How might we be called into purpose by our community? What is the why and how of justice? In what places of our lives might we have opportunity to learn from targeted practical application or from thought-provoking education that gives us a wider lens? In episode 10 of text.soul.culture, Dr. Ron Ruthruff joins Dr. J. Derek McNeil as the two discuss these questions in light of Dr. Ruthruff’s personal narrative. Dr. Ruthruff is Associate Professor of Theology and Culture at The Seattle School. His career goal is to empower persons to live lives of significance, to equip the church to love and serve their neighbors, and to engage communities in cross cultural and global conversations.
How did you become interested in teaching?
Ron: I started in urban ministry, working with kids on the street. Two weeks in, I was talking to kids who were incarcerated. Later, I started educating our people about psychosocial dynamics of these kids. The story of my love for teaching goes all the way back to seeing a book of bedtime Bible stories and my first thought being to preach to other eight year olds.
So you experienced affirmation of who you were?
Ron: I believe we’re called by community, and I experienced that in multiple points in life. But call doesn’t mean comfort. In some ways, I’m always learning because I’m fearful I don’t know enough. This results in a certain amount of anxiety.
What were other early-formation events that stand out?
Ron: My dad died when I was three, and my mother’s storytelling and social justice work was instrumental in shaping me. I understand my mother as a good, flawed human who gave me everything she could. I was able to let go of the record of wrongs. She taught me to defend those who didn’t have others around them.
How would you describe your first book?
Ron: After writing my dissertation, I was committed to never writing a book. That was until a woman from a small publishing house said, “You have a book in you. Would you write a book about how to work with street kids?” I said, “No, but I’ll write about how those kids shaped me theologically.” So The Least of These became a memoir. It was their resilience that was the catalyst for me to continue in education.
How about your second book?
Ron: In Closer to the Edge, I talked about what I had seen in my mother, whose ideology was very risk-averse. I wanted to write not on the what but the why and how of justice. Narrative and story shaped the book like my first, but it’s different because it’s widening the lens.
What are you learning about now?
Ron: I’m learning more about words like “white privilege” and “white fragility” and how we have a hard time getting to the seeds that produce that fruit. That’s what I’m curious about. It also becomes hard for me to say, “I don’t know.” The crux of the work is unlearning, and it requires being in proximity with others who can help.
What are your dreams for The Seattle School?
Ron: My first dream is that the MATC program continues informing all the degree programs. I would hope all our students understand that working toward credibility in theology and culture is important. My other dream is for students to be able to work locally and think globally. Finally, my dream is that we produce social agents who want to be a therapeutic presence in world — knowing they are flawed but still wanting to make a difference. In the words of Dr. Cornel West, I want them “to be great” — in how they view humanity and the world around them.
About Dr. Ron Ruthruff
Dr. Ron Ruthruff has served homeless and street involved youth and their families for the past thirty years. He has provided case management services, designed programs, and educated the community on the issues that impact this vulnerable population. Ron’s education is an eclectic blend of social work, counseling, and theological studies. Ron holds a B.A. from Western Washington University, an M.S. from Pepperdine University, and a Doctorate of Ministry in Complex Urban Settings from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston. Closer to home, Ron is on a regular preaching schedule at several local churches. Ron lives in the Rainier Valley, a multicultural neighborhood in the south end of Seattle with his wife, Linda, whom he has served with for the last 26 years. His two adult sons, Ben and Clayton, live close by.
Hosted and curated by Dr. J. Derek McNeil, Academic Dean, text.soul.culture is guided by a commitment to understanding narrative, wrestling with intersections, resisting reactivity, and fostering radical hospitality. Every other week, Derek is joined by faculty members, alumni, visiting thought leaders, and other conversation partners to explore what it means to foster wisdom and imagination for a world in need of complex thinkers and healers.