This ten-part A Deacon’s Musing series will explore the intersection between the change philosophy known as Appreciative Inquiry and a Christian theological orientation grounded in diversity. I am most grateful to be co-shaping this conversation with my mentor and friend Maureen McKenna. We sincerely hope that the definitions, metaphors, theological reflections, images and videos help impart the significant generative potential that is centred in appreciation, gratitude and abundance.
As this Appreciative Inquiry series of theological reflections unfold, you can find each blog on the Tabs above.
Words have power. No matter what we might recall from the diminishing phrase – “sticks and stone will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – words limit or liberate. Without attention to the intention of the way we string together our sentences and questions there are and will be consequences.
I have always known that words have power. In fact, I consider that they are components of powerful magic. How they are shaped and framed create the world into which we walk each day. In narratives of fear and deficit, oppression and marginalisation are sown. In plots of abundance and appreciation, freedom and communities bloom.
For the Christian journey, the Word is central to how we frame reality. The way we have responded – often subversively – to issues such injustice, war and poverty have been acts of theological reflection. The Word – as the Holy – reminds us that what we do when we seek meaning has not just figurative, but literal implications on life, ours and that of Creation.
For instance, if we understand the First Testament’s mandate (Genesis 1.28) to steward Creator’s world to mean “to dominate,” then it is easy to see nature as a store in which we extract and commodify creation as a resource. If, however, we understand stewardship as a divine contract, a treaty, to care for, to do no harm, and to leave Creation better off than when we inherited it, life – all life – becomes sacred.
How we name things, therefore, becomes a matter of not only academic theology, but that which is practical. For those who have inherited a Christianity that is examined through the lens of White Privilege and colonising Settler, there comes a responsibility to recognise, even when difficult, the harm and limitation that such an understanding of the Word has caused others. Furthermore, the practical implications of using the Word to limit, label and demean people has led to such things as misogyny, homophobia, sexism, ageism and racism, to mention only a few of the realities that arise when we take the Word seriously.
These practical considerations, however, are not meant to deflate or paralyse. Truth-speaking is not about judging, but about opening the doors to the potential that arises when words are taken seriously. When we confront realities such as homophobia or sexism the intention is not to foster guilt or shame. The intention is an invitation to recognise, in the midst of truth-speaking, previous moments of success and celebration, so as to bring them into the future in generative and innovative ways. I suggest that the Word, as a universal source of energy, is infinite potential. This potential is limited only by our imagination. When we recognize where we have been, we can dream anew.
- Imagine with me, communities that come together and take nothing for granted, passionately interrogate assumptions and gracefully address the elephants that too often go unmentioned;
- Imagine with me communities that embrace the diversity in their midst, not as barriers to be enforced, but opportunities to innovate;
- Imagine with me communities that tenderly and lovingly co-create meaning so that the children in their midst are equipped with a tenacious confidence that they are loved, meant to shine and are called to nurture Creation to not just strive, but thrive; and,
- Imagine with me communities that hold their truths with confidence and generously recognise that the Other’s truth as another facet that is called Holy Mystery …