As readers can tell from other posts here, I believe that the overcoming of ‘othering’ lies close to the heart of a Franciscan expression of the Gospel. 2022 was a year that gave me opportunities to reflect further on that. During an online conference, one of my favorite Christian writers, Brian McLaren, introduced me to a practical initiative that seeks to bring people together across the ’difference divide’ and polarization that has so damaged our public life in recent years: ‘3Practice Circles’ (https://www.3practices.com/) The aim of a 3Practice Circle is not agreement but clarity. It is an exercise, for all who participate, in ‘listening as a team sport’, about recognizing and connecting with the humanity of someone with whom we may disagree, just like Saint Francis in his encounter with Sultan Al-Kamil during the Crusades. It is, specifically – the first of the three named practices – about nurturing unusual curiosity about another’s understanding. Not all circles are about an issue of controversy. Some are more about the opportunity simply to hear stories or insights from what might have been a previously unexpressed perspective or life experience.
Anyone can choose to join the circles advertised on the 3PC website, and I found some that particularly interested me. It was remarkable how the simple rules, explained by a ‘Referee’ and ‘Co-Ref, encouraged respectful listening and created a safe space in which I found myself engaging more deeply and quickly than I imagined beforehand! Soon I found myself asking my Franciscan brothers for their blessing to sign up for a course of training, and at the end of the year, I qualified as a referee myself. That included a practicum in which I refereed a circle on a ‘framing question’ I had devised about the state of democracy in the US, and I have several other questions that I hope to explore in ‘public circles’, open to anyone through the 3PC website. Other 3PC referees and I are also available, working in pairs, as a resource for those who would like to facilitate a circle among an invited group, such as within a parish or among Franciscan Tertiaries or Companions. There might be a desire to listen to one another on an issue of profound disagreement (a ‘Difference Circle’), to hear more deeply from the experience of other group members (a ‘Story Circle’), or to respond to a book, article, or film (an ‘Insight Circle’). Those are three of six distinct types of circles described on the 3PC website.
If a group you are part of, or one which you might bring together for this purpose, would like to consider inviting me with a fellow referee from 3PC to referee a circle on a ‘framing question’ we could devise together, I would be glad to discuss that with you. Please email me at email@example.com