Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee, WI is known as one of the “happier” airports in the USA. Why you ask? Well Barry Bateman the former airport director who retired in 2020, Bateman made up the word and suggested the signage in order to add some comic relief to what can be a tense aspect of air travel. This story gave me just that a little comic relief, but it came to mind as I studied the Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledgeby Land and Meyer. Approaching a threshold in learning can be disorienting, or as Land and Meyer state, a state of “deconstruction” (5), “subversive in that it undermines previous beliefs and leads to troublesome knowledge” (Land and Meyer, 5). When approaching security in an airport, and I don’t care home much you travel, it becomes discombobulating! What are the rules at this airport? Do I need to take my shoes off? Do I put my laptop with my phone? Are my carry-on toiletries small enough? You stop, you go, you get x-rayed, you get patted down, or like in Qatar on my way to South Africa you are placed to the side to let the gentlemen behind you go through first, then you and the women set aside are allowed to go through….it is discombobulating. What would I not give to have a “recombobulation area? It’s brilliant. The airport acknowledges what their customers are going through is stressful, and they care. They put up a sign with a non-word, to make people smile. According to an article on the website OnMilwaukee.com, it works! Mitchell airport reports happier passengers! In Recombobulating…they were given space to sit, to pull themselves together and reflect in the shared experience of having been discombobulated.
Here is the deal, discombobulation is hard, or in relation to this week, deconstruction is hard and comes with Troublesome knowledge (Land and Meyer, 9). I often refer to my faith journey as a reconstructed Christian. I have had many threshold moments in my faith, far too many to include here, but if you read my blog last week, I pointed out the use of masculine language for God throughout the book. Finding my voice in understanding God as much female as male was a threshold concept for me…and transformative, irreversible… I can’t unknow it, and Integrative (7). Did I need to point it out? For me, yes, it’s known and I am now as aware of it and I can’t unknow it. I have had a shift in values, feeling and attitude (7). Being in a middle of a threshold concept can most definitely bring troublesome knowledge, and I would say when it comes to core beliefs, it brings an unstable grounding that is terrifying. However, some of the troublesome knowledge mentioned in this week’s readings can help, in my opinion, as we move through this discombobulation. Ritual (10), doing what you have always done, though experienced a bit differently, can be part of the healing process.
As a Hospice Chaplain, I visit a few individuals nearing end of life in memory care units. They and their families are all discombobulated, but if I find out they have a certain faith tradition, a hymn or communion ritual can bring them solidly into the moment like nothing else. They don’t know themselves anymore, but they can sing a hymn word for word with me or say the Lord’s prayer…Ritual (9). It’s troublesome in that once we experience ritual through a different threshold lens it has in essence changed because of our new understanding, but I believe fully in ritual is not known in the mind and head, it is known in the heart and body.
I have also experienced threshold moments starting in college when I took up a Sociology degree. Once I started to learn of other cultures and ways of being, it changed me. The Global Perspectives of this course is what drew me in along with studying leadership, to walk the Labryinth where Bishop Desmond Tutu walked and prayed was humbling. Walking around Langa in Capetown, talking with residents, siting in their huts was threshold and humbling. I can’t unexperience this and I am forever grateful. And it brings troublesome knowledge that inequality still exists and is calling for integration in my life. Reading your blogs and reading your responses to my blogs are threshold experiences because I now see some of me reflected in you all and you reflected in me. Perhaps this is the Namaste moments, God in me recognizes and sees God in you and now we are changed by that exchange! What a gift learning is, and I hope to never lose that sense of wonder and awe and new experiences, no matter how discombobulating they are! May we all be discombobulated and recombobulated!
10 responses to “Discombobulation….Recombobulation!”
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Jana – I love your title “Discombobulated and Recombobulated!” and so resonate with the airport stress of wondering what to expect and where to go having just wandered through the Toronto airport yesterday for seven hours as we were transitioned from gate to gate. I longed to be in my own safe place…in my home…in my bed. There is safety in knowing what is true and known and yet, threshold learning can bring much into question. The author’s description of oscillating between what is familiar and what is new is challenging and is a life long journey. How do you balance the need for the safety of the familiar and the “inbetwixt” sense of new thresholds of learning?
Esther, I thought after the huge trip we all just took, the airport story would ring true. I like your question ” How do you balance the need for the safety of the familiar and the “inbetwixt” sense of new thresholds of learning?” Whoo…I think the journey of balance is as life long as is the learning! I don’t know for me? I think the sense of balance comes from self-awareness practice…How am I in the moment? Where am I feeling discomfort? Why? I think honestly for me having a spiritual gift of faith has been what keeps me in a sense of safety through all these thresholds, especially since my biggest threshold moments and learning are in my faith journey. All the questioning I have had in my faith journey and how I know and experience God’s love has never ever caused me to lose my faith in God. I believe so much in the concept of grace and the vastness of God’s love that I didn’t feel unsafe or to use an evangelical word, “Unsaved”. I am grateful for that. My orientation is that I believe in God’s love and grace which allows me to also hold the troublesome knowledge of questioning what I thought I always knew. Maybe that’s part of the answer for others who are leaving the church, it’s reassuring our family and friends and ourselves of God’s boundless love and grace. One of my Favorite stories in the Bible I hold onto in times of troublesome knowledge for myself, or when those I love are seemingly walking away from their faith. It is the story in Mark 2:1-12 where the friends of the Paralyzed man lower him through the roof. Jesus states because of “their” faith he is healed. That was a threshold moment for me when I saw that for the first time. The man was not healed because he asked, perhaps he couldn’t, perhaps he had lost faith? But his friends did not, how great is that? We can be true community to the world by holding them in our faith. We can be a container for them as they question and wrestle troublesome knowledge. Good question Esther, you fleshed that out for me.
This post was beautiful! Thank you, Jana.
Okay now that I have said that, let me get the mindless stuff out of the way. Discombobulated is one of my favorite words, right up there with Bamboozled, Shenanigans, and Malarkey…so seeing your title brought instant joy to me.
Okay back the more serious Doctoral stuff…there is a great deal of uncertainly and uneasiness with deconstruction. I believe that it is what’s causing me to feel so unsettled in this season. What I have known to be true and unchallenged is suddenly not so. I agree with this, ” What a gift learning is, and I hope to never lose that sense of wonder and awe and new experiences, no matter how discombobulating they are!”. I pray that we lose the wonder of new experiences but for the first time it’s a little scary…I need the recombobulation to come quick.
BTW…I’m now adding “recombobulation” to my list of favorite words! : )
I love this word too and the one’s you mentioned as well. I always joke with puns and words I don’t always remember them correctly so I’ll say something really close…(don’t know why I can’t stop myself from saying it when I’m not sure if I’m saying it correctly) but I say it anyway and then get corrected. My response is I am always just so darn close to being brilliant and witty! Always so close! All I can say in response to the fear of all this threshold learning you mentioned, is that it seems to be important to have those who love you, pray for you, hold you accountable around you to hold you in a ‘scaffolding’ of safety as you traverse uneven ground. I suppose you’d say it’s the whole family and friend unit who is going through this doctorate with you. I will hold your scaffolding unit in my prayers, can you hold mine in your prayers too? Thank you Jonita.
I will absolutely hold you and your Loved Ones in my prayers.
Music, and I’m just going to say it, specifically hymns hold such meaning in times of sorrow. “They don’t know themselves anymore, but they can sing a hymn word for word.” I find this to be so true and comforting especially with the elderly members of our church because they grew up singing these songs. These hymns bring them back to a time when they felt secure, when they knew the words to be true.
I remember a particularly difficult time in my life when I was searching the psalms for some words of reassurance. I wanted God to FIX the problem. I remember reading a psalm (don’t remember which one) and having this devastating moment of awareness when I thought, “God might not be able to fix this. This problem really is un-fixable.” And sure, God can do what God wants to do. God can fix anything. But this problem wasn’t one where a magic wand can be waved and all is well in the world. The way God has been “fixing” the problem has been walking alongside me as I cross threshold after threshold after threshold. I no longer see the problem as a horrific thing that cannot be fixed. I see it more as something I’ve had to work/deal with but also that it has brought tremendous wisdom and empathy to the way I live in this world. It has transformed me in so many ways. I wouldn’t say I am grateful for it – nope, but I no longer see it as a problem to be fixed.
Your words, “It’s troublesome in that once we experience ritual through a different threshold lens it has in essence changed because of our new understanding, but I believe fully ritual is not known in the mind and head, it is known in the heart and body” struck me because as I think of the elderly congregation members I visit in the hospital and my (occasional) offer to sing a hymn with them, I don’t think I ever considered they were singing it from a new point of view. Yet, when I read the psalms now, I read them from a completely different perspective than I did that night when I realized God might not be able to “fix” my problem.
Thanks for your reflection Kally. Music is magical and has so many layers for people. I think this is why it can be so disconcerting or discombobulating for us when we go through a threshold. Can I still enjoy that song? Do I still believe what that hymn says? My head doesn’t agree with the theology anymore but my soul and heart are comforted. How do I wrestle with that juxtaposition? These are good questions…maybe that is the work of threshold learning and troublesome knowledge and how ritual (even if understood differently) can be part of that. I am a thinker, and can reframe and think my way through a large number of situation (I refer to my enneagram number 7 in the head triad). Where I struggle is to know where I feel it in my body and how I feel about it in my heart, and music is something that quickly sinks me past my thoughts and into my emotional center. I did a Spiritual Direction Certificate in Enneagram and one of the biggest aha moments I had for myself was learning that when I encounter troublesome knowledge to not just think my way through it… but how? Well I learned that a great way to do so is to work my “troublesome knowledge” through the enneagram wheel. So for example if I’m a head person, how do I get into my body? Well for me my spiritual grounding of getting into my body is dancing, hip hop and Zumba type dancing…I love it and spend an hour several times a week released from my thoughts and in my body! Now I can re-encounter my troublesome knowledge and move to my heart and try to name my feelings. Once doing that I can move back to my head and have a more wholistic processing! So music, hymns, dancing….grounding and ritual. This helps me. I love how you connected how someone experience a health crisis or a need for healing are now encountering this ritual of hymns in a different way…I think you are right!
I am sorry that you were set “aside” at the airport to let a man through. How annoying. Airports are tense enough! I was at the Chicago airport and in the course of time I headed to find a restroom. There was a female bathroom and an All gender bathroom. There was no male bathroom in the vicinity. What an Aha moment of a different kind….
Russell, yes. The world is indeed changing as reflected in your airport experience….and in some ways is unchanging like my experience in Doha. I looked up if that is how security is done in Arab countries, and it says nothing about that, but nonetheless I encountered this experience. it’s nerve-wracking to be in a foreign country by yourself and then in foreign language being pointed to stand off to the side “after I drop my carry on luggage on the belt watching it pass through” and I’m standing with a few women off to the side, who were wearing hijabs so I know it wasn’t my ethnicity that set me aside. Then the 3 men in line behind me went through, then we were all waved through. I’m sure I’m interpreting and inferring from my western female lenses so I can’t guarantee this is what was happening….but it is what I experienced. I guess this is the troublesome knowledge piece to wrestle through without any “official” answers? Thanks Russell for bearing witness to my troublesome journey: )
“Here is the deal, discombobulation is hard, or in relation to this week, deconstruction is hard and comes with Troublesome knowledge (Land and Meyer, 9). I often refer to my faith journey as a reconstructed Christian.”
I appreciate hearing your journey and current category as a “reconstructed Christian”. “Deconstruction” was a buzz word during my grad school. I went through that process before I knew the term while I was youth pastoring in a small town. Like many, I just started asking questions and noticing some inconsistencies here and there, but I had had several experiences that I could never chalk up as psychological or psychosomatic.
In grad school for one of my final projects we had the option to do a creative art piece then give a TED talk on it or do a 20 page paper. I was over 20 page papers at that point and loved art so I did the art project. I called it “De-obstruction”. It was a mold of my hands taking apart cubes that had a light bulb shining underneath. You could see beams of light shining through the wooden cubes.
What it represented:
Wooden Blocks-Words, Concepts, Ideas, Tradition, Thoughts, Art, etc.
Light – God
I called it “De-Obstruction” because I felt like my journey (with troublesome information) was not tearing down everything so that only rubble was left, but moving the things out of the way that hindered seeing God clearly. At one point of my journey I needed the words, traditions, rituals, etc. to point to and help capture God. However, at another point in my spiritual development it felt like these same things were more limiting, hindering, and obstructing. It’s like my spiritual incubator became my prison.
I like the “reconstructed Christian” idea, it’s hopeful imagery! I think it helps those who are hesitant with the term “deconstruction” for fear that it means anyone who goes through that process will walk away or leave the faith (which does happen), but not necessary. It can actually be a wonderful process that renews, expands, and deepens faith. Thanks for your post!