Breaking Ground: A Beginning

June 4, 2020

This marks the first event launching Breaking Ground.

Breaking Ground is a special project hosted by Comment Magazine and in collaboration with Plough Quarterly and a growing choir of organizational affiliates seeking to respond faithfully and courageously to the layered crisis of both COVID-19 and the reckoning with racial injustice sweeping the world.
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This virtual event took place on Thursday evening, June 4, 2020. What follows is the text of my introductory remarks, and the video recording of our ensuing conversation.

Good evening, and welcome to Breaking Ground.  I wish I could see all of you out there, not least in this moment of profound reckoning, grief, righteous anger, weariness, shock, conviction, fear, impatience, loss and so many more emotions and headspaces all jostling in a big vat of a year we’ll just always remember as, well, 2020. But we are separated by this screen, and actually hidden from one another in all of our particularities — different life experiences, cultural backgrounds, dispositions and personalities, callings, loyalties, geography, material wants and needs or lack thereof, health conditions, wounds, the list goes on. And it is precisely in this separated, multi-webbed chasm of at once wonderful difference and tragic fracture that I want to invite you to pause. To look with courage down into the very real rivets that exist between each of us, to try to notice and take stock of the weeds growing there, some of which are choking us, and to bend down, identify them, pluck them up and toss them away, and then, having done that, to look up at one another standing around the cleared space, able to till the soil and discuss and debate what we should plant and build. Together.

Breaking Ground – and this very first event – is first and foremost an act of hope. In the midst of all that has disrupted the world this year due to COVID-19, and in the midst of all that’s gathered steam in the wake of George Floyd’s death last week, much of it simply a mass exclamation point on a cancerous root of a lie that has spread for centuries, namely, that one race is superior to another and that human value can somehow be measured along a manmade hierarchy, in the swirl of all of this, we are here to take stock, to try to see as clearly as we can, to learn from one another, to listen and to share, to stake a claim on the good and the true and the beautiful, and to try to build something different than what we’ve had yet, together. A society that orders its loves differently than the consumeristic individualism so many of us are tired of. A society that understands fundamentally that not only does every person matter, which is actually a bit of a low bar, but that we need each other. Each one of us. Existentially.  

The community is going to be the content over the next year, which is not to say we don’t hope to inspire top-notch ideas or show-stopping arguments. Quite the contrary. But I’ve come to believe that persons have to precede policies, souls have to precede dogma. Men and women, thinkers and doers, children and all the things that hold us together peacably don’t exist first as words on a page. They exist first in relation to one another, person to person, I and thou, and, here at Breaking Ground, we believe that that neighborly ground of reality is founded on the preceding biblical commandment – Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. And that these two loves are mysteriously in a dance that gets better and richer the more you choose to submit to it.

Part of this dance we hope to illuminate in the year ahead through Breaking Ground’s content and events, much of it commissioned, some of it curated, and part of it we want simply to embody. This project has already been strengthened from the beginning by a collaborative spirit. My own Comment Magazinepublished by Cardus, a Canadian think tank committed to sowing the conditions for a flourishing society, illuminated by rigorous research and 2,000 years of Christian social thought, is honored to be linking arms with the widely beloved Plough Quarterly of Bruderhof roots and now also nearly a dozen new affiliates whose names you’ll find on our site, just launched an hour ago. I am personally experiencing the joy of working with a new colleague, the brilliant and passionate Susannah Black, who keeps me on my toes and challenges my inchoate instincts, well as Brian Brown of the Anselm Society. Heidi Deddens comes with me from Comment, our renaissance managing editor, and has brought endless energy and detailed good cheer to the site we’ve unveiled just now. I want to thank all of them, and you’ll hear more from them directly in the future. We welcome more collaborators and affiliates, and will be establishing a process in the next week that allows for regular communication and editorial input. The hope is to swell into a multi-part choir whose song may at times sound tense and discordant, especially as the church herself is no stranger to the fractures of our broader society, but at other times reconciled into layered harmony, moving everyone watching to tears, then to their feet, and then to walking and serving and building.

So now let me get to the real reason you’re here. Our starting community. Candace Vogler, Dante Stewart and Pancho Argüelles are three very different people, in some senses, and did not know each other before a week ago. Candace comes to us from the philosophy department at the University of Chicago, a renowned ethicist and committed teacher; Dante is a budding writer and speaker whose own intellectual and theological journey is a road punctuated by discernment, honesty and courage; and Pancho is a friend, whose work alongside men and women that have emigrated to the U.S. and experienced severe spinal cord injuries is daily, sensitive, spiritually alive and committed to accompanying those who suffer out of view. I’ve asked each of them to share themselves in this brief hour and help define what’s at stake as we navigate this unusually uncertain time – of COVID-19, of the pain of this last week – so that Breaking Ground might begin from a place of realism, however partial. So let’s begin.

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