ISSUE No.2 | OCTOBER 2020
Welcome to CULTIVARE, a monthly field guide for life and faith, brought to you by TEND. Each month we explore a specific “field” – a topic or theme through which we seek to cultivate contemplation, engagement, and deeper understanding. Our guiding questions are:
What are you cultivating in your life?
What fruit do you want your life to bear?
Each issue of CULTIVARE is structured into three parts:
Cultivate: Examines a specific “Field” or facet of life, and offers questions to unearth and challenge our held perspective; along with concise kernels of truth which we call “Seeds.”
Irrigate: Explores the ways we nurture our understanding, which varies from individual to individual. Therefore we offer six means of irrigation: Art, Poetry, Profile, Film, Essay, and Books.
Germinate: Encourages practical ways to become more fruitful and free in our lives.
Our name, CULTIVARE, in Spanish means “I will cultivate.” And we hope each issue of our field guide will encourage you to do just that – cultivate new thoughts, actions, faith, hope, and fruitful living. We invite you to dig in and DIG DEEP!
For we are partners working together for God, and you are God's field.
(I Corinthians 3:9)
With the new school year underway our theme this month is LEARNING THROUGH PAIN. Though many Americans hold the bias that all learning must be fun and adventurous, the reality is that learning often involves pain and struggle. Aristotle stated it bluntly: “Learning is not child’s play; we cannot learn without pain.”
Let’s face it, our world is in a lot of pain these days. Our lives have been disrupted by a pandemic, racial injustice and turmoil, divisive politics, misinformation and confusion, and routine exhibition of ugly behavior. The pain of taking this all in can make one depressed or despairing.
The author C.S. Lewis observed: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” Intentional learning is the best path toward confronting our pain, finding meaning in it, and hopefully redeeming it.
Years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing the actress Meryl Streep. The occasion was her twelfth Academy Award nomination for portraying real-life violin teacher Roberta Guaspari in the movie Music of the Heart. Streep shared that preparing for the role was grueling. “It was not an easy road,” she noted, “because incorporated into the task was learning the violin, which is ridiculously hard. When I first read the script, I turned the whole project down. I said, “I can’t.” The producers agreed to a costly delay of a month in order for Streep to have more time for violin lessons. “I had eight weeks before we starting shooting to learn – to learn a lot. And eight weeks is nearly nothing.” The outcome is a wonderful portrayal of a violin teacher in Harlem who inspires her students to achieve great things. And through that “ridiculously hard” experience, Streep herself was changed. She continued to take violin lessons for years after filming concluded. “I was so encouraged to learn something new at fifty! Everybody says, “Oh, no. Your brain shuts down then, and you can’t learn these things.” But it is possible, and it’s really fun!”
In this month’s issue you will encounter stories of individuals who have confronted pain and discovered what indeed is possible—that learning through pain can bear the fruit of growth and change. You will meet an auto mechanic whose life was transformed by a college biology class. A barista who engages in learning and deepens the meaning of “customer service.” A 20-year old law school student who got derailed by a question and founded an international organization to meet the needs of the poor. You will find the hope-inspiring discoveries that neuroscientists are making about our brains and their ability to learn new things and behaviors at any age. And you will be warmed by the insights of a novice bread maker and the insights on life he has learned. Here’s to breaking bread with stories that acknowledge the pain of learning and which offer life lessons for healing and hope. (DG)
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11: 29-30)
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:9)
A handful of quotes to contemplate and cultivate into your life
We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change. (Henry Cloud)
It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer. (Albert Einstein)
You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive. (James Baldwin)
Segregation shaped me; education liberated me. (Maya Angelou)
Frodo: I can't do this, Sam.
Sam: I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.
(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers)
The sense of defeat is what we are fighting against. People must not just give in to the hardship of life. People must develop a hope. People must develop some form of security to be together to look at their problems, and people must, in this way, build up their humanity. (Stephen Biko, South African Martyr for Freedom)
We celebrate and honor street artists this month.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote: This world is but a canvas to our imagination. We are grateful for the many street artists who take those words literally and display their gifts of imagination and creativity in the form of murals on our city’s buildings. In this collection of 40 examples of street art and murals specifically about books, libraries, and reading, curator Piotr Kowalczyk provides a global treasury of the gift of art, books, and reading.
“It is what you read when you don't have to
that determines what you will be when you can't help it.”
If the trees can do it, then so can I,
At least that’s what I tell myself.
For if year after year the trees can let go
Of their brightest leaves and that warm autumn glow,
Then maybe in time, like trees with their leaves,
I can release
That which keeps me from you.
Maybe in time, I can let go
Of my need for certainty
And my need to look good,
My need for busyness,
And my need to numb pain;
The trivial ways I measure my self-worth,
Or the hurtful ways I measure yours.
For if year after year the trees let go,
Then maybe, in time, I can too.
My heart will know spring.
Founder of the St. Vincent de Paul Society
Have you ever been stopped in your tracks by a question? A question that you had no good answer for? A question that stirred your conscience; that left you in discomfort or without a defense? This month we profile an individual who allowed such a question to stop him, to provoke serious thought and learning, and ultimately to impact the world. Author and editor Robert Ellsberg tells the following story of Frederic Ozanam in his book All Saints.
“Nineteenth-century France was a society rent by the continuing reverberations of the Revolution. The church, which had suffered not only the loss of property and power but also many martyrs, tended to regard the Revolution as an unmitigated disaster. By and large, the hierarchy allied itself with the conservative cause, a stance that incurred the distrust of the working class and the disdain of those intellectuals who embraced the republican spirit of liberty. One man who tried to bridge this gap was the Catholic layman and scholar, Frederic Ozanam.
In 1831 when Ozanam arrived at the University of Paris to study law, he was appalled to encounter such an atmosphere of bitter hostility to Christianity. With a number of his fellow students he formed a study circle to present a positive intellectual witness to their faith. He and his friends engaged in endless debates and public controversies on behalf of Christianity. But finally Ozanam was stung by one student’s derisive challenge: “You Christians are fine at arguing, but what do you ever do?” In that instant he was struck by a fundamental insight: that Christianity is not about ideas but about deeds done by love. There was no credibility to his fine arguments as long as they were not reflected in his life. So Ozanam resolved to start a fellowship of Christian lay people who would immerse themselves in the world of the poor, performing acts of charity at a personal sacrifice. This became the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
In the early years of the industrial era the poor of Paris and other cities inhabited a world of unbelievable squalor. These were the people whom Victor Hugo immortalized as “Les Miserables” – eking out a miserable existence in overcrowded, disease-ridden slums. A report of the time estimated the average lifespan of the child of a factory worker to be nineteen months. In entering this world Ozanam and his companions were not simply “crossing the tracks” -- they were crossing a divide of bitter class hatred, entering a world as little known to most clergy as it was to the bourgeois intellectuals so enamored with “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” Ozanam had no program of social reform. Indeed, there was little that his program of charity could do to change the fundamental conflicts in society. But his experience did allow him to see beneath the surface and to understand the underlying issue at stake. As he wrote, “It is the battle of those who have nothing and those who have too much; it is the violent collision of opulence and poverty which makes the earth tremble under our feet.”
Ozanam’s response, if not his solution, was Christian charity. If only privileged Christians could act on the mandate of their faith, they might mediate and reconcile the antagonistic interests of rich and poor and so avert the coming catastrophe. His concern was not only the welfare of the poor but the credibility and integrity of the gospel. The poor, he said, are “messengers of God to test our justice and our charity, and to save us by our works.”
Ozanam founded the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at the age of 20. He would later become a lawyer, author, and professor in the Sorbonne. The Society took Saint Vincent de Paul as its patron. Today the Society defines its mission as “a network of friends, inspired by Gospel values, growing in holiness and building a more just world through personal relationships with and service to people in need.” The Society is an international volunteer organization that seeks to “end poverty through systemic change.” In 2018, the Society’s nearly 100,000 trained volunteers in the United Stated provided 12.5 million hours of volunteer service, helping more than 5.4 million people through visits to homes, prisons and hospitals at a value of more than 1.1 billion dollars.
 Robert Ellsberg, All Saints (Crossroad Book, New York, 1997) p. 390.
Each month we recommend films focused on our theme;
This month we are featuring three Film Shorts on learning through pain.
For those of us who suffer from the sense of being stuck, from the pain of traveling ruts, and from bondage to old habits, we identify with that old dog who can’t be taught new tricks. But the brain is a marvelous thing, and not as stagnant or intractable as we might assume. This video on Neuroplasticity from Sentis offers hope for all of us old dogs, that our God-given brains are not only capable of change but designed for it! Our brains are the physical manifestation of the call to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds”
(Romans 12:2). (2 minutes)
Often the most poignant lessons rise from the simplest acts and ingredients. In this video, the act of bread making adds yeast to conversations regarding difficult life experiences. When we are in seasons of waiting, when we feel folded in on ourselves, when the heat is turned up, we may be minutes from the table being spread before us. (5 minutes)
“The heat of the bread burned into my skin, but I clutched it tighter, clinging to life.”
(Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games)
After managing an auto repair shop for 15 years, Carl Allamby enrolled in a business program at Ursuline College to help him with his management skills. When he took a required biology class, his life changed completely. (3 minutes)
CRYING ALL THE WAY THROUGH
A friend of mine was given an assignment in a class in dramatics. Each time she tried to read her selection aloud before the class, tears came and her strong emotional reaction made it impossible to go through with it. One day the teacher asked her to remain after class for a conference. The essence of the teacher’s words to her was this: “You must read the selection before the class tomorrow. I understand what is happening to you and that is why I insist that you do this tomorrow. It is important that you realize that you must read this selection through, crying every step of the way, perhaps, if you expect to read it through without crying.”. . .
There are experiences through which we must go, crying all the way, perhaps, if we are ever to go through them without crying, and to go through them without crying must be done. St. Francis of Assisi, in his youth, found it impossible to control his deep physical and emotional revulsion against leprosy. So acute was his reaction that he could not ever run the risk of looking at a leper. Shortly after he had made his first commitment to his Lord, he was riding down the road, when suddenly there appeared a leper. Instinctively, he turned his horse around and went galloping off in the opposite direction, his whole body bathed in nervous sweat. Then he realized what he was doing. Leprosy was one of the things he could not stand—as long as that was true, leprosy would be his jailer, his master. He turned around as abruptly as before, found the leper, and according to the story, remained with him, living intimately with him until every trace of his previous reaction had been mastered. Thus freed, he could be of tremendous service to the victims of the disease. . . .
There are many experiences which we face that are completely overwhelming. As we see them, they are too terrible even to contemplate. And yet we must face them and deal with them directly. . . . To deal with [the problem] without the emotional upheaval is necessary if you are ever going to be able to manage it at all. There can be no more significant personal resolution . . . than this: I will face the problem I have been putting off because of too much fear, of too many tears, of too much resentment, even it if means crying all the way through, in order that I may [learn to] deal with it without fear, tears, or resentment. 
 Howard Thurman, For the Inward Journey: The Writings of Howard Thurman, selected by Anne Spencer Thurman (Friends United Press: 1984), 259, 260.
Howard Thurman was an African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader. As a prominent religious figure, he played a leading role in many social justice movements and organizations of the twentieth century. Thurman's theology of radical nonviolence influenced and shaped a generation of civil rights activists, and he was a key mentor to leaders within the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King Jr. (Wikipedia)
Each month we recommend a book focused on our theme.
Book of the Month
Breaking Bread with the Dead
by Alan Jacobs
In his newly released work, Alan Jacobs encourages readers to engage with voices of the past to gain wisdom and internal strength for contemporary conundrums.
Jacob says, “this is precisely the kind of moment when we need to take some time to step back from the fire hose of alarming news. As we try to manage our dispositions, we need two things. First, we need perspective; second, we need tranquility. And it’s voices from the past that can give us both – even when they say things we don’t want to hear and when those voices belong to people who have done bad things. These figures from the past are willing to speak to us when we are willing to listen. They may sometimes speak words of offense, but they may also speak words of wisdom that we either never knew or have forgotten.”
Professor of Politics & Dean of Social Sciences, Wheaton College
My friend Alan Jacobs’ new book, Breaking Bread with the Dead, is a marvelous set of essays meant, among other things, to encourage readers to not abandon “the dead,” old books and authors whose conventions, ideas, and such we might find odd, hard to grasp, or even, in some measure, simply noxious. Indeed, as he puts it, sticking with these authors while not simply capitulating to them, has the potential to improve our “temporal bandwidth” and “personal density,” make us less amenable to being tossed to and fro upon the winds of (pseudo-intellectual) fashion.
Good advice, and I suspect our culture would indeed be in something of a better place if we were not so detached from or even antipathetic toward our literary, historical, religious, and philosophical forbearers. (Though it is an interesting question, to me at least, as to why even our historians at times seem to lose this, but I suppose we all lose our heads on occasion).
Reading Alan’s book put me in mind of teaching Plato’s Republic in my Introduction to Political Philosophy course, which I did for nearly every semester of the past 12 years. There’s a point in the dialogue where Socrates, having finished describing his “city in speech” as a way of illustrating what a just soul looks like, must return to some questions his interlocutors are not wont to let go. Kallipolis sounds nice and all–peaceful, unified, etc.–but they’re wondering how they’re to have wives and children? What about their private lives, how will they go?
The reader can almost feel Socrates sort of sigh, maybe scratch what was no doubt a mess of hair, and then admit he wanted to avoid the question but, fair enough, there are things to be faced and he’s not one to avoid those hard questions. So the dialogue then pursues what Socrates calls the “three waves” of “practical” problems, among them the idea that both men and women can be guardians (the defenders of the city) and even philosophers. For the undergraduate reader in the 21st century, the fact that this is a problem to be faced or even argued for creates its own degree of dissonance, but the students are apt to think of Plato as a man of their own time, an egalitarian who saw, as they do *of course*, that men and women have the “same nature” and thus should be afforded the same opportunities. Ancient Greece can be awfully strange–it sure is nice to see that someone as smart as Plato anticipated our moral advances so very long ago. Three cheers for us!
But then–and sometimes I have to point this out and sometimes there’s a particularly perceptive student who does–the dialogue keeps going and Socrates and his ever-agreeable audience happen to mention that, yes, men and women can both be philosophers because some of them have that “nature,” in the same way that the philosopher has a completely different “nature” than, say, the shoe-maker. Whoa, wait, what’s that again? What does it mean that the philosopher and the shoe-maker have different natures, and what are the consequences here? Well, what it means, among other things, is that they have different kinds of souls, different capacities and inclinations that mean that the shoe-maker would never be happy or fulfilled if he (or she!) were put in charge of the city, nor would the philosopher be happy or fulfilled if he (or she!) were to spend his (or her!) life making shoes. Tightly intertwined with Plato’s seeming sexual egalitarianism is a deep and abiding inegalitarianism based on talent. The best society–at least at a first pass–is one in which those of more (and the right sort of) talent rule those of lesser talent. Plato’s egalitarianism requires, it seems, a highly stratified society.
It’s a great teaching moment, for then I would typically ask the question: how do we decide who gets to be in charge of things in *our* society? After some fumbling about, students usually land on the idea that we’d like to have people in charge who have earned it. Though they’re not so naive as to think that we actually inhabit a meritocracy, they do tend to rather like the idea. But I then point out that the idea of “merit” isn’t self-defining and especially in our information-economy age, what counts as “merit” looks a lot like native intelligence, the ability to acquire educational credentials, and so on. Or–and this is just a hypothetical to make them think–doesn’t even the idea of a meritocracy suggest that those with more natural talents deserve to be on top? Have we really escaped Plato’s stratified-by-nature “city in speech”?
We leave the question unresolved, for we move through The Republic rather quickly, and we need to get on to the ways in which the search for justice undermines the pleasures of private life (no marriage, no kids of one’s own, no private property, etc.), and it is the unresolved-ness that is, I think, so very helpful to my students. They need to be made uncomfortable, to feel the tensions they bring with them into the classroom, to grapple with their own inconsistencies and, even, the impossibility of fully answering some questions. And it is the writings of these long-dead thinkers, in some measure so very far removed from us, that best helps them to do it. So go read an old book, especially perhaps one whose ideas you find a bit disreputable or just strange. And thank Alan Jacobs for the encouragement.
Practical suggestions to help you go deeper into our theme
1. LEARNING TO BECOME A HEALTHIER YOU: Be honest—what do you need to learn in order to function more healthfully in this season? In what area(s) of your life are you stuck? What steps can you take to get unstuck? What steps are needed to engage meaningfully in change and growth in your life? Remember that personal and professional change rarely occurs in isolation. Who might be a helpful companion or guide for the change you desire?
2. LEARNING TO BETTER SERVE OTHERS: Be inspired by a barista who demonstrates a dedication to learning in order to better serve her customers.
3. TEN STATISTICS ABOUT LEARNING RETENTION YOU’LL WANT TO FORGET: In this article from Instructure you’ll learn some statistics that serve as a reminder of how easily it is to forget—and how important it is to make sure you make your employee training memorable.
4. NO PAIN. NO BRAIN GAIN: The brain isn’t a muscle, but it still needs to “feel the burn” in order to build new neural connections that actually last. Learn more by checking out this article in FastCompany.
5. NEUROPLASTICITY AND MEMORY RECONSOLIDATION: In this academic article from Routledge, learn the ways researchers are unlocking the emotional brain by eliminating symptoms at their roots by memory reconsolidation.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
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Images used in order of appearance:
1. FIELD: The Young Lady with the Shiner, Norman Rockwell, 1953.
2. SEEDS: The Banjo Lesson, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1893.
3. ART: Untitled Library Bookshelf mural, Kelly Poling, 21st C.
4. POETRY: Blossoming Plum Tree, Yamamoto Baiitsu, 1834
5. PROFILE: The Learning Process, Robert Doisneau, 1956.
6. FILM: The Orrery, Joseph Wright of Derby, 1766.
7. ESSAY: Portrait of an Artist Painting Her Self Portrait, Jean Alphonse Roehn, 19th C.
8. BOOKS: The Reading Lesson, Mary Cassatt, 1901.
9. DIG DEEPER: In the Carpenter Shop, Carl Larsson, 1905.
10. ROOTED: St. Paul Preaching at Athens, Raphael, 1515-16.
SPECIAL THANKS to Nick Benoit for the use of his Breadmaking film and to Bryan McGraw for the use of his Book Review. We are grateful!
TEAM CULTIVARE: Duane Grobman (Editor), Lori Andrews, Billy Brummel, Ben Hunter, Eugene Kim, Jason Miller, Jason Pearson (Design: Pearpod.com)