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SOCIAL JUSTICE

Understanding "Whiteness"

For most white people growing up in the United States, "whiteness" has been invisible. Because we mostly operate in segregated social contexts where white culture is the norm, white people often fail to understand the kinds of racial injustices that people of color face on a regular basis. For this reason, many white people find it difficult to engage in respectful and informed conversations about race. We haven't had the opportunity to develop the basic racial awareness skills to effectively navigate interracial encounters and relationships without inadvertently perpetuating harmful patterns and power dynamics. This book study/course is designed to offer white people "eyes to see" some of those unconsciously inherited patterns, so that we might be able to heed the call to engage more fully and productively in the work of dismantling racism. Drawing on Robin D'Angelo's White Fragility, Philip Deloria's Playing Indian, and historical documents from throughout American history, this study will give white people a chance to educate themselves on how we got here, and what we can do about it now. 

Note: This can be presented as a facilitated (or co-facilitated) book study on either White Fragility  or Playing Indian, or it can be offered as a comprehensive 5-week course on whiteness. 

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Servant Leadership & Social Activism

"Servant leadership" is a contemplative posture for activism that is rooted in humility, a deep sense of call, and a recognition of the ongoing need for both inner work as individuals and outer work for systemic change. Healthy spiritual practices can help to ground our social activism in compassion and life-affirming hope by deepening our sense of solidarity and teaching us to surrender the ego demands that often lead us to either complacency or burnout. This course is designed to inspire participants to reflect on their own sense of call and leadership, through an interpersonal and intersectional engagement with a variety of social justice issues: poverty, racism, immigration, education, health care, housing, food justice, and the environment. Each week, participants will hear stories from "servant leaders" who have been working in each of these areas, with opportunities to brainstorm and discern local ways of addressing both immediate needs and larger systemic issues. 

Note: This topic can be offered as a brown bag lunch series, or a 6- to 12-week class.

Bible Study on Gender & Sexuality

What is "Biblical marriage"? Does the Bible support patriarchy? Are Christianity and feminism antithetical to one another? Is "homosexuality a sin?" This guided bible study examines a variety of topics relating to sex and gender from within the ancient historical context of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, unpacking some of the nuances and complexities of the most quoted Biblical statements concerning sex and gender. We will look at the problem of translations and proof-texting, and examine ancient Greek and Near East constructions of sex and gender, in order to understand how these ancient text relate to contemporary issues gender and sexuality in modern culture. The goal of this study is to help participants become more well-versed in the current Biblical scholarship on these topics, in order to engage more effectively in social discourse.

Bible Study on Science & Ecology

Are science and the Bible fundamentally incompatible? This guided study explores the agrarian subtext of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, offering a radical paradigm shift with regard to what the Bible teaches about "the environment," material reality, and our relationship to the natural world. Through a careful reading of the Book of Genesis (particularly the stories of Creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, and the Tower of Babel), as well as excerpts from Exodus, the Gospels, and Revelation, we will begin to see the ecological wisdom at the heart of the Biblical tradition, particularly with regard to humanity's habit of overconsumption and environmental devastation. Participants will gain a deeper appreciation for the symbiotic relationship between ancient Biblical wisdom and the perspectives of modern Western science. 

Note: This topic can be offered as a lecture or taught as a 5- to 8-week class or group.

Songs of Social Protest

Throughout history, music has played an important role in movements for social change. We will reflect on examples of musical protest and civil disobedience from antiquity and the middle ages all the way up to today, looking particularly at the role of the spirituals during the time of slavery and later during the Civil Rights Movement. We will also look at songs of protest written during the folk revival of the 1960s, the punk era, and hip hop, and examine some of the more subtle ways that prophetic meanings are constructed and conveyed through music in any genre. Participants will come away with a deeper sense of why and how music can change the world. 

Note: This topic can be offered as an informational lecture, or as an interactive songwriting/brainstorming workshop for musicians and social activists thinking about the most effective ways to compose new tunes or choose songs for social movements.

For Art's Sake: Social Ethics of Art

Picasso once observed that artists use lies to tell the truth. Artists have the prophetic capacity to "speak" to us on a level beyond reason by appealing directly to our bodies, our emotions, and our imaginations. The arts can help us to see the truth about ourselves more clearly, and to imagine our way into a new future. But art and music can also be used in emotionally manipulative ways by those in power for political propaganda, commercial advertising, and religious indoctrination. Is there an ethics of art? Are our preferences in music, film, and art merely subjective, or do they belie deeper values and truth claims? How have factors like class, race, gender, and colonialism historically shaped our aesthetic sensibilities? This lecture/course challenges the ethical assumptions underlying modern art's belief in "art for art's sake," by looking at the role of the arts in the curation of social, economic, and political power. 

Note: This topic can be offered as a lecture or taught as a 5- to 12-week class. 

Professional Background

Kristen received her B.A. in Communication Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she was trained in semantics, rhetorical analysis, social ethics, conflict resolution, power dynamics, and diversity training. She earned her Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) from Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 2014, where she studied Biblical interpretation, feminist theology, ecotheology, black liberation theology, and comparative religion. Her master's thesis offers a postcolonial analysis of the relationship between theology, ethics, and the arts. 

From 2015-2017, Kristen served as assistant director and adjunct faculty at The Servant Leadership School of Greensboro, a program that teaches a wide variety of contemplative spiritual practices to support the work of social activism.  

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©2021 by Kristen Leigh Mitchell