The Gentle Art of Asking

February 2, 2018

How about you? Do you feel like you know everything you need to know?

Whether you are in business or ministry or family–do you have all the answers?

Edgar H. Schein writes in his book, “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling,” that many people would rather fail than admit their dependency on another person.

How about succeeding together?

Try Humble Inquiry. Asking questions implies that someone knows something I don’t–even if they are a subordinate, or younger than I, or from a different background. I must humble myself to ask someone placing myself in a position of learner to someone superior to me in this situation. It is the opposite of what we are taught in our culture which places emphasis on telling.

I’ve talked often about the skills of listening. Often we need to ask questions to elicit something to listen to.

Schein says, “The kind of inquiry I am talking about derives from an attitude of interest and curiosity. It implies a desire to build a relationship.”

We must slow down to ask and then listen.

Again Schein says, “I find that the biggest mistakes I make and the biggest risks I run all result from a mindless hurrying. If I hurry, I do not pay enough attention to what is going on, and that makes mistakes more likely. More importantly, if I hurry, I do not observe new possibilities.”

He points out in our “Do and Tell” culture, the most important thing we need to learn is to reflect. Before doing something, apply Humble Inquiry to yourself. “Ask ourselves: What is going on here? What would be the appropriate thing to do (Wow, there are hundreds of men right now who wish they had asked themselves that question)? On whom am I dependent? Who is dependent upon me?”

In other words, become more mindful.

“The toughest relearning, or new learning, is for leaders to discover their dependence on their subordinates, to embrace Here-and-now Humility, and to build relationships of high trust and valid communication with their subordinates.”

Schein was an MIT professor and business consultant. You can substitute parent for leader and use the ideas in family. Pastor for leader and transform a church.

Read and digest the book. It’s short and not technical. Good read.

God Is Not Hidden Nor Does He Hide His Wisdom

February 1, 2018

I have not spoken in secret or kept my purpose hidden. I did not require the people of Israel to look for me in a desolate waste. I am the Lord, and I speak the truth; I make known what is right. Isaiah 45:19, TEV

James, the brother of Jesus and the wisdom writer of the New Testament, advised us that we can just ask God for wisdom and he will provide.

Can it really be that easy? We don’t need a special spiritual guide to initiate us into a secret society where the hidden truths are finally revealed?

Digest the words from Isaiah. God didn’t (doesn’t) hide from us. We don’t have to search in remote places. No, we don’t have to go to Sedona, AZ at the right phase of the moon to find God.

We just need the intention–we ask with intention for wisdom. It is best to ask also for discernment so that we can apply wisdom correctly.

If we but ask God daily for guidance, we can perhaps avoid the problems and wasted life of Solomon. He who asked God for wisdom and had it granted, failed to live his life as a wise man would. I’ve just finished my annual reading of his wisdom sayings, the Proverbs. But look at his reflections of his life in Ecclesiastes. All was meaningless, he said, because he failed daily to follow God.

God was not hidden. He’s right here beside us willing to enter our life. We can have wisdom and live a life of wisdom if we but just open ourselves.

“I am the Lord, and I speak the truth; I make known what is right.”

A Month of Proverbs

January 31, 2018

31 days in January; 31 chapters worth of Proverbs.

What did I learn?

Intentionally re-reading something provides ever deeper insights.

Wise people don’t think of themselves as all that wise. They are always open to correction, instruction, and learning.

There is a chance for foolish people to turn their lives around if only they would begin to listen to wise teaching.

There is little hope for the scoffer. Those cynics who ascribe everything to self-serving motives. Those who refuse to acknowledge God. Those who try to bring everyone down to their level.

Young men (probably old ones, too) should beware women who are out to seduce them. Adultery, profligate sexual activity, affairs are to be avoided as they will lead to ruin.

While a contentious wife is like the dripping of rain, Proverbs ends with a picture of a conscientious wife who should be praised in “the assembly”.

If Solomon had followed his own advice, would the kingdom have split because of his son?

How much better would our own lives be if we brought this wisdom into our daily lives?

[Oh, and I do a lot of writing on my iPad. I’ve learned yet again that all that artificial intelligence employed to figure out what I’m trying to say and then complete words for me before I type them needs a watchful human to check them. Artificial intelligence is, well, artificial.]

We Were There When

January 30, 2018

Yesterday I talked about the encounter of the rich young man with Jesus from the point of view of a preacher who is making a point. As Eoin so aptly pointed out in the comments, the story goes much deeper into emotional response of both Jesus to the man and the man to Jesus.

Sit in contemplation and cast yourself back to the scene.

We are crowded around Jesus as we follow him through the villages and along the countryside. There are perhaps a couple of hundred of us. We give Jesus a little space, but we have this deep need to be close enough to hear what he says and see what he does.

A young man approaches. We let him through. He is apparently a seeker. About him is the appearance of wealth and the confidence that comes from a comfortable upbringing. Yet, there also is a sense that he is troubled.

Jesus sees him. But Jesus never just “sees” someone. He doesn’t look at you; he looks into people. He sees through facade. He sees the heart.

He stops, gives the young man his complete attention with appearance deeper than welcoming, acceptance–it was that look of deep compassion and love he had for true spiritual seekers.

“What must I do to have eternal life?” the man asked.

Good question. All of us were asking the same question.

Jesus gave him the standard rabbi answers about following the commandments. The young man said he had, yet still he lacked assurance of eternal life.

Jesus said that he still had something missing. He must give away all his wealth to the poor and then come and join us as we followed Jesus. And the man was crushed. He lowered his head, returned to his entourage, and left.

We all gasped. What? Isn’t wealth a sign of God’s blessing? What does this mean?

Even one of the leaders asked Jesus what we were all thinking–if a rich person doesn’t automatically have eternal life, who can?

Jesus told us that it is hard. But that we should just follow him. Yes, wasn’t that his constant invitation? Isn’t that what we all had done? We’ve left everything behind to follow this man.

Yet, we still were thinking about Jesus, “Just who is this man?”

Where Your Heart Is

January 29, 2018

A rich young man came to Jesus. He was obviously troubled in spirit. But why? He was young and rich. What more could you want?

“How can I inherit eternal life?”

Ah, we learn right away that wealth does not bestow on us the assurance of a full life. The kind of life Jesus always talked about.

Well, you know the rules (commandments) don’t you?

“Yes, I have followed them all since my youth.”

Jesus did not reprimand him for pride, so he must have been a sincere rule follower.

We should pause here in the story.

What is eternal life? We know from the Gospel of John where Jesus says in a prayer, “And this is eternal life that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Eternal life, then, begins at the moment that we know God.

This man had wealth and he diligently lived according to the rules handed down from the time of Moses. And he did not have eternal life–or else he would not have asked.

We know from this that the way to eternal life does not lie in either wealth or in following the laws.

How many of our churches teach that very thing? Remember the “prosperity gospel” from the 80s? “If you become a Christian, you’ll become wealthy.” Vestiges of this gospel survive.

How many churches say, “If you follow all the rules such that we can see it, then we will accept you into fellowship and call you a Christian”?

Back to the story. Why did Luke add this story to his narrative? What group were Jesus’s biggest adversaries? The Pharisees. What did they teach? Follow the rules and you’ll be saved.

What was Jesus’s response to the young man?

Go and sell all your possessions, give the money to the poor, come and follow me.

The man could not do that.

Why, we may ask. It’s not the wealth (which preachers usually discuss). What is Jesus always interested in? The status of your heart. Where was this man’s heart? Tied up in his wealth.

He went away saddened. He now knew the way to eternal life and couldn’t change his heart to live it. We could hope that one day he realized the problem and changed.

Where is your heart today? Honestly, now, are we caught up in rules or is our heart in following Jesus.

Time To Devote Deep Thinking To Our Moral Decisions

January 26, 2018

I sat at the computer to think and then to write. Notifications flashed across the screen. “Your Photoshop has been updated.” God bless Adobe. I really needed to know that.

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, thinking.

We do so little of that, don’t we? It’s easier to copy someone else’s opinion and repeat. Even Christians find themselves spouting half-truths or opinions from someone else and passing it off as theology.

We must step back from our narrow views and consider. Society globally and the individuals in it especially must consider how (or if) we make moral decisions.

I saw this in a blog called Big Think. It’s a good starting place for thinking. I copied most of it. Go to the source for more.

It is from Dr. Fred Guy, Director of the Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics and associate professor at the University of Baltimore.

Adults tend to become lazy with their thinking, backing into moral and ethical wrongdoing without noticing fully what they’re doing. As he says:

“Adults are so busy and focused on so much other than ethical issues that we don’t often stop to think coherently about what our moral principles really are.  Or what we think of our own moral character. We just assume we’re good people and let it go at that.”

Guy urges us to revisit and refine our moral code with the help of some good philosophical thinking.

He offers a series of questions that we can use to examine the case we are faced with. He calls it the ABCD Guide to Ethical Decision-Making and it goes like this:

 A:  Awareness: Are we aware of the ethical issue we’re a part of?

• Do we know all the facts? 

• Is this an ethical problem or a legal one? Or both?

• Can it be resolved simply by calling upon the law or referring to an organizational policy?

• Am I aware of the people involved in this case and who may be affected by my decision and action?

B.  Beliefs:  What are my moral beliefs? What do I stand for?  Most of us know if we give it some serious thought.  What we decide and do in a given ethical situation depends on our moral beliefs, principles, values and virtues — or lack thereof. We may ask:

• What kind of person am I?  Would I want this done to me or to those I love?

• Would it be responsible of me if I thought everyone should act this way in my situation?

• Am I setting a good example or a bad example?

• Can I continue to respect myself given the probable outcomes of my action? 

C.  Consequences:  Use moral imagination to think about consequences for ourselves and others, not only now but into the future as well. It’s the ripple effect. Our actions may indirectly affect others we don’t know.

• Who may be affected by my decision?

• How may my decisions/actions affect other and myself?

 D.   Decision:  Given the facts of the case, our own personal ethics, and the consequences that our decision and action will have on others, what is the best thing to do in this case?  

• Would I mind my action being broadcast on the six o’clock news?

• Could I justify my actions to my family and close friends?

• What advice would I give to a close friend who had the same decision to make as I do? 

Just taking the time to pause and go over these questions when we are making an important decision, can take us out of the default moral mode we live in and, hopefully, out of the trap of just assuming we’re good people, without truly delivering on that assumption.

In My Mind I’m Going To

January 25, 2018

“In my mind I’m going to Carolina.” — James Taylor

Actually, in my mind I was going to Amsterdam. In a rush to get things together for the trip, in my mind I wrote a week’s worth of posts. But with the six-hour time difference, I also thought I’d have time to finish up for the week.

In reality, I’m in Chicago. I thought I had time to renew my passport after returning from Europe. I was wrong–by three days or so. Wound up staying in Chicago (where we were flying from) in order to renew my passport so that we can try again later.

Then I checked my posts. Two of the four I thought I wrote are not here. I guess it was all in my mind.

It happens to us, right? We have great memories. But we were never there.

Lawyers and courts know that the worst evidence is eye-witness testimony because our memories of events is so bad.

Happens when we quote scripture and later discover that phrase was never written there.

Two lessons.

When you’re in a hurry, you overlook or forget things.

Being there in your mind isn’t the same as being there.

(Oh, we used the time to catch up with grandkids, see Hamilton (which was fantastic), visit the art institute, and have a couple of good meals.)

Stand In Awe Without Analyzing

January 23, 2018

Standing on a mountain overlook seeing mountain peaks and tree-covered valleys. We just take it in. Without analysis.

Watching the sun descend over the ocean horizon with swaths of color painting the sky.

Some things we just take in with awe without analyzing good or bad.

I saw this quote this morning in my Plough daily email. We could with just such an attitude take in the commands of Jesus and just do them. No arguing. No rationalizing. Just doing and obeying.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Humanly speaking, we could understand and interpret the Sermon on the Mount in a thousand different ways. Jesus knows only one possibility: simple surrender and obedience, not interpreting it or applying it, but doing and obeying it. That is the only way to hear his word. He does not mean that it is to be discussed as an ideal; he really means us to get on with it.

Source: The Cost of Discipleship

Loyalty Lacking Discernment Leads Astray

January 22, 2018

Loyalty is extolled in the Proverbs.

What spouse does not value loyalty? What friend? What employer does not value the loyal worker?

Without wisdom and discernment, however, we can be foolishly loyal.

Who has not been loyal to the employer who takes advantage?

Who has been loyal to the straying spouse?

Who has not been betrayed by those thought to be friends?

Wisdom and discernment lead us to those to whom we should be faithful. And then we are to be loyal to the end.

Some thoughts from reading through Proverbs 20.

What Breaks Your Heart — Church As A Club

January 19, 2018

Sometimes news comes to me in bunches of related packets. Most likely described by the mathematics of the Fast Fourier Transform. (Sorry, just had to do that.)

This week’s bundle of news seemed to relate to organizations called churches who proclaim to be following Jesus who draw dividing lines among human beings. It’s like a club. Yes, you qualify as a member. No, out with you. Your kind doesn’t belong here.

What pride we have as humans that we think we can know the mind of God and make those sort of proclamations!

I’m reading in the Proverbs today, “The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.”

Andy Stanley suggested that in lieu of self-improvement new year’s resolutions instead we ask what breaks our heart. I wrote about that last week. Have you contemplated your own response.

One thing that breaks my heart to hear these stories of churches that are so divisive. They don’t ask “how can we help you” instead asking “do you agree with us”.

Bill Hybels led a group that grew into the Willow Creek Community Church to replicate the Acts 2 church. Then he discovered that even that was not intentionally inclusive.

Read about that early church. Study the list of leaders that Paul often includes in his letters–women, men, rich, poor, free, slaves. Everyone who was a spiritual seeker was welcome. And leaders grew up due to character and talent. Paul’s writings (especially if you just pull out one verse from amongst everything he wrote) are often used for justification of divisiveness. But if you study Paul, you discover that he did not intend that at all.

I don’t think I can fix that. But if I had a magic wand…