Thursday, February 21, 2013

Participatory knowing in faith communities

The notion of "participatory knowing" assumes that learning is not just a one-way street. It's not just a learner, acting on a thing to be learned by learning it, and there's not just a teacher, acting on the learner by teaching them. Learning and teaching are both a two way street, and so this effect is compounded when we learn and teach in a community--if we were to draw a picture, there would be multiple arrows going in multiple directions. 

And because of that, it's not just the learner who is changed by the thing being learned. It's also the teacher being changed by the learner--it can even be the thing being learned itself, as multiple perspectives give it new edges it never would have had otherwise. All parts of this act of learning participate in what ultimately becomes a transformative experience.

All of that is very nice educational theory, but it goes beyond that. It has some pretty incredible theological implications, stuff that very quickly gets right to the heart of what it means to live life as a Christian. We proclaim that we were created for community. We were created for community not only with God, but with one another. When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, his reply is that there's really two. All the law and prophets hang on these two things, to love God and love your neighbor. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, speaks of all the walls that have been broken down in Christ through the cross. There's no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female...he goes on, and we could fill in our own blanks there, couldn't we? What sorts of categories do we use to divide ourselves? In Christ, those walls are no longer there.

This educational theory, Jesus' focus on our community with God and with our neighbor, and Paul's insistence on our unity in Christ are all three different ways of articulating a basic truth: when we interact with others, we are changed. When we learn from others, when we learn with others, when we do things with and speak with and pray with and walk with others, we are changed and they are changed. And the more people we experience this with, the more complex the transformation.  In fact, In 1 Cor. 12, Paul says it's kind of like the way a body functions. This living, breathing, changing thing. Which I guess shouldn't be all that surprising...if there's one thing we know from watching Jesus' ministry, if there's one thing we experience in the cross and the empty tomb, it's that God is about the business of transformation.

We have the chance to be a part of this sort of profound transformation in our faith communities...not only in worship and Bible study and service and everything else that happens in a traditional congregational setting, but now thanks to these amazing technological tools we have at our disposal...tools like Facebook, like online message boards, like blogs and blog rings and such, we have the chance to experience community in some new and different ways, ways that never would have been possible even ten years ago. While nothing can truly replace flesh and blood closeness, these sorts of online tools give us even more ways in which we can bump up against each other--even more opportunities for relationship and the resulting transformation.

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