Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

My Journey with Disjunction

Written by: on January 22, 2024

I found Meyers and Land’s book on Overcoming Barriers and Threshold concepts very insightful. It provided language and a framework for understanding different threshold moments in my own learning and education and how I can walk alongside others to support them in their learning and process as well.

It was a good reminder that learning is supposed to be a challenge. So often in education we want to ease challenge and make things more comfortable and easier, instead of supporting people in working through the challenges of learning. Myer and Land give us pathways to support people on their journey of learning and knowledge.

As a pastor, professor at a local seminary and parent, I am fascinated by teaching and learning concepts. My wife is also an educator that specializes in reading and math support and development in students, particularly those whose English is not their first language. So the idea of disjunction, or feeling stuck, was of particular interest to me in chapter 11. In this chapter, Maggi Savin-Baden argues that there are different strategies that people will employ when they feel stuck:

*These include retreating from the difficulty and opting out of any further learning, using strategies to avoid it, temporising and waiting for an event or stimulus that will help them to move on or engaging with it directly in an attempt to relieve their discomfort.” (pg. 21)

To illustrate, I’d like to share a threshold concept I experienced in my own life; The concept that history is interpretive. In seminary at George Fox 12 years ago, I decided to take a course taught by Dr. Randy Woodley on learning about Native American Spirituality and how it integrates in Christian Spirituality. Dr. Woodley had lectured in my Hebrew Bible courses on indigenous perspectives on the Bible and it had piqued my interest.

But as I began the course, I recognized a bias that had developed in me that I picked up along the way in my Western Education by mostly white teachers from history books written by mostly white men (and a few white women) and had then integrated into my own religious worldview (though no one prompted me to do this in my life) that anything in religious practice that was not overtly “Christian” (which I defined at the time as Western, Dominant Culture Christianity) was heresy or inherently evil.

This created a “disjunction” in me, and I did not know how to deal with what felt like two competing viewpoints; the viewpoint that the professor was espousing and others in the course seemed to have already accepted, and what Savin-Badin calls my “traditional perspective as a learner.” (pg. 190)

However, as I was experiencing the liminality that came with this threshold concept, I now recognize the various postures of Disjunction that Savin-Baden argues about.

First, I wanted to retreat in this challenge. My initial response to this challenge or engaging my bias was to simply withdraw from the class. It was an elective and, as such, I could pivot to something else that interests me. However, it was the community of learners around me that encouraged me to continue. A few colleagues that knew me, and who were also in the class, encouraged me to continue in the course and give it a try until the drop deadline occurred. I agreed.

This, I realize now, was temporizing. I was delaying the decision. While I thought this was a good course of action then, to gather more data and extend the experience, I now know this was another way of managing the disjunction I was experiencing.

What I did next was avoid doing any real deep thinking about this topic and instead simply do the work that was required of me. Savin-Baden calls this Avoidance. I moved into task mode and disengaged the emotive part of my learning so as manage the unsettledness that the disjunction had created. This was easy to do, as I am a performer and achiever by nature, but, as Savin-Baden mentions, *”in the long term, because of the nature of the disjunction, they will still have to engage with it in order to avoid always becoming entrenched in this position.” (pg. 165)

This left me with the final way to manage my disjunction, “engagement”. Because of the support of colleagues and some advisors in my life (both educational and spiritual) I was able to engage the traditional learning perspective I had accumulated through a flawed educational system in a supportive environment. When I confessed this bias to the professor and in the class, because of the environment and values of the class, I was shown grace and encouragement to think about these things more deeply and broadly. This freedom to explore helped to expand my perspective and cross over the threshold of this concept that history is interpreted in various ways, usually by the victor. But that there are always sub-variant stories that expand, deepen and even critique the dominant narratives in history that must be explored to get a clearer picture of the truth.

The course, and the instructor, opened my eyes to see that God could be experienced and known in general ways in many different people groups and that I had a lot to learn from my indigenous sisters and brothers in Christ in expanding my view of God and my own anemic spiritual expressions and experiences. This was a ‘threshold’ concept for me that become key in my posture as a pastor.

While I recognize that I still exist within a particular stream and cultural framework of Christianity, I now think and interact appreciatively and curiously with those who express faith and spirituality differently than I do as oppose to judgmentally and with exceptionalism and cultural bias.

This threshold concept was extremely important in my own development as a pastor and person, and I now have some framework and language to identity and empathize with those that are in seasons of liminality.

About the Author


Ryan Thorson

Follower of Jesus. Husband. Father. Pastor. Coach. I am passionate about helping people discover the gift of Sabbath and slow down spirituality in the context of our busy world.

11 responses to “My Journey with Disjunction”

  1. Graham English says:

    Ryan, thanks for sharing vulnerably from your own learning journey. I had never understood the idea of “Disjunction” before. You’ve helped me to learn something new. As I read your blog I could recognize how this has played out in my own life on some of the issues I have had to wrestle with through the years.

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks Graham! Yeah this definitely seems like a pattern in my life! Glad it was helpful for you as it has been for me to put some language around these things!

  2. Christy Liner says:

    Hi Ryan, I enjoyed reading your post.

    Crossing these thresholds can be quite disorienting and troublesome. Do you recall what finally helped you cross the threshold? If you were teaching the same class, are there any key things you would focus on to help your students cross the threshold sooner, or even in a less disorienting way?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Great reflection questions Christy! Thanks!

      I think some space to recognize the cognitive dissonance and distress that deconstruction causes would have helped in this situation so the things that I was experiencing felt more ‘normalized’ then perhaps I perceived they were. There’s a lot of overemphasis on that in terms of phrases like “white guilt” or “white fragility” but I don’t think I needed to be coddled, but instead to recognize that was i was experiencing was an important part of education and was necessary to move towards the threshold moment.

  3. Adam Cheney says:

    I have gone through a similar threshold in understanding some native American theology. I have been to a few conferences in the last few years where some of the plenary speakers share from a native American background. I remember discussing the internal conflict I was having with another Christian from a very similar background as me. We were both struggling but for some reason, I crossed the threshold and was willing to engage in further dialogue and understanding. Though I still disagreed with some of the theology I was at least able to understand it and the perspective it came from where my friend was not really willing to give it any time of day. I wonder as a pastor, who has gone through the disorienting process, how do you help others journey into deeper territory without simply giving up along the way?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks for sharing Adam. I like how you mention that you opened yourself up to understanding and learning more but was still able to think critically and even disagree after understanding further. I think there’s a lot of cultural pressure currently to either dismiss and demonize or completely accept and affirm someone else’s point of view as if those are the only two options, instead of learning to understand someone else’s point of view then think critically while developing and deepening our own perspective.

  4. mm Shela Sullivan says:

    Hi Ryan, your post is compelling and provides meaningful perspectives into the complexities of learning and transformative experiences. I enjoyed reading how you detailed the concept of threshold moments and disjunction, particularly in the context of your own learning experience.
    I am a traveling pastor, and I am always curious to learn from my peers. Reflecting on your journey, how do you approach those in seasons of liminality in your role as a pastor, considering the framework and language you have gained from experiencing a threshold concept?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Thanks Shela! I think a lot of pastoral work is done with people who are experiencing liminality. This reading has giving me some language to help them reflect on where they are and normalize their experience. Then, I think we can lovingly present options and choices for them on how they may want to respond and invite the Holy Spirit to work. Thanks for your insightful question!

  5. Jeff Styer says:

    Thanks for your honest post. Teaching at a Christian Midwestern University, I am surrounded by students who I believe have similar responses to what you had in your Native American Spirituality course. I am glad that you had a supportive environment to really process everything. What would you say to a student who is not in an environment that will support him or her challenging their beliefs?

    • mm Ryan Thorson says:

      Great question, Jeff. That’s a tough one. I guess I have the belief that the more we are challenging in our thinking in a supportive environment where we can ask questions and grow, the stronger our belief or way of thinking will become. I think the sociocentric thinking from our critical thinking book might be helpful here: how do we develop a society, (or classroom/university) in your case, that utilizes critical thinking skills?

  6. mm Chris Blackman says:

    Hey Ryan!
    Great post. First, I love Randy Woodley. As a cohort in our MASF program, we were blessed to go to his farm and spend an afternoon with him. As he sang songs in his tribal language, his wife Edith blessed us with the smoke of a sage plant, allowing it to envelope our bodies. It was an amazing experience,
    Second, you wrote, “So often in education we want to ease challenge and make things more comfortable and easier, instead of supporting people in working through the challenges of learning.” It’s a great thought. Do you think pastors do the same thing with scripture to their congregations, and if so, what can they do in order to create for God’s word to be learned in a whole new way? (I don’t know the answer, I can only hope that you do!!)

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