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June 5, 2012

The Drumbeat and the Radio

by Admin

An Emerging Conversation

Stuart Burns Bishop’s Adviser for Continuing Ministerial Education, Diocese of Leicester, England

Rev John Mark Oduor’s paper on Conflict Resolution written for the ‘Continuing Indaba Limuru Hub’ drew strongly from the image of the Asanti Talking Drum. This paper reminded me strongly of a tool that we are using in Leicester Diocese, to enable our Curates and Training Incumbents to reflect and engage with each other. The tool and image we are using, is that of a Radio Receiver.

In what follows, I draw from John Oduor’s paper, and add my own image. Although the drum and the radio draw from two different areas – Conflict Resolution, and Curate Training – within two different cultures, I hope that the issues that arise, and the opportunities that they present, will be useful tools for Continuing Indaba, and for locating ourselves and our conversations, as we talk to each other around the world.

The Drum

John Oduor highlights three drumbeats that currently dominate the air within his homeland of Kenya: the Drumbeats of Fear and Conflict, of Silence, and of Blame. He asks a key question – ‘Could it be that we are not just listening to the wrong Drumbeat, could we actually be listening to the wrong drum?’ Using the model of the Asante Talking Drum he calls for a remaking of the drum with the correct materials to enable the asking of fundamental questions, within the foundation of our faith.

Within the remaking of the Drum, Oduor focuses upon the skin, the trunk, and the strings, before moving to the question of conflict resolution, in relation to the Baraza drumbeat. He identifies the following elements of the drum that are to be present in new instrument.

  • The Skin is our mission, particularly in his context, of reconciliation.
  • The Trunk is Christ.
  • The Strings are the Commission and Mandate of Christ to the Church.

Oduor further identifies five strings that are integral to the drum – the strings of relationship, conversation, fellowship, appreciation of our uniqueness, walking together after forgiveness.

The Radio

The reflection image that we use in Leicester is that of a Radio. This has elements and materials that need to be in the right place, but in contrast to the drum, the image is not of making or construction, but primarily of use.

Any radio needs to be tuned. A radio will not receive a signal without repeated tuning and fine tuning. Signals change in strength and regularity. Sometimes they move purposefully. They respond to pressures in the atmosphere. Rarely will a signal stay the same place in the same strength for any length of time. Anyone who has sought to find the ‘BBC World Service’ knows this is a skill to be learnt!

The Radio has several elements that can help us reflect and converse, but the original signal is vital. In Leicester we use our experience as the initial event. Often a single event is broadcast by different stations. For example, the coming World Cup Final will be broadcast by the BBC, Kenyan Radio and the South African Broadcasting Service. The same event will be reported, but with very different emphasis. The event experience for us may be a pastoral situation that requires thought and reflection before action. It may be a sermon that has been preached, or a decision that has been made. It may be a disagreement, or an encouragement. It may be church growth and new mission opportunities. The issue is not what the experience or event is, but what we do with it. In the use of the radio image we recognise that we can tune to different stations, and thus pick up different questions and interpretations of the same experience.

Radios are made to be tuned, and the task we face as users, is to tune the radio so that the experience can be reflected upon, and conversations about our learning and ministry can occur. We take the experience, and tune to a station that will bring a clear conversation.

We identify three radio stations that we tune to whenever we consider our practice and mission. They are ‘Effective Practice’, ‘Reflective Practice’ and ‘Critically Reflective Practice’.

Effective Practice is where the conversation focuses upon the immediate responses. How did we do? What needs to be done now? Did I perform that ministry well? What did I do wrong? If I was to do the same thing again, how would I do it better? Effective Practice lets us hear the surface questions.

Reflective Practice is where the conversation focuses upon questions of development and self awareness. If I was to do the same thing again, what would I change? How did I react in this situation? How do we respond to similar situations in the future, without making the same mistakes? Reflective Practice lets us hear the strategic questions.

Critically Reflective Practice is where the conversation focuses upon more unsettling questions. Why did I respond in that way? Who is being more privileged by this? Whose voices are not being heard? Who are we ignoring and why? What unsettles me in this experience? Critically Reflective Practice lets us hear the deep questions.

Within the use of the image of the Radio, we have recognised that assumptions are easily made between two people who want to listen to the same event, but on different stations. For example A curate considering a sermon they have preached may be listening to the ‘Effective Practice’ station, will become confused if they are having a conversation with their training Incumbent who is listening to the ‘Critically Reflective Practice’ station. One is looking for immediate affirmation; the other is trying to give significant feedback. Misunderstandings arise easily. There has to be an intentional agreement that the participants in the conversation are listening to the same station, for the learning and development to be most useful, honest, and developmental. We must move the Event Experience Dial, to locate the station that will bring the best quality conversation for those who are gathered.

Assumptions within Theological Reflection

Any reflective practice within a Christian context involves an element of theological reflection, whether the event is locally based, parish based, diocesan based, or globally based. Any theological reflection between groups requires that the cultures and assumptions of each group be brought into the foreground, rather than living solely in the background.

It is important to identify the different kinds of theology that play in the background of any conversations.

These are:

  • The theology that a group speaks (Lived, or Espoused theology)
  • The theology that a group practices (Practiced or Operant theology)
  • The theology that the groups ‘professional’ theologians speak (Taught or Formal theology)
  • The theology that the Church holds as normal – including official church statements, creeds, and scripture (Expressed or Normative theology)

Much of the dialogue within continuing indaba requires these theologies to be identified. If Odours’ call for a new drumbeat is to be heard then the different theologies that we bring to the conversation need to be identified. Similarly, within our more localised experience of Curate / Incumbent training relationships there is  often a conversation that begins ‘What you do, and what you say you do, aren’t the same’ – in other words, the theology that you speak, and the theology that you operate, clash, or cause dissonance. To take the radio reflection metaphor further – these four theologies fill the atmosphere through which any event experience travels before it reaches the radio reflection receiver.

When the atmospheric elements are unexpressed, or assumed, the potential for static interference increases.  Neither the Drum nor the Radio will create honest dialogue, Continuing Indaba, or even honest conversations. Used well, however, they will however, reveal static and counter rhythms, and allow opportunity for honest community reflection to occur.

The Drum and the Radio

The images of the Drum and of the Radio combine to reveal boundaries and practical suggestions for Continuing Indaba, and other conversations. With the Drum we must recognise that the component parts are vital for the correct rhythm and meaning to be conveyed. For the Radio, we have to be aware of our own preferences and stations. We have to agree the questions we are asking, not assume that we are on the same wavelength.

Odour’s paper is an example of tuning into the Critically Reflective Station. His paper asks questions as to the identity and prevailing rhythm of the drumbeat. He challenges the ‘salsa’ beat of ‘someone else will do it’, and reveals the deeper challenge of spiritual invocation and curse. He points towards freedom and reconciliation, as a result of his reflection.

Our own experience of using the image of a Radio has shown us that we must be clear in our assumptions and expectations when we gather together. We must develop our skills in tuning to the relevant station. We must challenge our preferences of only listening to one station, all of the time.  We must be aware of the atmospheric conditions that can cause interference or static. We must take the time to retune, to find the station when the wavelength has changed, to search and to listen. To do this within a Christian community requires both gift and grace.

One station is not better than any other – it is only more appropriate for the event. As Indaba groups meet, and Diocese connect, we may use the images of Drum and Radio to surface some of our assumptions, to challenge our expectations, to identify the wrong rhythms we are listening to. As images and metaphors they are from different contexts, and have been used in different ways. Yet when combined their strengths are enhanced, and they bring opportunity.


Action Research Church and Society (ARCS) Report 2008, Living Church in the Global City: Theology in Practice. Report available for download at

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Mezirow, J. (1998). “On Critical Reflection.” Adult Education Quarterly 48(3): p185ff.

Oduor. J.M. Conflict Resolution: the Luo drumbeat for the Bazara model. Continuing Indaba Limuru Hub. 2010.

Reynolds, M., R. Vince, Ed. (2004). Organizing Reflection. Aldershot, Ashgate.

Swinton J. Mowat H. Practical Theology and Qualitative Research SCM 2006.

Vince R. (2002). “Organizing Reflection.” Management Learning 33(1): 63-78.

Watkins C. ‘Living Church: Practical Theology as a locus for ecumenical learning’ Conference paper 2009

Willmott, H. (1997). “Making Learning Critical: Identity, Emotion and Power in Process of Management Development.” Systems Practice 10(6): 749-771.

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