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Archive for the ‘Ancient Text’ Category

“How Can I Help You?”

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Hungry for Power Vs. Repairing the World

This question is an invitation—a beautiful invitation.

If you ask me how you can help, I have an immediate gut response: “Yes! Wait. What do I need right now?” Your question makes me an active participant in my life. The question reminds me I have choices to make about my needs. Do I need someone to hold a door or a wrench or a flashlight? Do I need a kick in the butt or a power nap?

What I need right now depends on what I am trying to do at this moment. But longer term, what does an employee need from a boss to do her job? What does a student need from an instructor to apply these writing lessons to his life? You can see the question initiates a call and response—like most everything with communication. A question that needs an answer. A draft followed by a revision.

From Christian theology, I might call the question an artifact of kenosis, that notion of self-giving that is so hard for us power-hungry humans to live out. Then again, maybe it is less an artifact and more an aspiration. Maybe the question is a statement about the person I hope to become: caring and thoughtful and using my time and attention to help you reach your goal. But still aspirational, because I have a feeling you may actually tell me what you need. And then I have to put down my book or turn off the TV or be late to work to help you.

No matter how you look at it, the question asks you to know something about yourself and about your journey through life. What do you need to move forward in your journey right now? Back to theology for a moment: The psalmists who wrote the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134 in the Christian Bible) knew to query the creator and to articulate their need, whether for food or stability or growth or to beat up enemies. These authors (and generations of people who pray) had the sense that the Holy One was waiting in the wings with lovingkindness (“chesed”). They (the authors along with the many who pray) made a career of depending on that offer of help.

Maybe our use of the “How can I help you?” depends on the psalmist’s impulse. We thwart our own power-hungry instincts when we ask it of those who have no chance of moving us forward. But we ask it because of the kind of people we want to be and because we believe there is a deep well of chesed out there.

Maybe we ask “How can I help you?” because we are weary of constant rage and yearn for a vocation of repairing the world.

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Image credits: Kirk Livingston

3 Ways to Escape Your Tribe

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I love ya. I gotta go.

You’ve started to entertain the notion that keeping identity with your tribe makes less sense than ever before. And you wonder at your own sanity because the facts before you do not match the story your tribe keeps telling:

  • Maybe your tribe believes one person in your office has nothing good to say, but you think otherwise.
  • Maybe your tribe is willing to look the other way as the elected official—whom the tribe helped elect—continues to lie, goes against the sacred center of your tribe’s beliefs and behaves increasingly erratically.
  • Maybe your tribe shuts down alternate readings of your sacred text because those readings don’t suit the current ideological goals of the people calling the shots.manysigns-2-20170126

For these and any number of other reasons, it may be time to leave your tribe. But how? It’s tricky, because most of your friends and your family friends and friends of your friends are in the tribe. Maybe you spend all your time with these people. Maybe you live with these people. But here are three starting points:

  1. Check in with soul-friends. You know people who are like-minded and are driven less by ideology and more by relationship and caring. Find these folks and build trust with them. Spend time with them and share your concerns. Ask questions together and see if a new story emerges.
  2. Read and talk widely. Get different opinions from diverse people. Look for ways to read books that challenge the orthodoxy. The good news about challenge is that what is true remains while what is false slips away. But reading is best when you share points of interest with others—especially with those soul-friends. Look for opportunities to step outside your tribe: the person at work or in class who is clearly coming from a different perspective. Who knows where friendship and insight might come from? Actively seek others with questions, remember that you are not alone with your questions.
  3. Have Faith and Take Courage. Hold your core your beliefs firmly and ask questions of the periphery. This is the time-honored way of artists, writers, thinkers, activists and leaders. See where the questions lead—this is the way of sanity and art. Turning a blind eye to inconsistencies and discontinuities leads to a very bad place, a place where reality differs from tribal knowledge.

There is a way forward and you will find it.

Good luck and God-speed.

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Image: Kirk Livingston

Sometimes a nightmare is planted in your soul

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Tommy, you were so right.

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Written by kirkistan

July 2, 2016 at 10:08 am

“Hope and phantastic expectations spend much of our lives”

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

May 19, 2016 at 7:58 am

Is There No Antidote for Our Perpetual Push for Power?

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Some say there is

Trump wants power, of course. So do each of the Republican candidates for president. Just like the Democrat candidates—every candidate wants power and pledges to do right by those who grant them power. We are no different from those candidates:  We all want power. We want colleagues to listen to us, spouses to bend to our will, children to follow our directives.

We want what we want. Especially because what we want is good and pure and right, holy and God-ordained.

di Rosa Art Museum

di Rosa Art Museum

One ancient writer thought there might be a different way. Old (dead) Dr. Luke quoted Jesus as saying you are better off finding a way to help the helpless then you are arguing over who is most powerful. Helping those who have no way to pay you back opens doors to a different sort of life that has very little to do with amassing power.

In fact—all that energy you spent manipulating and maneuvering into power—it’s not likely to lead you to the kind of solid ground that matters most.

What would our presidential politics look like if candidates thought about serving rather than voicing shameful prejudices that pry power from blocks of fearful voters? Likely that would not be covered by the media, because there is no story in that.

The institutions and organizations that own the candidates would not like that.

But humans might actually flourish in those conditions.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

August 26, 2015 at 10:01 am

Some things float.

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Wasn’t the calcified certainty of religion the very thing Jesus objected to most? That certainty was both misplaced and used as authoritarian cudgel.

I’m with @ChicagoRabbi on this one: “Humility keeps it real.”

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

June 15, 2015 at 9:49 am

How to Tell Yourself the Truth (Hint: Start with an insult)

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Where’s John the Baptist when you need him?

John’s task was to prepare the way of the Lord. That looked and sounded like insults to a crowd already well aware of the law and prophets and how to navigate the ancient texts. It’s just that the crowd’s navigation allowed them to do what they wanted while ignoring the invigorating spirit of the texts.

Thus John’s insults.

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It’s easy and natural to take insults as insults (that is the intention, after all). But to see them as opportunities? That actually happens to most of us: insults become opportunities…ten years later. It takes ten years, or maybe twenty, to see the truth of what that busybody meddler said. And then in conversation with a friend or your grown-up kid or spouse you find yourself saying, “They were actually spot-on, though I denied it at the time.”

A few days ago an acquaintance called me out on one my typical innocuous and benign conversations about copywriting and communication—he resisted my assertions and would not back down. His insult landed wide of the mark and made no sense to anyone else either, but it got me thinking about my approach to a particular set of clients I work with. In fact, my acquaintance’s sharp barb started to reveal a truth about my approach that has since proved quite useful.

This is atypical.

I usually spend a decade stewing on an insult and devising comebacks and elaborate retributions. But what would life be like if I/we could be more open-handed about criticism?

That might help us grow beyond our blind spots—which might prove useful.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

June 9, 2015 at 8:23 am

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