What does a good conversation do? One thing i am certain of, after having many conversations with young people on the streets, is that a good conversation opens up understanding, of each of the persons to each other. It opens up a new reality of understanding two peoples way of lives, attitudes, visions and ambition, yet not only do we become more aware of the other through a conversation, this new reality of the other also has a similar impact on ourselves – by understanding another, this enriches ourselves, and sheds a new perspective on our own reality based upon someone elses.
Noticeably often on the streets there is give and take; there is the banter of repeated questions, deflected answers and also the unhonesty – not necessarily lying- but withholding of truth as a defence mechanism (as well as humour, distraction, interruptions, on both sides) , yet there breaking down of the barriers of the banter is often caused as one of the two parties gives something away, risks a moment of truth, their name, their reflection on a situation, their past misdemeanour’s, their concerns. Often as a detached worker – we have to give away more of ourselves, coupled with the vulnerability of being there and being responsive to having our (hopefully valid) motives questioned and accepted. Its the dialogue of conversation that enacts trust.
As Gadamer attests: “Many aspects of the dialogues between men point to the common structure of understanding and playing: risking a word or keeping it to oneself, provoking a word from the other person and receiving an answer from him or giving an answer oneself. Another indication is the way every word comes into play within definate contexts in which it’s spoken and understood”
and in relation to the give and take game stating that ” we adapt each other in a preliminary way until the game of giving and taking – the real dialogue begins” yet i’d disagree on this part -as this underplays the significance of the give and take moments, and the underlying boundary pressing, expectations and acceptance that occurs in the hiddenness of the banter.
When Jesus encountered the pharisees, were they not after his acceptance but wanting to trick him? or both… So their question in Mark 12 : should we pay taxes to caesar – (especially using this specially encripted coin) – was a banter – give and take question – loaded with meaning. It wasnt ‘dialogue’ as such , not dripping with common/mutual striving for friendship, learning, understanding or action, but no, it was a ‘banter’ type question. Sort of – we know what you stand for- tell us- should we follow you, or adhere to the so called Human Gods of this land too- who demand taxes.
Its no different to the question on the streets like ” we’re going to smoke dope behind the woods, are you going to tell the police?” – or “have you ever smoked?”
There was then, and still is often meaning behind the questions, and the banter, and on the streets, if we take seriously the attempt to act justly, with respect, then there is no question that we shouldnt attempt to answer, or respond to a question that could be a bantering give and take moment – or a question that is being asked to guauge our acceptance or affirmation of a young person – for who they are.
There can be alot of banter on nights of detached work, in the groups not depending on our mood or intention, but the nature, day, context of the young people, who they’re with, their activity – and yet these are the moments where they can be acting out prowess of an area, or planning their night ahead, and so, to be even part of these times, however frustrating it seems, is part of the larger story, the long term drama. The being-with moments.
Yet – going back to the questions – they also provide us with the starting points for further conversations- things that the young people are concerned about, interested in, interested in about us – and thats no different to the concerns of the people that Jesus encountered : will you heal me, should we pay taxes, my son is ill, shouldnt you stone that woman for adultery, whose baptism?
The point being, that Jesus made himself available, and created the environment around him where people were intrigued and where people could ask him these questions. Its where detached work is great, that being out and around in the public, open space where questions are possible, where power is equalised, and learning is collaborative. Being deliberately unintentional and informal – where discovery of belief is in conversation, and open for grabs if someone wants to ask. I guess when people come to us we set out the parameters of the questions, or interest, or conversation- often set in the social construction of the building, programme – its where we often lead, not listen and take cues from the street
For the ‘theodramatist’ for thats the play we’re playing- within Gods redemptive theodrammatic play, conversation is the means to which the play and stage is extended, where the welcome of others , the invitation we extend are the early actions in the preliminaries of the play, the unfolding of character, of intention. “Yet our play, plays in his play” (H. von Balthasar) , banter that determines action, language that enchews acceptance, players of the contextual script. As practitioners of the theodrama, we are apprentices attempting to practice the communicative work of the ongoing scriptural script ( Vanhoozer 2005:331) in the understanding of our own situations – ie the world of the street and young people, and their community.
The conversations on the street are also a liberating experience – minimally as workers we are often liberated from our prejudgements of young people, also liberated to think differently about the world of the streets, yet possibly more, are the young people liberated from what might be aloneness in their world, liberated to also think differently as they encounter a new way of thinking about their life situation. They are also brought into a free, voluntary relationship with an adult ( a relationship that hopefully should feel and be different to that of a parent or teacher), a free-voluntary relationship that also looks like the same free-choice relationship between God and creation, free but called. A Freedom that Balthasar describes; “Freedom, now becomes the decision word for understanding the mystery of the playing together with God and Human, creator and creature. Because an analogy of freedom exists between God and Humanity, a common action, a common history can be genuinely possible; Gods infinite creative freedom sets up the human being as free “other” who in his or her finite, owed freedom is called to play with and act with God” ( H.von Balthasar)
By being and acting – with the world, being-with young people in their context, the conversations are about possibilities, dreams, and a shared understanding of the life experiences of the evening, of the street, they are thus liberating, explorative, new. Conversations that occur create memories, create shared meaning, cross contexts, and are the potential for the stage of the theo drama to be expanded into, and with the community, in the free-public spaces of the community.