Session 6: Common Ground and Social Change

Hello again, Course Participants. This week we will share our final live seminar session for this Howard Thurman course with the Center for Christogenesis.

One book, even Thurman’s Search for Common Ground which we have focused on, could never be sufficient, in and of itself, to appropriately introduce the newcomer–or substantially deepen the learning of the long time devotee–to Howard Thurman’s life, thought, and ministry. Still, I believe we have blazed a meaningful, substantial teaching and learning path over the last five weeks together as we have gotten to know Howard Thurman, one another, and ourselves better in intellectual and spiritual ways.

In this final week of our course, we turn our attention to “social change”–one of the primary concerns of Thurman in his own life as well as the most researched component of his life and thought. Our approach to this topic is intentionally capping our study, over the previous weeks, of his concepts of “community” and “whole-making,” and his search for and cultivation of both throughout his life. I do not want any of us to miss the vital, organic ways Howard Thurman’s thought and ministry relative to social change directly connect with his religious naturalism and theological anthropology as developed in our Search For Common Ground reading up to this point.

This in mind, before you begin reading the sixth and final chapter, “The Search in Identity,” I encourage you to set aside some time this week to review what you have read, learned, thought about, and even been troubled by in the previous chapters of our primary text. Even if you just take a few minutes to do this, I think it is a worthwhile priming exercise before you get into the final chapter.

Finally, for now: Please make sure to see the “Credo” examples included below. I offer them as two unique approaches to crafting your own–as you see fit.

Reflection Questions

  1. Has your particular human identity–made up as it is through particular markers (gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, age, geographical location, vocational and familial identities, religious or spiritual locatedness)–factored into your engagement with our class sessions, with our primary text, or with Howard Thurman’s biography and witness itself? If yes, in what ways–and were any of them particularly surprising or troubling? If no, why not? Either way, take some time to consider the rationale for raising such a question in the first place.
  2. Imagine Howard Thurman was not born in 1899, but instead in 1990 and thus was just entering his early 30s. Imagine further that he grew up outside of Daytona, Florida and had begun his career as a pastor, chaplain, and educator. How would our life and times on planet earth in 2021 impact how Thurman might seek to live out his vocation to become a “religious” person? What improvements and advances would he likely affirm in the way we “do” religion, politics, education, and engage with the natural world? What blind spots and friction points would he point to as immediate areas of concern that needed urgent transformation if he was alive among us as a 30 year (b)old guide today?
  3. What do you make of Thurman’s very explicit, and substantial, insertion of his own “black fact” and the racial history of minority groups into the heart of this final chapter of his Search For Common Ground? Was he a smart, effective author to “write it in” here? Or should it have come earlier, in smaller bursts, throughout his previous chapters? Or should it have been omitted entirely from this final chapter?
    O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
    You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
    You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
    Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
    You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
    If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
    If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
    even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
    If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
    even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.

    Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
    And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!

    Psalm 139 (Excerpts from the English Standard Version)

    “Credo” Examples:

    Example 1
    from American independent scholar and musician Carol Wimmer.

    I believe the human spirit is resilient beyond measure.
    I trust that humanity can and will correct the wrongs that harm the Creation and diminish our collective power.
    I have faith that all hierarchical systems of inequality, injustice, and neglect will eventually topple.
    I am confident in humanity’s ability to “close the portals” that cause people to fall through societal cracks, and never reach their fullest potential.
    I perceive that the human species is at a precipice in its collective spiritual maturity.
    I expect that the human spirit will be propelled forward to become the best versions of who we are created to be.

    Example 2
    from American writer and photographer Derek Maul.

    For me, it all begins with the understanding that we are created beings, made in the image of God, and that my ultimate meaning – our ultimate meaning – is bound in that fact.

    I’d go on to say that I believe the Creator loves me, and – equally – every single human being; and that God loves in a way I can only describe as similar to the way I love my own children (but far beyond the limitations).

    I believe that the Creator is also far greater than the parameters of human thought, or language, or powers of description, or the limitations of our capacity to understand or describe; but – at the same time – I accept that God is completely capable of revealing God’s self to me in ways that I can grasp onto and have confidence in.

    I believe that God went to – that God still goes to – extraordinary lengths to reach us, to invite us – invite me – into a restored relationship. I believe that Jesus came to pave the way, to open the door, and to make the introductions.

    I believe that Jesus opened a door that only one who is blameless had the capacity to open; that Jesus came to actually be the gate, the bridge, the passage, the way, the portal, the means of redemption; that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, and the light; and that Jesus redefines what it means to live.

    I believe that Jesus did more than come back to life, Jesus was resurrected forward into a new kind of life, the life that we are invited to live as disciples, as followers of The Way.

    I believe that Salvation means to participate in the good work that God is up to, and that such a privilege will continue when this mortal life comes to an end.

    I believe that God sent the Holy Spirit to be my ally, to empower me in this new life, and to constantly invite me into fellowship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

    I believe that it is not only my opportunity, but my responsibility – our responsibility – to live a victorious life, a life-charged life; to live like I mean it, and in such a way that my life tells the truth about the Gospel of Love, simply by being.

    Read final chapter of “The Search in the Common Consciousness” from Thurman’s Search for Common Ground.

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