Maxwell Wins by Learning; Inspires Hope

Learn_11222013John 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.

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.

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.

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.


[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).

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Crucial Conversations Target Productive Dialog

Kerry Patterson, Crucial ConversationsBy 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 publisher 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 at: http://bit.ly/2wVZtbb

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Stott Outlines Gospel; Speaks Plainly

StottJohn Stott.  2008.  Basic Christianity (Orig pub 1958).  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Apostle Peter reminds us:  but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1Peter 3:15 ESV).

Our ability to respond to Peter’s admonishment is clearly challenged today.  Outside of the criticism of our faith arising from the advocates for modern science, we are confronted in our shrinking postmodern world with a host of alternatives to Christianity from other religions and from complex and confusing voices in secular society.  In the midst of this whirlwind of controversy, John Stott’s book, Basic Christianity, offers us a plainspoken starting point.

Stott outlines the Gospel in eleven chapters.  After a brief introduction, he presents has four parts:  1. Who Christ Is, 2. What We Need, 3. What Christ Has Done, and 4. How To Respond.  The first part focuses on the claims, character, and resurrection of Christ.  The second part focuses on sin.  The third part focuses on Christ’s death and salvation.  The fourth part brings us to count the cost, make a decision, and live the Christian life.

John Stott (1921-2011) was rector (pastor) emeritus of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London and founder of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.  He was one of the authors of the Lausanne Covenant which started as a 1974 Christian religious manifesto promoting active world-wide Christian evangelism and continues to influence missions work today.  My first acquaintance with Stott came in 1983 when I visited Bonn in Germany as an economics student and a friend gifted me with Stott’s book—Gesandt Wie Christus (1976).  At the time, I assumed Stott was German.  Needless to say, Stott is still one of the world’s best known evangelical writers.

Stott acknowledges the enormity of the task of defending the faith–apologetics.  For example, he recounts a conversation with a young man having trouble reciting one of his church’s creeds because he could no longer believe it.  Stott asked him:  If I were to answer your problems to your complete intellectual satisfaction, would you be willing to change the way you live?  The answer was clearly no.  His real problem was not intellectual but moral (25).  This conversation is not an isolated event–advocating a disciplined life-style today is a tough sell. Why give up self-control to Christ and live a disciplined life when in Alice’s Wonderland every headache can be solved with a different colored pill?

Stott’s final chapter on being a Christian is most interesting.  He writes:  Our great privilege as children of God is relationship; our great responsibility is growth.  Everyone loves children, but nobody…wants them to stay in the nursery (162).  We grow in two dimensions—understanding and holiness—which work out in our duties to God, to the church, and to society (163-166).  This growth includes growth in our prayer life.  Stott advises readers to respond to God in prayer in the same manner that he speaks to you—do not change the subject.  If he talks about his glory, worship him; if he talks about sin, confess it; if scripture blesses you, thank him for it (164).  Stott’s comments about the spiritual practice of daily examine flow right out of this discussion.  In the morning, commit the details of your day to God’s blessing and, in evening, review what happened during the day.

John Stott’s Basic Christianity provides a well-ordered accounting of the Gospel that is worthy of study and reflection.  His summary—God has created; God has spoken; God has acted—is brief but compelling (18).  The Apostle Peter’s admonition sounds initially like evangelism.  But, if the truth be known, the accounting of our hope in Christ benefits us at least as much as anyone we meet.

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Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief

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

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Grief is a postmodern embarrassment.  American society has abandoned the idea of Sabbath rest; even the pre-eminent American holiday, Thanksgiving, is being pushed aside to make more room for holiday shopping.  As the pace of life keeps accelerating, the rhythm of life allows little room for honest reflection; honest emotions.  Grief often comes as a kind of alien invasion.

In this context, Christian musician, Michael Card, observed after 9/11—we, in the American church, had no songs to sing in response to the horrific attack (7).  Songs to sing?  When Jerusalem was burned to the ground by the Babylonians, the Prophet Jeremiah wrote the Book of Lamentation.  Lamentation is a song of grief.

Introduction

In his book, A Sacred Sorrow, Card set out to rediscover the lost art of lamentation.  He studies lamentation in the OT and NT focusing on the characters of Job, David, Jeremiah, and Jesus.  A key verse in this study is found in Exodus 7:16 [Moses said to Pharaoh] The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to say to you: Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the desert. The desert in this context is interpreted literally but also figuratively. It is often in the desert that we meet and learn to depend on God.

Biblical Walk

In this sense, grief is a walk in the desert that can lead us to God.  In our grief we almost invariable get angry at ourselves and at God.  Lament helps us turn from self-pity to access our anger and express our grief—the only healthy response to death.  Lashing out at God means we finally take him seriously.  In turn, God honors our anger.  Many of the Psalms are laments which explicitly model both the expression of rage and the subsequent turning to God.  Here lies the path of our salvation:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you (Isaiah 43:1-5 ESV).

Card cites this passage from Isaiah and makes the important point that God promises to be with us. He does not promise to give us a care-free life or life without pain—grief exposes the carefree life promised by the postmodern lifestyle as a lie.  When we pray, it is accordingly important to ask for and treasure God’s presence. God’s gifts follow his presence.

Assessment

A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card deepened my conscious relationship with God.  In addition to A Sacred Sorrow, Card also has an A Sacred Sorrow: Experience Guide which is usefully studied in addition to this book. Between the two, the experience guide is more accessible.  Both are worth reading and studying either alone or with a small group.

Card Explores Lament; Aids with Grief

Also see:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

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Tell Story; Find Peace!

Spiritual_autobiography_11012013Richard Peace.  1998.  Spiritual Autobiography:  Discovering and Sharing Your Spiritual Story.  Colorado Springs:  NavPress.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the rites of passage for seminary students is to write and talk about your walk of faith.  The first time it comes up it is intriguing and highly personal.  After a while the task becomes more laborious and a bit intrusive.  Why do committees keep prodding me about my journey of faith?  Richard Peace’s book, Spiritual Autobiography, provides some welcome guidance.

Peace cites three things that one can learn in writing a spiritual autobiography:

  1. To examine your life in order to understand the ways that God has been active.
  2. To notice the activity of God in your life and in the lives of those around you.
  3. To share with others what God has been doing in your life (7).

Later, he also observes that writing a spiritual autobiography provides a sense of direction to life (61).  Along the way, Peace uses the example of the life of Abraham to illustrate his points.  He also draws on the lives of Augustine (Confessions) and C.S. Lewis (Surprised by Joy) at different points in his writing.

As explained in his introduction (How to Use This Guide), Peace organizes his book into three broad sections:  “A Small Group Guide”, a description of “How to Prepare a Spiritual Autobiography”, and “Leaders Notes” (7).  Peace recommends breaking up a group study into seven sessions:  pilgrimage, call and blessing, encounters, relationships, testing, presentation, and celebration.  The preparation covers the role of the autobiography, content, process of writing, special issues, and the “spiritual discipline of noticing” (3).

Peace writes on spiritual autobiography following 20 years of teaching a class at Fuller Theological Seminary entitled:  “The Pursuit of Wholeness”.  As a professor of spiritual formation, Peace is responsible for helping aspiring pastors develop their own spiritual awareness and voice.  It is interesting that Peace occupied the Robert Boyd Munger chair.  Munger was also a faculty member but is best known for a sermon:  My Heart–Christ’s Home.  Munger was also my pastor when my father studied at Berkley University and when I was a toddler.

For me, the chapter on the content of a spiritual autobiography was an eye-opener.  Peace advises the writer to divide one’s life up into periods either by age or by periods reflecting the search for God (65).  In turn, divide these periods into sub-periods—eight to twelve altogether (67).  Examine these periods for encounters with God, crises of faith, and growth outcomes (71).  Then, describe the periods with information that you remember or gather from journals, photos, and letters.  Peace’s explanation of this process is worth the ticket of admission because it is a method for uncovering unresolved issues—the pains of life that form us and, if they are unprocessed, limit our growth intellectually, emotionally, behaviorally, and/or relationally (76-77).

Pain’s book, Spiritual Autography, is most helpful in understanding and talking about the faith that you already possess.  We paint the world in colors that we draw from the palette of our own experiences.  When we can talk about those experiences, we own them; they no longer own us.  Pain’s writing is accessible to maturing Christians and small groups should consider using it as a Lenten study.

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Exercise Nuts Live Longer; Live Better

YoungerNextYear_10262013Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge.  2007.  Younger Next Year:  Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy–Until You’re 80 and Beyond.  Male and Female editions.  New York:  Workman Publishing.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

My annual physical examination yielded a surprising result this month–my cholesterol statistics improved rather markedly.  What had I done differently?  Really only two things:  I ate more fresh vegetables and I added resistance training to my daily exercise.  What did these two things have in common?  They were both recommendations from Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge’s book, Younger Next Year.

Crowley and Lodge make an audacious claim:  over 50 percent of all illness and injuries in the last third of your life can be eliminated by changing your lifestyle (7).  What changes do they recommend?  A big part of their advice is regular, strenuous exercise  including resistance training.  What is regular?  At least six days a week.  What is strenuous?  Exercise able to provide an aerobic effect.  What is resistance training?  They recommend a program of weight lifting.  If you follow their advice, then you can remain like a physically fit, 50 year-old well past the age of 80.

Crowley and Lodge’s claim is credible for two reasons.

First, when I worked as a chaplain intern in 2011 and 2012, I noticed that about half the patients that I visited in the emergency department were there as a consequence of poor lifestyle choices.  Poor choices included things like obesity, drug addiction, sexual adventurism, and so on.  Later, the chief surgeon in the department corrected my estimate and claimed that poor lifestyle choices actually accounted for about three-quarters of the visits to the deparment.

Second, the Washington Post ran an article earlier in the year comparing life-expectancy in two Florida counties.  The first county was populated by exercise nuts and the second county by couch potatoes.  The article reported that the exercise nuts were living healthier and several years longer than the couch potatoes.  This issue caught Congress’ attention (the reason for the article) because the difference in life expectancy rates and health outcomes implied that the exercise nuts were being subsidized by the couch potatoes in federal benefit programs, such as social security and medicare.  Politicians are good at following the money trail!

Crowley is a retired attorney;  Lodge is his physician and an expert in gereatric (old age) medicine.  The one knows how to get your attention;  the other knows how to keep it.

The book is organized into two parts:  taking charge of your body and taking charge of your life.  Part 1–Taking charge of your body–deals with the problem that after age 50 your body begins to athropy.  Exercise helps to maintain  an active metabolism and retain body weight.  In other words, use it or loose it.  Part2–taking charge of your life–focuses on the problem of remaining emotionally active and connected when the natural tendency is to slow down and withdraw.

While many of the topics covered in this book may be found elsewhere, a real surprise comes in the chapter entitled:  The Biology of Strength Training (165).  Being an aerobics kind of guy, I might have skipped this chapter, but that would have been a big mistake.  ***Weight training builds not only strength, but also coordination.***  Both outcomes reduce senior injuries from falls.  More strength means that we have the strength to reverse a fall; better coordination means that we catch ourselves more quickly when we fall.  Because seniors often are hospitalized because of falls, this insight is a big deal.

Younger Next Year is a book that I have gifted to most older members of my family.  More generally, the need for the church to focus on the body as the temple of God’s Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) is long overdue.  Some might be squeamish about the authors’ indelicate comments about senior sexuality, but motor on–the book’s benefits outweigh the cost.

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Graham Shares Gospel; Speaks about Judgment

BillyGraham_10212013Billy Graham.  2013.  The Reason for My Hope:  Salvation.  Nashville:  W. Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson).

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Billy Graham will celebrate his 95th birthday on November 7, 2013 with a new campaign called:  My Hope with Billy Graham (http://bit.ly/1cPVrOx).  Graham’s new book, The Reason for My Hope, was released on October 15th in anticipation of this campaign.  He writes to summarize the Good News that he preached during his ministry (vii).

I have read Graham since I learned to read (http://bit.ly/19pe0Yp) so I was anxious to see his latest book.

Graham organized his book into eight chapters.  The chapter titles are instructive because each chapter is well-named and self-contained.  The titles are:  Rescued for Something, The Great Redemption, Sin is In, The Price of Victory, Where is Jesus?, Defining Christianity in a Designer World, No Hope of Happy Hour in Hell, and He is Coming Back.  Before these eight chapters is an introduction focused on hope and after them is an afterword, Living Life with Hope.  The afterword talks about how to find Christ in six steps and includes a believer’s prayer.

Graham’s writing style is distinctive.  As a master of collage, Graham reads the times through highly personal stories of individuals that are like Norman Rockwell paintings that spring to life.  In chapter one, for example, Graham takes us aboard the cruise ship, Costa Concordia, as it runs aground off the Italian coast.  In an age of seemingly miraculous technology, Graham questions how the crew could make such simple mistakes and, having made them, could be so indifferent to the safety of passengers under their care (11).  As the chapter draws to a close, Graham observes:  when we are rescued from something, we also saved for something.  In the words of former president, Ronald Reagan, after the assassination attempt on his life—I believe God spared me for a purpose (12).  Indeed.  We yearn to learn that purpose.

Graham’s  comments about the dark side of postmodern culture are particularly pointed.  Popular music, art, and film are infatuated with evil.  The increasingly frequent occurrence of mass shootings, such as during the 2012  Dark Knight showing in Aurora, Colorado, almost panders to this infatuation (158).  If God was willing to flood the earth in the time of Noah, exactly how can this generation avoid judgment when Christ returns? (168).  In some sense, we are judged by our own indifference.  Graham helps us taste, touch, and see our need for salvation in each of these accounts.

Part of the My Hope with Billy Graham campaign is to teach Christians how to assist seekers in coming to faith.  Graham’s six steps to finding Christ include a series of musts–[you must] Be convinced that you need him, Understand the message of the cross, Count the cost, Confess Jesus Christ as Lord of your life, Be willing for God to change your life, and Desire nourishment from God (170-182).   In the words of the Apostle Paul:  everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13 ESV).

To understand Graham’s success as a writer and as an evangelist, one needs to understand that he was one of the first evangelists to understand how truly to engage the culture and present the Gospel with multi-media.  His use of collage in writing, for example, shares a lot in common with the use of vignettes in a mini-series.  Collage appears simple, but its construction is highly complex.

Graham’s writing is very engaging–The Reason for My Hope is classic Graham.  I look forward to hearing more about it on November 7.

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Savage Teaches Listening; Hears Unheard 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:

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

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

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/Sabath_2018

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Barnes Interprets Heidelberg; Offers Postmodern Reading

Barnes_10152013M. Craig Barnes.  2012.  Body & Soul:  Reclaiming the Heidelberg Catechism.  Co-published:  Grand Rapids:  Faith Alive and Louisville:  Congregational Ministries Publishing.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

November 15, 2013 is the 450th anniversary of the publishing of the Heidelberg Catechism (HC).  The HC famously begins with this question:  What is your only comfort in life and in death?  The answer is:  That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ (165).  The HC consists of a 129 questions with answers structured in much the same manner.

The HC is straightforward, yet a bit intimating.  Many protestant communicants continue to study it, yet the prospect of being tested on its contents is intimating—and not only for teens.  The appeal of a short book which talks about the theology and origins of the HC is obvious.

Author Craig Barnes (biography at: http://bit.ly/1bUJLgy) is an intriguing candidate to write an introduction to the HC.  Dr. Barnes has a doctor of philosophy in church history and began 2013 as the new president of Princeton Theological Seminary.  He was previously on the faculty of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and senior pastor of a church.  Perhaps most interesting is that he also serves as a professor of pastoral ministry.  Being a professor of pastoral ministry implies that his primary job is to teach aspiring pastors the art of pastoring.   It is interesting that this pastor to pastors has placed a high priority on communicating the details of the HC—I like his priorities.

Body and Soul is organized in six chapters around the structure of the HC itself.  Before the HC discussion is an introduction.  After the discussion is a reproduction of the HC itself and a brief set of notes on the history.  The HC reproduced is the new 1988 translation from the German and Latin complete with the scriptural references that were previously not readily available.  This translation represents collaboration between the Christian Reformed Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Reformed Church in America (163).

Chapter 1 is entitled:  The Only Comfort—question 1 (abstracted above).  The chapter starts with three vignettes of people lost in pain—a pastor coming home from a funeral; a firefighter having trouble making ends meet; and a new widower visiting his wife’s grave.  The chapter then proceeds through a number of contemporary problems.  The headings are descriptive:  contemporary anxiety; is religion the answer; an inheritance of faith; help from the sixteenth century; a holy conversation; my only comfort; I belong; to my faithful savior.  Barnes makes a compelling case that the HC is 450 years old but still very applicable to the problems we face today.

Body and Soul is a neat little book. Barnes is an artful story teller who is able to bring amazing historical and theological insights into his presentation of the HC.  Barnes’ stories make his written accessible to a wide audience, much like the Q&A format of the HC itself.

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Gabriel Models Virtue; Speaks Worlds

Stephen Gabriel.  2011.  Speaking to the Heart:  A Father’s Guide to Growth in Gabriel_10012013Virtue.  Falls Church:  Moorings Press.

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Virtue.  That to which we hold ourselves accountable to.  Or not.  If your forehead were a billboard, what objectives would be written there?  Stephen Gabriel’s book, Speaking to the Heart, is a book that I wish that I might have written at a younger age.

Speaking to the Heart is a book for fathers written by a father (11).  Gabriel’s focus on virtues arises from the desire to be an intentional father who can assist his children in navigating the turbulence of life (12).  For those of us uncomfortable with the subject of virtues, Gabriel advises—pay attention to your discomfort because it points in the direction of wisdom (14).

The book is organized around 20 virtues starting with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love (charity).  These 20 chapters are introduced with an introduction and followed with a conclusion.  Each of the 20 chapters begins with a scripture passage and a famous quote.  The virtue is then defined in a single page.  This definition is then followed by a two page discussion entitled:  “Considerations for Growth in the Virtue of XXX”.

Chapter 7, for example, focuses on temperance.  The scripture passage is 1 Corinthians 9:25-27 which begins:  “All the fighters at the games go into strict training…”  He then cites Robert Burton:  “Temperance is a bridle of gold.”  Gabriel writes:  “Temperance is evidenced by a sense of moderation and restraint in the exercise of our appetites.”  First among the considerations for growth cited is:  “I reflect on how I seek my happiness and fulfillment”.  Another gem is:  “I am more attentive to the people I am with than to the food and drink.”

Gabriel’s Speaking to the Heart oozes authenticity.  What gives the book authenticity is not the author’s professional background, expertise in ethics, or ability to turn a phrase. Gabriel is not an obvious candidate to take up the pen here. Gabriel’s authenticity arises because he promises publically to model virtue as a father and outlines what that looks like.  In a postmodern world devoid of adults, that takes guts.  You want to be a good parent?  Model virtue.

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