Saturday, 10 October 2009

Mary Tanner and "transformative conversations" at Faith and Order

I was very struck by the term "transformative conversations" in Mary Tanner's presentation to the Faith and Order plenary this week, it touched a chord at all sorts of different levels.
As we began to think about the different ways that revalue an ecumenism of relationship it was good to hear someone who had truly gone through transformative conversations about feminism and ecumenism and can talk openly and honestly about the long term transformation that brought about in her - and how having similar conversations with many others across the churches transforms thinking, relationships and structures. One way in which such conversations truly have transformed the way Faith and Order does its business became clear in Crete yesterday at the women's lunch where there was not enough room for all of the women to sit down. It was a great moment of celebration and strategising. I wasn't able to be at the lunch for long but just long enough to hear Dame Mary talking about being at a WCC meeting in the early 1970s where she was challenged by Letty Russel and asked whether she'd had her consciousness raised. It was great to even imagine what it must have been like for an English academic to be buttonholed in that way by some of the early US feminists. It was challenging enough for her to get involved in the process that led to the WCC's decade of the churches in solidarity with women.
Just over a month ago, Mary Tanner, Ofelia Ortega and Bernice Powell Jackson "three women who serve as presidents of the World Council of Churches have expressed "considerable concern and great disappointment" about the lack of women in senior staff leadership positions in the world's biggest church grouping". A sign that the fruit of and need for transformative conversations is ongoing.
In recent years I've been really interested by the World Cafe methodology, the idea that having a conversation with someone can be transformative is of course very attractive to anyone like me interested in pastoral ministry, teaching or just talking! Here's a quick rather aspirational quote from the World Cafe blog:

Nurturing conversations uses all of me,
my full humanity. . . .
And in living true to self, in being real,
I become a clean vessel, for great wisdom
to flow through, illuminating others.

I like the way that ideas around transformative conversations offer the possibility to integrate seemingly high faluting ideas like pedagogy, feminism, literacy etc. into something as everyday and straightforward - yet I suppose also dangerous - as a conversation. It's a brilliantly subversive but simple idea and great for someone like me who loves listening to, monitoring and having conversations. Thinking about this has made me realise that blogging has become for me a sort of transformative conversation, a way of saying things and listening to things differently.

And finally for now, another chord that was struck when I heard the phrase transformative conversations was the wonderful energising book by Theodore Zeldin called An intimate history of humanity. Each chapter begins with a conversations with a woman in France and uses that as a point of departure to go in all sorts of fascinating directions. The title of chapter 2 is even "how men and women have slowly learned to have interesting conversations".

Looking at the Wikipedia entry for Zeldin also brought this fascinating idea to my attention, it's called the Feast of Strangers and marked Zeldin's 76th birthday, a fabulous idea!

it is a feast like no other, where instead of food, the menu consists of topics of conversation. People from all walks of life - from different countries, religions, sectors, industries and from across the political spectrum are invited to get together to help Zeldin celebrate his birthday and discover who we really are.Going beyond Big Brother banter or inane chit-chat about the weather, The Feast’s ‘Conversation Menu’ lists topics and questions through which people can discover what sort of person they were meeting, to go beyond superficial impressions such as appearances, nationality and political or religious persuasion, and discover their views on universal themes such as curiosity, friendship or fear and ways of living, such as man’s relationship with the natural world and visions of the future. "The great mystery of our time is what goes on in people's heads," said Zeldin.
So now of course I have ideas for a worship version of this where such transformative conversations would end of course with a picnic eucharist where the feast of strangers could become the feast of pilgrims ...

So what transformative conversations have you had?