Monthly Archives: March 2014

Listen

By: Janet Mendenhall

I am not by nature a good listener. I mean well. I start out with good intentions. As you begin speaking, my brain is pleading with me: “Wait… wait… wait. Don’t talk yet. Listen!” And I do… for a minute or two.

It is not that I don’t want to hear what you say; I am genuinely interested in you. Sometimes I am just easily distracted. But more often, it is that I quickly know just what you are going to say, and I either need to prepare to rebuke you (in love, of course) or expound on your thoughts before I agree with you. Either way, I am likely trying to impress you with the depths of my thoughts, and in so doing likely miss the depth of yours.

My listening problem was more evident than ever this past week as I sat on a panel of jurors for a criminal case in a local district court. There was initially much listening to be done. In fact, there was nothing but listening for the first day and a half. And there were few opportunities for distractions: no snacks or phones or doodle pads, not even much room for fidgeting. And during all that time no one was interested in my opinion. (Though there were several times I would have loved to have offered it!) Even when things were unclear or the attorney made a mistake or was confused or confusing, I had no choice but to listen. It was not easy. It was exhausting. But I was intent on listening because I cared and because I had much to learn.  And someone’s future was dependent on my close attention to the voices of the witnesses. I knew in this case, the importance of listening.

Stephen R. Covey has been quoted as saying, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  I did not need a best-selling author to share this insight with me. I am one of Covey’s “most people” and apparently I spend most of my time mostly talking to “most people”.

I do know some good listeners and I admire them. They listen to understand. They listen because they care. They are not quick to judge or advise or fix. They are empathetic and encouraging. I seek them out as often as I can.

I even know a few extraordinary listeners. They listen to understand. They listen because they care.  They also listen to learn. They seek out and listen to voices they know will challenge their values and beliefs, rather than agree and substantiate their self-proclaimed wisdom. They listen because they are seeking the best thoughts and answers.  They listen because they are humble enough to know that they can learn from those with whom they disagree. I am most impressed by these listeners. Theirs are the voices from whom I am eager to hear. But there are too few of them.

Most of us people are so afraid of being wrong about politics or religion or child rearing or whatever it is, that rather than explore — with curiosity and respect — the other possibilities, we surround ourselves only with agreeable, like-minded voices. This is increasingly easier to do as blogs and news reports and commentaries present one-sided views with alarming steadfastness – from both ends of the spectrum. Then in the strength that those voices give us, we raise our own voices in loud and insulting shouts at the folks with whom we disagree. And we learn nothing from one another.

We need each other. And we need to hear each other. We have much to learn from one another. People’s futures depend on careful listening to the voices of all the witnesses.

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Label Me Kindly

By: Christiana Cha

Disclaimer: there will be a couple of quotes of potentially offensive language.

Recently I ran across some disrespectful hashtags on a Facebook photo, including: #allmine and #nobitch. The photo was about not having to share food with a girlfriend because the guy did not have one. I suppose it is common for a girlfriend to want a bite of her boyfriend’s food, but calling her a bitch for that seems a bit strong, no? I found it to be highly disrespectful and lacking in thought.

Sometimes, words are words and seem to be nothing else. But what about when we address each other or label each other in our minds?

Working as a host at a restaurant, I witness a variety of moods and manners of speech in people; some are kind, others incredibly rude. The result has been that I am more attentive both to the way others speak and the way I speak to others…because it matters. It is my job to be kind to everyone who walks through the door, and I take that seriously, but that does not mean that I enjoy when people are rude to me when I am trying to help seat them in a timely fashion.

I will be the first to admit that sometimes unkind words drift through my mind regarding particularly rude people at work, and that affects my heart toward those people. Do I manage to still be nice? Yes, but how I label a person in my mind completely changes who they become in my eyes. “That _____!” versus, “Maybe s/he had a bad day,” sets an entirely different expectation of who a person is or how that person will continue to act throughout the night. If I write someone off as a jerk, I give them no chance at redemption, and sometimes redemption happens! One such instance happened in the past month when a woman was outright hostile to me when I kindly told her there would be a wait for a table (clearly, as all the tables were full), but twenty minutes later she came and was very contrite and apologized for being rude! Had I been rude in return, I am certain she would not have come to apologize to me. But posturing myself toward her as someone who was frazzled rather than someone whose character was mean allowed me to still be kind to her and for her to remember that she, too, was kind.

This concept carries over into the rest of life as well. We live in a society wherein individuals feel increasingly entitled to having what they want, when they want it, even if it means trampling someone else, and I think part of that stems from the sort of language we use to address each other. People are calling each other – whether earnestly or in jest, it matters not – bitches, hoes, dicks, and other such names that certainly I would not and most likely you would not like to be called (if you want that, someone needs to sit you down and talk with you!). Men objectify women, women bemoan the entire male population, parents call their children “a pain in the butt” and expect to somehow still have a good attitude about their kids, and brothers and sisters call each other names.

Words are words, right? Wrong. Words matter. Calling your child a pain in the butt instead of calling her by name creates a vast difference in your heart posture toward that child and in that child’s concept of who s/he is and will become. It is harder to be unkind to James or Ashley than it is to be ugly to “that d-bag” or “that beezy”. We do not always know people’s names, but we can remind ourselves that they all have names. People say (and some research says) that the sound of our own names is one of the safest sounds people can hear, and a name signifies a real, live, breathing person with feelings. The second someone becomes an a-hole in our minds, s/he is for a moment not that living, breathing person with feelings. His/her identity in our minds becomes “a-hole.” And how you treat an a-hole is different from how you treat Bev or Scott.

I may not know your name, but I would like to label you kindly because how I treat you stems from that label, and should I speak that label out loud, it also affects your concept of yourself whether you would like to admit it or not. I would also like to invite you to join me in labeling others kindly. It may seem small, but it has the potential to greatly improve the way we treat each other.

Pound Cake

By: Javan Furlow

What if… FUTURE?

By: Steve Holt Sr.

Well, the past is gone, and the present is upon us.  We can do nothing to affect those two time dimensions.  But, ah, the future!  The future is ours to shape based on what we learned in the past and choices we make today.  It will take courage.  It will take skill.  It will take humility.  It will take sacrifice.  It will take repentance.  Most of all, to return the church to the path God had marked out for her when Jesus called her into being, it will take the power of God; the love of Jesus; and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  I’m game.  Join me in moving toward this neo-restoration ideal!  

What if we stop playing church and actually become the church Jesus envisioned?

What if all the money we give to institutional churches is spent helping the poor get through the day, gain job skills, eat better, raise their children, get healthcare, find housing?

What if the $7.1 billion that religious institutions receive in tax exemptions per year is used instead for community development, addiction programs, job training, better schools, better teachers, better roads, safer bridges, law enforcement, fighting injustice?

What if you begin to see your neighborhood as your parish, your mission field?

What if your house becomes the center of neighborhood hospitality, safety, encouragement and enlightenment?

What if we stop studying the Bible and actually become God’s letter to the world?  (Haven’t most of us spent enough time digesting, analyzing, discussing, contemplating and regurgitating those ancient words?)

What if every meal reminds us of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus?  What if we began doing everything in remembrance of him?  What if our remembrance caused us to imitate him?

What if we stop trying to convert people and just love them in the name of Jesus?

What if we just admit to the world that Christians don’t act any better than any other religious people and start trying to outdo all others in love?

What if we stop talking and began listening?

What if we start understanding what’s behind the phenomenal rise in numbers of coffee shops, bars, social media, yoga classes, house churches, communes, etc. and became participants in such “communities” where people can see Jesus in us?

What if we stop listening to preachers, priests and rabbis and started listing exclusively to the Holy Spirit?

If you’re a preacher, priest or rabbi, what if you just shut up?

What if we consider as “elder,” “deacon,” “prophet,” or “apostle” anyone who has the heart of Jesus?

What if we stop buying stuff and start giving stuff away?

What if each of us knows exactly why God has put us on this earth and start doing that?

What if our mission over our remaining years is to help establish vibrant communities of God within easy reach of every person on earth?

What if we begin embracing foreigners as beloved by God as our own citizens?

What if we begin treating this planet as if it might be where heaven ultimately is?

What if we begin chillin’? Laughing more?  Fretting less? Playing more? Working less?  Loving all?  Hating none?  Sharing more?  Hoarding less?

How would the world be different if all believers live out these “what ifs” in the days to come?

(Disclaimer:  The three lists, “What if…past, present and future,” are offered semi tongue-in-cheek.  I hope you won’t judge me too harshly for attempting to stir our minds to consider other ways to think about our faith and practices.  I hope we can agree that things don’t look too rosy right now for religion.  Churches are getting older and dying.  Christendom is not taken seriously by most of the world.  Something has to happen.  Help me out here:  what are your thoughts on what has to happen to regain the spirit of God’s people?  Believe me, at this point, no opinion or idea is too silly or far-fetched.  One condition, don’t offer something that we have been doing all along.  Insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.  We need your input.  Care to comment?)

What if… PRESENT?

By: Steve Holt Sr.

What if Jesus’s disciples reestablish the household as the primary Kingdom expression on earth?

What if every Christian sells his/her house in the ‘burbs and moves to the most depressed section of their city to love his/her neighbors as him/herself?

What if every disciple considers the three homes on either side of and the five homes across the street from his/her own as their primary mission field?

What if disciples consider the store clerk, grocery sacker, work associate, plumber, tree guy, mail carrier, door-to-door solicitor, barista, bartender, contractor, bingo caller and ticket taker as their primary mission field?

What if every cent Christians once gave to church is now used for the benefit of the poor and those who need extra help?

What if all Christians love and care for the earth as much as they love and care for their cars?

What if believers listen first to personal prompts from the Holy Spirit rather than the voice of their preacher, priest or rabbi?

What if believers see people of other faiths as family rather than enemies?

What of Jesus’s followers see every encounter with another believer, no matter when or how many, as church?

What if Christians see every meal as the Lord’s Supper?

What if every believer sees scripture as a guide to refining self rather than condemning others?

What if believers are no longer offended by four-letter words?

What if all religious organizations realize there is no divine authorization for their existence and close up shop?

What if the physical properties of all religious organizations are transformed into health and wellness clinics, community centers, commodities distribution centers, housing, hospitals, free laundries, public showers, educational centers, emergency shelters and day-care centers?

What if the best interest of the pregnant teen, condemned felon, death row inmate, drug addict, or adulterer is first and foremost in the hearts of all believers?

What if all believers truly live as if our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers of this dark world?

How would the world be different if all believers live out the “what ifs” today?

What if… PAST?

By: Steve Holt Sr.

Despite mankind’s apostasy, miscalculations, sin, evil and downright stupidity through the centuries, God has preserved a remnant of followers—called the church—on this earth.  From any angle, Christendom appears divided, disconnected, inept, impotent, and incapable.  But here we are, nonetheless.  How would it have been different if believers had continued in the teachings and practices of the One we claim as Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?  Ponder these “what ifs.”

———————–

What if Jesus’s disciples had continued doing exactly what he asked them to do on his last day…make disciples?

What if the household had continued to be the center of Kingdom activity on earth rather than a centrally located building?

What if believers had continued to let the Holy Spirit guide them into “all truth” rather than a preacher, priest or rabbi?

What if the poor and disenfranchised had continued to be the focus of God’s people as they were for Jesus?

What if Jesus’s people had continued to be of “one heart and mind” after the first century ended?

What if believers had continued to “share everything they had?”

What if Jesus’s people had continued to make sure there was “no needy person among them”?

What if the church had continued to reside on the fringes of society instead of being legitimized and made the official state religion?

What if the certainty of a risen Savior had continued to be the believers’ prime motivation for following Jesus’s way all the way to death?

What if believers had continued to seek poverty, mourning, meekness, hunger, thirst, mercy, purity, peace and persecution—rather than life, liberty, happiness, fullness, independence and power?

What if God’s people had chosen lives of poverty rather than seeking to “better” themselves at the expense of the poor?

What if Christians had seen through all attempts to make their faith fashionable and chose to remain in the shadows with the alienated?

What if believers had continued to deem Jesus the one and only head of the church?

What if the Bible had not been holy-fied, idolized and standardized, but believers took Jesus’s teaching to heart and shared the gospel with only deeds?

What if believers through the ages had risen up to challenge atrocities done in the name of God?

What if believers through the ages had risen up to challenge atrocities period?

How would the world be different today if Christians had practiced the “what ifs”?

(Next time:  “What if…(present)?”

Essential

By: Laura Callarman

Trust me when I say I’m as big of a fan of house flipping shows as some of the rest of you. Not everyone understands the excitement that can build around the practice of taking something old, outdated, and falling apart and restoring it so that it’s fresh, beautiful, creatively designed, and truly functional, but I do. I do so much that I’m halfway contemplating the idea of getting into the house flipping business myself (with some much needed partners and attention to a steep learning curve, I’ll admit).

So when I found myself watching a couple of episodes of HGTV’s “Love It or List It” this past weekend, it was in large part an enjoyable experience. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the show, it follows a family who are living in a space that for whatever reason simply isn’t functioning well for them anymore. A designer and a realtor compete for their loyalty, as the first remodels portions of their current home to better meet their needs and the second finds alternate properties that fit their expectations. The designer tries to get them to “love” their current home with its updates, and the realtor attempts to convince them to “list it” and move into the new home he’s found for them.

The creativity displayed in this show stirs something deep within me, a God-given passion for beauty and delight. And for that I rejoice. But the show also has some other, less positive effects. And it sparked a variety of thoughts, one of which I’d like to share with you briefly.

As fun as it can be to watch, “Love It or List It” betrays attitudes of excessive consumerism and self-absorption that are rampant—and destructive—among us. Here these people are having their already nice homes remodeled and spruced up by a professional, seeing absolutely gorgeous alternate options with all the amenities, and yet they are never satisfied. They can always find something to complain about, usually many somethings to complain about. I won’t go into the details (or even touch on the hyper-marketing in the commercials), but suffice it to say that in the midst of such creativity and wealth, all they choose to do is complain about the color of the carpet, the size of the closet, or the fact that they can see their neighbors from the back yard. After watching a couple of episodes, I found myself feeling downcast, cynical, and even angry.

You see, I came away with the realization that most of us, myself included, don’t know the first thing about what truly is essential. We’ve lost the meaning of the word. We get so caught up in what we want and what we think we need (whether that’s a second bathroom, an attentive spouse, the perfect job, or just a sense of ease and happiness), and we start believing the lie that what we have—and what we have in God—is not enough. So we work harder and harder, using up all our time and energy in an attempt to find comfort, pleasure, or (perhaps most elusive) meaning. All because we think these things are, in one way or another, essential.

Yet all the while, Jesus has been beckoning to us, inviting us into the one and only thing that truly is essential: attention to him. (Luke 10:41-42)

Yes, of course we need to eat. And sleeping with a roof over our heads is nice too, perhaps even necessary in certain climates. It’s not that I’m saying we can get along just fine without things like air and water and human attention. God designed us to require those things in order to function well. But we were also designed to require connection to God in order to function well, in order to even function at all, I’d say. And compared to that—that deep connection with God from which all true life, all purpose, and all other good things flow—everything else seems insignificant indeed.

My point here isn’t to say that you need to simplify your life to the point that you have, literally, nothing but the clothes on your back (though there certainly is a great deal of room for most of us to consider greater simplicity and the freedom and joys it can bring — see Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess).

My point is that instead of allotting so much of our time and energy to pursuing the things of this life that are so transient, perhaps we should turn our attention to the one thing, the one thing in this life that truly is essential: God. Let’s seek the Kingdom first, seek God’s presence and desires for our lives first, seek first things first, and let everything else fall into place as it should (Matthew 6:25-34). I, for one, am convinced that if we do, the beauty, the creativity, the restoration, and the true life that we’ll see as a result will make even the most exciting of the house flipping shows pale in comparison.