given to us.

Wide Awake

Yesterday, the day after the election, many people I encountered were full of emotion and wondering for a myriad of reasons. At lunch, a colleague wondered aloud how she could live through what seemed like a dream.  A student in class was lamenting that she’d just lost two friends over the events of the past day. On my drive to work, I listened to a lady say that this morning she was “wide awake” to difficult realities in the world and her own response. Being “wide awake” is a good way to describe the intentional ways we love, especially those who are most challenging to us.

Alive with synchronicity, I read these words from Buechner’s book Listening to Your Life  on this day.

Matthew the tax collector and Thomas the doubter. Peter the Rock and Judas the traitor. Mary Magdalene and Lazarus’s sister Martha. And the popcorn-eating old woman. And the fat man in the pick-up. They are all our family, and you and I are their family and each other’s family, because that is what Jesus has called us as the Church to be. Our happiness is all mixed up with each other’s happiness and our peace with each other’s peace. Our own happiness, our own peace, can never be complete until we find some way of sharing it with people who the way things are now have no happiness and know no peace. Jesus calls us to show this truth forth, live this truth forth. Be the light of the world, he says. Where there are dark places, be the light especially there. Be the salt of the earth. Bring out the true flavor of what it is to be alive truly. Be truly alive. Be life-givers to others. That is what Jesus tells the disciples to be. That is what Jesus tells his Church, tells us, to be and do. Love each other. Heal the sick, he says. Raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. Cast out demons. That is what loving each other means. If the Church is doing things like that, then it is being what Jesus told it to be. If it is not doing things like that – no matter how many other good and useful things it may be doing instead—then it is not being what Jesus told it to be. It is as simple as that.

In his  book Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer says that the world needs people with the patience and the passion to make the pilgrimage toward our authentic vocation, cultivating God’s truth, not only for our own sake but also as a social and political act.