Stacks Image 5401
conversation from Tamarack
“some friends started talking”

Sirach 24:13-21
Matthew 18:15-20

February 28, 2016

Lent 3

Year c

Margaret Wheatley wrote a book called, “turning to one another, simple conversations to restore hope to the future.” This morning I am going to talk about her book and her ideas.

She says, that relationships are important, everything in the universe only exists because it is in relationship to everything else, nothing exists in isolation and we have to stop pretending we are individuals who can go it alone.

She writes, “We become hopeful when people start having conversations. I don’t know why that is, but I experience it often.” I think that happened to us when we decided to share in circle conversations. We kept talking until we found a better way to be the church.

We took our time doing that; we took a deep breath and just worked away slowly until we had it figured out. Wheatley says it’s important to go slow and if we insist on speeding along not thinking clearly about what needs to happen, we will make mistakes and have to go back and rethink the solution over again anyway. Nothing will change for the better until we do learn to go slower and be analytical, thorough and spiritual.

Wheatley says,
“We need to think, to learn, to get to know each other. We are losing these great human capacities in the speed-up of modern life and it is killing us.”

Another point she makes is that what often happens is that once a simple process becomes a technique, it can only grow more complex, and difficult. It never becomes simpler. It becomes the specialised knowledge of a few experts and everyone else becomes dependent upon them. We forget that we ever knew how to do things like have a conversation, do planning, or thinking. Instead, we become meek students of difficult methods.

I remember a friend who called me one morning, she had just started a government job where the entire ninth floor office, communicated by email. If you wanted to speak to the person across the hall you sent an email. Efficient maybe, but not much else. Now, it’s probably five years later, she says I wouldn’t think about phoning anyone and cell phones, they might be more convenient, but you never get away from them.

In the presence of so many specialised techniques for doing special things, we’ve become suspicious of anything that looks easy. I suppose we wonder why we didn’t think of something so simple sooner.

Like the simplicity of human conversation.

To advocate human conversation as the means to restore hope to the future is as simple as it gets. When a community of people discover that they share a concern, change begins. Solidarity in Poland began with a conversation - less than a dozen workers in a Gdansk shipyard speaking to each other about their despair, their need for change, their need for freedom, that brought change. In less than a month, solidarity grew to 9.5 million workers. There was no email then, just people talking to one another about their own needs and finding their needs shared by millions of fellow citizens. At the end of that month, all 9.5 million of them acted as one voice for change. They shut down the country.

Whenever I read about a new humanitarian relief effort - some of which have earned the Nobel Peace Prize - it is always a story of the power of conversation. Somewhere in the description of how it all began is the phrase: “
Some friends and I started talking…

Real change begins with the simple act of people talking about what they care about.

(Wheatley) A Canadian woman told me this story. She was returning to Vietnam to pick up her second child, adopted from the same orphanage as her first child. She had seen the conditions there on her first visit and she vowed this time to take medical supplies. They needed Tylenol, not t-shirts. She was expressing this to a friend one day and the friend suggested that the most useful thing she might take would be an incubator. She was surprised by the suggestion (she had been thinking bandages and pills), but she started making phone calls, looking for an incubator. Many calls and weeks later, she had been offered enough paediatric medical supplies to fill four, forty-foot shipping containers! And, twelve incubators.

From a casual conversation between two friends, she and many others self-organised into a medical relief program that made a significant difference in the lives of Vietnamese children. It all began when, “
Some friends and I started talking.”

Stories like this are plentiful; that’s how I found my way here.
Pam Thomas called me from Conference office in Regina and said,
“I believe St. Paul’s United Church in Tisdale is looking for an Interim Minister. You might want to talk to Jean Perkins the Presbytery rep and see what she thinks.

I called Jean, and she affirmed for me that indeed you were thinking about an Interim Ministry. The conversations continued and there was an interview with the Transition Team and after that conversation we decided to go ahead with the Interim appointment. “
And it all began when some friends and I started talking.”

If conversation is the natural way that humans think together, what gets lost when we stop talking to each other?
Paulo Freire, a Brazilian and world educator who used education to support poor people in transforming their lives, said that, “We cannot be truly human apart from communication …to impede communication is to reduce people to the status of things. When we humans don’t talk to one another, we stop acting intelligently. We give up our capacity to think about what’s going on. We don’t act, we become passive and allow others to tell us what to do. We forfeit our freedom. When we don’t talk to each other we give up our humanity.” Freire had a deep faith in every person’s ability to be a clear thinker and a courageous actor. Not all of us feel that way. But we must believe that we all have something to offer and talk about our sense of what needs to happen in the world.

It takes courage to start a conversation. But if we don’t start talking to one another, nothing will change. Conversation is the way we discover how to transform our world, together.

We remember that conversation is the natural way humans think together. Human beings know how to talk to each other; we’ve been doing this ever since we developed language. We’re not inventing conversation in the twenty-first century; we’re reclaiming it from earlier human experience. A Chilean biologist, believes that humans developed language as they moved into family groups and wanted to be more intimate. Language gives us the means to know each other. That’s why we invented it.

We can rely on our history to get it right. It might take practice, we will have to let go of old habits, like speaking too fast, interrupting others, speaking out of turn, monopolising the time, making grand pronouncements and so on and so forth. However, we do expect it to be messy at times. Because conversation is the natural way that humans think together, it is, like all life, messy. Life doesn’t move in straight lines and neither does a good conversation.

When a conversation begins, people always say things that don’t connect. What’s important at the start, is that everyone’s voice gets heard, that everyone feels invited into the conversation. Of course, there will be a messy stage.

This messy stage doesn’t last forever, although it can feel like that. But if we suppress the messiness at the beginning, it will find us later on and then it will be disruptive. Messiness requires us to forget about order, messiness has its place.

Having faith means that we can change direction at any time, and always remember that it requires critical thinking. We need to look thoughtfully at what’s going on and decide what we want to do about it. Chaos, messiness and change are all excellent outlets for creativity.

Creativity is born and experienced in the midst of those dynamics. I suspect this is the most critical piece: the willingness to enter the chaos that will bring change to our lives. When we do that, enter the chaos, we find ways to be heard and it is to be hoped that we empower others to be heard too.

Why is being heard so healing? I don’t know the full answer to that question, but I do know it has something to do with the fact that listening creates relationship. We know from science that nothing in the universe exists as an isolated, or independent entity. Everything takes form from relationships. In the web of life, nothing lives alone.

Our natural state is to be together. We need to be in relationship.
In the English language, the word for health comes from the same root word as the word for whole. We can’t be healthy if we are not in relationship. And, whole is from the same root word as holy.

Parker Palmer says “you can tell a culture is in trouble when its elders walk across the street to avoid meeting its youth.” It is impossible to create a healthy culture if we refuse to meet and if we refuse to listen. But if we meet, talk and when we listen, we reweave the world into wholeness. And, holiness.

“Whenever two or more are gathered, I am there.” It describes for me the holiness of moments of real listening. The health, wholeness, holiness of a new relationship forming. Wheatley writes, I have a t-shirt from one conference that reads, “You can’t hate someone whose story you know.” You don’t have to like the story, or even the person telling you their story. But listening creates a relationship. We move closer to one another and then down the road we will say, “Then some friends started talking…”

Psalm 42 the psalmist has been broken by some great suffering. Towards the end of the Psalm he pulls back and he allows God or life, or whatever, another chance. The Psalm is a lovely poetic piece about yearning and longing for right relationship in the world.

Sirach invites us to eat and drink of the feminine figure of Holy Wisdom. At the end of the passage read this morning we are invited to live a full life, we are invited to be in right relationship with the world, with nature and with one another.

We might start that up by having a conversation, by being able to say,
“Some friends, and I were having a conversation…”

This morning in our time of reflection, find someone near you, maybe someone you don’t usually talk to and have a conversation about something you care about in the world. (
Three minutes.)
Sharon Ferguson-Hood