Tuesday, May 01, 2012

intuition and anecdotes in theology

A playful moment today. I am working this week on a chapter on emerging church practices. In trying to make sense of how to proceed, I have been enjoying a book by Max Van Manen, Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy.

The book explores how to use lived experience – ours and others – not for mere academic interest, but to be part of transformation – in us and in our spheres of influence. In the book, Van Manen seeks a method by which to be systematic and critically rigorous about lived experience. One way he suggests is by the use of anecdotes. He notes how so often in conversations, people use short stories to make a point.

Anecdotes connect us to real life. They can provide concrete demonstrations of wisdom. They provide experiential case studies. Each anecdote is unique and particular, yet often each anecdote is addressing matters of universal importance.

So I have been looking through my interview data, looking for anecdotes. Surprise, surprise, I found that in the 5 focus group interviews I did, 45 anecdotes were used. Previously I might have dismissed these as examples, difficult to make into nice little sound bites. So probably I would have walked past them.

Instead, today I have grouped these 45 anecdotes and begun to analyse them, each particular, for the emerging practices present in them.

As I have worked, I have also been thinking about the Gospels. And I began to wonder if perhaps they too are in fact a collection, artfully chosen, of anecdotes about Jesus. In John 20:30, we are told that “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.” In describing these signs to each other, the disciples used anecdotes. Which John then declares that he has selected, edited and artfully arranged so that the reader “may believe” and “by believing … may have life.” I love that sense of the Gospel writer daring to tell a universal story by gathering a particular set of particular anecdotes.

But how to connect some anecdotes from an emerging church today with these Gospels as anecdotes?

So this afternoon I spread out the Jesus Deck on the office floor. The Jesus Deck has 52 cards. In other words, 52 anecdotes from the life of Jesus! I spread out these Gospel anecdotes alongside the anecdotes from my interviews.

It is certainly not an approach I’ve used in research before. But it has begun to generate some really interesting conversations. Whether they are dead ends or not, we will see in the coming days.

Posted by steve at 05:21 PM

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