…Omdat het om mensen gaat !

We are everywhere. Lezing Herman IJzerman voor Cable in Finland, mei 2012

We are everywhere
Lezing gehouden in de Universiteit van Helsinki in mei 2012. Ter gelegenheid van het afscheid van Tony Addy.
1 The context

I am involved in a project in the city of Eindhoven in the south of our country. A small group of homeless people tries to share their experience of living in the streets in order to support other homeless people. Doing this they acknowledge that this ought to be valued as a paid job and try to find subsidies for it. So they invite people from other strata in society to get involved in this project.
Hans, one of the members of the group shared his experience with us, saying: “ I never trust a person. This is because of my youth. Last week I shared my life-story and my experience with a group of church people. They were well to do people, so I was insecure about their reaction. But they listened to my story and I had the feeling that they took me serious. This was a total new experience for me. It gave me a strong positive feeling and I did not know how to deal with it. So when I came home I started to drink beer and to blow”.
Being a trainer of TCKS I facilitate the development process of this group. The homeless call their group a family and they have decided that I am ‘ the uncle who comes from far, but who is closely related to the family’.

1.1 The localisation in the context of TCKS

I start my contribution today with this case to illustrate the two main features of our Trainingcentre.
First of all: the case illustrates our style and method of training. Second: it illustrates the context in which we position ourselves as trainers. We want to locate our position as a trainer in the context of people who are excluded in society. Our method and style of working is to share the experiences of these people so that they can decide whether they want to receive us in their life and work.

Developing this way of training with the people, taught us the following:
• The meaning of biography and socialization of the people. e.g. the use of the metaphor of ‘family’.
• The position of homeless people, as a position of exclusion of the mainstream of society.
• Their being in the public space and their surviving strategies in this public space.
• Their vulnerability and distress. In the case of Hans: not knowing how to deal with a strong positive feeling.
• Creativity and power. The experience to share ones story and ones plans with another group from a different stratum of society. This gives a strong positive feeling. We call this ’a sparkling moment’. This sparkling moment evokes creativity and is very vital to enhance the reciprocity in the connections between the homeless themselves, between the homeless and the professionals who work with them and between the other people in society e.g. the institutions . It is the source for the methods of training and working we develop.
• The development of home-made politics that makes sense and feels well for everyone, based on programs developed by the homeless themselves.

Based on this learning process with the people, we developed the necessary parameters for professionalism:
The professional:
• Needs to be aware of his/her own socialization and biography.
• Needs to be connected to the daily life in the reality of exclusion and has to be familiar with the surviving strategies of the people.
• Needs to research the question behind the question and has to work on solutions together with the people.

2 The method

This leads to a method of working that we call the method of embedded intervention. Embedded means being present in the world of exclusion. In this method there is a vital moment:
The awareness of what happens in the connection to ‘the Other’. We call this empty space or the empty moment. In this moment the professional becomes aware that:
• The emotions are a complex mix of love and recovery.
• That this complex mix can generate an attitude of care, anger and grievance.
• Or the possibility to bear the feeling of not knowing.
• That this empty space is very vital for the awareness of values/virtues and the capacities in the connection to ‘the Other’.
We have learned that an intervention is useless if it is not embedded in this reciprocity. And also that it may take lots of time and patience to build up embedded reciprocity. The method of exposure is very important in this, because it is a method in which the professional learns to be received in the life-world of the other.
Our work is inspired by the Gospel. So we have learned that one cannot feel or think about the Gospel without taking these methodological insights seriously. However, we have noticed that we are socialized in a theology and a church-model that I call an ‘application model’. Meaning that in theology and as a church we think we have something to applicate to the life of the other, namely a word for the world. In taking the empty space – the empty moment seriously, we consider this no longer possible. Therefore we prefer to speak of a ‘receive model’. Being received in the reality of the Other. This is the starting point of the work.
From this starting point we may reflect on the possibility of spirituality regarding empty space:
• That it can generate a mystagogical moment.
• That this can be the basis of a mystagogical approach.
• That there is a chance for the development of a theological method rooted in the reality of exclusion.
• That you can research the possibilities of a community and forms of leadership based on reciprocical connections. In which trust, love and justice are the red threads .

In all this we are convinced that we live in one world. We believe that we can distinguish in this one world two spheres of influence: the world of power and the world of exclusion. In our Training centre we are rooted with our work in the world of exclusion. And we believe that everywhere there are people who want to start new attempts for resistance against this exclusion.
In order to do this we have developed a way of working close to the lived reality of the people, supporting the volunteers and the professionals who work with them to become embedded. To do this our Training centre started with the professionals in bringing them together in so-called learning or training groups. We deliberately choose for learning in groups because of the importance of the connections with the people. In a group one learns to deal with chances and problems of communication with ‘the Other’. These learning groups have been very vital for the network Urban Mission in the Netherlands. In this way we have developed a basic course for Urban Mission in which participants not only learn how to relate to people in exclusion, but also to do research on how to work with allies in the world of power. For our trainers who deliver the course we demand that they are themselves working in the context of exclusion apart from their work for our Training centre.

3 The importance of the unknown Other, the method of exposure

3.1 The history of exposure
During the Seventies in the last century a lot changed in the inner-city of Rotterdam and likewise in the other major cities in the Netherlands. The white working class people, mostly working in the harbor, partly moved out of the old labor districts. The city developed plans to renovate the houses in these districts, but the actual realization took a lot of time. In the meantime youngsters and migrant-workers moved in these cheap houses. Also in these years the Dutch colony Suriname was declared independent. To escape from an insecure future in Surinam many Surinam’s left their country and arrived in Amsterdam and Rotterdam and also moved in these cheap housing areas.
In the Netherlands the various forms of community work (including church related community work) were closely related to the Dutch white labor class. But now these new people inhabited the neighborhoods, everything changed. In that period with a small team of ministers and a church worker we started to work in a different way, not knowing how to deal with all these changes. We had the feeling that we had to be received in a totally different way in our neighborhood. So we just started to walk around in the streets and the other public places in the area. To make a long story short we became aware that we had to learn to work in a new way: the method of being present amidst the people. Later on we developed this further in the method of embedded intervention.

3.2 The method of exposure
In the course of the years we developed a method of exposure and we worked this out with various groups of people. We use three main questions which can help to be received in the public spaces of the city: what do you see (smell, hear), what do you feel and what do you think about it? The philosophy behind these questions is that of a holistic approach of the person. It is a way trying to suspend all concepts and thinking in order to develop a passive attitude. The thinking has to come afterwards and needs to be based on the physical experience.

3.3 Schwellenkunde, the experience of the threshold

It would be very interesting to deepen the working of the questions about using ones senses and about ones feelings, but I prefer to pay a little attention to the last question: the results of the thinking during the exposure. I want to do this in relation to the work of Walter Benjamin ( 1892-1940), who is a Jewish thinker. One of the main themes of his thinking is the experience of the ‘Schwelle’, the threshold. The city is full of thresholds. One experiences this when one enters a building or when one enters a house in the neighborhood; when one enters a sphere in a public space or when one is confronted with the story of Hans who says: ‘I don’t know how to deal with a strong positive feeling.’ For Benjamin the threshold is the place of change. Something happens when your pass a threshold. These can be extreme experiences of confusion, insecurity or safety:
Geborgenheit und Schrecken sind die Extreme der Schwellen-Topographie .

Benjamin has developed this insight in his study about the Arcades in Paris. He tries to connect this ‘threshold experience’ with a broader historical perspective. In this concrete moment of passing a threshold, in standing still in this passing, there are signs for another, better world. In the moment of passing the threshold time stands still for a moment. A person is thrown back upon his own resources. Benjamin connects these experiences to the Arcades as an example of the order of modern society. He analyses this society as a capitalistic society. A society with mythical features. For Benjamin the experience of the threshold is a moment in which this myth can be unmasked. Opening the opportunity to look at society in an unmythical way and to see how society can be changed:
Der anti-mythische Umgang mit diesem Mythos bleibt selbst an die Respektierung von Schwellen gebunden, ja ist gerade Schwellenhandeln…Die mythische Raumform der Schwelle figuriert daher als ein Element auch der antimythische Utopie Benjamins
The one who passes a threshold, a moment you can easily neglect, is in this approach a very important moment to connect a single, maybe unimportant moment to the big society, to the world of power and to the opening of another world

3.4 Hope for the future
With the help of this thinking exercise we can draw some lines for the future:
• The exposure will be very important for the attitude of the volunteers and professionals;
• It makes clear that the ‘receiving model’ creates the possibility of respecting the unknown Other.
• The threshold –experience connects the exposure with the empty-space, empty moment with each other. It makes clear that a single moment can have enormous consequences for the attitude of a person and for a perspective of a better world.
• Being with the people in the context of exclusion is the starting point for new forms empowerment, community and leadership.

3.5 What is our future perspective as TCKS ?

• We want to be embedded in networks of local people who live in the context of exclusion, of volunteers and professionals and communities;
• We want to take part in the knots of these networks;
• We want to develop further the ‘receiving model’ in order to be able to catch the ‘sparkling moment’, and the threshold experiences as a basis for renewal, empowerment and community building;
• We want to experiment with new forms of commitment of the trainers.

3.6 We are everywhere
The story of the group in Eindhoven in my opinion is very hopeful. It shows that there is energy and creativity in the life of people who have suffered a lot during their life. They are an example of what is possible in any other place of the world. I regard it as an honor to be received in their trust. It gives hope for the future. Indeed, we are everywhere!

Rotterdam, april 2012 Herman Ijzerman