Convers(at)ions

This often shows up in my writing in the shorthand: convers(at)ions.

This is a play on the interlink between conversations and how they can lead to dramatic life changes because of new insights, questions, perspectives, and moving stories that people might gain from a deep and genuine conversation and dialogue. It is one aspect of Building a Participatory Pedagogy and relates to Collective Intelligence, because it honors to the deep truths and experiences of others and draws on their intelligence for learning and growing. Adult educator and theorist, Jane Vella says, “we must act upon the subject of our learning through dialogue, open communication and mutual respect if we are to truly learn.”

This concept came about through my work as a Quaker pastor:

“It began with the basic thought a biblical teacher’s role was to teach the text. This meant raising key ideas and helping people to get the right answer about how to understand what God is saying in this verse or passage. But over time, my approach has shifted away from this teacher-based model to one that is more participatory and dialogue oriented.” See Convers(at)ions With Scripture

Convers(at)ions is connected to the belief that there is an ongoing series of “micro-conversions” that a person experiences throughout their life and that they are often story-centered and experiential, which typically comes through two or more people conversing around a subject.

When I moved from a charismatic non-denominational church to the Quaker tradition I experienced a major paradigm shift that has deeply impacted my life. That experience was one of being adopted into something larger. I began thinking, “I’ve been a Quaker my whole life without knowing it.”

These shifts, or conversions if you will, in thinking so often happen through conversations. Conversation with other people, with texts, with nature, or an experience that works like a “embodied conversation.” This might be seen in those things we go through physically – the death of a loved one, dealing with cancer, the loss of home or job, deep depression – and how they can act as a kind of conversation with who you are prior to, during, and after that experience. In other words, it is a conversation with who you are becoming. See The Contours of Convers(at)ions

Three core characteristics of convers(at)ions are:

  1. Convers(at)ions are mutual – If you were to sneak up on this kind of conversation you wouldn’t necessarily know who the teacher was, or the quality of teaching would surprise you.
  2. Convers(at)ions are invitational and non-coercive – To be invitational is to create a space of hospitality where an individual’s soul is welcome and safe enough to show up as little or as much as they feel free to do.
  3. Convers(at)ions point in the direction of love – They begin and end from a place of love. Of deep concern for the other, not as an image or projection of myself, but as a differentiated person seeking their own wholeness. To have this point in the direction of love is to be pointed in the direction of God. It knows that wholeness cannot be found apart from coming to know for oneself the unconditional love of God.

These concepts were applied to how I understand the creation and sharing of a sermon:

  • Invite the congregation to reflect throughout the week on the upcoming text with the use of queries.
  • Open up space for dialogue prior to sermon
  • Orient the sermon/message around questions rather than answers
  • Allow/plan/invite interruptions and questions during message
  • Allow time for “open” worship afterwards
  • Create spaces for online engagement and “sideways” chatter

For Further Reading:

  1. Convers(at)ions With Scripture
  2. The Contours of Convers(at)ions
  3. Convers(at)ions in Community: On Creating Space for Dialogue Around the Sermon
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