Reviewed by Patty Meyers, D. Min., Ed. D., Past CEF Board President

“What does it mean to be a person of faith in a violent world?” Dr. Mai-Anh Le Tran asked. It’s a powerful question for Christian educators, pastors, parents, neighbors and friends.  That’s not the only hard question she asked in her book, Reset the Heart, Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope.

Gripped by the violence in Ferguson, Missouri, she also asked:

  • “If the church’s teaching, learning, and practice of faith is purportedly transformative, then where is faith when it is needed most?”
  • “If good all along – religious formation had been happening all along – or had it? – then why the indifference, paralysis, apathy, exasperation, and even downright resistance when a calamity occurred that could have used a faithful response? (p. 3)
  • “If God is on the side of the oppressed, why don’t they win?” (p. 8)
  • “How are Christian faith communities complicit in teaching and learning violence?”
  • “What new (or renewed) practices of faith and educational leadership can help us unlearn violence and relearn hope?” (p. 10)

These probing questions and others were fresh for her as she stood in the rain with other people of faith outside the Ferguson city hall grief-stricken, bewildered, in a public display of witness, lament, and liturgy.  What does it mean to teach for faith formation in a time such as this?

We too easily get caught up in hand-wringing that we mis-educate. Perhaps we think that the problem is too big to tackle and don’t pull together the resources available to at least start to make a difference. We must not lose the potential for the community to come together in a redemptive way and be swept away by our despair.  Death does not have the last word in Christian theology, resurrection does.  She calls it “resurrectional, insurrectional hope,” inspired by Paulo Friere’s “pedagogy of conscientization,” which led to a “pedagogy of hope” as a generator for justice with love.

The death of Michael Brown was one of several acts of violence, followed by deaths in New York, Baltimore, more recently in Charlottesville, Virginia and more than will be enumerated here.

These are real questions for real people of faith that convicted me as I read. Knowing Mai-Anh as I do, I knew that she would not leave readers in despair, though that is an appropriate response to the violent times in which we live.  As a person of faith and a Christian educator, Mai-Anh draws on the collected wisdom of scholars and theologians with her agenda for “teaching toward resurrectional, insurrectional hope, communicability, redeemability, and educability.” (p.11)

This is not “pie in the sky, airy fairy” hope, this is the work of people of faith whatever our roles are. This book is rich in its challenges, its conversations with students, laity and clergy, with utter faith that violence will not have the last word in the church or in the streets.  This age need not be known only for its violence but for the faithfulness of people who reset their hearts.  As the song from “South Pacific” (1) says: “You’ve got to be carefully taught” to hate…and if we can learn to hate, we can learn to love.  As Rob Bell proclaimed in his book of the same name, we know the rest of the story: “Love Wins.” (2) And eternal life begins right here, right now, when love wins.

Hope is foundational for humans to “know, be, do” (the domains of learning). If we are serious about being part of the solution and not part of the problem, if we truly care about faith formation, we will join Mai-Anh Le Tran in unlearning violence and relearning hope, to which she called Christian educators in the book’s title. Without hope, there is no reason to get up in the morning. Hope is the message that people desperately need.  Let’s get to work!

1)      “You Have to be Carefully Taught” – Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific”© 1958.
2)      Love Wins by Rob Bell. © 2012 Harper One.