Reset the Heart

Unlearning Violence, Relearning Hope

By Mai-Anh Le Tran Published
Reset the Heart
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Educating for faith and justice in a violent world requires an imaginative unlearning and unmaking of the values of violence.When the #BlackLivesMatter protest movement burst into dynamic action following the shooting death of young Michael Brown in the fall of 2014 in Ferguson, MO, a good number of clergy and lay leaders in greater St. Louis sprang to action and learned anew what it took to put some feet to their prayers. However, as improvisational efforts continued to rally and organize churches toward the enduring work of confronting the insidious violence of systemic social injustices in their own backyard, these religious leaders ran head-on into a familiar yet perplexing wall: the incapacity and unwillingness of their faith communities to respond. In many cases, the resistance was (and still is) fierce, eerily reminiscent of the stand-offs that divided religious communities and leadership in the 1960s Civil Rights era. If the Churchs teaching, learning, and practice of faith is purportedly transformative, then where was/is that faith when it was/is needed most? If good religious formation had been happening - or had it? - then why the enduring signs of indifference, paralysis, apathy, exasperation, resistance, symptoms of anesthetized moral consciousness and debilitated hope in the face of pervasive social-cultural violence?

The answer may come in a searing indictment: that in an emerging cultural-religious era in which religious identity, expression, and experience are increasingly pluralistic, yet also politicized, polarizing, and racialized, Christian faith communitieseven those of progressive theological persuasionsare still held under dominant cultural captivity, and fashioned by colonizing teaching strategies of disimagination  such that the stories (theologies) and rituals (practices) of the faith have effectively become obstacles that anesthetize moral agency and debilitate courageous action for hope and change.

This book addresses the above practical concerns with three paradigmatic questions:

1. What does it mean to educate for faith in a world marked by violence?
2. How are Christian faith communities complicit in the teaching and learning of violence?
3. What renewed practices of faith and educational leadership yield potential for the unlearning and unmaking of violence?

An organizing thesis drives the inquiry: Thinking and teaching for violence-resisting action as Christians requires an on-purpose setting of our hearts in a world that violates and harms with impunity. Against violent disimaginationand its conscience-numbing instruments, Christian religious communities are being challenged to regenerate radical forms of prophetic, protested faith, the skills and instincts of which must be honed deliberately. This occurs through intentional and strategic forms of public consciousness raising for the sake of participation and action - an action that moves toward and is fueled by critical, insurrectional, resurrectional, hope.


#BringBackOurGirls, #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerNamethese are only a few of the hashtags prompted by the rising visibility of violence in a social media era. How can religious educators help communities to confront the roots of this violence? And where do we find hope in the midst of these struggles? Mai-Anh Le Tran offers concise analysis, deeply rooted Christian hope, and pragmatically grounded wisdom for doing sothis is the best book I have read on the topic in decades!

Mary E. Hess, Professor of Educational Leadership, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN; past President, Religious Education Association

Rooted in the authors ancestral quilt of faith, this compelling book reveals the sacramental power of a poetic narrative that says no to a world tainted by violence and yes to hope that seeks justice. It inspires religious educators as reflective practitioners to embrace intentionally a vocation to do something in prophetic response to a troubled world.

Faustino M. Cruz, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership, School of Theology and Ministry, Seattle University, Seattle, WA

Mai-Anh Le Tran has given us a poetic, prophetic, and provocative vision of what Christian religious education must be if congregations and their religious leaders are to take serious the impotent practices of current educational ministry today. The book is poetic in tone and discourse, prophetic in getting at the heart of the problem of educational ministry, and provocative in her proposal to teach for Christian faith that will transform the world.

In a society filled with violence Tran asks if faith is a verb then how do we do it in a violent world? Her response is essential if Christianity is to be relevant in a world filled with systemic injustices. Never before has Christian religious education scholarship addressed violence. For such a time as this.

Evelyn L. Parker, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Susanna Wesley Centennial Professor of Practical Theology, Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX

About the Author

Mai-Anh Le Tran

Mai-Anh Le Tran is Associate Professor of Christian Education at Eden Theological Seminary.

She is a member of the Curriculum Review Committee of The United Methodist Church and The United Methodist Publishing House as well as the International Association of Practical Theology. The focus of her writings has been local/global intersections of race, gender, and class in religious identity formation and practices. Her current research focuses on religion, education and violence.