Savage Listens to Stories

John Savage: Listening and Caring SkillsJohn Savage.  1996.  Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Being fully present when listening to someone is tough.  It requires setting aside our own egos to hear not only what the person is saying but what is not being said—the backstory.  The backstory is important because language is laconic; tone of voice and body language provide the context. John Savage’s book, Listening and Caring Skills, helps to start down the road of being fully present in listening to your family, friends, and colleagues.

Introduction

Listening and Caring Skills focuses on preparing pastors for ministry, but the principles apply more generally.  The book starts with an introduction defining the problem and follows with three major sections:  Basic listening skills; hearing the story, and advanced listening skills.

Communication Gap

Savage starts by defining the listening problem as closing the gap between what is said and what is heard (17).  This gap can be huge because the speaker desires to communicate feelings, intentions, attitudes, and thoughts.  This internal desire is actually communicated with words, tone of voice, and body language. 

Words communicate about 7 percent of the message; tone of voice communicates 38 percent; and the remaining 55 percent is communicated through body language (16).  Focusing on just the words used in written communication leaves out important information needed in making decisions.

Consider the potential for conflict just because of weak communication.  Skyping can communicate words, tone of voice, and some body language.  Telephone conversation can communicate words and tone voice but no body language.  Email communicates only the words—unless you are really good with emoticons!  Clearly, if I use a form of communication that is incomplete, the potential to be misunderstood grows in proportion to what is left out.  Face-to-face communication at least allows a complete set of details to be communicated.

Five Styles of Communication

Once we are face to face, communication is technically feasible, but we do not normally engage everyone at the same level.  Savage lists five styles of communication:  direct and open, open but partial, distorted full information, distort and delete information, and only non-verbal communication (15-16).  At best communication is an art:  people lie; people don’t listen’; people run off.  Being fully present is a gift that we give to those who we really care about.  In my experience, people notice immediately when you are really listening.

Fogging

A lesson worth the price of the book is a technique called fogging which is often used by politicians and lawyers.  In fogging one only answers the part of the question that one agrees with. 

The most famous example of fogging occurred in Matthew 22:15-22 when Jesus was baited with the question:  is it lawful to pay taxes…?  If he answers yes, then the Jews will be offended;  if he answers no, then the Romans will be offended.  Instead of answering, Jesus asks to see a coin–everyone agrees on the coin used to pay the tax.  When one fogs, one does not answer the whole question and does not become defensive—even when the question is hostile.  Fogging allows the conversation to continue without becoming emotionally charged.

Listening for the Five Types of Stories

Savage observes that in order for people to feel like they have been heard, you need to identify the emotional content of what they are saying. Oftentimes, this emotional content takes the form of one of five story types that he outlines (95), including.

  1. Anniversary.  An anniversary is a story connected to a date on the calendar. Perhaps someone important died or had an serious accident on a particular date. In the story of the patient, the date was a birthday. The most famous date at the time of Jesus was the Exodus of the people of Israel from Egypt which they celebrated as Passover each year.
  2.  A “I know a man who” story. In this case, the person under discussion is normally the person speaking because the subject matter is too sensitive. In the Bible, we read: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.”(2 Cor 12:2)2.
  3. A transition story has three parts—the past, the present, and the future. A hospital visit is normally a transition story. University studies are also a transition with three parts. A transition obvious in the Bible is the story of the Exodus when the people of Israel left the land of Egypt, went into the desert for forty years, and afterwards entered the Promised Land (Bridge 2003, 43). It is interesting that the people of Israel learned to depend on God during their time in the desert.
  4. A story from the past with current meaning. This is the typical story from the Bible, but this type of story gets special mention in the context of the Lord’s Supper where we read: “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”(Luke 22:19)
  5. A reinvestment story. This is a story like economist becomes pastor. That was then; this is now. In the Bible we see this type of story in the conversion of Paul from a persecutor of the church into an evangelist for Christ.

If you can identify the story that a person is telling, chances are good that you will connect with them at a deeper, emotional level.

Assessment

Savage’s Listening & Caring Skills is a book that I have recommended, given away, taught, and preached about.  Active listening skills are of value in dealing with your children, difficult co-workers, and demanding supervisors.  In the church, pastors can benefit from periodically reviewing Savages principles and teaching them to those in leadership.  It is simply a great book.

References

William Bridge.  2003.  Managing Transitions:  Making the Most of Change.  Cambridge:  Da Capo Press. (Review)

Savage Teaches Listening; Hears Unheard Stories

Also see:

Crucial Conversations Target Productive Dialog 

Warren Writes to Grow Characters 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

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Crucial Conversations Target Productive Dialog

Crucial_Conversations_review_20200307By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler.  2012.  Crucial Conversations:  Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High.  New York:  McGraw-Hill.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My economic studies taught me that decision processes focused on the scientific method—objective, dispassionate, well-thought out.  Boy, did that ever mislead me!  This misconcept left I unprepared for white-knuckle office negotiations and I despaired that I represented my own ideas poorly in discussions.  When McGraw-Hill published Crucial Conversations, I immediately ordered a copy.

Introduction

What is a crucial conversation?  The authors define a crucial conversation as:  a discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong (3).  They observe that three responses to these white-knock conversations can occur:  we can avoid them, handle them badly, or handle them well (4).  Their claim is that high-performance professionals earn their pay by telling supervisors discretely what they do not care to hear (10). The more typical response is silence (12).  The author further claim that open conversation allows organizations to respond more quicky to crises, have fewer on-the-job injuries, save money, reduce decision costs, and reduce workplace bullying (12-13).   Wow!

Organization

The authors organize Crucial Conversations into eleven chapters where the details matter less important than to stay in dialog.  A dialog is a two-way conversation where both parties contribute to the discussion (pool of information) and no one feels threatened.  Honesty and openness are keys to ongoing dialog.  Clearly, keeping the lines of communication open is important in avoiding becoming side-tracked. A key starting point is to know what you really want and stay on theme.  This is not easy because when tempers flare, people often personalize the discussion (punishing) and bring up unrelated grievances (whining). Not all wrongs can be righted (38-40).  Adrenaline poses its own problem.  Stay on theme.

Handy Tips

The authors provide a large number of handy tips for managing particular problems in crucial conversations. One tip worth the ticket of admission is the author’s breakdown of a dialog into four stages:  presenting facts (see and hear), telling a story, feeling, and acting.  They observe that once emotions take over actions get locked in.

The formation of productive stories presents the last best chance to channel a dialog towards useful action. An infinite number of stories can be told, but not all comport well with the facts or are organizationally helpful.  Three kinds of bad (clever) stories—victim, villain, and helpless stories—arise that are usually counter-productive (116-119).  Claiming victimhood means accepting no responsibility for what happens next or even offering to help turn things around.  The same is true for pointing a finger at a “villain” or claiming a lack of power to change things.   Avoiding these counter-productive stories lays the groundwork for telling stories that solve organizational problems.

Assessment

Crucial Conversations is a helpful book.  I have recommended this book to family members and close friends undergoing stressful workplace transitions.  This book challenges us to commit key debating strategies to memory.  White knuckle conversations often cannot always be anticipated and often take place without warning.  Consequently, read the book carefully, underline key points, and review these points before walking into stressful meetings.

Crucial Conversations Target Productive Dialog

Also see:

Savage Teaches Listening; Hears Unheard Stories 

Warren Writes to Grow Characters 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: https://bit.ly/Meet_2020

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Maxwell Learns from Mistakes

Maxwell_review_20200304John Maxwell. 2013.  Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Learn:  Life’s Greatest Lessons Are Gained from Our Losses.  New York:  Center Street.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Working in enterprise risk management in the early years of the housing crisis, I observed that firms with good risk management cultures invested heavily in learning from their mistakes[1].  Consequently, John Maxwell’s title, Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Learn, was obviously of interest.

Introduction

Maxwell is not a new face.  Maxwell is a prolific writer well-known for books on management and leadership.  When I went looking in 2008 for a book on leadership, for example, I settled on his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007)

Maxwell’s background as a successful pastor in San Diego, California (47) is intriguing.  Because pastors lead by example and primarily manage volunteers, they need to be experts at motivating people.  Maxwell is no exception. Maxwell states his purpose in writing as:  to help you learn how to learn—from your losses, failures, mistakes, challenges, and bad experiences (213-214).  He observes that:  A loss isn’t totally a loss if you learn something as a result (16).  He organizes his book around a list of virtues and other attributes:  humility, reality, responsibility, improvement, hope, teachability, adversity, problems, bad experiences, change, and maturity (18).  He also employs lists in each of his chapters to organize his thoughts.

Be Teachable

For example, Maxwell reports that teachability is a key attitude of a learner.  He defines teachability as:  possessing the intentional attitude and behavior to keep learning and growing throughout life (108).  Maxwell breaks teachability down into 5 traits of a teachable person and 3 daily practices. 

The 5 traits of a teachable person are:  (1) an attitude conductive to learning, (2) a beginner’s mind-set, (3) someone who takes, long hard looks in the mirror, (4) someone who encourages others to speak into their lives, and (5) someone who learns something new every day (109-118).  The 3 daily practices required to become more teachable are:  (1) preparation, (2) contemplation, and (3) application (119-122).  Because teachability is an attitude, it is something that we can clearly embrace in our personal and business lives.

Like a good pastor, Maxwell peppers his writing with stories about and quotes from people who illustrate his points.  One of his first and favorite is UCLA basketball coach, John Wooden (ix).  Maxwell likes to quote coaches, but he also quotes business leaders, pastors, presidents, authors, and personal acquaintances.  The use of stories makes his writing accessible; the citing of particular individuals makes his writing memorable.

Assessment

Maxwell inspires hope. The continuing high level of unemployment six years after the onset of the Great Recession has left a lot of American in despair, not knowing how to find work or, if they have work, how to improve the quality and pay of the work they have.  Maxwell’s book speaks into this despair.  Each of us can learn from our losses and bad experiences–the essence of hope is to see how our daily lives contribute to our plans for the future.  I found Sometimes You Win; Sometimes You Learn hard to put down.  I suspect that you will too.

Footnotes

[1]This was a major insight gained in a series of articles that I published a few years ago under the title: Can Bad Culture Kill a firm? (e.g. http://bit.ly/1i2zfGD)

Maxwell Learns from Mistakes

Also see:

Murrow Invites Churches to be Man-friendly

Scott Writes Pro Email Newsletters

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2020  
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Winters Gives Men Hope

Winters_review_20200224David L. Winters. 2020. Exercise Your Faith: Defeating the Lies Men Believe. VA: DAVIWIN Publishing.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For most of my adult life, church men’s groups have been a flop. Men generally had a good idea of what life was about (even if it was pathetically wrong) and saw no need to talk about it in a group. Five to ten years ago, that sense of identity started to come apart at the seams and men started trickling into men’s group meetings, even if they did not stay long. Now, with grown men committing suicide in record numbers, the need for men to attend to their inner lives faithfully has become a national crisis.[1]

Introduction

In his book, Exercise Your Faith: Defeating the Lies Men Believe, David Winters describes his work as a:“treatise about being a guy in 2020s” (viii). He works out this treatise proverbially by confronting 31 lies that men often believe about who they are and what it means to be a man. Satan is the father of lies and, as men, we often succumb to these lies—perhaps, out of ignorance; perhaps, because we want to believe them.

The photograph on Winter’s book is a case in point. Many men believe that they need to have a body like a personal trainer (like the man on the cover) to be a real man. Women often share this belief. This belief is highly corrosive for the other ninety-nine person of men, like myself, who don’t live in a gym. Although I managed a soccer team in graduate school, when I tried to keep up with a team after I started working I repeatedly injured myself because I no longer had time to train three hours daily. As I started putting on weight, my self-image plummeted—with a little help from my highly disciplined wife.

The Lie: Masculinity is Now Toxic

Perhaps my favorite Winters lie-buster deals with the idea that masculinity is now toxic, as suggested in a recent political ad by Gillette (link). Winters’ writes: “Some special interest groups try to convince men that any assertiveness is toxic masculinity.” (12) He advises: “Be who God made you—within the guardrails of Scripture.” (12) He goes on to highlight four “God-given attributes that all men should aspire to possess.”(13) They are: courage, faith, love, and protection (13-14).

Winters clearly stays close to his understanding of the biblical mandate for masculinity. He also eschews some of the hot-button he-she food fights that have arisen in the church. However, he does not shy away from the problem that many today want to abandon Christian teaching on sexuality and gender identity. He cites, for example, a 2015 study that reported a staggering forty present of transsexuals reported attempting suicide (James and others 2015; 8).

The Lie: Death Has to Kill You

When I worked as a chaplain intern in Providence Hospital, I noticed an alarming trend among my patients: about half of them exhibited physical ailments that stemmed from repressed grief. The presenting diagnosis could be virtually anything— backache, suicide, addiction, medications not working—but when you asked about the patient’s family life, someone close to them had often died in the past year.  This experience gave me a profound appreciation for anyone willing to talk openly about grief.

Winters talks about the death of his father at the age of 65 (I am 66) from emphysema (97). He writes:

“For those who don’t know if they believe in eternal life, all you need do is watch a few people before and after death. It’s easy to see that something profound separated from his body.” (100)

This comment made a big impression on me because my younger sister died in 2007 and I experienced this precise observation—a year later I entered seminary. Winters talks about walking around in a daze for the year after his father died (101). He advises men to read what the Bible says about death, analyze your fears in view of scripture, and sort out what you believe about death before you are confronted with it (102-103). In my case, I found a book by Michael Card, Sacred Sorrow, most comforting.

Assessment

David Winters’ Exercise Your Faith is a readable and helpful guide to dealing with masculinity in our time. Winters bares his soul revealing stories that few authors have the guts to write and puts them in a Biblical context. This is something that men need to hear. Christian men’s groups will want to pay special particular attention to this book.

References

 Card, Michael. 2005.  A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament.  [Also:  Experience Guide].  Colorado Springs:  NavPress. (review)

James, S.E., J.L. Herman, S. Rankin, M. Keisling, L. Mottet, and M. Anafi. 2016. The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey. Washington DC: National Center for Transgender Equality.

Footnotes

[1] As a writer and pastor, I welcome any book offering insight into this male identity crisis. I want to thank David Winters for giving me a pre-release copy of his book.

Winters Gives Men Hope

Also see:

Murrow Invites Churches to be Man-friendly

Scott Writes Pro Email Newsletters

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2020  

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Schaefer Makes Sense of Twitter

Schaefer_review_20200202Mark W. Schaefer. 2012.  The Tao of Twitter:  Changing Your Life and Business 140 Characters at a Time.  New York:  McGraw Hill. @markwschaefer

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra When I expressed interest in learning how to use social media more effectively, a friend quickly remarked:  whatever you do, don’t start Tweeting!  Probably the hardest part of learning to use Twitter has been to overcome the pre-conception that it’s used primarily by celebrity fans.  Mark Schaefer’s The Tau of Twitter has vanquished pre-conceptions and convinced me that Twitter is a business tool here to stay.

Introduction

What is Twitter?  Twitter looks like a personalized wire service or  stock market price feed.  The limited space in a Tweet assures that only short messages are transmitted which means that it is easy to view many Tweets quickly.  For news junkies and market watchers, Twitter has to be addictive—it is more than a non-stop pajama party for fifteen year olds.

Organization

So what does Schaefer say about it?  The book is organized into seventeen chapters.  The introduction and first two chapters explain how Twitter can be used in business.  Chapter three examines Schaefer’s basic social media strategy (The Tao Explained).  Chapter four explains business benefits.  Chapters five to seven explore Schaefer’s strategy in more detail.  The remainder of the book covers advanced Twitter concepts.

Three Taos of Twitter

Schaefer’s strategy in using social media revolves around three principles:  Targeted Connections, Meaningful Content, and Authentic HelpfulnessTargeted Connections means concentrate on following and be followed by people likely to find your business interesting.  This is just basic networking.  Schaefer talks a lot about his Twitter Tribe—a group of about 200 contacts who share your basic interests.  Meaningful Content means that you introduce information that is both helpful and interesting.  Most professionals today are specialists—talk about your area of expertise.  Authentic Helpfulness means that you express honest interest in what people are doing online.  Just pretend a colleague has walked in your office asking advice and you get the idea.

What makes Schaefer’s discussion interesting is how he mixes business and personal interests.  Several times he reminds the reader that “social media” begins with the word “social” or alternatively “P2P”—person to person.  People want to do business with people that they like being with.  For those of us who are not the life of the party, this whole discussion can be a bit intimidating—life in business causal—but the point is that networking is very personal.  Twitter is not a place to sell, but rather a place to establish relationships.

Assessment

Schaefer’s The Tao of Twitter makes Twitter more inviting, more accessible for business professionals.  Baby boomers may be shocked to learn that real business gets done in Twitter.  Millennials may discover that business requires a different protocol than Twitter’s social side.  Still, this is not a how to book that will substitute for the help system in Twitter.  Professionals outside of the world of business may also need to tweak Schaefer’s rules of thumb to fit the ethos of their own fields.  Given those caveats, The Tao of Twitter is an authentically helpful book.

Schaefer Makes Sense of Twitter

Also see:

Scott Writes Pro Email Newsletters

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Lent_2020  

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Tverberg Brings NT to Life

Tverberg_review_20200131Lois Tverberg. 2012.  Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Much like language itself, the stories we read in the Bible are laconic–they do not tell us everything that we would like to know. The Bible’s laconic stories speak into life in many contexts with meaning and power. Understanding their original meaning can, however, be difficult without detailed knowledge about their original context. Lois Tverberg’s new book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, explores Jesus’ original context through a study of Jewish thought, both in the Hebrew Bible and other Jewish writings (29).

Introduction

Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus is organized into three sections: (1) Hearing Our Rabbi’s Words, (2) Living Out the Words of Rabbi Jesus, and (3) Studying the Word with Rabbi Jesus. Chapters are brief and accessible enough to use devotionally. The chapters end in questions that can be used for small group discussion. Tverberg’s writing style is as engaging as her content is deep.

The Shema

In chapter 2, for example, Tverberg focuses on Jesus’ interpretation of the Shema. We know it as the great or double-love commandment (Matthew 2:35-43).  Love God; love neighbor. Hebrew, Tverberg reminds us, is word poor and meaning rich. In Hebrew, Shema means both to hear and obey. The Jewish version of the Shema, which has been recited daily since before the first century, as a prayer is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The second part of Jesus’ Shema (love of neighbor) is, however, found in Leviticus 19:18. The Hebrew understanding of love is covered in chapter 3 and the Hebrew understanding of neighbor is covered in chapter 4. If you really want to understand the parable of the Good Samaritan, Tverberg intimates, read 2 Chronicles 28:1-15.

Prayers Reflect Theology

As a seminarian, I was amazed how accessible Tverberg made matters of faith that I struggled to learn over the past several years. Citing Abraham Herschel, Tverberg writes: The issue of prayer is not prayer; the issue of prayer is God.  How you pray reveals what you believe about God (125). Until I understood this, my prayers were simply random words. I read Herschel, but I understood Tverberg. Tverberg understands Jesus not only as Messiah, but as one steeped in Jewish wisdom. Confronted with two commandments in tension, which one do you obey?

Assessment

Who might want to read Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus? This is an excellent text for devotions and for small group discussion. Pastors will find a number of chapters that will preach. Seminary students might find it an interesting introduction to Hebrew thinking. Any Christian serious about understanding their faith will enjoy and benefit from this book

Tverberg Brings NT to Life

Also see:

Vanhoozer: How Do We Understand the Bible? Part 1

Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture

Other ways to engage online:

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Hollinger Sees Faith as Holistic

Hollinger_review__20200203Dennis P. Hollinger.[1] 2005. Head, Heart, and Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion, and Action. Downers Grove: IVP Books.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My latest writing project, Living in Christ, focuses on ethics, which focuses on what do in response to our faith. This project could be seen as my life’s finally being written down, but in fact today’s church finds ethics unusually hard to cope with. Some church specialize in great worship with great musicians making a regular appearance; others are way out there on social action being involved in every demonstration at the local seat of government; still others have are deep into theology and invite notable speakers are on a regular basis. Relatively few churches have a lot of young people in attendance or conduct a lot of baptisms, suggesting that the division of labor among the churches is not aiding the evangelistic mission of the church (Matthew 28) and may actually be a hinderance.

Introduction

 In his book, Head, Heart, and Hands, Dennis Hollinger observes:

“Taken alone, thought, passion, and action render a fragmented faith that only further engenders a fragmented self and a fragmented church.” (16)

“The problem is that most believers and Christian organizations or movements have accentuated one dimension to the neglect of the others.” (9)

A fragmented self lacks direction; a fragmented church cannot reflect the image of God in a society wounded by record suicides, drug overdoses, and declining fertility rates and life expectancy.

Holistic Faith in Tension with the Times

The idea that Christian faith is a holistic faith that can transcend the circumstances of society seems today to be a remote possibility in a society conditioned to believe that anything can be achieved through a proper division of labor. In the modern period, economists have taught that dividing up a problem and allocated the different parts to specialists (professions) is the most efficient way to organize research, administration, production, and distribution. Thus, any enterprise that requires a holistic approach—as Hollnger sees faith—runs contrary to the spirit of the times. Is it any wonder that megachurch pastors, thinking like good CEOs, have no trouble with online, radio,/ and television ministries, but routinely have trouble with engendering discipleship?

Interestingly, the same problem afflicted the protestant churches after the Reformation as the balance between theology, spirituality, and action promoted by the reformers melted away in contests over doctrinal purity among the different denominations that evolved in later years (19). The megachurches today share much in common with the cathedrals established before the modern period.

Background and Organization

Hollinger is a past-president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary where he also taught ethics. He graduated from Elizabethtown College, received a Master’s of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a doctorate from Drew University. He did post-doctoral work at Oxford University.[2]

Hollinger writes in ten chapters:

  1. Fragmented Faith and Fragmented People
  2. Christian Faith and the Head
  3. Distortions of the Head
  4. Christian Faith and the Heart
  5. Distortions of the Heart
  6. Christian Faith and the Hands
  7. Distortions of the Hands
  8. Head, Heart, and Hands Together: The Biblical Case
  9. Head, Heart, and Hands Together: An Interdisciplinary Perspective
  10. Head, Heart, and Hands Together: Implications and Challenges (xii)

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by notes.

The Biblical Case for Holistic Faith

Hollinger spills a lot of ink documenting weaknesses in the faith caused by fragmentary theology, spirituality, and practice, as he should. What is interesting to me, however, is how the Bible does not make these same errors in neither the Old or New Testaments. This struggle with fragmentation is nothing new. Consider the first passage that Hollinger cites—the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:4-5 ESV)

Nothing here is left out—heart, mind, and hands—as Hollinger notes (145-146). The most basic prayer in Judaism is holistic and is underscored by Christ himself (Matt 22:37) Combining this holistic passage with neighbor love, as Jesus does, does not subtract from its holistic nature. Hollinger cites a half dozen other passages from the Old and New Testaments, but one other stands out: Romans 1:20-32. He writes:

“If ever there was a passage that brings head, heart, and hands together, this is it. It is somewhat typical to read this text as a chronological movement from false thinking, to wayward heart, to debased moral actions.”(151)

Hollinger sees the ordering as less important than the realization that head, heart, and hands are inter-related and affect one another. In other words, when we sin (hands), we often turn around to justify what we have done (head) and start to believe that our sin is also actually good (heart). How many parents, politicians, and pastors have not opposed homosexuality only to change their views after a child or other close relative has announced that they were gay. This is an obvious example of the interaction between head, heart, and hands in practice.

Assessment

Dennis Hollinger’s Head, Heart, and Hands focuses on the need for the church to engender a holistic faith by linking good theology and heart filled worship with practical acts of service. Hollinger effectively argues this point biblically with supporting arguments from other academic fields, such as education and psychology. This is a very practical, deeply theological text of interest to pastors, lay people, and theologians written in an accessible style.

Footnotes

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dennis_Hollinger. [2] https://www.gordonconwell.edu/faculty/senior/dennis-hollinger

Hollinger Sees Faith as Holistic

Also see:

Elliott: God’s Emotions Inform Our Emotions, Part 1

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Lester: Threats to Self and Values Evoke Anger

Lester_review_20200128 Andrew D. Lester. 2007. Anger: Discovering Your Spiritual Ally. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

During my chaplaincy training in a psych ward, I had an elderly patient who had an anger management problem. He frequently got into altercations with other patients and would get violently angry when staff members served him the wrong foods. In talking with him, he claims to have murdered a man and have served 7 years in jail for this crime. He also ruminated about assaulting annoying patients but, being partially paralyzed with a stroke, was physically incapable of acting on his ruminations. Efforts to work with him on his anger problem proved ineffective.

Introduction

Being curious on how to work more effectively with such patients led me to Andrew Lester’s book, Anger: Discovering Your Spiritual Ally.  This book is a popular version of a more detailed and technical book: The Angry Christian: A Theology of Care and Counseling also by Westminster John Knox Press (2003).

Defining Anger

Lester observes that we get angry when we feel threatened.  While we could be angry because of a physical threat, most often we get angry because of psychological threats:  threats to our values, our beliefs about right and wrong, our expectations about the way good people should act… (14). When threatened: The intensity of our response depends on the amount of personal investment we have in the values, beliefs, and means that are being threatened (28).  Following this “threat model” of anger, our first responsibility when we get angry is to recognize that we feel threatened and to identify the nature of the threat (29).  Anger always has an object.

Anger Model

In copying with anger, Lester presents a 6 step model:

  1. Recognize anger;
  2. Acknowledge anger;
  3. Calming our bodies;
  4. Understanding why we are threatened;
  5. Evaluating the validity of the threat; and
  6. Communicating anger appropriately (62).

This list sounds suspiciously like how other authors suggest speakers cope with hostile questions—anger is often suppressed and expressed in a devious manner [1].  Lester notes that anger is often camouflaged as procrastination; actions that frustrate, embarrass or causes others pain; nasty humor; nagging; silence; sexual deviance; and passive-aggressive behavior (88-89).  My chronically angry patient, for example, was probably abused at some point—probably in prison—and this abuse returned as uncontrolled anger (84).

Does God Express Anger?

Does God get angry?  Did Jesus get angry? [2]  Lester notes that Jesus was fully human and is portrayed in the New Testament as a person with the full range of human emotion, including anger (46)  For example, Jesus asks:

Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill? But they were silent.  And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, Stretch out your hand. He stretched it out, and his hand was restored (Mark 3:4-5 ESV).

Lester observes that God is not normally thought to be vulnerable, but following the threat model of anger God’s values—justice and love [3]—are sometimes threatened in ways that could evoke anger.  Lester believes that God’s wrath is particularly associated with defense of his compassion and love—neither arbitrary nor capricious like other gods of antiquity (56).

A biblical scholar would note that God wrath (in the form of curses) is required by the Mosaic covenant:   

But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you (Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV). 

If covenantal obligations require God’s response to transgressions by the Nation of Israel [4] in the form of curses, then how much more would God’s wrath be poured out on those Gentiles, such as the Canaanites, that ignore him and trample on his law and gospel?  Lester’s threat model is helpful in biblical interpretation, for example, in the conquest of Canaan and, later, the Jewish exile to Babylon—even if postmodern sentiments are offended.  In effect, values (laws and treaties) undefended are not really values.

Outline of Book

Lester’s Anger is a short book written in 7 chapters, including:

  1. Reconsidering Anger;
  2. Why Do We Get Angry;
  3. What Does the Bible Say?
  4. Did Jesus Get Angry?  (And What about God?);
  5. Dealing with Anger Creatively;
  6. Anger Can Be Destructive; and
  7. Anger as a Spiritual Friend.

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by conclusions.

Assessment

A lot more could be said about Lester’s work.  I was impressed by Lester’s comment about the role of anger.  Anger always has an object.  Some objects of anger are righteous; many are not [5].  Like Jesus himself, a good Christian should express appropriate anger at injustice, idolatry, and innocent suffering (58,109).  Looking around today at the blatant immorality and abuses of human dignity, where is the indignation?  Where is the outrage?  Anger is sometimes appropriate.

Footnotes

[1] See, for example, review (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-8o).

[2] Also see post (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-75).

[3] Lester (55) cites:  O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 ESV)

[4] Consider the commissioning of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:18-21 ESV).  Even God’s prophet must honor the boundaries that God lays out for him or his salvation will be at risk. [5] The Apostle Paul reminds us:  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV).

Lester: Threats to Self and Values Evoke Anger

Also see:

Elliott: God’s Emotions Inform Our Emotions

Crucial Conversations Target Productive Dialog

Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Corner_2020

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Nouwen Calls Leaders

Nouwen_cupHenri J. M. Nouwen.  2006.  Can You Drink the Cup?  Notre Dame:  Ave Maria Press.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When a friend of mine in Christ recommended this book, I was surprised and happy to take the recommendation.  I thought that I had read all of Henri Nouwen’s books. The book’s dedication to the l’Arche Daybreak Community here in Northern Virginia added special meaning for me because a friend of mine worked and lived there.

Nouwen History

In this book, Nouwen talks at length about his personal history, particularly his ordination. From the age of six, Nouwen wanted to be a priest and he was ordained as Roman Catholic priest on July 21, 1957 in the Netherlands (16). As a gift for his ordination, his uncle gave him a chalice (20). “Can You Drink the Cup?” is a book structured around the metaphor of drinking wine.

The book starts with citing Matthew 20:20-23. In this passage, the mother of Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, comes to Jesus to request that her sons be given seats at the left and right of Jesus when he comes into his kingdom. Jesus denies the request posing a question: “Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matt 20:22 ESV).

Cup as Symbol

Nouwen sees the cup as a symbol of our life. He asks: “Can we hold the cup of life in our hands? Can be lift it up for others to see, and can we drink it to the full?” (24) Nouwen structures his book around these three themes: “holding, lifting, and drinking” (25).

Holding

Nouwen comments: “drinking wine is more than just drinking. You have to know what you are drinking and be able to talk about it” (29). (Now I know why I prefer beer!) In talking about this holding of the cup, Nouwen talks about the joys and sorrows of living and working with special needs people. Nouwen writes: “Joys are hidden in sorrows!” (56) In my own work with Alzheimer’s patients, I have come to know both the joy of walking with them and the deep sorrow, deep abandonment they feel.

Lifting

Nouwen writes: “Lifting up the cup is an invitation to affirm and celebrate life together” (61). The symbolism here is not only the toast and the word that are spoken, but the celebration, especially the celebration of communion. A toast is a blessing (68). In Spanish, a blessing is a good word (bendición) and a curse is a bad word (maldición). In the biblical world where worlds are created and destroyed by God’s word, one learns to choose one’s words carefully.

Drinking

Nouwen reminds us that offering a drink to a visitor is a basic act of hospitality (86). Being willing to share is another way of saying that one accepts one’s status in life. At what point do we reach that point? A resident of L’Arche, Gordie, asked Nouwen: “Why are people leaving all the time?” (93). This question cuts to the core of pastoral ministry. As an intern, I was happy to work with Alzheimer’s patients but Gordie’s question cut to core–could I, as Nouwen did, give up the fast track and just simply work in a home with Alzheimer’s patients? What level of sacrifice are we willing to offer? What about our families? I found “Can You Drink the Cup?” very convicting. Perhaps, you will too.

Nouwen Calls Leaders

Also see:

Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net,

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Corner_2020

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Cloud: Reclaim Life, Achieve Success

Henry Cloud, One Life Solution

Henry Cloud.  2008. The One-Life Solution:  Reclaiming Your Personal Life While Achieving Greater Professional Success.  New York:  HarperCollins.

Reviewed By Stephen W. Hiemstra

I cannot ignore any book by Henry Cloud. Back in 2003, my pastor preached a sermon based on Cloud’s earlier book called: Boundaries. The sermon interested me enough that I bought and read the book. Applying prescriptions from the book to my life led me to perceive my call into pastoral ministry.

Introduction

The One-Life Solution is a book focused on constructing and developing better boundaries at work (19). Cloud observes that most people get caught up trying to control the things outside their control. Things like other people, circumstances, or outcomes. Meanwhile, they lose control of themselves (22). In this context, Cloud defines a boundary as a property which defines where you end and someone (or something) else begins (25).

Six Key Areas

In a work environment, Cloud sees boundaries bringing order to six key areas: 1. Ownership, 2. Control, 3. Freedom, 4. Responsibility, accountability, and consequences, 5. Limits, and 6. Protection (25-30). Interestingly, these six areas do not lend structure to the discussion that follows. Rather, the book mostly focuses on applying boundaries to establish structure and reduce anxiety.

A Henry Cloud Audit

Cloud suggests that a good place to start is with an audit. The purpose of this audit is to measure where you spend your time, disconnects between time spent and personal values, and what personal issues contribute to the problem (69).  This method of analysis is reminiscent of what Miller and Rollnick (2002, 38) referred to as gap analysis–highlighting the discrepancy between present behavior and …broader goals and values.

Assessment

An important point in assessing books with the character of movie sequels is: does the sequel add value to the initial book? Here the answer is yes. Henry Cloud’s The One-Life Solution contributed real value to my understanding of boundaries. For Cloud the key was seeing examples of how to manage difficult office situation with tact and grace. My favorite example recalls an obnoxious CEO who laid into him everyday at his desk at 4 p.m., which ruined his evening as well as his day. Cloud (152) simply made a rule not to talk to him after 4 p.m. I had a supervisor very much like that.

References

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. 1992. Boundaries: When to Say YES; When to Say NO; To Take Control of Your Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Miller, William R. and Stephen Rollnick. 2002. Motivational Interviews: Preparing People for Change. New York: Guilford Press.

Cloud: Reclaim Life, Achieve Success

Also see:

Cloud and Townsend Set Limits; Heal Relationships; Gain Control 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net

Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Corner_2020

 

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