Thursday, February 26, 2015

Glory Dharmaraj: Transformative Learning and Transformative Spirituality

Today's piece is written by Dr. Glory E. Dharmaraj, a consultant for United Methodist Women. It is the third of a three-part series.  Dr. Dharmaraj contributed this piece as part of our reflections on the WCC's new document on mission and evangelism, Together towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes.  You can find more posts in this series by clicking on the "Together towards Life" tag at the bottom.

“Transformative Spirituality” is one of the key concepts in the new ecumenical affirmation on mission and evangelism by the World Council of Churches, Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Times. In this series of articles, I would like to share how I have adapted and applied this concept as a pedagogical practice in facilitating the annual United Methodist mission studies.[i] This final blog piece explains the connection between transformative learning, described in the previous piece, and transformative spirituality.

Equally important as the intersectional oppressions of mission study participants I described previously is the spiritual identity of the adult learner as a child of God. Recalling one’s baptism, naming one’s baptismal identity as a child of God, and claiming it as a call for all the baptized believers to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves …,” as the United Methodist Service of Baptism articulates it.[ii]

Transformative spirituality includes addressing personal sins as well as corporate sins and systemic evil. The hall mark of transformative spirituality is addressing sin as well as sinned againstness, the systems that perpetuate poverty, war, conflict, and that constantly push people to the margins of society and living.[iii] A key characteristic of transformative spirituality, as stated in Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes, is “Disturbed by the asymmetries and imbalances of power that divide and trouble the church and world, we are called to repentance, to critical reflection on systems of power, and to accountable use of power structures.” This is the only sentence taken from Edinburgh 2010 Common Call, and used in Together Towards Life in its specific treatment of transformative spirituality.[iv] Interestingly enough, in formulating the final version of this particular sentence in the Common Call, Harriett Olson, the General Secretary of the United Methodist Women, spoke from among the audience, emphasizing “critical reflection” and the “accountable use of power and structure” at the 2010 Edinburgh Missionary Conference in Scotland.

Transformative spirituality undergirds transformative learning in addressing the cry of the needy, the sinned against people here and elsewhere. Creating the environment for the Holy Spirit to renew the participants through prayer and learning is an opportunity intentionally created in the facilitating of the mission studies. The pedagogical core intentionally promoted in facilitating mission studies is that teaching is learner-centered, and learners themselves are agents of change and interveners in places of injustice to transform them. Study leaders are not unquestioned authorities; they examine their own presuppositions and social locations; they are enablers and creators of environments for transformation.

Mission educational settings prepare the way for the church to be in the world in new ways, facilitating a conversation between the center and the margins. The center creates and facilitates spaces for multiple voices and the margins shape and influence the center. Facilitating mission study is more than the act of studying; it is study that leads to action in order to make a difference. A story in the Babylonian Talmud captures this timeless truth. Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon debate the question, “Which is greater, study or action?” Rabbi Tarfon answered saying that action is greater. Rabbi Akiva answered saying that study is greater. The listening elders agreed with Rabbi Akiva that study is greater than action because it leads to action.[v]

[i] A fuller version of this article was presented as a paper in the 2014 American Society of Missiology, Association of Professors of Mission. See Glory Dharmaraj, "Transformative Learning versus Informative Learning in Facilitating Mission Studies."
[ii] “The Baptismal Covenant I” and “The Baptismal Covenant II” in The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), 34 and 40.
[iii] Raymond Fung, “Human Sinned-Againstness “ in International Review of Mission, vol. LXIX, no. 275 (July 1980): 332-333.
[iv] Jooseop Keum, ed. Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes (Geneva, Switzerland: World Council of Churches, 2013), 14. The document was approved earlier in 2012.
[v] Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 40 B.

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