I am no longer surprised by whom I am learning from. . .

I am no longer surprised by whom I am learning from. . .

by David Hughes

12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. (Romans 12: 1-8)

This passage from Romans is the aspirational goal of the church. Its importance, significance, and possibility is never as obvious to me as when I am privileged enough to learn in a CCS circle. I am humbled by this extraordinary opportunity to probe my understanding of our shared faith and the teachings of the church in the company of the diaconate, those who appreciate what a remarkable group they are and have been ever since it (they?)  took to heart the words of Christ’s apostle, Paul. I count myself among the “enlightened” and have welcomed the opportunity to learn in the Circle on five separate occasions. Each Circle has managed to “renew my mind” a little bit more and I am sure that my transformation is just around the corner. What I learn in Circle is that knowledge of the will of God follows naturally from having a listening ear, clear eyes, a healing touch, a nose for injustice, and a taste for loving reconciliation. It seems so easy and yet some combination of our fallen nature and our fearful hoarding of ill-gotten power and privilege desensitizes us to each other. How do we learn to love our neighbour if we are pulling and being pulled away from them?

Circle taught me and continues to teach me to trust my fellow students and to welcome and value knowledge and wisdom revealed through sharing of stories, lived experience, creative expression, and radical hospitality.

Coming into Circle from a place very much “in the world” if not “of it” is like a breath of fresh air to a retired investment professional. Credentialism had informed my educational experience as I followed one university degree with another. I studied until I thought that I knew enough to run the world as it should be run for maximum efficiency, according to the gospel of our neo-liberal economic system. I also studied until I could guarantee myself a job that would not expose me to the opinions or thoughts of anyone who learned or even thought differently than I did.  I lasted just over 30 years before my soul gave out; or rather, burned out.

David with classmates Alana (left) and Rebecca (centre)

During this time, I had nevertheless taken a great interest in the church, volunteering extensively (only leadership positions, thank-you), giving generously, even singing my heart out in the choir for 20 years. But I didn’t have the credentials or even the conscious awareness to discern the will of God. If it wasn’t in a book or on the lips of the professor, possibly the preacher, I wasn’t especially interested. That highly privileged academic learning style, which suited my brain just fine had insinuated itself into my understanding of God. Unlike the competitive culture encouraged by academia, the Circle taught me and continues to teach me to trust my fellow students and to welcome and value knowledge and wisdom revealed through sharing of stories, lived experience, creative expression, and radical hospitality. It’s a different way of learning, but more significantly, it’s a different quality of learning that the academy might be inclined to dismiss.  (The work of Paolo Freire, on which the learning circle is based, was not even acknowledged by university education faculties until well after the publication of the Pedagogy of the Oppressed in 1970). The Circle, and its resonance with indigenous culture, speaks to a new way of learning; a more inclusive conversation that welcomes all voices and asks firstly who is not being represented. Such conversations seem difficult to achieve in our fractious culture that encourages alienating competition and rewards the meritocratic “winners” so disproportionately that they too have neither the time, energy, or desire to relate to their neighbours in any meaningful way.

One of the many fun things about the introductory course “Learning on Purpose” (LoP) experience is to discern one’s own personality type and learning style. I confirmed that I am an Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Perceiver (INTP in the Myers Briggs’ personality profile). I believe that there may have been one other T in a group of approximately 20 who gathered in Winnipeg in late summer 2017. My preferred learning style was identified as Abstract Conceptualization (in my limited world, could there be any other way?) At CCS,  I was largely surrounded by Extroverted Sensing Feeling Judgers (ESFJ). Or so it seemed since everyone was just so different from me. After the first day of the LoP I was very inclined not to return. I was way outside my comfort zone. (Even now, the sight of plasticine and crayons cause “fear and trembling” in me.) To paraphrase Paul above, I had been thinking about myself higher than I ought to think. All my advanced education was limiting me. Since we all have gifts and only when none are privileged over others can we start to talk seriously about the Kin-dom. With that belief, I persisted, and each day was reminded how much I did not know, how diverse and wise are the voices of experience, and how rich the learning can be in Circle when you are with people of differing gifts. I am no longer surprised by whom I am learning from in the way I was in my earliest circles. I am increasingly confident that I will learn meaningfully from everyone I choose to listen to. I hope that by grace some might also learn from me. Perspectives change rapidly. You inevitably find yourself at the foot of the cross with a companion in its shadow and there is healing.

Pushing comfort with a creative report back.

A theology professor at Emmanuel College once told me that the longest and hardest journey is the one from the head to the heart. I think that as an academic, he probably knew what he was talking about.  For this particular Christian, that journey has run through the Centre for Christian Studies and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be coming to my true God-given self in such a safe and affirming community. The church is blessed by the sacrificial work of the diaconal community that works to demonstrate what many brothers and sisters in Christ can only proclaim.  

David Hughes is a continuing studies student with a passion for life-long learning. He is a member of Metropolitan United Church in Toronto.