Category Archives: Thinking out loud…

I wish I had said that…

It’s been quite awhile since I have posted anything. I have received a new assignment at work that, quite frankly, has been consuming most of my thinking energy.

One of our blog followers forwarded an article to me that I found captures the heart of what I am hoping to accomplish through this blog with some real insight as well. The article is, “The Splintering of the Evangelical Soul” by Timothy Dalrymple. It speaks to one of our principles for healthy conversation, humility.

Just this quote provides a challenge and good food for thought. “Rather than withdrawing into communities of common loathing, the church should be offering a community of common love, a sanctuary from the fragmentation and polarization, from the loneliness and isolation of the present moment. The church should model what it means to care for one another in spite of our differences on social and political matters and affirm the incomparably deeper rootedness of our identity in Christ.”

I would love to hear your thoughts…

Happy Mother’s Day!


Resist the spirit…

To my Christian friends, before you start reacting make note of the small “s” in the spelling for spirit.

It has been awhile since I have written and I want to complete a short explanation of our guidelines. I have previously addressed (1) the assumption of good will, and (2) listening to understand. I need to find a more succinct way to say it but (3) is don’t get into the spirit of anger and fear that is going on all around us. Social media is rife with it. Many years ago I heard a marriage seminar persons say, “If you fight with your spouse to win, both lose.”

No matter what they are saying and who is right or wrong this isn’t going to end well for these two. It is entirely possible to be completely correct in an argument and dead wrong. Unfortunately, this is what too many look like today. Instead of honoring the other, or listening to understand we are trying to out shout and the other. Actually, it seems as though we are trying to out shame each other these days in our public conversations.

I’ll write more about this as we go along but a number of years ago I realized that I could over power some with my force of argument, but any subsequent behavior change never lasted, because it was a change forced by power, soul power, that produced compliance and not genuine understanding or change. I know the media plays this up and loves to show the conflict, but when two sides of an issue face off in the streets and it gets into a shouting match with anger and hatred being expressed the argument no longer matters and everyone lose.

I am trying to resist the sarcasm and anger that rises up on me when I encounter perspectives that radically differ from my own. When I read the angry comment of the other if it provokes anger in me then the enemy of us all has us both right where he wants us. But I need to speak, I need to express my thoughts. This is not a time to disengage but a time to engage constructively and in a spirit that is seeking accord even if we can’t find it. I have been paying close attention to what is going on in my emotions as I read the news or an op ed about some current issue. Learning to listen to understand starts with listening to yourself. Am I getting angry or bitter because I am afraid. Then I have a faith issue. Is it because I feel threatened? If so, am I? If I get into the same spirit that is coming at me from the “other” then that spirit has won already. I know I already wrote that, but I need to remind myself over and over.

I titled this “Resist the spirit…”. If you are a Christ follower you know that comes from a Bible verse that says, “Resist the devil and he will flee.” My challenge to those following this conversation is to resist the hatred, the sarcasm (both sides are filled with sarcastic comments), the fear, the disrespect and the dehumanization of anyone, even your worst enemy.

I’ll end this with an experience I had today on Facebook. There is a pastor in Canada who refused to allow the authorities to come into his church for an inspection. He had every right to do so and eventually forced them to leave. The post I saw was celebrating how he handled the authorities and putting him up as an example of how we should all resist unwarranted intrusion from unauthorized officials. I believe he may be an example of doing the right thing in a completely inappropriate way including calling the officials the gestapo and Nazis. He was violent in his opposition and could have accomplished even more had he made his stand with respect, without name calling and in the Spirit of his Lord rather than the spirit of those with whom he was in conflict.

Lord help us to be bold with quiet strength and not the rancor of our age.


Some thoughts about Hemal Jhaveri OpEd

One our fellow travelers sent this request.

Listening to Understand: Discovery or Intelligence Gathering?

Bill, would you be willing to read this article and discuss what, if anything, can or should be said in response to such attacks. 

First, I would make a distinction between a private conversation, which this isn’t, and a public one. If I were to engage Ms. Jhaveri in a private conversation I would try to quickly determine whether or not she was open to a discovery conversation and, if not, simply stop the conversation. Argument only feeds the spirit of animosity demonstrated in the article.

In a written response, really in a person-to-person response as well, a central challenge is not getting into the same attitude and spirit as the article. I do appreciate that she provided links to the source of the policies and statements with which she is concerned. All too often things are alluded to and subject to significant distortion. We have probably all been bitten by a quote taken out of context. So, kudos to her for doing that. Her first three paragraphs are well written and set the stage for what she wants to say in a way that draws the reader in. Then it pretty much goes downhill from there.

The labeling in the article is throughout beginning with the phrase, “…the university’s deeply bigoted anti-LGBTQ+ policies…” Actually that phrase is in itself bigoted. I did a quick internet dictionary search on bigoted and it is defined as, “Utterly intolerant of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.” It appears that Ms. Jhaveri is intolerant of the beliefs of the Oral Roberts staff and students. I clicked on the links she provided and included in those Standards of Behavior and Code of Conduct is an intolerance of violence against any person for any reason.

She then goes on to describe the school as founded by “televangelist Oral Roberts.” Completely true but the term “televangelist” has deeply negative connotations in our culture today as well as in large sections of the Church. Of itself that could be overlooked but she adds another label, “fundamentalist” and again shows her dismissal of any who might be a part of that part of the Christian community by calling it a relic of the past. That is an idea worthy of discussion and exploration but not of simple dismissal without that conversation. This is closely followed by the label “archaic,” and then lists two behavioral standards as indicators of her term closing that paragraph with two more powerful cultural labels; “discriminatory” and “hateful.” Again, I would like to ask Ms Jhaveri if she is not bigoted in quickly dismissing ORU without any consideration. We could get into a good discussion about being discriminatory for we all are. We discriminate in what we wear, who we socialize with and a host of other issues in every day life. When our discrimination (which used to be somewhat synonymous with discerning) dismisses other people as of less value it is destructive and should be avoided. But discrimination of itself is neither good nor bad. However, to assume that holding a behavior as harmful results automatically in the hatred of the one exhibiting such behavior is a leap way too far. Even if one disagrees with ORU’s standard regarding homosexual behavior one cannot assume that all who hold that standard “hate” those who behave different from the standard.

In the next paragraph the author focuses on the prohibition against homosexual behavior being “in the same breath” as the prohibition of the occult. I would ask her if she sees occult behavior as something that is bad and thus using it to prove guilt by association. That probably opens up a very broad community of practitioners that would want to have their say as well. In fact, the breath is a statement forbidding all sexual promiscuity and homosexual behavior is one of three in the stated ban. Notice the ban is against the behavior and not the person just as the ban is against premarital sex and not the persons engaged in such activity. Because the behavior is against the standards of conduct does not mean or even imply that the persons engaged in the behavior are hated.

She then writes that the school has the right to impose whatever standards of behavior they see fit and then makes another broad and sweeping statement, “…even though those standards are wildly out of line with modern society and the basic values of human decency.” They may be wildly out of line with Ms. Jhaveri’s friends and their values of human decency but she takes the point way too far once again. As I engage these kinds of issues I want to walk in humility and speak of my own values and view points. I can’t presume to represent anyone else unless they specifically tell me they are in alignment with what I am saying. There is such a broad range of opinion about so many things even among Christ followers that I could never claim to speak for “Christians” as a whole. Neither does Ms. Jhaveri have that privilege to represent the values of human decency.

She finishes her broadside with a couple of more labels; “toxic notions of fundamentalism,” and “fetishize chastity,” both of which show an utter intolerance for vast numbers of people in our country.

It seems to me that inclusion and diversity in the NCAA has a wonderful opportunity to be inclusive and diverse by celebrating ORU’s Cinderella story showing the world that all are welcome in the banner. If ORU was indeed guilty of fostering hate and violence against those with whom they disagree then we have a real issue. But that is not the case here. Instead Ms. Jhaveri and those who agree with what she wrote are are showing a profound intolerance for those who see life, values and decency through a different lens.


Naked and Ashamed

Bill Berry sent this blog this week as part of our conversation. I copied just one excerpt to whet your whistle.

A tell-tale sign of this dynamic is found in our culture’s anger. Anger is largely driven by shame and we can affirm our tribal protection only by shouting at the outsider. Everything outside the group threatens to unmask us. To an increasing extent, the group to which we belong is that set of people who share our anger.

Naked and Ashamed: Dealing with It


Listening to Understand: Discovery or Intelligence Gathering?

Since I am writing about listening I’ll start with what I heard in the comments so far. (1) The respondents think this is worth giving it some effort. Of course, you wouldn’t expect any naysayers to overtly say “nay.” (2) Several expressed concern about the term “middle.” Maybe we should just say the non-radical fringes. Roaring middle has a nicer irony and ring to it than roaring non-radical fringe. Let’s keep noodling on that one. (3) Some expressed concern that I am being overly optimistic thinking that 99% do want healthy conversations. I just grabbed 99% out of the air with no data to back up the number, but I am going to hold on to it for awhile and attempt to explore the thought more. To those who commented, thanks for the challenge. Let’s land someplace together with that. And (4) What if the chasm of opinion is just too far to bridge? That is a great question and, again, one we need to explore further.

Discovery or intelligence gathering? A number or years ago I was interviewing someone for a leadership position. We arranged the interview process so that we had a day-long road trip together, allowing for plenty of time for casual conversation. About half way through the drive I realized my candidate was not asking me discovery questions; that is questions that explored the roots of the culture and history of the group to be led. As I explained stories and history I began to get a distinct impression that this content was being put to the side as irrelevant. That’s not quite right though, it was relevant in terms of evaluating how to change the landscape rather than appreciate and enhance it. I finally made the observation that I didn’t think we were having a conversation of discovery but rather that my candidate had already determined a course of action and was gathering the intelligence needed to carry out the campaign.

There were so many other positive skill matches that I overlooked the reservations that conversation created and made the hire anyway. It didn’t work well for the new hire, for me or for the group being led. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I learned some very valuable life lessons from that episode.

Let’s apply that concept to what is going on in American culture and politics today. If your Facebook feed is full of satirical comments about President Biden’s address to the nation this week it’s because Facebook has decided that is what you want to see and hear, and they are feeding it to you. Conversely if your Facebook feed is full of glowing comments about this historic first piece of legislation from President Biden’s leadership the same thing is true. The challenge is to attempt to get past your initial position and try to find out why the “other” has responded so differently than you. Facebook isn’t going to help you much with that. It is a fact that a bill for 1.9 trillion dollars called the “Covid 19 Relief Bill” was passed this week. It is a fact that many Americans think this is a huge and positive step. It is a fact that many Americans do not. But why do they think what they think, why is this either good or bad? What is the basis of their evaluation? What values are either served or not served with this piece of legislation. Discovery calls us to get beyond the labels “good” or “bad” and into the specifics of why something is either.

Discovery keeps asking questions to get to the core level of the “other’s” thinking, emotions and attitudes. Intelligence gathering listens to get justification for what one has already decided. Discovery is focused on the “other.” Intelligence gathering is focused on self and the advantages one gains from the intelligence. Discovery is curious. Intelligence gathering is decided. Discovery is open to unlearned possibilities. Intelligence gathering is closed to alternatives. Discovery takes determination. Intelligence gathering does also. It is the goal of the determination that is different.

All that said, discovery is for the purpose of discovering some thing or some one. Once discovery is complete you may still reject the idea or the action of the “other,” but you do so in a much different way than the rejection that comes at an emotional level. It may well be that there is a fundamentally irresolvable issue between you and the other. If so, you will have to decide how to handle that, and the best thing may to be walking away. My plea to you is to not choose that response until you have invested in deep discovery. The “other” deserves that as one of God’s creations and one He loves.

In the book of Proverbs it says, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Note, an answer is given. It is an answer that follows hearing. There is way too much folly and shame going on all over the place right now because answers are being trumpeted with strength and emotion without the requisite hearing. May we not add to that folly and shame.


Communication Values

Often businesses will spend months designing a product or service diligently attempting to make sure everything is in tip top shape before introducing it to their customers. More frequently now companies and teams are creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The idea is to get something that is good with the expectation of improving the design with feedback from customers and users. It makes sense. No matter how good the design is you just don’t know how well something is going to work until you use it. Let’s approach our core values for communication as an MVP. I am landing on these five communication and attitude values. 

  1. Assumption of good will – honoring the “other”
  2. Listen to understand before speaking
  3. Resist the spirit of anger, alienation, division and dismissal so prevalent in much of the current public conversation
  4. Epistemological humility – there is more that I don’t know than I do
  5. Speaking the truth in love – speak up and speak out without demanding acceptance or agreement

Each requires a good deal of fleshing out. I actually started to do that with #1 last week and will continue to share my thoughts more fully around each one. As always, I am interested in your thoughts and reactions. I have my own and don’t pretend that making a commitment to stay within the boundaries of these values with my communication will be easy. I would also love to hear your stories as, together, we work at cancelling our own personal cancel culture.

What Can You Do?

  1. Just listen in by reading, to the conversation if you are interested.
  2. Make a commitment to speaking truth as you see it within the guidelines of the values.
  3. Send examples of blogs, articles, podcasts, and other voices who seem aligned to these values.
  4. Write your own material, if you are inclined that way, and add it this conversation.
  5. Send questions, comments, challenges, etc.

Any or all of the above is fine and will be greatly appreciated.

If you want to stay current with the conversation you can follow the blog or send an email to me (wwlivingston@gmail.com) and I will put you on an email list to receive weekly updates. I have been encouraged by the responses received to date. I remain convinced that the radical fringes on both ends of the spectrum do not represent the heart and soul of the vast majority.


Core Value: Assumption of Good Will

Certain values and commitments are necessary to real conversation with the “other.” My thought is to define those we will adhere to going forward and let them determine what is appropriate and what is not. Before we can safely and constructively engage “issues” there should be agreement on values. I foresee establishing a charter that our follower travelers would agree to and be guided by in their conversations.

It is my sincere desire that we collaborate in forming and, then, declaring those values. Someone has to get the ball rolling and I will gladly accept that role. But my voice alone isn’t sufficient for the need. Help me out, please. Engage, suggest, admonish and think with me.

I’ll probably repeat certain themes over and over again. I am committed to a conversation of “others.” I don’t like labels because they short circuit understanding. But I think I have to use them to make my point here. I am not looking to create a Christian/Bahai conversation, nor a liberal/conservative, nor a brown/white, nor a young/old; nor any other x/x you can think of. I would like to create a conversation with all the either/or severely muted. I don’t suppose we can get rid of it entirely, but we can certainly stop leading with our differences and find the common ground that might lead to a celebration of those differences.

I thought about starting with the core value of listening but without the assumption of good will in the “other” listening rarely happens, not real listening anyway. So, what do I mean by an assumption of good will? As I said in an earlier blog (The Roaring Middle) I will be sharing from my faith in Jesus Christ as a Christ follower. That said, I long to hear from other faiths traditions and how they address similar issues. The assumption of good will is rooted in the belief that every person on the planet is created by God and created with purpose. As a follower of Jesus I believe that every person has both good and bad as a part of who they are. Some seem to have far more of one or the other but the very best have their faults and the very worst have a glimmer of the Creator’s spark in them. If I begin the conversation with the assumption that the bad is far more prevalent than the good I am likely to find the evidence to prove my point. It is at that point that all real conversation stops even if the words don’t. On the other hand if I start with the assumption of good will I will be looking for that evidence and far more likely to find it. You tend to find what you are looking for.

I know there are some truly malevolent people out there. I know you may have to look pretty hard to find the “good” in the “other,” but if you don’t at least try, then there is no hope of a conversation. Let me hasten to add that I am not suggesting that we instantly give trust to anyone or everyone. I am suggesting that you look for common cause and start the conversation from there. Let me close this with a simple illustration and then a challenge. Some time ago I was locked in conflict with an attorney who had an agenda that I was vehemently opposed to. In the midst of our heated exchange she mentioned a client that needed a neutral home for a baby they were hoping to adopt. If I remember correctly she was actually throwing that in my face believing it would shut me up. Within seconds I told her I would be glad to be the child’s neutral home until the adoption either went through or fell through. We stood on that common ground and accomplished something good, a home for the child. We didn’t have to resolve our disagreement to create that good.

So, the challenge. Take a moment and think of someone you are having a really hard time with, even better if it is a public figure. Now, get on the internet and find something good about them (if they are a public figure). See if you can find a common motive or concern. Sure, your solutions may diverge widely, but if your concerns are the same you have a starting place.

Finally, I want this to be a conversation. Add to my thoughts, challenge them, broaden them. Suggest other core values. I am not in a hurry. I know I already wrote this earlier, but I did say that I would repeat myself. Let me know what you think.


Hospitality

I received this today from a blog follower.

Hospitality

Hospitality means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines…The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adore the lifestyle of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.

I believe this is from Henri Nouwen.

A couple of quick thoughts. I love the line, “Hospitality is not to change people but to offer them space where change can take place.” It could well be that change will take place in me rather than the “other.” It is just as likely that it will take place in us both.

The second thought is I would love to see this same kind of input from other faith traditions. More to come as I start describing the components of the charter being contemplated.


The Hundred and Third Time is the Charm

I like stuff made out of wood or leather.  Why?  Both wood and leather show wear and age.  If they are made from good material they become richer with more character as they are handled and used.  And that makes them unique.  I suppose some of this goes back to the cowboy days of my youth.  My saddle wasn’t fancy but it was worn and shaped to my bottom.  There are stories to each of the scratches and marks in the leather.  What might have diminished its value for a potential buyer increased it for me.  It had character and it contained history and memories.  It has been close to a half millennium since I last laid eyes on it but I can still see and smell it when I close my eyes.

I had a walking stick that was invested with memories of hikes in both Europe and around America.  It was just beginning to get that “used” feel when someone stole it from me.  I miss that walking stick.  I bought another one that has potential but there aren’t as many memories soaked into the wood yet from my sweaty palm.  I plan on getting it there, but it will take some time.  That kind of wear and those kinds of memories can’t be rushed.  In some ways they can’t be planned either.  Planning will get one in the vicinity but serendipity creates the best memories.

Ask anyone in my family and they will tell you that sometimes my thinking is a bit odd.  Our daughter is visiting from California and wanted to go to the Louisville Slugger IMG_0079Museum.  So we took her earlier this week.  As you leave the tour area they have bins full of the nubs they cut off the end of the bats after they finish working them.  You are welcome to take a few if you like and I grabbed one just for a memento to remember the visit and the time with Barb and Susannah.  My thought is to hold it, roll it around in my hands, and generally handle it until it develops character and holds some memories of the time along the way.  I wonder how long it will take to get smooth and for the color to change from the oils in my skin.  I expect it to take years.  All the initial splinters are gone and I haven’t even had it a week yet.  Pretty good don’t you think?

You’re probably wondering where I am going with this.  Playing with my Louisville Slugger bat nub got me thinking about mastery.  I watch so many programs, seminars and trainings come and go in my professional life.  From my perspective we seldom stay with something long enough to get past the initial ideas or concepts to mine the treasure that can only come from time, use and getting through our sweaty palms and minds the character that comes from handling something over and over again.  It is easier to “get” a concept than it is for the concept to “get” you.  All too often we “get” the idea or thought being presented to us and because we “understand” the idea we think we have it.  I “understand” how to play golf but I am no where near being able to play it with consistency and skill.  Even if I have the ability, which is doubtful, I haven’t invested the time and focus to mastering the fundamentals that would allow for something approaching skill and consistency in the game.

Mastery can either be the foundation for innovation or for being stuck.  Think of the technically great musician who just doesn’t “move” you with their performance.  Then think of a musician like Ed Sheeran who has mastered his craft and uses his mastery to create incredible new sounds and musical concepts.  This is why the professional process world talks about continuous improvement.  The goal of mastery is freedom to innovate.

Mastery requires intentionality and focus over an extended period of time.  I am choosing two or three areas of mastery focus for 2020, looking for innovation and creativity to be released and enjoyed.  How about you?


Assumption of Good Will

Our average fellow-citizen is a sane and healthy man, who believes in decency and has a wholesome mind.  He therefore feels an equal scorn alike for the man of wealth guilty of the mean and base spirit of arrogance toward those who are less well off, and for the man of small means who in his turn either feels or seeks to excite in others the feeling of mean and base envy for those who are better off.  The two feelings, envy and arrogance, are but opposite sides of the same shield, but different developments of the same spirit.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Was Roosevelt correct? Was he correct for his day and his time? Is this possibly an statement that is still valid today? Let’s start with his thesis statement, “Our average fellow-citizen is a sane and healthy man (substitute person here), who believes in decency and has a wholesome mind.” Quite frankly, this is my predominant experience of the people I know and encounter on a daily basis. In the company culture in which I work this is called assuming positive intent. I believe that most people want to do the right thing for others as well as for themselves. I certainly want to do the right thing, that which will create positive contribution for those around me. Are there times when my actions suggest otherwise? Absolutely, right smack dab in the middle of my positive intent is my own self-centeredness and my own limited view of all that is going on around me.

A number of years ago Barbara and I took a parenting course. One of the principles we picked up through that course was to evaluate our childrens’ behavior based on what they were characterized by. In other words, as we responded to their bad behavior we asked ourselves, “Is this normal consistent behavior on their part or does this seem to be more of an exception?” If the answer was they weren’t characterized by that kind of behavior then to discipline them as though it were patterned behavior would inevitably miss the mark and be unfair to them. So when you evaluate my behavior, or that of anyone else it would be wise to apply the same test. Is this person characterized by that behavior or is this an anomaly. Let’s start digging for the deeper reasons behind the behaviors we encounter in people.

“Okay, Bill,” you ask, “so what? Why are you writing about this?” I have expressed before how disturbed I am by the rancor and vitriol going on in the public conversation here in the United States of America. Maybe it is going on all over the world but it seems particularly pronounced in my home country these days. Roosevelt begins by saying, “Our average fellow-citizen…”. I think most of the public screaming matches we see on our news stations and hear on the airwaves are from people making a living by exploiting the fringes beyond our average fellow-citizen.

I hear strong opinions from those around me, but not closed minds that refuse to listen to anything I have to say because their minds are already made up. I see people making huge contributions to those around them. Some of them are “poor” and some are “rich” but I see them working side by side to try and make this world a better place in which to live. I see people wrestling with their latent racism and prejudices trying to overcome them and accept all people at face value. I see people fighting to get past the labels and into genuine encounters of discovery and understanding. Is it flawed? Sure. Do we have a lot of progress still to make? You bet. But in my experience my average fellow-citizen is generally assuming positive intent and reaching toward genuine fellowship with those around them.

Let’s start celebrating those conversations and start rejecting the vitriol and the attempt of those who sell us the news to convince us that we are irreparably separated.