Amazing couple of days listening to some amazing speakers and enjoying some brilliant art. Yesterday it was ADVENTurous at the Union Chapel in Islington and today it was the TEDxMiltonKeynesWomen event. (Note here the TEDx event should have spacing missing, not sure why but I suspect it has something to do with Twitter hash tags).
The two events complemented each other well and gave me just the nourishment I needed as I embark on a new job in the community sector this week. They also provided great networking opportunities as well as a chance to catch up with old friends.
Something which came out of the ADVENTurous talks was the way in which people are now focusing on the local/hyper-local together with the hyper global. This was something the TEDx talks reflected as they had local live speakers and a live stream of a session from the main TEDxWomen conference in Washington.
The ADVENTurous event had a focus on ecology, economy and faith and had a structure which saw some reflections on where we were now as a result of the mistakes of the past. It saw Ruth Valerio talk in bleak terms about global warming and the environmental issues we are facing, Ann Pettifor, (who headed up the Jubilee 2000 Campaign), talked about the economic crisis and Mike Frost (author of Exiles) spoke on the spiritual crisis being faced in the countries where secularisation had led to Post-Christendom and the need for embodiment. The picture they painted was fairly bleak and there was what I would describe as low key anger within their fifteen minute talks. and so it was left to the Muslim Abdul Rehman Malik, (whose Greenbelt talk is available on their site), making the response to inject some hope. He spoke powerfully of a miracle where a Buddhist monk had come to the aid of a Muslim aid worker in Indonesia through responding to a dream and sending some of her followers on a quest.
The next session saw David Nussbaum chief executive of the World Wide Fund for Wildlife and a member of the Anabaptist Network give a presentation on the ecological position and where we were heading. This was followed by community theologian Ann Morisy who was amazing and for me the best speaker of the day, (and alot better in person than in her books). She spoke about the way we are living with precariaity that is we are living in a time where increasing numbers of people are in a precarious position with regards to employment, income and so forth. She reminded us that history shows us when those in the middle, who are unaccustomed to living this way, find themselves in that situation it is when there is most danger to society and of extremism growing in the face of fear. She stressed how important it was we, as the middle class, learnt not to pretend we were sorted the whole time and that confidence would only be gained through honesty and not having all the answers.
This was followed by Mike Frost who gave a moving story of a communion service he’d attended where a garbage heap was used and participants needed to wade in to meet Jesus in the shit. He posed the question are we ready to really meet with Jesus in that place. These two talks back to back provided, for me, the most moving part of the day.
The final session which involved looking practically at what people were doing was the most inspiring part of the day and showed, in some ways, generational differences which exist as well as the differences in between the faith communities and the spiritual communities. One contributor to this session was Dan Thompson who has been described as David Cameron’s favorite anarchist. He is founder of Revolutionary Arts and has been a key figure in the pop up shops network as well as the person who started the cleanup movement during last years riots. His key message was just do it you don’t need permission. I found this made an interesting contrast to last weeks fresh expressions event and the general message of the church where there is an awful lot of permission giving going on.
Davey Spens of Boat Magazine which comes from different locations, and is produced through the producers going and listening to the communities for a short while was fascinating. He made the point that you can learn some amazing things which go against or beyond the stereotypes if you lay your assumptions aside and listen. It’s essentially a magazine produced by taking an ethnographic approach.
The final speaker in this session was guerilla gardener Richard Reynolds. He explained how projects like guerilla gardening need commitment in the long run and rely in part on the great British ideal of the authorities turning a blind eye on occassion.
Amongst the speakers there was also some great art. En Gedi Arts bought some of their work down including an amazing picture of Martin Luther King, a really interesting chess set and some neon art as well as some animations which were poignant. Poet Harry Baker was great and gave us some really thought provoking rants. Musically Grace Petrie was playing in the evening and speaking in the final session too. I’m a huge Petrie fan and as expected she blew us away with her mix of down to earth love songs and left-wing political stuff. Iain Archer and Hope and Social were also playing in the evening but we had to get back to MK.
The theme yesterday was ADVENT and adventures and today the theme was ‘space between’. In many ways that letter title could have been used for both days. The first speaker at the TEDx event was Professor Elizabeth Silva of the OU. She was talking about the way space works and the way that “working class” and “middle class” poverty and responses to it differ. She emphasized the way in which one group suffer a lack of cultural capital whilst the other uses cultural capital to get discounts/ exchange skills, etc. She presented two contrasting case studies which came from her reserach. Within this I reflected on my own experience of this. I am middle class skint at the moment, (and have often been). I have attended a couple of things recently by working my ticket or using my cultural capital to find a way around not having the resources to pay to go to things I’d like to. I have the resources to live quite a good life despite the fact I am not well off. I know my experience of being a single parent, particularly, could have been very different without that cultural capital.
The second speaker was Naomi Eisenstaedt who had been a civil servant highly involved with setting up and running the Sure Start initiative. This talk was most interesting for the insight it gave into the way politics works and into the Number 10/ Number 11 situation during the New Labour years.
Third on was Delia Johnstone who is a male to female transexual and one of the most inspiring people it has been my pleasure to get to know recently. She was talking about the real life experience which trans people have to go through. For obvious reasons I know alot about this but I still learnt something from her talk. It was useful to be able to take a step back and listen to the talk in this context which removed the personal or professional element and rather enabled me to listen from a different place. When her talk is available I will post the link and comment further because I think it is really important that people hear and understand what she had to say.
The final live speaker was Caroline McHugh talking on the art of being yourself. This was inspiring and again reflected many similar themes to the previous day. It could have been subtitled “what’s your calling and why aren’t you getting on with it?” as could various other talks at ADVENTurous.
There was then a switch to a feed from a session at the main TEDxWomen event in Washington which included Eve Enssler talking about One Billion Rising which is an event taking place next February. It was a totally secular event but she spoke about what rising involves and in her descriptions of the ways in which we speak of rising mentioned Jesus resurrection.
The next speaker from this event was Isatou Touray who is a Gambian working against female circumcision. Her story was inspiring and it was excellent to hear a voice from the global south included within the conversation.
iO Tillet Wright is a photographer and artist who is not transgender but lived for 8 years as a child as a boy before deciding to go back to her female gender when puberty hit. She is engaged in a photography project called ‘Self Evident Truths’ which has photographed a range of people who identify as either LGBorT. Primarily she has shown the fluidity of sexual identity for many people and the way that in seeking to discriminate it can be hard to draw lines.
Kate Clinton was a feminist lesbian humourist of the old school who was talking about the power of laughter. She was followed by Megan Watterson who is an expert in the spiritual feminine. She talked of the way in which female embodiment has been missing from masculine scriptures, making reference to the way in which the Hagar and Sarah story can be seen as a story of one woman justifying rape of another. I found her talk interesting and challenging and whilst I agreed with large parts I could not agree totally with her reading of the bible. I believe that if we look at stories such as Hagar’s we can and do find material to wrestle with regarding abuse but we also find readings which patriarchy has hidden from us.
It was a great weekend of listening and learning, will be interesting to see if and how it influences my thinking and practice for the future.