conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Archive for the ‘church is not an industry’ Category

To My Friends Who Have Abandoned Faith

with 8 comments

Kathleen Norris: Acedia and Me03232014-9645679679_4550e7fedb_h

If you’ve been turned off by the excesses of evangelicalism or the big-business, industrial mindset of a megachurch, or if you’ve become weary of a clergy-centric approach to faith, or if you are tired of trite, pat answer to life’s really thorny questions, consider reading Kathleen Norris’ Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life (NY: Riverhead books, 2008).

If you’ve turned your back on faith entirely and see no point in going back to the social club that seemed to promise transcendence, especially then, read Acedia and Me. If you’ve become weary of the automatic linkage between Republicanism and Christianity, well Kathleen Norris does not speak to that sorrow. But, patience: within a generation that unfortunate concatenation will be far less automatic.

Kathleen Norris is an engaging writer who addresses the life of one’s spirit wholly without the overweening sentimentality that usually comes with such discussions. Ms. Norris sought answers from an unlikely set of conversation partners: old dead guys who wrote when people could count the centuries on two hands or even one. Many of these old desert monks had abandoned the newly popular, powerful, and politically-connected church. Instead they sought the quiet of the desert to confront their demons.

Acedia, which is perhaps the heart of Ms. Norris’ book, is not easily translated. Some read it as depression. Some read it as sloth or boredom or torpor. Ms. Norris traces the word through the ups and downs of her own life as a writer. Her own marriage is a key player in the story and she seems to hold little back in illustrating her struggle.

I was particularly taken with her definition of sin, which had less to do with breaking a set of rules and more to do with recognizing that people are made in the image of God and there is something hopeful and fetching about aligning one’s direction to recognize that.

In the end, she has a fresh take on one’s faith. You may agree. You may disagree. But you’ll be engaged. And better yet, you may even hold off from tossing everything over.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

March 23, 2014 at 6:30 pm

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

Please Write This Book: Seminarians in the Salt Mines

with 2 comments

Why I left seminary and why I came back12022013-tumblr_mwvjf1w1eh1sj66fco1_1280

Short Answer: Seminary trains people to be pastors (no surprise to anyone but me) and while I was interested in God and theology and life’s big questions, I had no intention of being a pastor. My calling was in the world of work and getting stuff done (after a fashion: I still prefer thinking about doing to actual doing). But life’s big questions kept popping up.

Long Answer: one may run but one cannot forever hide from one’s life purpose. For me the big questions reasserted in the regular world most of us live in (versus a churchy, holy world where magical thinking sometimes takes precedent).

One of the big questions had to do with what encouragement looks like when stripped of official roles and titles and authority. To encourage—especially to encourage others to seek after God—floats as calling alongside any and all professions, roles, work and lifestyles. Which is why I finished the theology degree: because I want to encourage people in my profession (communicators, copywriters, art directors, marketers) and concomitant professions (all the folks I interact with every week: engineering, leadership, professors, photographers, pastors, scientists, all manner of physician, nurses, entrepreneurs, students, writers, editors, publishers…it’s a long list for any of us).

There’s a new emphasis out these days among pastors and theological educators. Well, not so much new as renewed: pastors have suddenly realized the world of work has not/does not/will not respond to churchy topics. Tim Keller’s work is pointing people that way and new organizations are springing up all the time, like the Bethel Work with Purpose initiative and Tom Nelson’s Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. I’ve written optimistically and pessimistically about the attempts because I wonder at the intentions behind them:

  1. Are theological leaders focused on the workplace to enlarge their borders and so pull more people into the orbit of their particular organization?
    • Is the workplace viewed as a missional last-frontier where all should be trained to verbalize dogmatic jiu jitsu?
  2. Or is the emphasis truly on encouraging regular folks (like me) to understand how God works in and through our work—and setting us free to go & do guilt-free?
    • Can insular institutions release people to sort out what’s redemptive about their work—even if their ultimate answer has little to do with growing their local institution?

Perhaps I’m asking for too much nuance: is this an institution that focuses in or out? And if it focuses out, what does that mean for sending people and what does it mean for those authorities whose income depends on tethering people to the institutional focus?

Seminarians in the Salt Mines

Please write “Seminarians in the Salt Mines.”

  • Start by showing how the God of the Bible was a God who attended to physical work and how work is no less a ministry than caring for souls.
  • Help seminarians understand that calling is as much about dealing with the issues of work as it is people’s souls and in fact, people’s souls are laid bare in and through their toil. Or at least it can be that way.
  • Have a chapter or section about the horizons of work: how looking out at a lifetime of work forms one’s perspective about what is important and how to spend time.
  • Include stories of people who have preached the gospel with the work of their hands, people like Wendell Berry and Frank Laubach. Every chapter could have a story that showed a Wendell Berry-like faithfulness to a community and to substantive faith-giving practices in the world.
  • Include stories from people actively pulling faith into their work: not the superstars seeking national attention—just the folks right around you.

I’d read that book. I’d buy that book.


Image credit: National Archives of Scotland via Salvage

Written by kirkistan

December 2, 2013 at 5:00 am

Chris Armstrong Just Said Something Insightful About Work

with one comment

Your Actions Keep Shouting To Me11202013-tumblr_mtyv2r6hoQ1rnbafjo1_400

Which is no big surprise—Dr. Armstrong, Professor of Church History at Bethel Seminary, often says insightful things.

But in the Fall 2013 issue of Bethel Magazine (if it were available online, it would be here) he pinpointed a theological missing link: that while people of faith think lots about God and Jesus the Christ and Heaven (and Hell), we have not thought much about what happens between the beginning and the end. Which also happens to be where most of us spend most of our time (that is, we’re all at various points between the beginning and the end).

Work is a key feature of what we often call “life.”

So we have Creation, Incarnation, and New Creation. But most of us are pretty fuzzy on these three key parts of the Bible narrative. And because we’re fuzzy, we super-spiritualize our faith. Faith is about the stuff we do on Sunday, at church. But darned if we knew how it’s supposed to connect with our Monday-to-Saturday life, most of which involves work. The only biblical way to get past this is to reconnect with Creation, Incarnation, and New Creation.”

(Armstrong, Chris. A Theology of Work. Bethel Magazine, Fall 2013. pp. 22-24.)

I like what Dr. Armstrong says and would encourage you to read the entire article. He draws on insights from Tim Keller’s work on work and points out, for instance, that Jesus the Christ had a first career as a contractor (building with wood and probably stone too) before he turned to the Christ business. Or this: the Christ part of his career was there all the time but latent for the first 30 years.

Allow me to adjust Dr. Armstrong’s insight with this: it’s actually our faith spokespeople who direct us toward beginning-and-end thinking. That’s where their expertise lies. You might say pastor/theologian types have (limited) authority and a free pass to talk about that stuff (especially what happens when you die). And so they do. Week after week.

But it’s up to the people living the life and doing the work to talk about what Incarnation says about, say, copywriting. Or craftsmanship. Or selling or surgery or teaching. Or digging wells (or graves). Or caring for kids or forests or the earth itself. And maybe we should look for action rather than sermons from each other, because that is how most of us talk: through the work we do.

I would go on to wager that most of us regularly draw from quite a collection of eloquent life-statements about meaning and work: both how to do it and how not to do it.


Image credit: Via Frank T. Zumbachs Mysterious World

Written by kirkistan

November 20, 2013 at 10:26 am

When Twitter Visited Third Baptist Church

leave a comment »

What Church can learn from Business #1: Acknowledge the Pain

Scene from a Sunday Service

Pastor Smith: We’ve jumped into the 21st century today with our projector up there tuned to the Twitter Channel! Today: don’t silence your smartphones. And you Twitterites, dial in your Twitter smart app and shoot your questions, comments and tweets to At ThirdBaptistRightNow. And remember to use the hash ticket number sign SubmitAndLove!

Acknowledge questions to unlock the door you’ve invited your audience to walk through

Acknowledge questions to unlock the door you’ve invited your audience to walk through

Pastor Smith: Open up your Bibles to Ephesians 5 and let’s get right down to the text and how wives need to submit to their husbands and husbands should love their wives.

@ElderEli: You’ll acknowledge how the passage has been abused for years, right? ThirdBaptist is just as guilty as anyone.

Pastor Smith: Now let’s start reading right from verse…what’s that? AtElderEli—I sort of mention that, but I’ll not spend a lot of time on it. Wait—let me see if I can work that in. Now, let’s start with verse…

@SingleSally: Go to the Bahamas in my mind or the coffee shop with my feet? Either way is more interesting than another sermon about marriage.

Pastor Smith: Now you stick around AtSingleSally, I can promise you’ll find something interesting in…

@ILikeBigBibles: Preach it! Submit and love!

@MsBankCEO: Before you go all gender-wars, can you at least acknowledge that in Christ there is no male or female (Gal 3.28). Seems worth mentioning.

Pastor Smith: Well now, AtMsBankCEO, this passage is pretty specific about the ancient household code, but, well. Let me think for a moment how that verse from Galatians might augment my comments about roles. But turn to verse 22 and…

@BlancheWife: You’ve got to start with 5:21! Mutual submission turns your old role argument on its head!

@BlancheWife: All that follows is an outworking of 5:1-21! Please at least acknowledge that!

Pastor Smith: Hoo boy. Preaching and Twitter make an uneasy couple. Let me do something different today. Blanche, why don’t you come up here and let’s start with an old-fashioned conversation. Just you and I and the microphone and all these fine friends out here. Let’s do something new and get your perspective…

@ILikeBigBibles: No! That’s not right. The brother should preach!

@SingleSally: You have my attention.

Consider Starting with People Rather than Texts

This is not heresy. This is basic pedagogy: when explaining an ancient text, gently help people over the hurdles by showing what it meant as well as how it has been understood over the years. Because your audience is thinking these thoughts already.

Twitter is a huge help in the work of naming the things people are already thinking. While churches are not likely to employ Twitter for anything beyond amplifying their monologue, they should begin to see that the conversations they once directed are happening without them.

Learning to listen and then getting at the truth together—that’s worth exploring.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

September 22, 2013 at 5:00 am

What Business Can Learn From Church #3: Build Relational Trust

leave a comment »

Trust Takes Time. Talking Helps.09092013-tumblr_msrss9QLMF1r918kto1_400

In conversation with Groundswell coffeehouse owner/Third Way Church pastor Seth McCoy, we discussed the overlap between business and community. Mr. McCoy pulled out a few business lessons that take a slightly different shape when seen from a faith perspective:

Mr. McCoy also noted how relational trust is essential for business and community.

Relational trust drives collaboration. Relational trust is what allows a collaborative leader to step away from shrill monologue and invite others to contribute their voices and experience. Leader trusts colleague (and vice versa) because they know each other’s intent and because they have recognized the giftedness each possesses.

Building trust things take time. Mr. McCoy voiced a principal that is worth examining: Make it easy to show up or leave a group. And make it hard to become a member. Because membership is the route of committing to shared direction. Spending a year in relationship with a person before marriage lets you see the person in all the seasons. Spending a year in a job helps you fully appreciate the economic cycles, urgencies and payoffs. Human just need time to process stuff. Over the course of four seasons, we interact, voice concerns, we are delighted at some things and taken aback by others.

The truth is that relational trust takes time and patience and lots of conversation. While there are no shortcuts, the words we bring to our time together have a way of spurring us forward and helping each other absorb the direction.


Image credit: we apologise for the inconvenience via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

September 9, 2013 at 8:45 am

What Business Can Learn From Church #2: Be Accountable—Especially After Conflict

with one comment

Stop to Honestly Revisit Decisions09062013-tumblr_msesjtBYDs1rbrhnko1_500

If everyone on your leadership team has an equal voice, how do you sort through conflicting opinions?

First, know that “equal voice” is as rare in teams as it is problematic. It’s likely some team members have a more equal voice—a voice that carries more authority (like the boss, for instance. Or the one who signs the bi-weekly pay stub). And, sadly, team-members willing to scream and throw a fit will often get their way through intimidation and/or sheer annoyance.

In this space between work, craft and carrying out community described yesterday, Seth McCoy talked about a leadership style that didn’t set the founding leader as the all-knowing, final-answer seer whose verdicts were solid gold. Instead, passionate committed leaders bellied up to give their opinions, expecting always to be heard. To continue to get full engagement from these leaders and their wide-open thoughts, team decisions must be revisited and discussed after the conflicting decisions.

Say your leadership team is conflicted on a pivotal decision. You need everyone behind the decision because you know each leader will motivate themselves and their teams based on the urgency of the task. You need them engaged. Whether your team takes formal votes on decisions or just gives a thumbs-up/thumbs-down, the mechanism that allows your leaders to respond to a decision should not be the final word. Allowing the team to revisit decisions in conversation builds trust—but those revisiting conversations must be open rather than defensive.

What business can learn from church is to build enough human to human accountability to actually, really, truly revisit group decision. To ask whether it works or not. And to offer honest assessments. And to build a solid history of honesty.

This is how any organization builds relational trust.


Image credit: gh-05-t via 2headedsnake

You may also be interested in:

Written by kirkistan

September 6, 2013 at 9:11 am

%d bloggers like this: