Ritual practices are intentions made material or concrete.
Our ritual practices matter because they don’t just represent the commitments we openly acknowledge or declare. Habits reflect our implicit intentions as well.
Policies are the material expressions of our core values. Budgets are a way to externalize priorities using the unit that this culture seems to privilege most: currency. And time, the canvas on which we draw our lives, reveals us the most.
You’d learn a lot about me if I were to share my proposed and actual monthly budgets: you’d see my self-awareness gaps, how freely I do or don’t give to others, whether I learn from previous months’ “surprises,” and what I choose to emphasize in my daily life.
Similarly, you’d learn a lot about me if I were to track and share my daily routine. My spending an hour to three hours on publishing an idea every day is time I don’t invest in other activities, and it also demonstrates how much I value this activity.
The old saying, “show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are,” could be better rendered “Show me your proposed and actual budgets, your printed and tacit policies, and your daily and weekly routines, and I’ll tell you who you are.” All of these things are among the material factors that model who we are right now, not who we wish we were or think we should be. And all of these things are things we have the ability to change, if we’re motivated enough to.
Andrews University’s senior administrators recently responded unambiguously and non-defensively to criticisms of the campus’ systemic racism. This response, which embraced the concerns of initially critical students and gave them space to speak for themselves, surprised people because it disrupted the more common institutional PR strategy of dodge, deny, and obfuscate.
It’s too early to tell whether this marks the start of new administrative habits, but if it does, it’s a great start.
Savvy observers will be watching for how the organization’s practices, policies, budgets, and scheduling manifest the values its leaders have asserted in statements, videos, and public campus conversations. That’s exactly as it should be: we only bother to hold each other accountable when we’re invested in relationship and take one another seriously. As Cherríe Moraga once wrote, “It is an act of love to take someone at her word.”
There’s a parable in the gospels—I may have shared it before—of two sons and a field-owning father. The father asks each son to go and do some work in the field. One says “No,” but repents and does. The other says “Yes,” but fails to do what he’s promised. Jesus asks his audience, “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
Of course the answer is the first son. The value here isn’t in the phrase “what his father wanted” but in the word “did.” Those who do, who bring their commitments from idea into form, are the ones who merit praise.
And those of us who aren’t fickle taskmasters, who actually care about the work and how it shapes all of us who take it up, will affirm every “son” who commits to the practice of equity, not just its language or ideals.