February 2, 2016 § Leave a comment
After 36 years, Leadership Magazine is calling it quits as a print magazine. The Winter 2016 issue is its last, as its parent company, Christianity Today International, is replacing it with a new section inside the pages of Christianity Today, and a future website, CTPastors.com.
Leadership is currently celebrating its history by counting down a series of “Top 40” articles, presented in chronological order, at the magazine’s site. Number 38, reprinted last week, is Eugene Peterson’s “The Unbusy Pastor,” originally published in the magazine’s second year.
It’s amazing to realize that Peterson has been writing about, and living out, his opposition to busyness for that long.
Two years ago I borrowed from Peterson’s article, using a quotation in a post I wrote about listening. I’m reposting it below, because Peterson on listening is worth reading again . . . and again.
Listening and the Spirit of Unhurried Leisure
That’s the mantra of many a boss.
That’s what coworkers say when the boss is coming.
Busyness isn’t always a synonym for work. In fact, busyness can get in the way of productivity.
Eugene Peterson, best known for his translation of the Bible, The Message, also served as a pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland, for 30 years. One of the consistent themes in his teaching and writing is that pastors should not fall into the seductive trap of busyness. Instead, as he writes in “The Unbusy Pastor,” his goal in his role as a church leader was to do three things, things that are too easily pushed aside by a busy life: to pray, to preach, and to listen.
Listening, he says, needs “unhurried leisure.” This leisure is the opposite of busyness. And just as busyness does not equal work, neither is leisure the same thing as laziness. Instead, leisure is having time at one’s disposal, and when one chooses to use that time for listening to what someone else has to say, it is a very valuable gift.
The passage below was written by Peterson in 1981. It is about and for pastors, but it can help any of us listen better, unless, of course, listening is something else we’ve ceded over to the professionals.
I want to be a pastor who listens. A lot of people approach me through the week to tell me what is going on in their lives. I want to have the energy and time to really listen to them so when they are through, they know at least one other person has some inkling of what they’re feeling and thinking.
Listening is in short supply in the world today; people aren’t used to being listened to. I know how easy it is to avoid the tough, intense work of listening by being busy (letting the hospital patient know there are ten more persons I have to see). Have to? But I’m not indispensable to any of them, and I am here with this one. Too much of pastoral visitation is punching the clock, assuring people we’re on the job, being busy, earning our pay.
Pastoral listening requires unhurried leisure, even if it’s for only five minutes. Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time. Only in that ambience of leisure do persons know they are listened to with absolute seriousness, treated with dignity and importance. Speaking to people does not have the same personal intensity as listening to people. The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?” The number of persons listened to must necessarily be less than the number spoken to. Listening to a story always takes more time than delivering a message, so I must discard my compulsion to count, to compile the statistics that will justify my existence.
(Eugene Peterson, “The Unbusy Pastor,” Leadership, Summer, 1981, also in The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, reprint edition, Eerdmans, 1993)
December 24, 2015 § 3 Comments
This is a time of gift giving. It’s a time of buying and making and choosing and wrapping.
In our family, we tend toward minimalism when it comes to wrapping gifts. From my father I inherited the practice of using newspaper. When your package carries the latest headlines, there’s no need for bows or ribbons. And if you’re feeling extra festive, you always have the Sunday comics.
We all know it isn’t the paper on the outside that matters, but we sure do act like it sometimes.
I think that one of the best gifts to give and receive—any time of the year—is the gift of our stories, our feelings, our truths. Sometimes they come in worn-out shoeboxes, in paper bags with the tops folded down, or in cardboard boxes marked “Kitchen” from the last move. They’re offered with trepidation and best received with reverence. They’re precious, authentic gifts, rugged and unedited.
And without a bow.
Are we willing to receive such gifts, or do we prefer presents wrapped neatly in shiny paper, with colorful ribbons curled just so? Do we want only the stories that have tidy, happy endings, tied up with a platitude or moral or lesson? Do we carry our own supply of bows in case the gift givers are lacking?
Are we willing to give those gifts as well? Do we hold back the deep realities of our lives, the honest hurts, waiting until we can decorate them with a “that’s when I knew it all happened for a reason,” an “I learned so much,” or a “now I can see it was all part of God’s plan”? In the waiting there is sorrow and pain.
I can’t help but think of my missionary friends, and other cross-cultural workers, too often feeling the need to adorn their stories so that no one will “misunderstand,” too often saying what is expected or what is easier to hear. I can’t help but think of myself when I’ve done the same thing.
Not all gifts are meant to be shared in the open. Some are too personal. Some can only be given in a private, safe, accepting space. Can you create a space like that for your friends, for their parents, for their children? Without such a place, their precious gifts stay hidden away. And hidden gifts are often forgotten and remain ungiven . . . simply for lack of a bow.
The decorations aren’t necessary. Give your gifts without bows, we’re listening. Receive our gifts without bows, we’re talking.
November 11, 2015 § 5 Comments
When Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, discovered that “the way to live is with vulnerability,” it flew in the face of her training as a researcher. She had been taught to control and predict, the antithesis to being vulnerable.
She voiced this in a 2010 TED Talk, and the video went viral. Two years later, she followed it up with another TED Talk, this time on the topic of shame. While not as popular as her first video, it’s powerful in its own right. In it, she shares about the response to her earlier talk and stresses two basic points: “Vulnerability is not weakness,” and “We have to talk about shame.”
To combat shame, she says, we need empathy, because “empathy’s the antidote to shame.”
If you put shame in a Petri dish, it needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put the same amount in a Petri dish and douse it with empathy, it can’t survive. The two most powerful words when we’re in struggle: me too.
That brings us to a third video. This one is a short animation, adapted from a presentation Brown made on vulnerability to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). The RSA piece is titled “The Power of Empathy.”
“Empathy is a choice,” says Brown, “and it’s a vulnerable choice.”
In this short, embedded below, she refers to four attributes of empathy, identified by nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman:
- Seeing the world as others see it
- Being non-judgemental
- Understanding another’s feelings
- Communicating that understanding
The animation is a nice touch in fleshing out Brown’s words. I especially like the image of lowering a ladder down into another person’s darkness. One of the books we have on our bookshelf at home is Bonnie Keen’s A Ladder out of Depression: God’s Healing Grace for the Emotionally Overwhelmed. It is nice to see that ladder not just as a metaphor for recovery, but for empathy, as well. (As an aside, I also like how, when you can’t see her face, Brown sounds a lot like Martha Stewart.)
I do, though, have a bone to pick with Brown—bear with me here, or just skip straight to the video. While she does a great job of describing empathy, she does so at the expense of sympathy. I really don’t think that empathy is “very different” from sympathy. I don’t agree that “sympathy drives disconnection.” Brown describes empathy as “feeling with people,” which 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.”
Empathy, on the other hand, 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.”
Over time, sympathy has had to give ground as empathy has gained the high road, and sympathy has come to imply something more like “detached pity” or “a lack of compassion.”
But of empathy, Titchener writes,
We have a natural tendency to feel ourselves into what we perceive or imagine. As we read about the forest, we may, as it were, become the explorer; we feel for ourselves the gloom, the silence, the humidity, the oppression, the sense of lurking danger; everything is strange, but it is to us that the strange experience has come. We are told of a shocking accident, and we gasp and shrink and feel nauseated as we imagine it; we are told of some new and delightful fruit, and our mouth waters as if we were about to taste it. This tendency to feel oneself into a situation is called empathy, on the analogy of sympathy, which is feeling together with another. . . .
One could even make the case that inserting our feelings into another’s situation can get in the way of seeing the individualness of that situation. Sometimes it is better not to say, “I know how you feel,” but rather “I can’t imagine how hard this is for you.”
As Brown explains, sometimes the best thing to say is very little, something like “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.”
Oh, well. Thank you for letting me step in and defend sympathy. I think it’s gotten a bad rap. I think it’s been misunderstood. And I empathize with that.
To see why a blog about cross-cultural issues is interested in the topic of empathy and listening, go here.]
(Brené Brown, “Listening to Shame,” TED, March 2012; Theresa Wiseman, “A Concept Analysis of Empathy,” Journal of Advance Nursing, vol 23, issue 6, 1996; Edward Bradford Titchener, A Beginner’s Psychology, Macmillan, 1915)
September 18, 2015 § Leave a comment
Here’s the intro to my post today at A Life Overseas—
Do you have that one safe friend?
When I went overseas, I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t even know I needed one.
Don’t get me wrong. I had a lot of friends, good friends, but I didn’t have one particular person who was committed to the role of being that one safe friend. Since then I’ve come to the conclusion that all missionaries—and other cross-cultural workers—need someone whom they trust to be devoted to them because of who they are, not because of what they do, someone who will reach out to them consistently, someone who will encourage them, comfort them, laugh with them, and weep with them.
It’s not that there won’t be several people who could do this for you, but without someone specific to take on that responsibility, you may find yourself with no one. When you have your home church, your sending agency, your family, your coworkers, and your supporters behind you, it’s easy for each individual to think that you’re more than taken care of. At a Parents of Missionaries gathering I recently attended, Dr. Dorris Schulz, director for missionary care for Missions Resource Network, said that if she’s ever drowning, she hopes there’s only one person around. That’s because people in a crowd too often do nothing, assuming that someone else will step in.
Being that one safe friend, doesn’t take an exotic skill set. It’s not someone who has all the answers. And it doesn’t need to be someone with experience living abroad. But it does need to be someone who is a good listener, someone who is caring and empathetic, someone who understands you and understands the core challenges of life, regardless of the setting. It’s not an exotic skill set, but neither is it common to everyone.
You’ll need to be proactive in asking someone to be that friend. Don’t assume that people will come knocking, maybe because they doubt your need or their ability. So if you’re looking, what should you look for? What should you expect from that friend? Here are some suggestions:
Continue reading at A Life Overseas.
June 20, 2015 § Leave a comment
The first duty of love is to listen.
I really like this quotation. It brings up images in my mind of friends sitting together over cups of coffee. Or maybe they’re a husband and wife, or a parent and child, or a teacher and student . . . or adversaries. Their body language and the expressions on their faces show that they are intent on truly hearing what the other has to say. Simple images for a simple quotation. At least it used to seem simple to me, until I traced it back to its origin.
First of all, did Tillich really say, “The first duty of love is to listen”? The answer is yes . . . and no. He’s the source, but those aren’t his exact words. More on that later.
So who is Paul Tillich, anyway? Born in Germany in 1886, Tillich grew up to be a well-known existential theologian (well-known, at least, among those familiar with existential theologians). After finishing his university education, he was ordained a Lutheran minister and served as a military chaplain during World War I. Following the war, he lectured in German universities, but that came to an end when he was banned from those institutions because of his criticism of Hitler and the Nazis. He then moved to the US to teach at Union Theological Seminary, learned English, and later taught at Harvard and the University of Chicago, in time becoming an American citizen. Tillich often published his thoughts in book form, one of the more famous being his three-volume Systematic Theology.
What is Tillich’s theology? Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Some describe Tillich as a Christian theologian, some as an unorthodox Protestant, some as an existentialist philosopher, and still others as a pantheist or atheist.
Regardless of the controversy (or maybe because of it), his writings have a cool factor amongst today’s younger, hip Christian set. In Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, Brett McCracken puts Tillich on a list of “Things [Hipster Christians] Like.” But like isn’t strong enough for some, as McCracken says that “artistic-minded Christian Hipsters love Tillich.”
And that brings us back to love and listening, and to power and justice, as well.
That’s because the source of the Tillich quotation above is his book Love, Power, and Justice. The book’s subtitle is “Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications,” and chapter headings include “The Ontology of Love,” “Being as the Power of Being,” and “A Phenomenology of Power.” Sounds rather deep, no?
Here’s the relevant passage about love and listening (with my own emphasis added). In it, Tillich is discussing “the relation of justice to love in personal encounters.” He writes that it
can adequately be described through three functions of creative justice, namely, listening, giving, forgiving. In none of them does love do more than justice demands, but in each of them love recognizes what justice demands. In order to know what is just in a person-to-person encounter, love listens. It is its first task to listen. No human relation, especially no intimate one, is possible without mutual listening. Reproaches, reactions, defenses may be justified in terms of proportional justice. But perhaps they would prove to be unjust if there were more mutual listening. All things and all men, so to speak, call on us with small or loud voices. They want us to listen, they want us to understand their intrinsic claims, their justice of being. They want justice from us. But we can give it to them only through the love which listens.
To be honest, much of Tillich’s writing is over my head. It’s not that I don’t grasp what he’s saying in this passage, it’s when he does things such as explore the concept of being that I lose ground. I had to look up ontological. I found out it means “metaphysical, or the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence,” but you already knew that, right?
So where does this leave us? For me, it’s back to where we started. We still have the popular “quotation,” and I don’t think it will be replaced by the real thing any time soon. It’s nearly accurate and it’s Twitter-sized, with plenty of room to spare for hashtags. Now when I hear it I’ll still imagine those people sharing a conversation over coffee, but while their mugs will say, “The first duty of love is to listen,” next to those mugs will be some books whose titles I don’t quite understand.
[To see why a blog about cross-cultural issues is interested in the topic of listening, go here.]
(Arne Unhjem, “Paul Tillich: American Theologian and Philosopher,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Brett McCracken, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, Baker, 2010; Paul Tillich, Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications, Oxford, 1960)
February 7, 2015 § Leave a comment
At the beginning of 2013, Ryan Anderson, power forward for the New Orleans Pelicans, and reality-TV star Gia Allemand were living out the perfect romance. At least that’s the way it looked to those who saw their photos in magazines and on celebrity news sites.
But those who only saw the glamorous images didn’t know the true story. They didn’t know that Allemand struggled with depression. And they were shocked when, in April, she committed suicide.
Though Anderson knew about the ups and downs in Allemand’s life, he, of course was shocked, as well. And he was devastated by grief. What has helped lift him out of his grief are those who are able to offer him silence, who let him share in the silence . . . or fill it up with his own words.
[To see why a blog about cross-cultural issues is interested in the topics of grief and listening, go here.]
In a video by the non-profit To Write Love on Her Arms, Anderson tells how the day Allemand died he turned to his coach, Monty Williams, for help. Williams pulled him away from Allemand’s condo and rode with him in a car:
He didn’t say anything. He just sat there with me. And I . . . there’s nothing more he could have done. . . . He stayed up the entire night. I remember . . . I just leaned down, I leaned on his shoulder and I just cried the whole night, and he just sat there, you know, and he was just there with me.
For Anderson, an important part of the healing process has been therapy, but it took a lot of convincing to get him there. And before he became comfortable with his therapist, he thought the sessions were pointless, because he wasn’t getting “the right advice.” But then he realized that getting advice wasn’t the point of his therapy:
The most important thing is you pouring yourself out to somebody. That’s what it was about for me. It was about talking to this guy and letting everything in . . . that’s going on in my mind and in my heart and everything out.
Looking back, he says about therapy, about talking openly to a good listener, “I can’t describe to you how valuable it was.”
To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), the organization that produced this video of Anderson’s story, makes it their work to connect those who are struggling—with depression, addiction, self-injury, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, and anxiety—with the help they need.
Lauren Gloyne, intern program director and benefit coordinator for TWLOHA, writes her perspective on the group’s work on their Tumblr blog. She quotes lines from the song “Flags,” written by New Zealand singer Brooke Fraser, sharing her thoughts inspired by the words:
Come, tell me your trouble
I’m not your answer
But I’m a listening ear
Maybe it’s not about having all the answers. Maybe it’s about taking someone by the hand and sharing in their honesty. Meeting them in their pain. Lending our ears. Getting in the trenches with them and saying, “I don’t know why this is. But I’m with you. Let’s walk through this uncertainty together.
Reality has left you reeling
All facts and no feeling
No faith and all fear
. . . . . .
You who mourn will be comforted
You who hunger will hunger no more
All the last shall be first, of this I am sure
You who weep now will laugh again
All you lonely, be lonely no more
Yes, the last will be first, of this I am sure
December 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” I John 2:1 (NIV)
A couple weeks ago I was preparing a lesson for the adult Sunday-school class I help teach. (Sounds a little old fashioned and quaint, doesn’t it?) The text was the second chapter of John’s first letter.
As I took notes on my computer, I checked the news as it developed through the day—and the developing news that day was the demonstrations following the grand-jury decisions concerning two white police officers, Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo, and the deaths of two black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
I am a white man, in a predominantly white Sunday-school class, in a predominantly white church, in a predominantly white city, in the predominantly white state of Missouri. I probably don’t have to remind you that Ferguson is in our state, too.
My lesson ended up tracing through the themes of I John 2. If we know Jesus, we will obey him. If you hate your brother, you live in darkness. Do not love the world. Beware of antichrists, who deny the Son.
But mixed with the verses on my computer screen were the headlines about the protests, the demonstrations, the riots, and the arrests.
When I taught the class, after working through the chapter, I returned to the first verse, that verse that touches on the tension between justice and grace. Do not sin, John says, but if you do, Jesus will take your side. Jesus is our advocate before God, the judge. While Satan is the prosecutor, Jesus is the defense attorney.
Maybe it was a stretch, I told my class, but I needed to address what was going on in our country. I needed to talk about it, even if I had to shoehorn it in a little. If we Christians want to “live as Jesus did” (v 6), then we need to make ourselves advocates, too.
It’s an odd thing to think of God pleading our case to God. But the creator has shown us his love, his concern, his grace by mingling with us, talking with us, sharing meals with us. Through Jesus’ life on earth, he has empathy for us (Hebrews 4:15), and he has become our intercessor in heaven (Romans 8:34).
We need to listen to those who have different experiences than ours, to learn their perspective. As a white person, I realize my need to listen to the stories of blacks, to try to see the world through their eyes.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying in this picture that I am Jesus and blacks are the sinners needing my advocacy. Instead, I’m saying that all us Christians—of all races—need to imitate Jesus in breaching the walls that divide us and to plead for each other, before man and before God.
Months ago, well before these two high-profile incidents, many black people were already afraid of police officers. I could argue all I wanted that they shouldn’t be afraid, but my arguments would probably show how out of touch I am. Theirs is a fear that goes well beyond the nervousness I have when a police car pulls up behind me at an intersection.
Why is that? If we hope to understand, we’ll need to do a lot of listening, and not just to those who would reaffirm our comfortable assumptions. We’ll need to read viewpoints of people who’ve lived lives unlike our own. We’ll need to try to see the world through the eyes of people who don’t look like us. That doesn’t mean that we must always agree with what we hear. Often, the loudest, most strident voices are not the most reasonable. But if we want to hear the quieter voices, then we’ll need to listen that much harder. And then we can pass on what we hear, speaking on behalf of our brothers and sisters, to each other and to God.
The Other Side of Fear
Black civil rights attorney Constance Rice has worked for years building trust between minorities and the police in Los Angeles. While she started out as an adversary to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, suing the department multiple times, they are now partners in reform.
During an 19-month period, Rice interviewed over 900 police officers. On NPR’s Morning Edition, she says that their talks became like “therapy sessions,” with some opening up to her about their own fears. “Miss Rice, I’m scared of black men. Black men terrify me,” they said. “Miss Rice, can you teach me how not to be afraid of black men?”
Are the people who said this racists? Rice says not consciously so, but a policeman’s fear can produce the same outcome as racism:
He doesn’t feel like it’s racism. The black community experiences it as racism, that’s very clear. So what I’m saying is that for people who have to be in the business of solving this dilemma you have to be able to step into the frightened tennis shoes of black kids, black male kids in particular. You have to be able to step into the combat boots of scared cops, and racist cops, and cruel cops, and good cops. And you have to be able to distinguish amongst all of those human experiences and then bring them together on a single platform of we’re going to solve this by empathizing. We’re going to solve it with compassion and we’re going to solve it with common sense.
Reconciliation Is Hard Work
Nearly twenty years ago, one of the books on my bookshelf was More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel, written in 1993 by Chris Rice (no relation to Constance Rice) and Spencer Perkins. Side by side on the cover were the smiling faces of the authors—one white and one black.
The two not only wrote a book together, but they and their families lived together in a community called Antioch, showing by example what they believed. The philosophy of their work can be summed up succinctly by the titles of their book’s three sections: Admit, Submit, and Commit.
Four years after they wrote More Than Equals, I assumed that the two were still smiling in the glow of their togetherness. But it wasn’t so. In 2010, Chris Rice told Christianity Today that he and Perkins “could hardly sit at the same dinner table” and living in Antioch had become too difficult for him and his wife. They wanted out.
Upon hearing the Rice’s desire to leave, an angry Perkins asked, “Why do only white folks make ultimatums like this?”
They called in two mentors to help keep them together, but meetings with them led to an outpouring of old grievances. Finally, as the mentors were about to leave, Rice says that he and Perkins were “interrupted by grace.” Perkins chose to allow the Rices to leave. The Rices chose to stay. Three months later, Perkins died of a heart attack.
The Need to Communicate
Some who have never heard of Spencer Perkins would be familiar with his father, the minister and civil-rights activist John Perkins. Born in 1930 into a family of sharecroppers, John was raised by his grandmother after his mother died before his first birthday. When John was 17, his older brother was shot and killed by a local sheriff. Later, with his own family, John became a Christian after Spencer, not yet in kindergarten, invited him to Sunday School. Even though he didn’t study beyond the third grade, John has authored numerous books and has been given honorary doctorates many times over.
I know of John Perkins through the writings of his son, and, more recently, from when he spoke at a service at my church this year. So while preparing my Sunday-school lesson, when I saw his name in another Christianity Today article, it grabbed my attention.
The article is entitled “A United Evangelical Response: The System Failed Eric Garner.” In it, a multi-racial group of 28 give their reactions to the grand jury decision following the death of Garner. The entire article is worth a read, but I will end here with John Perkins’ comments, as he discusses the need for the kind of talking and listening that leads to true reconciliation.
It seems like our nation is out of control, and some of this is the result of our polarization and our own victimization in both the black and white community. We have not found ways to confess to each other our wrongdoings and haven’t been able to make the kind of peace that could come from having that type of conversation. We haven’t been able to take the responsibility as God’s people or as citizens. As a nation, as individuals, and as communities, we need to start taking responsibility for our communities. As blacks, we need to take some responsibility for how we raise our children, and the whites need to take responsibility for their lack of forgiveness and imperialism and for some of the failure in our school and education systems. We also need to take responsibility for not training our police officers to affirm the dignity of humanity. We are all victims and have not found ways to truly reconcile to each other. I think that is the issue before us, and our task is learning how to actually communicate and have conversations, so we can get at some of these issues.
John Perkins is a great advocate for those who need his voice. I want to be an advocate, too.
(“Civil Rights Attorney on How She Built Trust with Police,” Morning Edition, NPR, December 5, 2014; Chris Rice, “Born Again . . . Again,” Christianity Today, March 26, 2010; “A United Evangelical Response: The System Failed Eric Garner,” Christianity Today, December 4, 2014)
[photos: “Eric Garner Protest-Rockefeller Center” and “Eric Garner Protest-Rockefeller Center (3),” by Tina Leggio, used under a Creative Commons license]