conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Search Results

How to be with a God intent on reunion?

leave a comment »

Waiting is one surefire method.

Our limitations lead us to ask, but then drop us until ask is met with answer.

Waiting is the reexamination mill through which motive, intent, goal and dream are ground into a gray paste to be reconfigured and reissued—or tossed. It’s a necessary process. Part of the human condition. No one escapes waiting.

Seeking while waiting is key. Seeking with others who also wait is even better.


Image Credit: Typeverything

Written by kirkistan

July 14, 2011 at 7:56 am

Posted in curiosities

Tagged with ,

Collaboration in Real Life: The Book Cover

with 2 comments

Self-promotion is stinky poop

This week I spoke with a copywriter who writes plays and novels on the side. But he doesn’t work too hard on promoting his finished bits of literature. He prefers to stick to the writing part (who doesn’t?). This copywriter is not atypical on two counts:

  1. If you don’t need to get your message out (that is, move product to earn the feeble coin a book represents) you can let it languish.
  2. Copywriters are bad at self-promotion.
Listen Talk Camp Fire-RD-10212014

Roger’s cover

Not all copywriters, and probably not the copywriter I spoke with. But many are bad at self-promotion. It’s funny because while copywriters have insight into the psychology of business problems and use divergent thinking to solve those problems, they have a hard time turning that insight onto their own projects.

And that is true for all of us.

It’s not just because self-promotion has the feeling of swimming in a septic tank. It is also because we are truly blinded to the very things we are most passionate about. We’re typically deep inside those passions, and we have no clue what it all looks like from the outside. That’s why we need to tell others and get the outside insight that telling affords.

A client and friend provided a quick insight that has proved far better than anything this insider could produce. My first book, ListenTalk: When Conversation is an Act of God, is on its way through this marathon called publishing. Encapsulating the message into an image and a few words has proved daunting to me. Roger’s cover, with the fire, well, most people love it better than my covers. I’m not bitter, I’m grateful: grateful to have people around who can offer very tangible insights. These insights regularly, well, cover my arse. And I’ve always maintained that I am neither a designer nor photographer.

I thank God for people with such quick insight.


My covers.

A word about ListenTalk versus “conversation is an engine”

If you’ve dropped by this blog, you may have noticed I hit on different topics as they relate to conversation. Business and the business of writing, and the business of how faith and craft and work fit together are key drivers for me as I write.

My first ongoing project along these lines was to develop a sort of practical theology of persuasion—something I was desperate to understand as a copywriter who regularly trusts in God. That is what ListenTalk represents. It takes some topics from “conversation is an engine” but develops them specifically for people of faith. Here’s the draft copy from the back cover:

“Talk is cheap.”

So we say, but deep down we know different.

We know talk is a potent engine for war and love and all that lies between. Talk is our entertainment and our tool for exploring every relationship. Talk is an economic engine. Lives change—culture changes—when we talk together. In many ways, the future is patterned after our speech.

And this: even God responds to talk.

Yet we pay scarce attention to the working parts of conversation: the listening, the words used, and the intent behind the words. And we hardly think about God’s purpose in speaking, and how God speaks today with fierce desire for reunion—and how that desire motivates all God says and does.

Every day, people work out God’s desire in thousands of ordinary ways. Not so much through sermons and high-minded programs as through the ordinary conversations among themselves.

ListenTalk will help you to re-think what God accomplishes in even your smallest, most ordinary conversations.

ListenTalk is a wonderful book with deep wisdom, practical advice, and heart-warming encouragement. Read it, converse with it, and share it with others.” –Dr. Quentin Schultze, Calvin College

“In our contemporary world where words and ideas seem to divide far more than they unite, ListenTalk provides an antidote of balance and sanity. ListenTalk reminds us of a power that can lead to greater understanding, intimacy, collaboration, and even personal transformation…culminating in deepening our life with God.” –Judith Hougen, University of Northwestern—St. Paul



Hey—wait a second. You could buy ListenTalk!


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Ahh: Back To Work

with 2 comments

ListenTalk: The Promise. The Mission. The Chapters.

Dear Reader: A word, please.

Speakers' Corner, London, mid-1960s

Speakers’ Corner, London, mid-1960s

Over the next few months I’ll be writing in response to a couple classes I’m teaching at the University of Northwestern—St. Paul. That means I’ll be dealing with questions and ideas that pop up in class. The classes tend to be quite collaborative and the students have interesting contributions that I may work out in this forum.

I’m also trying to work out how the notion of ListenTalk applies to the different audiences I work with as a copywriter. ListenTalk: Conversation is an Engine is built on a theological basis and is first a meditation on a new (or—I maintain—a very old) way of looking at how we spend time with each other. Over the course of the year I hope to enlarge the argument to help workers talk with bosses (for instance) and vice versa. I’d like to enlarge the argument so conservatives and liberals can put down their label (and libel) machines to engage in productive talk. I hope to work out the notion of commercial conversation so companies can begin to talk with customers in a way that treats people as rational collaborators versus emotive flesh-encased ATMs.

But first, and to bring a bit more focus on this initial argument, I present the promise and mission of ListenTalk, as well as the chapter synopses:

ListenTalk Promise:

Read ListenTalk and you will be stimulated to reconsider how even your smallest, most ordinary conversations are part of a much larger story.

ListenTalk Mission:

ListenTalk was designed to help individuals in faith communities see how God works through the most ordinary and common conversations—and to see how those conversations transform everything from personal calendars to cultural mandates.

ListenTalk Chapter Synopses:

  1. The Preacher, Farmer and Everybody Else. What do you expect from a conversation? Preachers preach and hope for the best. But farmers work the soil in a studied way that collaborates for growth. Meet five thinkers who have studied the ways and means and opportunities hidden under the surface of ordinary conversations. These five show that ordinary conversation is full of collaborative potential and regularly turns into some of the most important, creative and lasting work we can do together.
  2. Intent Changes How We Act Together. If we enter a conversation itching for a fight, that’s just what we’ll find. But we can change our intent. And one thinker shows a better way to engage in persuasion, while the apostle Paul shows God’s intent to pull us toward Him without a fight.
  3. How To Be with a God Bent on Reunion. The first thing to know is that conversation with God is not limited to a lifetime. Second: talking with God over a lifetime tends to change a person. Third: what does it look like to befriend, follow and serve a God whose full energy is spent on connecting with people?
  4. Your Church as a Conversation Factory. Peter found a way to incorporate God’s old words into a very new situation. Conversations among believers do the same, person to person, with world-changing results. How conversations emerging from within a church change everything outside the church.
  5. Extreme Listening. Extreme listening opens us to live in a larger story: Just ask Hannah. Five misconceptions about listening. Become an extreme listener by adopting three attitudes, four motivations and three strategies.
  6. A Guide to Honest Talk. How to walk your talk in three steps: 1. Show up. 2. Know this about people. 3. Join in and move out.
  7. Prayer Changes Our Listening and Talking. What really happens when we engage in conversation with God? Conversation with God as our model for talking with each other.
  8. Go ListenTalk. We are most alive when helping others see the true thing inside us. Marching orders and opportunities.


Image credit: Moyra Peralta via Spitalfields Life

The 99 and the One

leave a comment »

Merry Christmas! ChristmasTree-12252013

Over the course of 2013 I’ve voiced criticisms and critiques of religion and Christianity, trying to sort culture from subculture and truth from fiction. Eisegesis vs. exegesis. Questioning which texts I privilege and why. Such unwinding and rewinding seems like waking up to the world around me. I’m mostly happy with the process. But it is also unsettling.

One enduring piece of this—one mystery that pulls me in again and again—is the birthday we celebrate today.

It is always dangerous to reduce this to that, so without reducing, I’ll simply point to this small story and say I like how it sets the mystery front and center:

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?  And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

Some will ask “What is astray?” Others: “What is perish?” Some will say, “Why ‘Father?’” All reasonable questions and of a piece with how we process the world today. But this notion that God wants relationship with people is mysterious and, for me, quite compelling.

I suspect 2014 will be even more full of mystery.


Image credit: Dumb Sketch by Kirkistan

Written by kirkistan

December 25, 2013 at 9:24 am

Prayer is just magical thinking. Right?

with 4 comments

Asking for your own private cascade of miracles11252013-2-la-table-de-pique-nique-architecture-by-benedetto-buffalino-designboom-03

Magical thinking is the hope that something out of nowhere will happen and change everything. When I was a kid writing stories and got stuck, it was magical thinking that rescued: suddenly the space ship landed and my main character got on and was whisked away. These were not cohesive stories. As a kid I engaged in magical thinking when I had a speech to give the next day: “Maybe the Russians will bomb us tonight and I won’t have to give that speech.”

That seemed like a fair trade-off at the time.

Some of my friends will say religionists routinely engage in magical thinking. It is this notion that someone (God) will rescue me from the pit I’ve landed in or the cul-de-sac I’ve driven into. I cannot disagree: I often have more than passing interest in rescue to come from above. Whether a work issue or a personal issue, health or wealth or life or death. Any and all of this succumbs to magical thinking. And that is what prayer is, right? A request for rescue, the more magical the better.

Magic defies logic by definition. Buying lottery tickets is magical thinking. Wearing lucky underwear on game day is magical thinking. Avoiding the professor’s eye contact is magical thinking.

But is prayer magical thinking? Sometimes, certainly: I hope I did not pray for Russian bombs to avoid my fourth grade speech on the cold war. If I did I was engaging in magical thinking.

Is prayer always magical thinking? No.

Can you bear a bit of nuance?

Say there is a God (this is not a given for some readers) and this God hears pleas for mercy. It could be that God engineers circumstance in mighty, global ways that I can neither see nor understand. As a person of faith I believe this is possible and even likely. But magical thinking asks that it happen for me and mine. Magical thinking is always about my zip code, my location, my self-interest. This is precisely where magical thinking and prayer part ways. If there is a God (and I believe there is), then prayer for magical interventions in my life will fall short. That’s because God is not just for me. God is for others too. Many others. If God is bent on reunion with people, then prayer is not answered according to magical thinking, but instead according to some other logic. The person maturing in faith starts to parse out the differences between magical thinking and honest prayer by allowing for silence. The person maturing in faith looks for this other logic.



Image credit: benedetto bufalino via designboom/thisisn’thappiness

Written by kirkistan

November 25, 2013 at 8:52 am

Posted in Ancient Text, Prayer, soviet

Tagged with

Juxtapose: How To Build a Church that Counters Culture

with 5 comments

07112013-tumblr_mpqvswZg4K1qbcporo3_500Theological Roots and Practical Hope for Extreme Listening and Honest Talk

A couple nights ago Mrs. Kirkistan and I had dinner with old friends we’d not seen in some time. It was refreshing to catch up and there was lots of that free laughter that happens when old jokes and forgotten quirks reappear. At one point someone asked whether we were hopeful about the state of the evangelical church. We each offered an opinion.

Mine: “No.”

It’s actually a qualified “No”: my sense is that the evangelicalism has largely lost its way following industrial-strength, church-growth formulas and it has also sold its soul to political machinery. Following these tangents we’ve lost the essence of what it means to counter culture by speaking the words that stand outside of time.

I’m actually quite hopeful about what God is doing—especially in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. We’ve seen a number of groups trying very new things while employing deeply-rooted devotion to sacred texts and veering from partisan nonsense. So my sense is that evangelicalism is morphing and, frankly (I hope) growing up.

For a couple years now I’ve been laying down about a thousand words a day toward this book dealing with the theological and philosophical roots of communication. It’s been a one-step-forward-seven-steps-back process. But I’ve just finished Chapter 8 and by the end of July I’ll deliver the manuscript to my editor friend. I’ll likely self-publish it later this year—I’ll probably have to pay people to read it (Know this: I cannot afford more than $5 a reader. So both of you readers give a call when you are ready. I’ll put a fresh Lincoln in the Preface.)

The book offers new ways to think about the ordinary interactions we have every day. It draws on a few philosophically-minded thinkers and reconsiders some old Bible stories to reframe the opportunity of conversation. It also provides a kick in the butt to move out of our familiar four walls to engage deeply with culture—but not from a standpoint of judgment, rather from a deep curiosity and love. I’ll be sharpening the marketing messages over the next few months, but here are the chapter titles so far:

Would you stop browsing at Barnes and Noble long enough to pick up a book that looked like this?

Would you stop browsing at Barnes and Noble long enough to pick up a book that looked like this?

  1. The Preacher, Farmer and Everybody Else
  2. Intent Changes How We Act Together
  3. How to be with the God Intent on Reunion
  4. Your Church as a Conversation Factory
  5. Extreme Listening
  6. A Guide to Honest Talk
  7. Prayer Informs Listening and Talking
  8. Go Juxtapose

Let me know if anything of what I’ve said sounds like you might actually be interested in reading. However: I can only afford to buy a limited number of readers.


Image credit: Daniele Buetti via 2headedsnake

Pray Like You Talk. Talk Like You Pray.

with one comment

How to be.

Back when I was newish to this notion of pursuing reunion with the Creator, I began to wonder about prayer. Was it just a kind of thick wishing; full of detail and electric longing, uttered into the silence? The practices of prayer remain mysterious to this day, but way back then my buddy said something I’ve never forgotten:

“Look. Just pray like you talk. Simple stuff. Forget the impressive words. Just talk.”

That proved useful. It still makes sense to me today.

Prayer is an articulated event. A speech-act that causes things to happen out in the world—though not exactly the way you might hope. This is what people who pray believe (people like me): that by talking to the One who controls everything, laying out the case, and leaving it there, stuff starts to happen. Of course, dictation and demands are fruitless. So are bargains. Prayer doesn’t work that way—it’s not exactly a reciprocal relationship.

But what if my friend’s advice worked the other way too: what if that easy conversation full of detail and electric longing was a part of our daily, hum-drum human conversations? So rather than utter desire into silence we uttered it into relationship? That does not sound like wishing into the silence. People would be listening—the very people right around you. They would hear. And sympathize. Or challenge. You’d get known. Your peaks and valleys would be known. There would be no hiding. If our talk were like our prayer, there would be a measure of freedom, and a whole lot of assumptions about the level of interest in our conversation partner.

No. Now I see that would never work.

But. Wait—that characteristic of being known is a peak human experience. What if we were designed for that very thing?

That would be something.


Image Credit: Kris Graves via Lenscratch

Written by kirkistan

July 15, 2012 at 5:00 am

Risky and Risqué Reading for Christian Copywriting Students

with 5 comments

Reading is dangerous. And profitable.

On Tuesday I start teaching Freelance Copywriting (Eng3316) at Northwestern College in Saint Paul, Minnesota. These are junior and seniors largely from the English department, but also from Journalism, Communications and Business. They are generally excellent writers and engaged students—people eager to take their faith into the street. We’ll use a few thought-provoking texts that deal with the business side of copywriting, along with the what to expect as a copywriter and how to get better at producing salable ideas (Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer, Iezzi’s The Idea Writers, Young’s A Technique for Producing Ideas). But I’ve become convinced the real-time critiques of working copywriters around the web are just as helpful if not more useful than our texts. It’s just that the language and images used in the critiques often veer outside the lines of nice and polite, though I would argue the critiques follow the line of conversation Jesus the Christ encouraged with regular people like me.


I’ve devised a warning:

Question: Is this overkill? My goal is to help prepare thoughtful writers who fold God’s message of reunion into their communication work and live it out in a world that operates on a very different basis. I think students will understand. I’m not sure the administration will.

What do you think?


Image Credit: Chris Buzelli via 2headedsnake

%d bloggers like this: