help us welcome our newest ReadTheSpirit columnist Ken Chitwood! You can do that immediately by engaging in Ken’s creative invitation to share your own “Faith Pop.”
WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT? Ken Chitwood is a multi-talented journalist, scholar and “public theologian.” Ken’s work is global. In recent years, he lived and worked in South Africa and New Zealand; his online columns have appeared in news sites from the Houston Chronicle to Religion News Service; and, at the moment, he is working toward a doctorate at the University of Florida and has moved to Gainesville with his wife Elizabeth.
Ken explains his approach to this new work in another column headlined, “Faith Goes Pop?” That column opens with a photo of music superstar Taylor Swift and says in part: “The Faith Goes Pop portal will continue to take a bold foray into the unknown and untamable intersections between, and manifestations of, religion and popular culture. … As we can readily see, the possibilities are endless.”
Please, make time this week to visit Faith Goes Pop for a glimpse of these creative possibilities! Yes, you can play a direct, creative role—and help us all with our mission of “building healthier communities” while you’re at it. How can you resist? You can have fun—and perform a good deed—at the same time.
David Crumm interviewed Ken Chitwood about his debut in Faith Goes Pop.
Here are …
HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH KEN CHITWOOD
ON ‘FAITH GOES POP’
DAVID: Ken, I’ve devoted decades of my life to journalism that explores the impact of religion in our world and I have to say: In this very difficult field of writing—you’re so creative! A breath of fresh air. I’m going to start this interview by showing readers how you took part in a real-life #EmojiResearch project and created an emoji-studded Tweet that explains the work that you do. Here it is:
Tell us about this. I must have spent 10 minutes pondering this elegant little Tweet. (And, by the way, our readers can follow your Twitter posts here.)
KEN: I saw an article about academics trying to express their research work using emojis. (Here’s a Chronicle of Higher Education version of that article.) My wife and I use emojis all the time when we message each other. So, when I saw that article, I thought: Why not try to express the research I’m doing using emojis? I saw some of the examples by scientists and mathematicians and historians but no one had tried an emoji description of research in religion.
It’s been fun to see how people interpret what I did.
DAVID: That’s part of the fun. The pictures make it open to interpretation.
KEN: Yes. For example, I chose an emoji that encompasses religion in general—two hands clasped together. But some people interpret that as “prayer,” and asked me if I meant to say that I study just prayer. It opens up some interesting conversations.
DAVID: This week, as you debut at the helm of the multi-media Faith Goes Pop column, you’ve got a similarly creative challenge for all of our readers. You want people to “Show me your ‘Faith Pop!’” Tell us more about that.
KEN: The main idea is that I don’t want to see my own voice all alone in this adventure. I want people to have fun and explore with me. I’m saying: Come on! I’m calling this a “bold foray” and I hope people will join with me. I want people to use Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest or Facebook—whatever they prefer—and show us where they see faith going “pop” in the world around them.
Whatever they post, I want them to use the hashtag: #FaithGoesPop
KEN CHITWOOD: IT’S FUN … AND SO IMPORTANT, TOO!
DAVID: This work you’re doing is fun. But it’s so important, too. You like to quote Stephen Prothero on this: “Teaching about religion is bound to be controversial, but so is ignoring it.”
Not only is this a key to any hope for world peace, it’s also an eye-opening way to learn about ourselves and our families, co-workers and neighbors. You write: “When religion and culture meet, this intersection … tends to be where our convictions are discovered or displayed.”
KEN: I’m an educator. I teach and write about religion. One thing you quickly notice when you do this kind of work is—things can get controversial. People may be elated by what you’re writing or teaching, if they’re supportive of what you’re doing, but you also can experience humanity at its worst if people perceive what you’re doing as challenging their beliefs. This kind of writing and teaching does challenge concepts, but I believe we can do this in a bold and exciting way, and even in a way that includes a bit of good humor. Our goal is to learn about each other. We become stronger as a community when we appreciate our diversity.
So, FaithGoesPop is predominantly about places in popular culture where we see a mixing and matching going on with religion. The way we react to that experience can reveal a lot about our own beliefs. In the classroom, I start teaching by bringing in headlines—or some new thing I’ve found in popular culture that connects with religion in some way—because that really gets people talking.
In these conversations, people are much more likely to share from their hearts. Yes, this can be contentious at times, but most often this is wonderful. It’s fun. We all learn about each other and we grow from the experience.
‘A Safe Place’
DAVID: We have some extensive experience in this field, thanks to the sociologist Dr. Wayne Baker who created The OurValues Project. Over the past seven years, Dr. Baker has shown that civil dialogues are possible, even when the topic is a hot-button issue torn from the week’s headlines. The keys to maintaining a civil dialogue are: inviting readers to participate with us, moderating the responses so that readers are not allowed to personally attack each other—and, in general, maintaining a safe place to creatively discuss different points of view.
I’m confident we’ll have a creative and exciting experience with Faith Goes Pop. But let me push you a little further on this question. You’re actually a Christian clergyman: Among your many accomplishments, you graduated from a Lutheran seminary and you’re an ordained minister. But, I’ve read a lot of your columns in other publications and you always maintain the journalist’s values of accuracy and balance. You may push readers with your news analysis—or occasionally with humor—but you’re writing from a balanced point of view.
Is that a difficult point of view to maintain?
KEN: I’ve always been very interested in diverse religious communities, since I was a boy growing up in Los Angeles. I was surrounded by diversity and I have always sought understanding among people. I was never someone who wanted to just label a group—and then avoid it. I always wanted to learn the stories, share the stories and have fun experiencing the diverse traditions of the people who live around us. Today, anyone can learn about other cultures and faiths, if you care to do that. I want to encourage more people to learn about diversity.
I am Christian. I am Lutheran and did go to seminary and that education is invaluable in grounding me in my own faith tradition. Now, at the University of Florida, I am studying religion in a trans-national, global way. In my own journey, for example, I’ve become very interested in Islam, which I think is one of the most misunderstood religions in the world. And I always am looking for diverse ways that these global traditions are experienced today. For example, you might find me writing about a Latino Muslim community in New Mexico, which is the kind of story that people don’t expect.
I have encountered people who ask: Why are you as a Christian studying other religions? Or they might ask me, after a particular column about Islam: Why are you writing so positively about Muslims? But I do this work because, as Stephen Prothero says, we must increase our religious literacy. I see that as part of God’s work in the world.
‘Theologian without borders’
DAVID: You call yourself “a theologian without borders.”
KEN: That’s true. I’m always looking for those places where the global becomes local—and the local becomes global. I’m not the creator of the term “glocal,” but I like that word. It’s an important idea in today’s world. We need to remember that we all have so much to learn.
I’m willing to go anywhere and learn from anyone to understand more fully how faith is playing a role in our world. I’m always looking for unusual connections. I want to know what it means to be a Christian in Kenya, or a Muslim in Mexico, or a Hindu in South Africa. I want to know how faith is shaping our world—as well as the place where we’re each living today.
I really do hope that readers will accept my invitation and agree to help me explore.