This is posted on the WordsMatter and crossposted here to help folks learn about the new blog and the Expansive Language project of which I am a co-developer, leader, and trainer.
From the consultation that was held in Chicago, IL in August 2010 a “module” or Conversation Guide was created. This guide, currently being used, reviewed, and adapted, follows closely the structure of the consultation. This structure was recreated in Seattle, WA on Dec. 3-5, with a group of Episcopal lay and ordained, youth workers, those who serve in multicultural ministries, a congregational leader from the Navajo Nation, Church Center Staff, Diocesan staff, and parish priests. The group of ten have become a test pilot of “Trained trainers” who agreed to train others within their context. Each shared a story from their context and from that sharing learned about the power of our stories to build communities of trust and hope. Story sharing for this project builds off of the Public Narrative initiative from General Convention 2009. For more on Public Narrative go HERE.
The following is an excerpt from the Conversation Guide:
From time eternal human beings have told stories. Generations of families and communities share stories about their common life. Each week in worship we listen to and reflect on “The Story” finding grace and healing for each of us. These stories frame our identity.
The General Convention of The Episcopal Church in 2003 passed a resolution, A083, calling every Episcopalian to be able to articulate his or her faith story; and urge dioceses and congregations to create opportunities for these stories to be told. The 2009 General Convention of The Episcopal Church adopted the theme “Ubuntu” which is a form of story sharing. Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, engaged all the deputies attending convention in a structure process of personal story called, Public Narrative. This exercise of sharing stories from one’s faith journey, as well as the faith journey of one’s community, invited conversation around relationship and interdependence as members of the Episcopal Church. The sharing of stories, of coming to understand more deeply who we are, is then the foundation from which our mission as members of The Episcopal Church calls us to action in the world. Congregations around the communion are launching their own “Public Narrative Projects.”
The goal of the Words Matter conversation is similar and acknowledges the power of story to move us deeper in mutual understanding. At the very least shared stories heighten our awareness of self and others. Carol Howard Merritt reminds us of the importance of narrative. “Personal narratives put flesh and bone on historic facts. Stories introduce the “other” by inviting us to enter into the experience of someone else through her imagination. Stories allow the reader to become captivated by the other, to enter the other’s reality. The listener forgets about herself for a moment, until something within her cries out: That’s like me. Then a connection is made, a connection through emotion and empathy.” (page 68, Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation; Carol Howard Merritt; Alban Institute: Herndon VA, 2010)
Those who gathered at the August Consultation came prepared to share a personal story using the following prompt question:
“Share with us an experience when you noticed the power and/or importance of language (words, symbols, or images) and the impact of that language on your life, your faith community, or your relationship with God. This experience may have helped you embrace the Divine more fully or it may have been destructive, harmful, or painful to you in your personal and/or faith journey.”
After listening to one another’s stories and noting our own responses, we met in small groups to discuss what we had learned from the stories.
What we learned
The stories we heard called us to expansion—expanding the way we think and talk about ourselves, others, and our God. Instead of restricting language, the stories called for adding more diverse language. The stories called us to expand contextual cultural attentiveness—understanding that language speaks differently in different contexts. They called us to expand our understanding of how language is tied to systems of power and has been and can be harmful, oppressive, and death-dealing. And they showed us that in an environment created through respectful intentional listening, compliance to rules about specific words was not as helpful as commitment to understanding the impact of the power of language. This kind of commitment can lead to real, meaningful analysis of systems of power that oppose the Gospel; extending a life-affirming hospitality within the church and community. Finally, the stories called us to spread this conversation to as many different places as possible.
If you are interested in learning more about this Conversation or hosting a conversation in your parish, small group, or context, please contact us at tecwordsmatter at gmail dot com.