God’s Speed: Slowing Down, Listening, and Learning

Matt Canlis, an Anglican pastor, has some good friends who appear with him in the video Godspeed. Some are rather famous: Eugene Peterson and N. T. Wright (whom he calls “Tom”). Others are not so well known, at least not outside Aberdeenshire, Scotland: Alan Torrance (with whom he started a “wee kinda group of men” to read the Bible together), Mr. and Mrs. French, and Colin Presly (who’s head elder of the church in his village). All of them have been Canlis’s teachers.

While Canlis was finishing up seminary, Peterson, one of his professors, gave him advice on becoming a pastor. “Go find a fishbowl,” he said, “where you can’t escape being known.”

Peterson knew, says Canlis in Godspeed,

if I really wanted to walk like Jesus, I had to slow down. I was like, “Eugene, I’m in. I’m sold, Where do I go to learn to become this kind of person, this pastor?” He smiled and he said, “You might have to go further than you think. You might have to leave America.” And I thought, “That’ll never happen.”

Of course, happen it did, and Canlis relocated to Scotland, where the people of St. Andrews, Pitlochry, and Methlick taught him how to be their pastor. You can watch the 35-minute film Godspeed, at Vimeo or at the Godspeed website, and hear for yourself the simple, soft-spoken lessons of the locals. For instance, there’s the kilt-wearing Torrance, whose wisdom comes from a first-hand understanding of the small-community environment that Jesus lived in and from reading the Bible with fresh eyes.

Of course, Peterson and Wright share their wisdom along the way, too, with Wright mentioning another resource for understanding the value of living a slower, village-paced life: Koduke Koyama’s Three Mile an Hour God. In his collection of essays, Koyama writes that when we allow God to lead us through the wilderness, “our speed is slowed down until gradually we come to the speed on which we walk—three miles an hour“:

I find that God goes ‘slowly’ in his educational process of man. ‘Forty years in the wilderness’ points to his basic educational philosophy. Forty years of national migration through the wilderness, three generations of the united monarchy (Saul, David, Solomon), nineteen kings of Israel (up to 722 BC) and twenty kings of Judah (up to 587 BC), the hosts of the prophets and priests, the experience of exile and restoration—isn’t this rather a slow and costly way for God to let his people know the covenant relationship between God and man?

Jesus Christ came. He walked towards the ‘full stop’. He lost his mobility. He was nailed down! He is not even at three miles an hour as we walk. He is not moving. ‘Full stop’! What can be slower than ‘full stop’—’nailed down’? At this point of ‘full stop’, the apostolic church proclaims that the love of God to man is ultimately and fully revealed. God walks ‘slowly’ because he is love. If he is not love he would have gone much faster. Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is ‘slow’ yet is is lord over all other speeds since it is the speed of love. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, whether we are currently hit by storm or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore it is the speed the love of God walks.

(Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God, SCM, 1979)

[photo: “Forested Path 2,” by aetherspoon, used under a Creative Commons license]

What Ever Did We Do before the Invention of Empathy? and Prince Philip’s Confession in “The Crown”

Did you know there once was a time when empathy didn’t exist in the English-speaking world. During that time, all those poor souls lived in a “Dark Age” of feelings in which they had only sympathy to rely on when faced with others’ pain. It wasn’t until the early 1900s that the word empathy was imported from Germany to save us from our uncaring detachment. As I wrote in “Empathy: A Ladder into Dark Places“:

Empathy . . . is a relatively new term, introduced into the English language by psychologist Edward Bradford Titchener in 1909. Titchener got the idea for empathy from einfühlung, a German word crafted 50 years earlier to describe a form of art appreciation based on projecting one’s personality into the art being viewed—thus, “a feeling in.”

Of course, I jest. Before 1909, our forebears did just fine commiserating with each other. In fact, here’s a passage on that point from a sermon by the British preacher Charles Spurgeon, delivered in 1890:

When a person who has been very despondent comes out into comfort, he should look out for desponding spirits and use his own experience as a cordial to the fainting. I do not think that I ever feel so much at home in any work as when I am trying to encourage a heart which is on the verge of despair, for I have been in that plight myself. It is a high honor to nurse our Lord’s wounded children. It is a great gift to have learned by experience how to sympathize. “Ah!” I say to them, “I have been where you are!” They look at me and their eyes say, “No, surely you never felt as we do.” I therefore go further, and say, “If you feel worse than I did, I pity you, indeed, for I could say with Job, ‘My soul chooses strangling rather than life.’ I could readily enough have laid violent hands upon myself to escape from my misery of spirit.”

Spurgeon’s “sympathize” certainly seems like what we call “empathize” today. Again, in my post, referring to Brené Brown’s saying that “sympathy drives disconnection” while empathy is “feeling with people,” I wrote that that second definition

actually sounds to me like a good description of sympathy. In fact, when the word sympathy came about over 400 years ago, it was from the Greek sin, “together,” plus pathos, “feeling.” . . . in other words, a “feeling together.”

It makes me think of the joke What did people used to call organic, non-GMO food? Answer: Food.

So what did people used to call sympathy that was filled with empathetic feelings? Answer: Sympathy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of empathy. It’s just that I’m a defender of sympathy, too. Empathy isn’t a special, emotionally gymnastic form of sympathy. Rather, it’s genuine sympathy, in a world where the concept of basic sympathy is too often seen as condescending or false. That’s why you’ll hear people say, “I don’t need your sympathy!” But it’s also true that most don’t mind getting a “sympathy card” in the mail. In fact, if you sent them an “empathy card,” they’d probably think you presumptuous.

With all that said, I’d like to present a wonderful expression of sympathy. It’s from Netflix’s The Crown, season three, in an episode titled “Moondust.”

It comes in two short monologues given by the character Prince Philip. (I say “character” because while The Crown is based on the lives of the royal family, it’s still a work of fiction.) Actually, the first doesn’t express sympathy at all, but it sets the stage for what is to come.

In “Moondust,” Prince Philip has just watched the 1969 moon landing on TV and is enamored with the American heroes of Apollo 11 . . . enamored, and envious, and agitated, as well. It is under this circumstance that Robin Woods, the newly appointed Dean of Windsor, invites him to meet some priests who have gathered at St. George’s House. As Prince Philip listens to the weary clergymen share their discouragements, with one grading his life accomplishments a D minus, Dean Wood’s asks Prince Philip for his thoughts. He responds,

I’ll tell you what I think. I’ve never heard such a load of pretentious, self-piteous nonsense. What you lot need to do is to get off your backsides, get out into the world, and bloody well do something. That is why you are all so . . . so lost. I believe that there is an imperative within man, all men, to make a mark. Action is what defines us. Action, not suffering. All this sitting around thinking and talking, I . . . Let me ask you this: Do you think those astronauts up there are catatonic like you lot? Of course not. They are too busy achieving something spectacular. And as a result, they are at one with the world, and one with their God, and happy. That’s my advice. Model yourselves on men of action, like Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins. I mean, these men score A triple plus. They’ve got the answers, not a bunch of navel-gazing underachievers infecting one another with gaseous doom. 

I must say that the circle of men reminds me of groups of cross-cultural workers I’ve been in, coming together to share our wounds. But Prince Philip doesn’t identify with that kind of gathering. He’s a man of action, not a pitiful navel-gazer. No, being a pilot, he sees himself as a comrade with the astronauts. So he arranges a personal visit with them when they come to London. But his high hopes for conversing with greatness are dashed when, alone with the three, he finds them to be shallow and uncurious about life’s bigger questions. “They delivered as astronauts,” he tells the queen, “but disappointed as human beings.”

He later returns to St. George’s, to the circle of priests, but this time with a new sense of belonging, a newly discovered kinship with other men who are facing mid-life crises—though he can only bring himself to say “that crisis”:

And of course one’s read or heard about other people hitting that crisis, and, you know, just like them, you look in all the usual places, resort to all the usual things to try and make yourself feel better. Uh . . . some of which I can admit to in this room, and some of which I probably shouldn’t.

My mother died recently. She . . . she saw that something was amiss. It’s a good word, that a . . . a-amiss. She saw that something was missing in her youngest child, her only son. . . . Faith. “How’s your faith?” she asked me. I’m here to admit to you that . . . I’ve lost it. And without it, what is there? The . . . the loneliness and emptiness and anticlimax of going all that way to the moon to find nothing but haunting desolation, ghostly silence, gloom. That is what faithlessness is. As opposed to finding wonder, ecstasy, the miracle of divine creation, God’s design and purpose. What am I trying to say? I’m trying to say that the solution to our problems, I think, is not in the ingenuity of the rocket, or the science or the technology or even the bravery. No, the answer is in here [points to head], or here [points to chest], or wherever it is that . . . that faith resides.

And so, Dean Woods, having ridiculed you for what you and these poor blocked, lost souls  . . .[laughs] . . . were . . . were trying to achieve here in St. George’s House, I now find myself full of respect and admiration and not a small part of desperation . . . as I come to say, . . . “Help. . . . Help me.”

Notes after the episode inform us “For over fifty years St. George’s House has been a centre for the exploration of faith and philosophy. Its success is one of the achievements of which Prince Philip is most proud.”

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021).

(Charles Spurgeon, “The Shank-bone Sermon—Or, True Believers and Their Helpers” March 23, 1890; “Moondust,” The Crown, created by Peter Morgan, season 3, episode 7, Netflix, 2019)

[photo: “Earth over the Moon – Apollo 11,” by Kevin Gill, used under a Creative Commons license]

One Person’s Antidote for a Toxic Internet

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The venerable Oxford Dictionaries has announced its 2018 word of the year, and it’s toxic. (No, it’s not a toxic word, toxic is the word itself.)

Fun fact: Toxic comes from the Greek toxicon pharmakon, meaning “arrow poison.” So it’s actually the “archery/bow” part of the phrase (toxicon) that gives us today’s poisonous word.

Not-so-fun fact: According to Oxford Dictionaries, “In 2018, toxic has become a potent descriptor for the year’s most-talked-about topics.” The top-ten list of these topics, gathered from the dictionary’s corpus, includes pairing toxic with words representing  the physical realm, such as chemical, substance, gas, waste, algae, and air. But it also includes words for the immaterial, such as masculinity, environment, relationship, and culture.

It’s this second category that I think of when I hear toxic associated with 2018—in particular the toxicity of social media. And I’m not the only one who thinks our online communities can be poisonous. Take, for instance, these headlines from the past year:

Online toxicity takes many forms, but when it comes to dealing with internet-born hatred and virulent personal attacks, one person has come up with her own solution: face-to-face conversations. Her name is Özlem Cekic and she’s a former member of the Danish parliament. Born to Kurdish parents in Turkey, Cekic lived in Finland for two years as a young child after her parents moved there to work as caretakers in the Turkish embassy. Later, they relocated to Denmark when her parents took jobs there. As an adult, in 2007, she became one of the first females from an ethnic background elected as an MP.

It should come as no surprise that that distinction made her the target of a large amount of hate-filled email. In her TED Talk from last month, Cekic says that for a few years she responded with anger and fear, but then a friend suggested she call up her harassers to begin a real dialogue. She decided to try it and contacted Ingolf, the most prolific author of her hate mail. She first called him on the phone and later visited him in his home. “I ended up staying for two and a half hours,” she says. “And we had so many things in common. Even our prejudices were alike.”

She continued talking with Ingolf, and with many more who opposed her, and started promoting #DialogueCoffee meetings to encourage others to follow her lead. For the last eight years she has taught by example that we should stop demonizing people who disagree with us and engage them in conversation instead. And during that time, she’s “learned some valuable lessons” herself:

The people who sent hate mails are workers, husbands, wives, parents like you and me. I’m not saying that their behavior is acceptable, but I have learned to distance myself from the hateful views without distancing myself from the person who’s expressing those views. And I have discovered that the people I visit are just as afraid of people they don’t know as I was afraid of them before I started inviting myself for coffee.

So here’s my challenge,” says Cekic. “Find your Ingolf.”

In the list of online articles above, you can see there’s one called “Cloutlighting: From Online ‘Pranks’ to Toxic Social Media Trend.” Reading it, I learned what “cloutlighting” is. The word is a combination of clout and gaslighting and it refers to someone pranking a friend to get an emotional reaction or to start an argument. The cloutlighter then records the response and posts it on the internet. (It sounds like the kind of thing that a victim of Jimmy Kimmel’s I-ate-your-Halloween-candy prank might grow up to despise.)

Cloutlighting is a way to take someone you’re close to and use social media to push them away. Cekic, on the other hand, shows us how to take someone we’re distant from and use a cup of coffee to find common ground.

I sure hope cloutlighting doesn’t become 2019’s word of the year.

(“Word of the Year 2018 Is . . . ,” Oxford Dictionaries; Özlem Cekic, “Why I Have Coffee with People Who Send Me Hate Mail,” TED Talk, November 17, 2018.)

[photo: “pi’sn,” by Kevin O’Mara, used under a Creative Commons license]

Ac•knowl•edge

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I’ve added another entry to my list of good-listening words from six years ago. It’s in the post “Conversation: noun, ‘a turning with.'” Here’s the addition:

acknowledge: “to admit understanding or knowing”
from Old English on, “into,” and cnawan, “recognize,” blended with Middle English knowlechen “admit”

How wonderful it is when someone hears honesty from your heart and acknowledges—with words or with the lack of words—the reality, the truth, the significance of what you are feeling.

[For a reminder on the importance of listening for those who cross cultures, go here to connect the dots.]

[photo: “Listen,” by Britt Reints, used under a Creative Commons license]

Are You OK? and Help! Two Things You Really Need to Learn to Say in Your Target Language [—at A Life Overseas]

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When you visit a country where the people don’t speak your language, there are several important phrases you should know how to say: things such as “Hello” and “Goodbye,” “How much is this?” “Where’s the bathroom?” and “Can I have ice with my water?” But when you move to that country, the stakes become higher. The important words and phrases become deeper and more necessary and more . . . important. They’re usually not covered in the first five chapters of your language book, and you may not end up learning them until you come face to face with the need for them. At least, that’s the way it was for me.

Are You OK?

The streets in Taiwan give new meaning to the phrase flow of traffic. Outnumbering automobiles two to one, scooters zip in and out to fill in the narrow gaps between cars, and when they all come to a red light, they pile up at the intersection, waiting to spill forward again when the light turns green. Watch that whitewater river for long, and you’ll see quite a few accidents.

One morning while I was walking to language school in Taipei, I came up to one of the city’s crowded intersections and waited to cross. As several lanes slowed for the light, a lady on a scooter was unable to stop and broke through the pack, sliding several feet on her side. She wasn’t hit by anyone, but she was slow getting up. My first thought was to run over to her and see how she was. I didn’t make it, though. First of all, by the time I could cross the street, she was back on her way, though pushing, not riding, her scooter now. And second, I didn’t know what to say.

Yes, I knew the greeting “How are you?” but that’s not the right question for someone who might be hurt. I knew how to say several other things, too, but none of them seemed appropriate. I could imagine the woman’s horror having me, a foreigner, rush up to her in her time of need, letting loose with my vocabulary of “Hello. How are you? I’m an American. What part of Taipei are you from? What’s you’re favorite food? I like pizza.”

It’s one thing to be able to say the equivalent of How are you? Howdy, or What’s up? It’s another to go beyond trite formality, to ask a caring question and expect a heartfelt response.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “helping-hand,” by Faith @101, used under a Creative Commons license]

You Don’t Have It All Together . . . but Neither Do They

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Episode four of CNN’s Mostly Human is about tech-company entrepreneurs, but when I watched it, I couldn’t help but think about another kind of entrepreneur—cross-cultural workers. Both invest themselves in often risky start ups that can put pressure on their financial and emotional well-being. And both feel the need to live up to the expectations of stakeholders.

Jerry Colonna is a venture capitalist turned certified professional coach. He works in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley, and he knows firsthand the prevalence of depression in the tech world and sees daily the mental-health toll that the start-up culture takes on its CEOs. In Mostly Human‘s “Silicon Valley’s Secret,” he talks about the disconnect between public success and private struggles, saying emphatically,

Nobody’s crushing it. Nobody is crushing it. Nobody is killing it. Nobody has it all figured out.

I have authority to say that because I’m honest with myself. It would be a mistake to think, Oh these poor little rich kids. Nothing that we have talked about is unique to the technology industry, but because the lens happens to be particularly sharp and clear right now. . . . It’s that the tech industry and the startup community in general brings to the surface forces that are at play in every aspect of our society. The human condition includes broken heartedness. The myth is that it doesn’t.

Author Anne Lamott, too, sees the reality behind the myth. She recently recorded a TED Talk with the title “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing.” Her truth #4 is this:

Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy and scared, even the people who seem to have it most together. They are much more like you than you would believe, so try not to compare your insides to other people’s outsides. It will only make you worse than you already are.

Also, you can’t save, fix or rescue any of them or get anyone sober. What helped me get clean and sober 30 years ago was the catastrophe of my behavior and thinking. So I asked some sober friends for help, and I turned to a higher power. One acronym for God is the “gift of desperation,” G-O-D, or as a sober friend put it, by the end I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards.

And pastor and author Kyle Idleman writes that each week he gets to sit down with newcomers to his church and listen to their stories. “Typically,” he says, “we have two separate kinds of people in that room.”

There are some who have been around the church and God for a while. They know the rules. They know what to say and how to say it. They know what words to include and what parts of their stories to leave out. They’ve learned to wear a mask.

Then there are those who are new to Christ and the church. They haven’t learned the rules. And when they tell their story they will include a family that fell apart. It’s not uncommon for their stories to begin “I’ve been sober for . . . ” and sometimes it’s been years. Sometimes it’s been days. They don’t know any better. I’ve heard ex-cons talk about their crime. I’ve heard men of every age talk about pornography and women tell about credit card debt. Parents will talk about how much they are struggling with their kids. Kids will talk about how they’ve been lying to their parents and going behind their backs. They’ll tell about eating disorders, gambling problems, suicide attempts, and drug addictions. They just don’t know any better. And I hope nobody tells them that they’re supposed to act like they’ve got it all together. You don’t often get to see people without a mask. And it’s such a beautiful thing.

(“Silicon Valley’s Secret,” Mostly Human, Episode 4, CNN; Anne Lamotte, “12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing,” TED, April 2017; Kyle Idleman, Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus, Zondervan, 2011)

[photo: “Broken Strings,” by Teunie van Hernen, used under a Creative Commons license]

Background Music and Getting Outside of Ourselves

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Jon Weece likes to introduce people to each other. Often it’s telling large crowds about someone he knows. And as “lead follower” at Southland Christian Church, a megachurch in Lexington, he has lots of opportunities to address large crowds. I’ve known Jon since he was a kid, and I was glad to be able to hear him speak last month at Ozark Christian College, his alma mater, as it celebrated its 75th anniversary.

Jon, a former missionary in Haiti, keeps his eye out for people who need a helping hand. One of those people is his friend Donnie, and Jon told us his story. In his book Jesus Prom, Jon writes,

When Donnie was six years old, he watched his dad beat up his mom. The trauma of that episode locked Donnie into a permanent state of childlikeness. Though he is fifty-two years of age today, Donnie thinks and acts and communicates like a six-year-old. Donnie loves me, and I love Donnie. He has taught me a lot about love.

Donnie washed dishes at a local restaurant for two decades. Each Friday he would cash his paycheck, and each Saturday he would ride his bike from one garage sale to the next buying albums and paper novels and costume jewelry. Donnie has a Christmas gift list and 385 people on it. Donnie loves people, and people love Donnie—so much so that he spends his entire year Christmas shopping for all the people he loves.

…..

Donnie doesn’t know a stranger. When he meets people for the first time, he hugs them. And he doesn’t let go! When Donnie hugs people, he holds on! And it doesn’t matter who you are; once Donnie learns your name, your name finds its way onto his Christmas list. From the mayor of our city to the homeless men in Phoenix Park, Donnie konws a lot of people by name.

Donnie looks a lot like love.

Love holds on.

Love gives.

Love knows.

Jon also introduces people to Donnie one on one. He said that when Tony Anderson, another OCC grad, contacted him to get together, Jon brought Donnie along. Tony lives in Lexington and is a successful film composer with a long list of commercial and documentary credits.

Before Tony had become established in his career, he took on his first project, a short documentary for Christ in Youth and Rapha House, a ministry working to eliminate child trafficking and sexual exploitation. The film Tony helped them with was Baht, about sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Tony later worked on another production for Rapha House, creating the score for Finding Home, a longer documentary following three young women who’d gotten out of the sex trade in Cambodia.

Tony’s career took off when Musicbed made his growing body of work available on their licensing site, and now his clients include Ford, TOMS Shoes, ESPN, and National Geographic. When Musicbed produced a video highlighting Tony, he put Donnie front and center (and, yes, that’s Tony’s music in the background). Tony says that Donnie is teaching him how to recapture the “childlike innocence and joy” that he’s let slip away. He’s also teaching him about opening doors, seeing the value of relationships over competition and deadlines, and “getting outside of” himself.

And finally, here’s one more example of Tony’s work. He composed the music behind this short film, Onward. It’s about a family in Western Mongolia and their tradition of hunting with eagles.

(Jon Weece, Jesus Prom: Life Gets Fun when You Love People like God Does, Thomas Nelson, 2014)

[photo: “Sitting by the Piano,” by Difei Li, used under a Creative Commons license]

Vulnerability: Letting Others See What Is Hard to Look at Ourselves

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I recently wrote about Steve Saint’s travels with Mincaye, when Steve—the son of martyred missionary Nate Saint—was logging thousands of miles on his way to speak to thousands. But that was before an accident in 2012, while testing an experimental wing at I-TEC, that left him as an incomplete quadriplegic.

Since then, Steve has openly shared about his struggles and pain. In a post he wrote last month at the I-TEC blog, Steve talks about his feelings of insignificance. “It is hard to feel very important when Ginny has to help dress me and when I need a bib at dinner time,” he writes. “But then when I’m lamenting that I no longer count I’ll get a letters from someone thanking me now for trusting God in suffering. Go figure.”

I’d like to add my vote saying that Steve still counts. I am so grateful for his honesty, for his willingness to be vulnerable. He is truly serving through his scars.

Here is how he begins his post:

About half of the time I can only function at about 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, with no warning I crash to about 1 or 2 in 10. I lose the tiny bit of feeling in my hands, the bands around my body begin to clamp down so tightly that I go into spasms just trying to stand up. But worse than the physical torment I struggle with, the increased pain is accompanied by an involuntary hardening in my “heart”.  I sing along in church and hear preaching that used to move me, and I feel nothing. 

But, the physical pain and spiritual feelings take second place to an almost constant sense that my life has no significance anymore. But I’m not the only one struggling to have my life count. . . .

I hope you’ll take the time to read the rest of “No Count People?

And on the topic of letting others see us as we are—if you haven’t watched it yet (or if you’d like to watch it again), here’s Brené Brown’s TED Talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability,” in which she says,

I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.

(I’m sure this makes me a prude, but before you gather the kids around the computer to listen to a video that Uncle Craig recommended, please note that it has a touch of PG language.)

(Steve Saint, “No Count People?” I-TEC Blog, November 29, 2016)

[photo: “Let There Be Urbex,” by darkday, used under a Creative Commons license]