In a society reeling from the pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, is it possible to create something new for our world? Anne Snyder, editor-in-chief of Comment magazine and co-editor of the new anthology, Breaking Ground, talks with Amy Julia Becker about the pandemic and our collaborative imagination. They examine how questions asked communally about our past, present, and future can reimagine our whole society.
Go to amyjuliabecker.com/anne-snyder/ for complete show notes, transcript, and BOOK GIVEAWAY info.
“Anne Snyder is the editor-in-chief of Comment magazine and oversees the partner project, Breaking Ground. She is the host of The Whole Person Revolution podcast and co-editor of Breaking Ground: Charting Our Future in a Pandemic Year, published in January 2022.”
*A transcript of this episode will be available within one business day, as well as a video with closed captions on my YouTube Channel.
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This is a moment replete with moral opportunity at a large and personal and institutional and structural levels. I don't think people of Christian faith have all the answers, but we do bring a tradition that has thought deeply around, like in a whole ways around health and what it means to belong to a society and pluralism and all these things. And could we maybe create a space that suddenly invites and create some intention around harnessing that imagination before the large unknowns of this moment? And what can we learn from the past what's being revealed in the present? And is there anything we could try to start re-imagining across the various sectors of our public life, common life,
Amy Julia (46s):
Hi friends, I'm Amy, Julia Becker. And this is love is stronger than fear. A podcast about pursuing hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and social division. Speaking of healing. And before I get to today's guest, I do want to let all of you know, that my next book, which is all about the topic of personal and social healing comes out on March 15th. It is called to be made well. And right now we are putting together a launch team. And this is designed for people who want to read an early copy of the book and get to discuss it with one another and with me and who are willing to help promote the book and share it with friends when it comes out.
Amy Julia (1m 27s):
So this launch team is starting pretty much now, and I would love for you to join us if you are interested in being a part of this discussion, and then part of this effort to get people in the world to know about this book, please check the show notes so you can sign up to participate. You can also look on my social media or website, if you want to know more about all of that. All right. But to today's show, it was so fun. I got to talk with Anne Snyder about her work and as the editor for comment magazine, and also an editor of a new book anthology called breaking ground. And this book came from a website. You'll hear all about how that happened. And it's an anthology that includes essays and conversations with people like empty, right?
Amy Julia (2m 11s):
And Marilyn Robinson, Dante Stewart, Michael Wear, a host of other voices. I happened to have one essay in this collection. I'm really, I'm really honored to be among such great other voices and to be a part of this conversation, we also are giving away a copy of this book. So check out the show notes to see how you can enter to win it. And before we get into this conversation, I'll just give you a little taste of it. We're going to be talking about the past two years, kind of looking back on COVID and the aftermath of George Floyd's murder and where we find ourselves. Now, we also talk about a new vocabulary word, a word that I've learned, I'm reading this book. Have you ever heard the word pusillanimity I still have to like sound out each vowel and consonant in order to say it pusillanimity so bonus points for you, if you know what that means, but if you don't, you are in for a treat cause you're going to find out as an and I get a chance to talk about all these things.
Amy Julia (3m 7s):
Today. I am here today with Anne Snyder. She is the editor of Comment magazine, and also the editor along with Susannah Black of a new anthology, that's called breaking ground. And we're going to hear all about that in just a minute, but I first just want to say thank you Anne, for joining us today.
Anne (3m 27s):
It's my pleasure.
Amy Julia (3m 29s):
So I want to start by going back to the winter of 2020, which is a time that pretty much anyone in the world can probably think back to two years ago from where we're, when we're talking. And around that time, we were starting to hear that there was a new Corona virus. Not that we necessarily even had the word coronavirus in our vocabulary at the time, but a new Corona virus that had been detected in China. And I'm just wondering if you remember what the type, what types of things you were working on and thinking about at that time and whether you were paying particular attention to the news about this virus.
Anne (4m 5s):
Oh, what a great question. So like literally two years ago, which would have still been January 20, 20, I was four or five months into this brand new role editing comment magazine. I was loving it. It felt both imaginative, ambitious, but also manageable. I had a great little cozy team. We were, you know, we're a magazine that goes deep into like eight miles under water, trying to locate various undercurrents, pre political undercurrents of our common life. And that all felt just like perfectly paced. I loved not being hooked to the news cycle. And so I do remember following the virus and for about a month I, yeah, between January and the end of February, I was just like everyone else.
Anne (4m 52s):
If I, as it was becoming clear, it was not just going to stay on the other side of the world and it was going to come our way. I just sort of thought about it in personal terms, how is this going to affect our sort of village life, our neighborly. It was just about, I didn't think about it really work-wise or in my case, like how could this potentially be a remaking time for our entire society, which therefore incur some responsibility in what I do for a living. So I think at the time, you know, I was largely, I was taking this magazine and trying to widen the sort of table for lack of a better metaphor of voices that were contributing.
Anne (5m 32s):
I had this deep sense of desire to incorporate what I call kind of the new America of Christianity. So I wanted people from immigrant churches and certainly the black church, and just try to try to both diversify and showcase a much more kind of hopeful yet also kind of long suffering wisdom that I felt wasn't being captured by. I mean, God blessed him color, but wasn't being captured by a certain kind of largely white reform and Catholic writerly based, which had been kind of comments home-based for the most part. So that was like where my head space was at. And then the pandemic came and the rest is history.
Anne (6m 15s):
Amy Julia (6m 15s):
Yes. So, okay. So now we've made it to maybe March of 2020, and that at least for me was a big shock to the system. I am not, was not well-versed in how epidemiology or pandemics operate. And so the world seemed to shut down. And then a few months later, right in June, a project called breaking ground was born out of both comment and a number of other publications. So I'm just wondering if you can help us understand what happened, what is this project? What prompted you to create it? What were your initial hopes for it? Like, just tell us about how we went from what you just said, like personal concern about this virus to I'm starting this whole new endeavor.
Anne (6m 59s):
Yeah. I don't fully understand it myself. So I'll say that and that remains a little bit true. I think, I don't know. Maybe every mother can identify with that. You're like, what did I create? I, yeah, it's, it's, it's very mysterious. I'm not naturally entrepreneurial by disposition. I was just driving home. I just vividly remember I was in the car one day was sort of late March, 2020. I think the, the Tom Hanks had gotten diagnosed. There was like, I think it was March 16th or 17th. There was like three things that occurred and everything shut down. And so it was like the week that week. And I was just listening to news about the virus and all the economic effects and like all sort of like the Headspace twirling forward.
Anne (7m 48s):
Fast-forwarding like dominoes. And I just had this very unnerving, but indisputable sense of moral responsibility, just kind of pricked my conscience and focused the brain. And I just knew somehow I was, you know, I had led some things before, but comment at that point felt like the largest leadership responsibility I'd had in terms of both, just a team of people, but also some intellectual leadership publicly. And I just felt this unnerving sense. Like I can't just continue leading this quarterly magazine as normal, something more urgent, something bigger and more invitationals needed to be put out there.
Anne (8m 32s):
And I didn't know what this would be. I just knew I needed it to be at once more focused, like w like I was saying, we do, you know, our, we had just released an issue on tribalism, the issue before that was sort of looking at this battle between love and fear and how that plays out. So we, we were, I think we were doing like fairly resonant subjects for anyone concerned about the us about north American society, what it is to be a citizen when our common life, but it felt too slow. And it felt almost too detached from what suddenly felt like a very volatile new reality. So I just was like, what I think I need to do something that's more agile and time-sensitive that draws from wider pools and more diverse pools of wisdom and perspective and skillsets, and even cognitions then comment is its own little magazine had access to.
Anne (9m 26s):
So I thought maybe something collaborative needs to happen here. And so around the same time, literally like the same week, I started to get phone calls and emails from friends of mine, other editors who are losing their jobs. I was hearing from nonprofits that I loved and admired who were feeling buffeted by the threat of lockdowns and what was sort of being deemed essential and non-essential, and in conversations with several of these organizations. And then I kind of talk back to my very generous colleagues. That comment is published by a think tank in Canada called Curtis. And as we were talking this through and I was like, can we rescue some of these people? Like, not that we're going to survive either. We're also a little nonprofit, but could we band together maybe, and withstand the impending doom and gloom by linking arms and facing outward.
Anne (10m 14s):
So we just had this idea, could we create, let's create something in this case as Christians who sort of know a God who both strips and delivers. And I had had this, you know, maybe providentially two months prior in January of 2020, this like amazing. Actually it was like a Bible study retreat with a rabbi who kind of took me through the book of Exodus in a way I'd never understood it before. And one of the motifs in that weekend was this relationship between sort of this terrible relationship between mass death in the biblical story. And God's delivering life. And you see that throughout the old Testament, you of course see that in the genocide, that proceeds, that sort of happens when Christ is born and, and something about that, which I found so horrifying, but also so hypnotizing.
Anne (11m 4s):
And somehow I couldn't ignore the pattern was just in my head. And I was like, I think, I don't know if this is a world war II moment in the world or the great depression or whatever, but I think something, some major things are being revealed about our society and the time this is just the pandemic. This is not all the other things yet that had occurred in 2020. I think we need to create an intentional space that is not a hot news take, but is harnessing. This is both testing the agility of the church in all of its frack own fracture to be agile before mass suffering. And could, could the church be more agile than say the media or some political authorities, or even before scholars and serve, and could we provide some sort of a venue that would help help set that agility?
Anne (11m 56s):
And I just was also just hoping, you know, this is a moment replete with moral opportunity at a large and intimate, both personal and institutional and structural levels. I don't think people of Christian faith have all the answers, but we do bring a tradition that has thought deeply around whole, like in a whole ways around health and what it means to belong to a society and pluralism and all these things. Could we maybe in create a space that suddenly invites and create some intention around harnessing that imagination before the large unknowns of this moment and what can we learn from the past what's being revealed on the present?
Anne (12m 36s):
And is there anything we could try to start re-imagining across the various sectors of our public life, common life?
Amy Julia (12m 45s):
Well, and so that over the course of, I guess, a couple of months came together into what was a website, as well as a series of essentially kind of curated conversations, a podcast, and now an anthology write a book that has come out where selected essays from the course of one year. Am I correct about that? I'll have come together to kind of, I don't know if it's D do you think of them as representative of, or like, like the selection process, what
Anne (13m 14s):
Th that got into the book? Yeah, it was not easy. I, I, in fact, I should probably figure out what percentage we put into the book. There was a lot more content we produced, as you said, on a podcast, through essays, through virtual events, we developed something called a sermonize there, which is sort of a cheeky way of harnessing sermons from the past and present from the black church and the Catholic church and Anabaptist and reform traditions that felt socially consequential. And so there was just a lot of content that was original to breaking ground. And we had, you know, we were drawing from existing networks of writers that are little cobbled together team knew, but yeah, the book wound up, there was an element of what were our most sort of wa conversations during essays that when they were published in real time, just really got out there and provoked and seemed to help people's own reflection in real time.
Anne (14m 9s):
And then we wanted to try to cover as wide an array of topics. So race and health, and the suddenly renewed front and center role of our own households as we were all stuck at home, obviously political authority. And what does that mean in a time of unrest? You know, we had an election going on. So we tried to sort of, it was chronological. We needed like, I think, eight or so essays that represented each season. We divided the year into four seasons and we kind of take the reader in the book. Hopefully readers may have a little there, and they probably, we all have COVID fatigue, but may have a little bit more hunger to reflect backwards on this very recent history and look at it in a deeper way that is, you know, like morally alive and yet also personally provoking.
Anne (14m 55s):
And so there's an element of just almost taking people through a diary of the year with as diverse, a section of subjects that seem to arise in our very new cycle as possible.
Amy Julia (15m 8s):
Yeah. And it's interesting because I read some of these essays, many of them along the way, because I was aware of breaking ground and contributing in a few cases to it. But also it was really interesting to get the book as a whole and actually helpful, even though we're still in the midst of this pandemic, but to do some of that reflecting work and to recognize all the different questions that were brought more into focus and more into the center, perhaps than they, it's not that those questions didn't exist before in a pandemic, they were all there, but they were, we were able to perhaps pay attention to them or feel the urgency of trying to at least come out some answers or see what answers have been brought up in the past.
Amy Julia (15m 50s):
And yeah, I, I wondered whether in looking back at the book, it would feel kind of like reading a diary of like something that happened a while ago and or if it was still going to be thought provoking and relevant right now. And it felt very thought provoking and relevant right now as I read through.
Anne (16m 7s):
Amy Julia (16m 10s):
Absolutely. No, I think it's really, it's a really important collection and, and also really readable too. I mean, these are, these are good essays I wanted, before I ask you more about the content in there, I'm curious about the title breaking ground, because there's like a hopefulness to that. And then there's also a, I don't know anything that's broken, right. There's like a sense of this is there's something hard or harsh. Harsh might not be the right word, but there's still something like disruptive. There we go. Disruptive and hopeful and the idea of breaking ground. So I'm just curious where the title came from.
Anne (16m 46s):
Yeah. Well, I I'll have to give full credit here. So one of the magazines that like us was sort of like a comment in the beginning of COVID was worried, looking at all that was occurring in the various shutdowns was our sort of frenemy publication that we view them as like a friendly competitor plow quarterly. And they come from the Anabaptist tradition. They're grounded in this beautiful kind of beloved sermon on the map community called the Bruderhof, which is global, but has various locations in New York state and their editor, Peter moms. And, and I were talking about, about doing something together along these lines and sort of saving one another, in a sense you can say.
Anne (17m 28s):
And he said, you know, we'll plow is thinking about commissioning a short series called like breaking ground for a renewed world. And we were flushing it out. And I was like, that's. And it was very appropriate for plow because they, for reasons that were real and their own communal life, they love agrarian metaphors as their own titles. Suggest comment is more sort of civil society institution focused. We don't deal with shovels and dirt as well that we would love to have our own garden for our insurance. But anyways, so, so we, I grabbed onto that. And then I was like, can we just call this whole project breaking ground? And so he gave me the initial idea, I ran with it and, you know, it's, it could obviously, as these things go, I don't know if it's Providence or, or the mystery of words, but it's meant it's wound up being so appropriately named and it's, I think meant different things at different moments.
Anne (18m 24s):
So yes, there is an element of if this, if we are in some sort of major in-between liminal juncture, like civilizationally both in our own section of the world, but globally that this could be one of those inflection points that we'll see in a hundred years. Okay. Major, you know, if nothing else, it wasn't accelerant, as you said of ups off, mostly worrisome trends, or at least unnerving trends that had developed the last, the previous decade decades. And so there's an element of just trying to clear the ground, like how can we clear the space to get to some common vision of reality there was, and this is where I view both thus far breaking grounds efforts, frankly, is a bit of a failure, but I think it, maybe I was unrealistic and hoping for this.
Anne (19m 12s):
And that was a good sort of three. I had, I began the platform with three questions for all of our writers. And like I said, one was like, what can we learn from the past? And specifically how the church has, or has not harnessed a major moral opportunity incurred by a plague or time of wide spread crisis was being revealed in the present those two questions. I think breaking ground as a platform covered up the wazoo, and I'm really proud of what we did, but the third question was like, what can we reimagine in our institutions and in our structures and in the nature of justice and, and what is peace and that sort of more tangible, concrete entrepreneurial, frankly re-imagining I think was just too difficult.
Anne (19m 53s):
It was like a pale, it was beyond the pale, or it was a bridge too far for most people just trying to survive and hunker down their various circumstances. But that the re-imagining bit is, and we can talk more about what breaking ground looks like after the book, but that is at the heart. When I get excited about this phrase breaking ground, it is, it is a sense of, this is a place to dialogue and debate together what needs to be re-imagined in our whole society and in the various sectors where our institutions are located and our parents, you know, so many different realms. So yeah, I'll, I'll stop there. And then there's,
Amy Julia (20m 35s):
Well, I was just going to say, cause the title for me, I was thinking about the agrarian piece of it. And you can think about growth and organic gardens and all these things, but also you break ground for a new building. Like there's an architectural structured use of breaking ground, which also I think is pertinent to so many of the topics and essays and thinking that is represented in terms of what does it mean to build something new, not just to grow something new, but also to build something new and to plan it and construct it and then go and like break the ground to make it happen. So anyway, that's
Anne (21m 9s):
Yeah. For me. Yeah. Thank you. Yeah. That's very resonant.
Amy Julia (21m 14s):
Yeah. All right. Well, so I want to also ask about this conflation, like these two concurrent realities that we've all experienced and you've referenced here, but there's a pandemic sweeping the globe. And then in essentially the immediate aftermath of George Floyd's death, what came to be called a racial reckoning, at least in the across America. And both of those were certainly covered in depth, I would say, through the work of breaking ground. And I'm curious just if that George Floyd's death that changed the work, because I know things started kind of right after that, if there was, if that was actually a transformative moment, but also like how are these things, a pandemic and a racial reckoning, like related to one another, how do you see them interacting with one another?
Anne (22m 6s):
Yeah, that's a big question. So the first event that breaking ground, so to launch the entire platform, I've facilitated a virtual event. This was back when we were all doing too many webinars, but this was the way we were trying to launch a brand new brand, a brand new platform and introduce it to the world. And it happened June 4th. So it was hours after the very first Memorial service was held for George Floyd. And it kind of depends who you ask. And from my vantage point, I knew before I don't mean this in an overly prescient way, but he just sort of my own, like I was saying earlier, what I was trying to do with the comment and my own little personal vocational drumbeat and mission just desire rooted out of my own life experiences.
Anne (22m 54s):
I had a funny sense that something that this pandemic was, was going to reveal ongoing realities of inequality and injustice and so on. So we were not going to be, you know, this, we are going to have to represent the pain of all people and the, the different hopes of all people. And therefore you're going to, you're going to get into different ways of telling our own history as a nation. And so I, that I already sensed, that would be part of the project. I wouldn't say actually some of the other folks on the team since then, and when we had a bunch of institutional partners sign up because they wanted to take part in this, or at least be affiliated with this sort of active public, moral responsibility and imagination.
Anne (23m 34s):
And several of them I think were, you know, they, they, it was B it was the beginnings of what was, was continuing, what had already been occurring for years, which is like suspicion around, like, are you too woke? Or where are you actually fall on the, you know, what's your ideological lens? And I think maybe some people thought I was too woke. So there was like that very first event I had, my facilitated conversation is very unusual concoction of people and amazing air 6 million loss for white women from U Chicago named Candace Vogler, Dante Stewart. Who's now got out with maybe a New York times bestseller. I don't know if it's that yet, but if
Amy Julia (24m 14s):
A chance to interview him, I don't know, a couple months ago. So yes.
Anne (24m 17s):
Okay. And so he was in the people, he is, yeah. He, he's just an amazing up and coming writer and I encourage everyone to follow his work. And then , who's a friend of mine, but sort of a real leader nationally in community organizing any works with undocumented immigrants who have been paralyzed. So he's really on the ground every single day, like helping people with catheters and diapers and their wheelchairs. So something about the three of them, because each in their own way, have they've all personally suffered deep trauma and they've walked alongside those who've suffered deep trauma. I just had this instinct, they needed to kick off the core questions. This entire platform was asking and I invited them before George was killed.
Anne (24m 58s):
So then that happened. And I'll just, so I say that to say, obviously, Anne and I won't, it frankly, wasn't the easiest to shepherd this platform where some people thought should only cover the pandemic to say no. Like there are all these other things that are now out in the open and to ignore them, in my opinion, as a non Christian B it sort of like not actually understanding the pandemic properly. So I, I'm not going to be the most eloquent on, on showcasing the relationship between the whore that was of course George Floyd's death. But of course the horror that is the hundreds of that exact death all the time in our country with the broader sort of at the, at the time COVID was sort of viewed as you know, this is June, 2020.
Anne (25m 51s):
I'm trying to remember. We hadn't quite yet entered into, I don't think fierce debates around masks yet, or, but it was, it was the beginnings of all of this turmoil around who is really human, who in this case, who is really American, what does solidarity, what does solidarity require? What does it look like when you have to be socially distant and in a weird way? And so far as like my head space, and certainly HeartSpace like many peoples was completely absorbed by what had happened after George Floyd and this whole new focus of our attention. It was like a major American moment in a weird way.
Anne (26m 30s):
The pandemic, both in the social distancing at the time. And no one was back to NATO or anything. There was like this opportunity for, I think, more sustained moral reflection because almost like I'm a excuse. And just the paradoxes of like realizing because of supply chains, like realizing how much you're dependent. We all are with each other in our world that those notions like seam I thought would be this like, amazing, for lack of a better word, like, like the weird word, but like a moral lubricant for the, like, it was going to help us really wrestle with this with integrity and come to new categories and new ally, like new alliances.
Anne (27m 21s):
But that was all turns out very idealistic. But I think at the time in the beginning I was overwhelmed. I mean, it felt when George Lloyd was killed, I was like, oh my goodness, we can, Grant's going to have to address this in a way that I am not equipped to facilitate per se, but we just have to, we have to follow our nose and try to be as responsive as we can. And I think I, over time we did the best that we could obviously questions about the police came into play and January 6th and occurred set, you know, there, there were, I feel like there's sort of a, I hope people find in the anthology that there really is a diversity of viewpoints, but we're trying to somehow, and I don't, it was difficult to do this virtually create like a safe space for people to air complex, trues in public in a time when all we are living, you know, we have a caricature trues caricatured narratives.
Anne (28m 23s):
And just so like every single person is perceived as guilty before innocent. So how does sort of deal with trying to lay out a common vision of reality when we're kind of so afraid of one another? It just was, it was like a powerful time to be a writer, I think for our writers and a very, just raw time, which makes, you know, which makes for an Oasis in a weird way. I mean, there's all these paradoxes that I think helped make it pop and I couldn't have predicted any of it.
Amy Julia (28m 53s):
Part of what struck me in looking back over these essays again, is the number of times that there's some sort of dichotomy that's presented. Like, you know, these are kind of the two options that our society is giving us. Like the two sides are the two polarized opposing possibilities, and here's a third way, or here's at least a set of ideas that don't conform to either one of those polarized sides. And I think trying to create a space that is neither progressive, nor conservative neither or both of those things in different ways, but, you know, and trying to create a space where maybe we could have find things in common, even when we disagree, maybe there is a sense of what it means to have a common good.
Amy Julia (29m 40s):
Maybe the individual, the collective are not needing to be pitted against each other. You know, those types of at least questions and explorations in various different venues. I just was noticing that as I was looking back through all these essays, that there really was a sense of trying to look for another way through, rather than our divided polls that, you know, seem to be continuing, but nevertheless, like trying to create a different space.
Anne (30m 7s):
That's very honoring of you. Yeah. I really appreciate you saying that. And I'm glad that's what you're picking up. And on the only other thing I would add to that is the texture of it. Humanly speaking is we really tried to seek writers who were willing to wrestle out loud and obviously like not have all the answers. And there was such a humbling. I think we, there, this phrase keeps coming to me these days. Like maybe our audience is this very small chase remnant. And I mean that both in a theological sense, but also just dispositionally out in the broader culture, faith or non-faith secular, whatever. And I think, I hope that we're saying something substantive in the compilation of all these reflections, but people really are wondering aloud as their world is being remade around them out loud.
Anne (30m 55s):
And you need to provide like a patient safe space for that to occur.
Amy Julia (31m 0s):
Well, and it's interesting because you talk about the humbling and the chastening, and this is bringing me to Susanna Black's final essay in this collection, which I will start by saying I learned a new word, which I'm not sure I even know how to pronounce pusillanimity. Is that how you say
Anne (31m 17s):
Yes. Yes. She's not like classical virtues scholar on staff that she introduced me to more syllables than I knew. I could say
Amy Julia (31m 26s):
Anyone who might like me not know what this word is. Pusillanimity this is quoting her, is thinking oneself, less able with less authority than one in fact has. And she actually contrast pusillanimity to humility saying they're not the same thing. And that it's a problem to think that we aren't as able or authoritative as we actually are. So I just, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on this pusillanimity as a problem, but also like how we can overcome that. Like what's how do we address that personally and, and maybe collectively as well?
Anne (32m 5s):
Oh, what a big, what a million dollar question. I loved that final essay by Susanna. I still love it. I just think she has a unique way of writing with like very resonant passion. And she like gets your own passions, like raised as a reader, part of why she and I worked, we're such different people. We, we kind of fought a lot in a healthy way, like as editors about who should be, or who should be our, who should be the profits. We should be listening to who in this time, like who, who are the right muses who's. And I think that some of the friction between us intellectually, politically, I'm just grateful for it. In retrospect, it wasn't always easy.
Anne (32m 46s):
And I think she would agree, but I think what bound us together ultimately was what she, what you just dragged you out, which was this frustration with, with this wide spread sense of helplessness. And she's, I think in that essay specifically speaking to Christians who, who have this weird, like her just taking on the victimization trends of the broader public culture as like the moral Baton to wield. And, you know, I think we both were bonded by just this deep sense of no, where to be a human being and what we want to encourage here. And this is where we stumbled upon this tradition of Christian humanism.
Anne (33m 26s):
But what we want to encourage is the full flowering of every person's agency. Like we all, we don't feel it. I mean, your friend, Andy crouch talks a lot about this, but none of us feels we have power. We're not even popular to own that we sort of have some sort of power, but at some level we all have a relationship we can influence for good. And we all have, obviously we have civic duties and we have people who are suffering in our midst, whether we allow our conscience and our sort of like heart to be pricked by it or not. So there was just a desire without being preachy, to touch people in such a way that they would be moved to find small ways to respond to pain, to be humble before a narrative that you never knew would be your neighbors.
Anne (34m 17s):
And you're kind of horrified by it. And yet you they're there for a call something from you. So I don't, I call your question a million dollar question, cause I'm not sure I have an answer right away as to how to overcome this. This conscious felt sense of lost authority, but I do think something, you begin to overcome it in conversation with those who are different from you typically in a very hospitable space. This could be like, hopefully a space like breaking ground, but more ideally around a physical table with meals. And it begins like very small and this like dialogue and an encounter between strangers who can become friends.
Anne (34m 59s):
And I think there's something in that that winds up like really empowering someone to suddenly feel like, wait a second. I'm an agent in this crazy time we're living through and there is a good I can seek. And there's a good, there's a good, I can help shape with all those of Goodwill.
Amy Julia (35m 16s):
Yeah. And I think about just the degree to which our local engagement is, seems so small and yet is incredibly powerful. And I think of some of the people who you've interviewed, I think of the there's one in some of these I'm thinking of podcast episodes that you've done, but there's one interview in the book with the lead for America people. Right. Will you tell us a little bit about that? Because I just think it speaks a little bit to that sense of like, it might feel small and it's very local and you'll never have heard about this. And yet this is what is ultimately like don't neglect to understand the agency that you have.
Amy Julia (35m 59s):
Anne (36m 0s):
Yeah. Lead for America has been such a joy to get to know and walk alongside the last 75 years. They are new organization. They, they kind of, I guess there's like association of organizations whose less two words are for America. So they say they like have a club called, like teach for America. So it's funny, but they are startup. They're started by funding like for 22, 23 year olds who were probably now a little older than that. But the, the aim is basically, they were noticing predominantly in rural places, but also sort of rust belt towns and small cities that there was this massive brain drain going on. And everyone who went off to college to get a BA wasn't coming back.
Anne (36m 42s):
And most of these splits is have a narrative of success that is equated with leave and go very far away and make it, you know, maybe send some money back home or whatever. So they were like, something's wrong here on so many levels like this is what's causing more associate sort of socioeconomic division class. You know, everything seems to be all of our debates seem to be aligning along class lines again and rural versus urban. And one way that we might re frame your average Harvard graduate, or Penn or university of Michigan or UVA, or, you know, degrees, these like their own narratives of success is not necessarily that you have to go off to McKinsey or the white house or these very elite or Silicon valley, but what would it look like to actually reinvest in your place?
Anne (37m 31s):
And I think for a generation that feels, I mean, I know my generation is often defined by, we wanted to save the world and we were running away from institutions, especially the institutions that had shaped us, the one beneath me. And this is like that gen Z, I think guard like famously sort of rootless. So this is an organization that's trying to get basically gives college grads a fellowship to return to their hometown and serve in local government for a few years, hoping that the relationships and built in that sense, that sort of experience leads to kind of long-term investment in that place. And there will be this revitalization in a way that has more integrity and more trust from the beginning relationally because they see people actually come or going back to where they came from.
Anne (38m 13s):
So, and their support to make that they're not even trying to make it sexy per se the lead for America, but they're trying to start a new movement. That's harnessing localism. And that's saying like when the rubber meets the road in friendships, it meets the road. Like community doesn't exist outside of a place. They're trying to recapture some like almost ancient and old passions.
Amy Julia (38m 35s):
Well, this might be a brave and ambitious decision ambition in the SA in a different sense than necessarily making it into some elite hall of power, but in the, it's not just settling for, or, you know, not believing in yourself or I'm kind of walking away from the opportunities that I have available to me in Manhattan, but actually there are possibilities inherent within this smaller and perhaps less known or noticed, but to actually, yeah, the potential for a meaningful and purposeful life in a small town, especially for someone who's gone away and come back to it, I think are pretty important to pay attention to.
Amy Julia (39m 25s):
So that's just a great, I don't know, for me, that was a great example of humility, but not pusillanimity, Tabulary words. Well, as we come to a close, I thought maybe we could revisit those questions, which you've referenced. And in the opening essay, in the book, you list them out there. But in terms of this project and just, you know, for you personally, were there any particular things you learned in looking back to the past where you were like, ah, I, this helps me, like, I didn't know that before. Was there anything from the past that you learned?
Anne (40m 6s):
Yes, let's see, this is my, my impoverished brain these days.
Amy Julia (40m 12s):
If you don't have an answer to each of these, it's totally fine. I'm just curious in terms of thinking about your kind of past present and future framing of it, whether there's anything you would hold on to for each of those. Yeah.
Anne (40m 25s):
Well, as I did this project, one of our inspirations, it's not so long ago, we did have some amazing pieces looking back at plagues that had hidden in medieval times in the fourth century. And, and those were, I think just perspective lending if nothing else. But I think in my role, trying to figure out what on earth I had seeded, I w part of w a inspiration for the project wound up being this thing called Oldham's moot, which Susanna black talks about in that closing essay, but it was kind of a series. It was a group of Christians who in the 1930s and the UK, and then throughout Europe were really wrestling with and, you know, the gathering steam of another world war, a sense of a very atrophied and weaken church that didn't seem to be able to stand up to claims of racial superiority or nationalism.
Anne (41m 18s):
And so I have just over the project and ongoing, actually, I've just been reading, you have to kind of find these used very extinct volumes, but sort of these kinds of lectures from these conferences that were held. And they became basically groups of friends meeting together and pubs not on like the inklings over that time through the forties. And they kind of narrowed their purpose instead of how does the church deal with the state and the community and society. They want it really focusing on formation like virtue formation of the next generation. And I think that was very worthy, although maybe not as structurally large. So I would just say what's striking when you read these lectures from people like Reinhold Niebuhr and Malcolm Muggeridge, and that there is like, there is you're you become aware that all of the things that we're dealing with today as pathologies, like sort of like what's, what's afraid like spiritual anime, like the, there was a classical word I'm looking for.
Anne (42m 17s):
It'll come to me and starts with a scene, like the, sort of the lack of connection between people at deep, you know, a lot of the, this sort of crisis of solidarity, et cetera. And then how people of Christian faith intersect with this and the weaknesses within, and the enemies within like, it's all, nothing's really changed. Like we have technology, we have technology and things that have accelerated some of these same problems, but there's, I think what I've realized is there's something in maternity itself, this is a longer conversation with someone's smarter and more historically well-versed the knee that has led to this feeling of a breaking point that I feel every day, not to be overly dramatic, but I think as an American right now, I feel we're in like a very precarious moment.
Anne (43m 6s):
And so it's, I think, I feel both like, oh, nothing's new under the sun. And some of what was building a hundred years ago, 80 years ago have just are the same and have just intensified. And we have we being anyone who feels that sense of moral agency, somehow haven't figured out a way to, I don't know if we're not looking at the right pain points, we haven't figured out a way to overcome them. Yeah,
Amy Julia (43m 32s):
Well, and that may be brings where I am curious. And I know you've already said that you felt like breaking ground. Wasn't able to do this as robustly as you would have wanted, but as you imagine a future together in that opening essay, you asked, this was just quoting you what might be born a new in this time and how might God's people help in the building. And I'm curious if you have any answers or beginnings of answers to that question of what might be born, a new and how God's people might be a part of that.
Anne (44m 6s):
I don't have a large answer to that still. I feel very small before that question. I do. And I'll just speak again. This is kind of in the proper noun of breaking ground, it's becoming a sort of ecosystem, a new ecosystem, like a real irrigation systems and ways of institutions that are diverse. Like they produce different summer seminary. Some are university, some are think tanks, some work with the poor in cities, all around the world. Some are Catholic Protestant, Orthodox others who represent publications that are concerned about classical liberalism, holding all these there's, there's kind of this union, this chase and remnant, but represented by civil society institutions that value the market and they value politics and the individual, but they are they're there.
Anne (44m 56s):
Those three things do not dominate. There's like this intersecting, like thick set of formative institutions that have like that now are kind of part of this canopy called breaking ground that is trying to figure out a way to, so a more robust and visible like humanizing sphere that yes is not going to be shy about the FA or is not going to hide the fact that, or I should just say is inspired in part by, well, I'll just be very Christian here. Like Christ is like the ultimate measure of what it means to be human, but that is like trying to create this middle space or just more enchanted space in public dialogue in the academy, but is ultimately looking to like local practitioners who are finding way to live out this humanism that is sort of rejecting like technocratic understandings of the human being and then other understandings that are ultimately dehumanizing.
Anne (45m 57s):
So that's very broad, but there's an element where I do feel there's something that's project. This project has been able to bear to bear witness to and to birth that is kind of a new set of relationships and, and future collaborations, maybe more projects like this one where those, where we care deeply about the common good and our need need all of our different disciplines, all of our different superpowers as organizations and all of our different weaknesses to somehow be in conversation around tables and creating a different kind of voice that who knows what could impact down the road.
Anne (46m 38s):
But that was very abroad. You can hear me, I'm still in the, I agree and I'm known, but it's, there's percolating
Amy Julia (46m 47s):
Like even in that essay about Oldham Oldham's moot, is that right? Like that? Yeah, there was a comment there about how people can look back and say that they failed because they didn't build more, that was concrete. And yet we've inherited the way that they thought about the world. And so I think I hear a bit of that here too, where there is not a project to build a center for such and such in such and such a place, you know, and yet these webs of relationships actually are meaningful and substantive and will affect the future. Not only in terms of what actually happens, but also how we think.
Amy Julia (47m 29s):
And I do think the way we think about what it means to be human and what it means to be in relation to one another is pretty integral to what our future holds. So I think that all makes a lot of sense if people want, obviously people want the book breaking ground, you can find it, but is what else would, where else would you point anyone who's listening and just kind of wants to know more about this project?
Anne (47m 55s):
Yeah, the easiest way. I mean, the book is the clearest most substantive way to get a window into the tone and like intellectual tenor of the project. But if you go to breaking ground.us, that's sort of an art living archive of everything we produce. And there there's more events, there's a little bit more of a feel of Praxis there and, and some vision statements that sort of show what, what inspired it. And then I would just say, we're figuring this out as we go. Part of it, you know, breaking ground is trying not to be a whole new organization. It's just trying to create some connective tissue at this point between, like I said, these sort of kindred spirited organizations that you know, are, are also different from one another.
Anne (48m 42s):
And, and I think, you know, comment is we're creating a space in our website that references this sort of budding learning community. And for now it's probably going to continue to be somewhat of a private sustenance between these organizational leaders. But I would not be surprised at all if in the next year or two, there's like another hello world. This is now what breaking ground is doing and creating energy be a part of it. So I, the best way is just to go to breaking ground.us, and that'll give a fuller flavor of the, of the project as it, as it existed during 2020 to 2021.
Amy Julia (49m 19s):
Well, thank you Anne, for the work you're doing and for sharing all of those thoughts and ideas with us and blessings to you as you continue to do this work.
Anne (49m 27s):
Thank you very much.
Amy Julia (49m 32s):
Thanks so much for listening to love is stronger than fear. Do you remember to check out the show notes, you'll find out how you can win a copy of breaking ground. And if you would like to join my launch team for my upcoming book to be made well, you can check the show notes for how to be a part of that. And as always, I would love for you to share this episode, subscribe to this podcast, take the, I don't know, one minute to give a quick rating or review wherever you find your podcasts, it would be such a help. I'm always thankful to Jake Hansen for editing and Amber Beery for doing everything behind the scenes to make this podcast happen in the way that it does. And I'm thankful to you for being here as you go into your day to day, I hope and pray that you will carry with you.
Amy Julia (50m 18s):
The peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.