Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The Koyo dialogue space and Face to Faith

The UNESCO Courier - about which more tomorrow - has a lovely focus article on Koyo, a place for dialogue and exchange between two cultures.

On a piece of cloth spread out on the floor, a poet is painting the letters of his poem in French. He translates it orally into Toro Tegu for the six Dogon villagers of Koyo, in northern Mali, who work with him. Immediately they trace their graphic characters on the same cloth. The poet and the painters are responding each in his own way to the spirit of the place. The work produced here belongs neither to the French nor the Dogon culture – it opens a new space of dialogue and creation.

This idea of opening up spaces for dialogue really interests me becuase these spaces have to be different in different cultures. The French theologian Paul Keller has tried to develop a theory of the importance of the "espace publique" - a very French Protestant way of thinking about public space. In some ways this space for dialogue is about developing a way of thinking about the agora or meeting place. A space where all are equal. The WCC as an institution is often referred to as an ecumenical space, a more open space than pure confessionalism allows for, yet a space within which that confessionalism can continue to exist.

Meanwhile our friend Simon Barrow highlighted Stephen Heap's excellent piece in Face to Faith in yesterday's Guardian. In it Heap, who used to be ecumenical chaplain on the Blackbird Leys estate in Oxford and now coordinates chaplaincy services at the University of Bedfordshire, argues for a more truly secular debating space as a way to help society allow very opposing points of view to actually come to some kind of real dialogue. Heap ends his article:

"A key to a more creative future might be in that word secular, which does not mean a space where there are no claims to absolutes, but one where together we learn to face the undoubtedly real and disturbing conflicts our opposing claims create. It means a level of public discourse in which truth and truth claims are dealt with without ridicule but with a deep acknowledgment that we disagree, at times profoundly so, and yet somehow have to survive together on the same plot of land. Creating such properly secular spaces is a major challenge to which we must rise if our conflicting allegiances are not to tear us apart."

One of the interesting ideas that comes form the Koyo article above is that dialogue is not only about creating a physical space but it's also very clearly about translation and interpretation. And all translation and interpretation is about listening. The Koyo project says something about dialogue being not only about intellectual beliefs but also about the right hand side of the brain. Interpretation is not only about language but also about artistic expression, things that are deeper with words. Unless we somehow learn to engage with those deep feelings that are beyond words then the spaces we create will not really be involved in a true dialogue of convictions. Perhaps it is on those beautiful rare occasions when we are able to do that, that a spirit of understanding begins to emerge and something new is born.