How to Have a Good Conversation

How to have a good conversation about ideas.

My youngest daughter Laura has never had a filter on her conversations.  I am sure she got that from her father.

I remember well one day, when she was about 5 years old, a close friend of mine came by the house for a visit.  He was a hawkish looking man with skinny legs, a large chest, and an equally long nose that hooked across his upper lip. His broad yet thin-lipped grin was welcome enough and gave evidence to a peace with himself.  Yet, his deep black eyes closely set above his boney long nose always made me think he was out for a hunt.  At times, he could tear into a topic with ferociousness.  Our conversations were always filled with wisdom, truth-seeking, sarcasm, and laughter.

Laura sat on the couch next to him and observed my friend for about 10 minutes as we talked about the issues of the week.  Her observation soon became a stare and then she blurted out,

“Why is your nose so long?” Continue reading

Merry Christmas To My Grandchildren

Look at this picture, below.  This ancient house (in the background)  in Bir Zeit [pronouce: beer zite] sits in disrepair, as do many of the houses in ancient Palestine.  I took the picture on a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2008.  Bir Zeit is very close to Bethlehem where Jesus of Nazareth was born.  Notice that there are 3 floors.  The third floor is enclosed on top.  This is very much like the house Jesus of Nazareth was born in.  Christmas is in celebration of this event.

If you remember the story, there was no place for Mary to have her baby and so she and Joseph (her husband) stopped at a local inn or house and asked for a place to stay for the night.  As you can see this is not like the Holiday Inn you see on the Interstate.  It was very basic with no running water, electricity or indoor toilets.  I don’t even think they had a microwave. 🙂 Continue reading

Why BuildaBridge?

Beginning in 1997, when we conducted our first Institute amongst 15 fighting congregations in a dysfunctional and earthquake ravaged community in Costa Rica, we have consistently seen what can happen when artists with the training and passion for service engage their art as a vehicle for transformation. Though often difficult to document in quantitative terms, there is evidence of our impact at home here in Philadelphia and around the world in some very challenging places. First a few of my favorite quotes. Continue reading

Should I Start a Non-Profit? RTQ

My recommendation is to find an effective organization, one that is doing good work, one you are passionate about and join it. Help make it better and stronger by contributing hard work with a listening and learning attitude.

Maybe I can set this in context.  2009 was a pivotal year for BuildaBridge.  Due to the economic crisis, and a rethinking of our strategy,  we laid off 3 employees and downsized our office.  We were forced, more immediately, to evaluate (even though we do a lot of assessment) the effectiveness of our programming, the needs for our services, and the primary goal of our work.  In 1997, when we began BuildaBridge there were very few organizations that provided the kind of training and services we were providing.  This led us to do our research project in 2002 which covered 61 artists of faith in 16 US cities.  Today, arts for education, healing, social services and development is much more common, along with training at the workshop, certificate and graduate levels. Continue reading

What About Lanza

This is a letter to BuildaBridge supporters following the horrific mass shooting of children in Connecticut.

I want to wish you and your family, wherever you are, a very happy holiday season.  For many, like me, it is Christmas. But for others it may be Hanukkah, Eid, Kwanzaa, Bodhi Day (which has just passed), or other holiday celebration.  This is a time, or should be, of joy, family, sharing, laughter, good stories and good food, hopefulness, peace and goodwill.  Many will attend services to renew their commitments to peace and goodwill, and the true “reason for the season”.  But for some, like me, it has been a somber and sad season.

Images of little innocent ones who had been slaughtered by a tormented young man with a weapon designed for war have been hard to remove from my mind and heart.  I don’t respond emotionally to crises.  It has always been a personality trait that in the midst of a crisis, of any kind, I am detached and think quite objectively about the safety and needs of the moment.  A day later however, the locked down emotions, begin to affect me quite intensely. Continue reading

Heather’s 40th Birthday Story

Some family history for my daughter’s 40th birthday.

I don’t really remember the drive from Americas, Georgia Hospital where she was born.  Actually I really don’t remember too much about the first year in Montezuma except the way it go started.  We left Mars Hill, N.C. in the Appalachian mountains for the deeper south after looking for a teaching job for some time in 1971.  There were no job openings near home in the gorgeous mountains of home that had nestled our us, our family and friends.

We drove south past Atlanta.   Continue reading

Making a Difference in a Week: Art-making in Short-term Engagement

Written with the help of Sarah Rohrer, former BuildaBridge Intern and Staff, for publication

Leah leaned across my dining room table and asked with skepticism, “Can anyone make a difference in a week?” It was not really a question but a statement and one I hear frequently from discerning people.  I take it seriously.  A professional muralist, Leah had spent a week working with gang members in prison, other weeks creating community murals with scores of kids in informal settlements in Kenya and Guatemala, and even a three-month stint restoring historic and community places in a hurricane ravaged Caribbean Island, all at her own expense.  She was questioning the impact of a short-term artist’s engagement in communities of poverty, crisis and catastrophe.  She has both a right and responsibility to ask.  What can an artist possibly do in a week that is effective, supports the local mission and leads toward the holistic transformation of both individuals and communities?  The answer lies in a number of factors including what skills the artist (any art form) brings, the role the artist plays, the relationship the artist has with the local organization or community, and what the artist leaves behind. Continue reading

Working and Learning in the Muddled Middle

We as Christians must recognize that there is much to learn from those who do not call themselves Christians but who have the gifting and desire to do good in the world. To dismiss their work because they are not in the ‘fold’ is to dismiss the common grace of God and God’s ability to use those outside our boundaries to accomplish God’s work in the world. [Corbitt: Taking it to the Streets p.228]

I have lived through the last half of the 20th century and into the 21st century. During this time, I have been a faculty member of a Christian university for nearly 20 years. As a global citizen who has traveled to over 50 countries and a resident in an urban community, the past decade has given me pause to reflect on the meaning of being “Christian” and the tensions of having faith while living in a diverse world. It is a place I call the Muddled Middle. What does this mean? How did I get there? How do I now live? How does it inform my teaching? This short essay will attempt to answer these questions.

NY Times Square

New York Tomes Square.  J. Nathan Corbitt (2011)

The Muddled Middle

The muddled middle is simply the civic context of life–particularly the urban context. It is the borderland of mingled cultures. It is marketplace, public town square, city center and place of business where no one person may have dominance and each person, ethnicity, class, religion, gender or preference must negotiate their difference and seek the benefit of all in order to find a common good life; where neither the sacred nor the profane dominate, but both have the opportunity to intermingle and influence. It can be a challenging, confrontational and uncomfortable place, especially for a former Southern Baptist from the mountains of North Carolina.

How I Got Here

Growing up as a Southern Baptist preacher’s son in the southern United States afforded me an overconfidence, even arrogance, in all things Christian. I remain very grateful for the Southern Baptist emphasis on education between 1950 and 1980. The funding they provided both to schools and to the students who attended them left many of us with an excellent education and no debt. I repeat that last one–NO DEBT. Thank you very much, sincerely. Continue reading

The Power of Scribble

Artists responding to crisis and serving for development

Never underestimate the power of a scribble and a good story.  In the wake of a tsunami, the after-shock of an earthquake, or the muddy mess of a flood, children who are traumatized by these events can be empowered with the opportunity to draw, tell their stories, dance their anxiety, and act out their thoughts. The results are a strengthened resilience, hope and healing.  But how does this work? Continue reading