How To Stay In The Conversation (Part 3)

images.jpegI stumbled across this show on CBS called Bull. I probably have binged a little too hard on it, but the show has been fascinating. The lead actor plays a psychologist who is an expert in trial science. The premise of the show is how every case has facts and every jury (every day people) hear these facts differently. So, Dr. Bull and his team weave the objective facts of the case with a creative narrative together to win legal cases. In most episodes, Dr. Bull chooses to work for the innocent party. The defendant will likely be found guilty aside from his help because the jury has already subconsciously found the defendant guilty prior to any case being heard. Sometimes this subconscious verdict is based on the media, sometimes on how the defendant is dressed or appears, or even the jury’s own self-projection from their life experiences. Dr. Bull and his team choose to present a case and narrative together which highlights the facts the jurors will actually hear.

Throughout the episodes, the narratives usually get quite creative. However, what has never been argued: 1) the objective and verifiable facts, 2) our experiences color how we see and interpret these facts, and 3) there are always more facts to be discovered.

The natural question in today’s world: Can we ever be objective about the facts?

In my optimism, I believe we can get objective facts, but what to do about those facts and how we interpret them will always be highly subjective.

The initial blog post asked: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?

My answer: Resilient communication.

So far, I have shared the first two steps (saturation & care). The third step is FACT.

I define FACT as information without bias. Bull provides a colorful depiction of how difficult it is to present the facts without spin. It is inherent in our nature to filter everything we hear through our own lens.

In our culture where truth is “relevant” or “subjective,” FACT seems like an elusive word. The term Fake News has been tossed around. CNN recently ran an ad campaign about defining facts (to which some of you may find ironic). In most cases, everything has a spin. Most facts are articulated from personal perspective and experience, which come in layers and vary widely. Give the NY Post’s quiz on how Facebook defines hate speech a try to see how subjective statements can be. What is the core truth beneath these layers?

Because people are not all-knowing we must learn to ask good questions about the potential narrative being sold to us. Therefore, when staying in the conversation we should present what we think we know humbly and sincerely. Direct information with no judgment is a must. Statements without sentiment should be shared to find common ground from which a relationship can be built.

I would argue whatever facts we do present should be loosely at our fingertips, ready and willing to hear new information. When new information is discovered, we should show grace. Further, avoid leading or suggestive questions. In a conversation which you are trying to listen and learn, you must be careful not to skew the potential response. Suggesting a prepackaged answer will likely create barriers, rather than take them down. We tend to share our views of the facts or our interpretations of them to win, persuade, or achieve some hidden objective.

If the goal is to stay in the conversation, then we must learn to present information without bias. Here are some examples of FACT:

  • Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem to raise awareness about the police brutality against black men, women, and teenagers.
  • Marijuana affects the parts of the brain that control emotions, memory, and judgment.
  • The Bible is God’s special revelation of himself.

These three sentences could be stated very differently.

  • Colin Kaepernick is desecrating the American flag.
  • Marijuana causes negative damage to a person’s body and image.
  • It is wrong to believe in both evolution and the what the Bible says.

These are probably exaggerated and not the best examples. However, when we are in the heat of conversation, we need to be aware of which statements are facts and which sentiments are our feelings toward what has happened.

As a Christian, we need not fear Christianity in the marketplace of worldviews. I believe a Christian worldview is unparalleled to any other worldview. The narrative of God himself coming to rescue and renewal all creation through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is the ultimate narrative. Any other narrative which competes for supremacy will inadequately deal with the brokenness of life.

As you talk with your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and others online, do you espouse a worldview consistent with Christ, or bias and barriers?

Find the facts. Listen and learn. Stay in the conversation.

Staying In The Conversation

Over the past several weeks, various questions posed to me have been sifting through my head. There is one, in particular, I would like to address: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?

In light of the recent national anthem protests, I think the idea of staying in a tough conversation and actually having dialogue is more important than ever. The solution is never as simple nor as clear as we think it should be.

Unknown-3I am white. I am not a veteran. My worldview is shaped by my cultural experience. Therefore, I lack the perspective of both an entire population of people who have not had many of the advantages I have received and a group who have fought for life, liberty, and freedom. When issues like the protesting during the national anthem come along, I lack the ability ON MY OWN to see the complexity of how those unlike me are experiencing our country. I can easily dismiss the pain of people I refuse to listen to on the both sides of any issue. Our country is polarized once again.

The best answer, or better response, to the present tension I have come up with (so far) is called resilient communication. I spent some time recently in Mark 4 reading the parable of the sower and connected passages. One of the most difficult challenges about the passage is the seeming mixed message Jesus sends. Greg Lanier puts it this way:

In other words, Jesus speaks in parables so that some will “hear” his teaching and “see” the coming kingdom but not truly “hear and see” (and consequently, not respond with repentance and faith). One immediately uncovers the tension here: Is Jesus saying his preaching is designed for failure to produce results? Is he intentionally being obscurantist to turn people away?

As Lanier later describes, Jesus is standing in a long line of prophetic tradition. Mark cites Isaiah’s call in 6:9-10. Prophets use parables of all sorts to veil and unveil the truth, to bring hearers to the point of recognizing their own self-judgment, and to produce a response to God.

Jesus tactfully shares the word, so that listeners want to stay in the conversation even if they may never hear the words shared. Some stay in the conversation, which is why crowds follow Jesus. It is also why the Pharisees freak out. The Pharisees and scribes have rightfully perceived Jesus’s words and, in light of their own-self judgment, respond negatively. The sinners and tax collectors have also perceived and consistently gather to get to know this potential Messiah. Staying in the conversation involves both the communicator and the listener.

I would argue in today’s world we need to rediscover the art of resiliency in communicating, but primarily in the aspect of listening. When we resiliently communicate we can own our personal worldview, while also remaining humble and teachable in the conversation. First, what is resilience?

Resilience: The revelation of our innate human ability to cope, survive, and then grow.

Resilient listening: Staying in the conversation when I do not like it. Staying in the conversation when I disagree with the “facts” I hear and even the worldview communicated. Resilient listening is keeping curious even when I do not want to be. It is not merely waiting to talk, but listening to understand.

In the holistic idea of resilient communication, there are several action items. I hope to tease out each action item over the next several weeks as I attempt to listen to others. For the meantime, I will provide the list with brief definitions.

  1. Saturation – consistently presenting the same message (not-mixed messages).
  2. Care – meeting immediate physical needs.
  3. Fact – information with no bias.
  4. Demonstrate empathy – sharing another’s feelings.
  5. Follow-through – persevere with action in the process.

Throughout resilient communication the idea of self-judgment is key. It is our own self-judgment which prohibits us from resiliently listening. Our idols keep us from conversing with other humans.  In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller says, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’”

Idols are the things that rattle us when they are threatened. As our model for humanity, Jesus stayed in tough conversations. He sat with people. He listened. He shared about  God’s design for the world (which transcended any geopolitical entity). Those who could not handle the diversity and constant challenges to their thinking withdrew from the conversation. Eventually, these people killed Jesus.

As people measured themselves against the compassion and kindness of Jesus, they realized how utterly they fell short of the beautiful standard. Because Jesus embodies God’s rightful kingdom manifested, those in the first century are fascinated and frustrated. The many parables, teaching, and life of Jesus provided saturation, care, fact, empathy, and follow-through. Jesus saw each person as having value and worth.

As we engage in the national conversation, how does our posture align with Jesus’s model of resilient communication?

Today, we verbally assault each other without resiliently listening to each other. We heap self-judgment upon ourselves when we cannot handle the reality that we don’t know what we don’t know. We live in a world of “experts” whose Ph.D. is Google, YouTube, and social media posts. In order to move forward together, let us practice the art of resilient communication. Sit down with someone different than you. Stop shouting. Start listening. Stay in the conversation.

 

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” – James 1:19-20

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

CrookOne of the best relationships within the church that keeps it heading in the same direction and healthy is the staff/elder relationship, specifically that of the youth minister and the elders. I have been very blessed because I have a great relationship with many of my elders. Elders are responsible for oversight and prayer in our church. In many church contexts the youth ministry and the elders butt heads largely because the Youth Minister asks for forgiveness instead of permission. Ultimately, there is a disconnect between the vision and mission of the youth ministry and that of the church. I have found that you neither have to ask forgiveness or permission if you maintain three principles and allow the elders to fulfill their responsibility in all areas of the church.

Communication: Every good partnership/relationship is needs a constant line of communication. Ministry isn’t any different. When clear and proper communication about events, programs, and outreach isn’t communicated goals, values, and intentions are assumed, rather than stated. When communication of goals and values are communicated the relationship will most likely strengthen. For example, without communication the elders may get upset at the Youth Minister for creating a giant mud hole on the property, painting a room, or losing office space.

Quarterly Meeting: All businesses do this and provide quarterly reports. Why shouldn’t the church? This procedure creates accountability and allows every event, outreach, program to connect specifically back to the mission of the church. This falls under the overseer umbrella in the responsibilities of the elder. This also holds me as youth minister accountable. This encourages efficient use of time in all areas of ministry–everything is done for a specific purpose that corresponds to the mission, vision, values, and goals of the church.

Prayer: Whether it is vision casting, event planning, making a change, or tough conversation let the elders do their job and pray about it and over it. Invite the elders into your ministry by asking them to pray for specific areas within your ministry. This encourages responsibility, which allows and creates time for tough decisions along with wise decisions to be made. When faced with the choice of change, knowing that the elders have prayed about direction is an insight that cannot be taken for granted, whether they reach the same conclusion or not. Prayerfully considering choices and changes allow for the Spirit to work and create unity.

Timothy is appointing elders at approximately twenty-three years old in the church of Ephesus. I find this remarkable. Timothy was a young man discipled by Paul, and yet he had the spiritual maturity to be able to identify those who would best shepherd, teach, and pray for the church. The relationships between a young man and those whom he was appointing is inspiring. Without reading too much between the lines, the accounts in Acts and Paul’s written letters (1 Tim. & 2 Tim) encourage a good working relationship between the evangelism, teaching, oversight, shepherding, and praying of the church.