“Curioser and curioser”
Experiencing growth through engaging with otherness.
Christian Communities in Conversation
CCiC seeks to enable people to have good conversations by creating a safe and focused environment in which that can happen. Why do we need to do that? We have always said that CCiC is a journey and that “we make the road by walking it”, so we are constantly evolving and learning, but the question of why we should need to work on creating such safe places is an important one.
We have recognised that for many people the places where discussion and dialogue take place are not very safe at all and that there are a whole range of factors that make this so. For some, the fear of being belittled for what they want to say makes them not only remain quiet but to abandon their own exploration of things that seem important. For some the experience of sharing in dialogue with others is an unequal setting where louder voices dominate and issues of gender, race, temperament or confidence can shape their willingness to share and explore with others. We have acknowledged that we live in an increasingly polarised world where the art of conversation seems to have been largely replaced by the concept of personal broadcasting of a fixed opinion and the “I’m right and you’re wrong” paradigm seems to be the cultural norm, fuelled by the ability to loudly express views outside any context of connection with others or accountability for what and how we say things. We hear that, and we think of the excesses of social media, but in reality it is not an unknown experience in the way that views on faith, doctrine and orthodoxy are experienced. From the outset of the CCiC project we have been aware that after most presentations or meetings there are always a few people who hang back wanting to talk quietly about their experience of being hurt or marginalised or patronised within their experience of church. Our experience so far is that those conversations often reveal a deep spiritual longing for a place of engagement that will be free from the brash assertions of rightness that exclude experience or doubt. Similarly our experience within CCiC is that the most vocal critics of the approach are those who come from a tradition of concrete thinking and believing that fears the space that allows people to explore their questions and experience without being shepherded by doctrinal fixed lines.
So our intention is to create places of safety where a new exploration of conversation can be experienced which is why we the conversation groups will be safe, facilitated, focussed and inclusive. Such a space has to be constructed intentionally. For most of us that idea of safe space is not our everyday experience and we are used to the hustle and bustle of exchange, discussion, even argument as a way of engaging with others. That is the way of the world. So the idea of “Core Conversation Groups” is of course an artificial one, but by creating such a space the intention is to counter a culture that favours the loud and powerful and confident and to create a space where a genuine exploration of experience can take place. If culture is “the way we do things round here”, then the CCiC conversation groups seek to enable a setting where the way we do things is inclusive, engaged, respectful and even cathartic to those who need to find a place of exploration that is both gentle and affirming and that has the express intention of enabling them to grow as human beings.
As we developed CCiC we were struck by the words of a poem by Yehudi Amichai called “the place where we are right”;
Whether poetry moves you or not, the sense that the ground we occupy in our certainty may be affirming and provide us with confidence and identity and may be comforting but it also may exclude a panoply of experience and feeling because we sense we are affirmed by “likeness” and not “difference”.
Is this asking us to give up what we believe and hold dear? On the contrary, it holds that we need to seek a place and a space where our “rightness” is not the issue, but our humanity and God given identity is understood in the shared search for meaning.
So the space, the ground that we seek to create within the CCiC Core Conversation Groups is a space pregnant with potential and the opportunity for growth in our understanding not just of life, living and encountering God, but of our unique and shared God shaped humanity in which we are called to experience life “in all its fullness”. It was Archbishop Desmond Tutu who said that “a person is a person through other persons” to remind us that it is in our interdependence that we face the most challenging questions about what we assert as truth and certainty. His long and deep experience of holding together situations of pain and difference within a theology and philosophy of God given humanity must give us a thirst for space that starts with a shared humanity before it allows a spirit of judgementalism to shape what we assert as true.
“A self-sufficient human being is sub human. I have gifts that you don’t have so I am unique – you have gifts that I don’t have so you are unique. God has made us so that we need each other. We are made for a delicate network of interdependence. We see it on a macro level. Not even the most powerful nations in the world is self-sufficient”.
That sense of knowing our need of each other is contra indicative of the sense of knowing we inhabit the place where we are right and that poses challenges for us but offers us the fertile space and ground of spiritual exploration through our encountering the movement of God in our living.
Desmond Tutu has said with his inimitable sense of awe and wonder “I see God rubbing his hands together in glee `This is exactly why I created you, so that you should know your need of each other`”.
So, in our attempt to create artificial spaces of safe exploration we have learned to talk of the idea of “engaged curiosity”. By that, we mean that what fuels passionate conversations about spirituality is that sense of knowing that in ourselves we only have part of the experience and that by intentionally seeking out the experience of others, we are not threatened but nurtured and stimulated by diversity and difference.
The notion of “engaged curiosity” is core to the CCiC approach in promoting an active and enthusiastic experience of life, living and encountering God. It has at its heart a high understanding of the nature of an incarnational God as the Word made flesh who chose to pitch his tent among us. Our cry is, “Let God be God”.
But if we are promoting space that values and affirms diversity, is this just not promoting a place of compromise and dilution? Such assertions have been made and there are voices that want to assert that an approach such as CCiC is a liberal and uncertain exploration of faith and doubt.
Our hope within the CCiC project is that the desire for engaged curiosity for seeking an experience of the divine through an awakening to “otherness” is in the tradition of the stories of the Gospel that bring the margins of experience and the experience of exclusion to the heart of the Gospel stories of transformation and hope.
The CCiC Core Conversation Groups then seek to be a place of safety and exploration. They are not the be all and end all, they are a place of sanctuary and exploration within a wider journey of faith. But how do they contribute to this? It would be easy to say that a place where all experience is valued and affirmed is a place of compromise where the outcome is a pursuit of the lowest common denominator in the conversation as a place of least offence and where truth is avoided in the interests of harmony. Such assertions come from the place where we are right and from the assumption that out existing understanding and knowledge is complete and unassailable. And yet our experience of the conversations that flow from a position of affirmation of experience and faith are that they affirm both the humanity and spirituality of those taking part.
So if the common ground we wish to explore, is not a grey compromise and an amalgamation of belief, what is it? Therein lies the challenge!
The purpose of the new ground created by CCiC is not to seek a compromise, or to seek a place where difference can be tolerated and managed but to find a place where we can come as human beings with our questions and our faith and our doubts, and be encouraged and enabled to grow. The conversation groups that have taken place don’t ask people to abandon their beliefs, they just ask that people engaged with others in a spirit of curiosity. At its best that means that we are able to hold conversations between people who hold different, even contradictory views and to make it a place where we can grow, not by abandoning our beliefs but by being nurtured by the uniqueness and experience of the others we choose to listen to and learn from.
Our challenge then is to enter into a place of conversation as a place of sacred ground of new understanding that affirms both our need to pursue a need to see the face of Christ in otherness and not in the mirror, and to be affirmed in our uniqueness by the Godliness in the otherness of difference.
Our desire is that CCiC groups are a place of growth and affirmation. Growth in the humanity of the experience of the God who made his place with us and in the daily realities, pains, doubts and joys of living out life in all its fullness.