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Quotations I love: secrets and compassion

Wednesday December 7 2016

Quotations I love: secrets and compassion

“Every single person has at least one secret that would break your heart. If we could just remember this, I think there would be a lot more compassion and tolerance in the world.”—Frank Warren

This quotation makes me ask myself three questions:
1. When people tell me their secrets, do I listen well?
2. Do I keep confidentiality?
3. When I suspect that someone has a painful secret, do I respect their right not to tell me about it while still treating them with compassion?

I’ll write about the questions in reverse order. My third question highlights a difficult balancing act. We can use our imagination too little or too much when we think about people’s lives. If we use our imagination too little, we don’t put ourselves in the place of people who have experienced difficult things, and compassion is difficult or impossible. I see imagination and compassion as closely related. Both need to be consciously cultivated.

However, if we imagine too much, we might read something into someone’s life that simply isn’t or wasn’t there. Imagine that you have a grumpy colleague, and it seems likely to you that this person was sexually abused as a child. But maybe not, and the person doesn’t seem inclined to tell you about the past. Frank Warren seems to be advocating compassion whether or not we know the other person’s story, simply because most people have stories that would break our hearts.

Regarding confidentiality, my second question above, don’t forget that gossip is listed twice in the New Testament in lists of sins (Romans 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 12:2). Proverbs 11:13 uses the language of “trustworthy in spirit” for the kind of person I want to be: “A gossipgoes about telling secrets, but one who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a confidence” (NRSV). Some other translations of that verse in Proverbs use “faithful in spirit,” and The Message uses “a person of integrity.”

Gossip is one of the easiest sins to engage in because so often gossip seems innocent. And of course, talking about other people’s needs can play a role in caring. For Christians, the boundary between gossip and sharing a prayer request is pretty blurry. In addition, the deliciousness of gossip plays such a big part in what we call “news,” so we become numb to the consequences of it.

People’s stories belong to them, not to us. If we want people to honor us with their stories, we need to honor the people who tell the stories and let them decide with whom to share the story.

And that brings me to the topic of listening, my first question above. I’ve written so many posts and articles about listening, and I’ll paste in a list below. Good listening skills really do help people talk through events that might have become secrets with the passage of time. And those secrets usually have less power and become less heart-breaking when talked about in the presence of a good listener. Careful, respectful and compassionate listening conveys love.

Frank Warren, in the quotation above, is asking for us to remember that people have painful secrets whether we know what they are or not. He seems to be saying that when we remember the presence of those secrets, we will have more compassion and tolerate differences with more love. This seems like a good idea in our politically polarized world.

(Next week: a beautiful benediction that encourages us to believe God has a purpose in our being where we already are. Illustration, "Paihia Beach," by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Posts and articles on listening:

Listening past the noise
Letting go of agendas so we can listen to God and others      
John Perkins listened     
good listeners are detectives, not tennis players   

a game that nurtures good listening
receptivity and listening
humility and listening
humility and listening part 2
listening wisely to people’s stories
my journey as a listener
why do we listen?
an amusing story of why listening matters
“holy curiosity" as a way to think about effective listening
the role of listening in nurturing Christian discipleship
listening and hospitality

Quotations I love: Bishop Desmond Tutu on hope

Thursday December 1 2016

Quotations I love: Bishop Desmond Tutu on hope

“Hope is being able to see there is light despite all of the darkness.” —Desmond Tutu

In 2010, I had a weird physical ailment. My left foot was cold all the time, and my energy was low. Over the course of the year, my foot got colder and my energy dropped lower. In the second half of the year, I cut back my work hours and began medical testing. I was pretty sure I had a brain tumor, but the brain MRI was normal. The neurologist I was seeing couldn’t find anything wrong. The months dragged on, and the medical testing also dragged on.

On March 5, 2011, some elders from church came over to pray for me. Within days, my energy started coming back and my foot stopped being cold. This was the only medical miracle I have ever personally experienced. What a gift.

I was very grateful for God’s miraculous healing. But I was numb and a bit raw from months of not feeling well. It was as if all of my sense of hope was stripped away. So I decided to focus on hope for the remainder of the year.

I bought myself a ring with anchors on it. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). I wore the ring all the time, and when I looked at it, I pondered what exactly hope is. I began noticing the word “hope” all over the place, in poems, hymns and people’s spoken and written words. Emily Dickinson’s words about hope are often quoted:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers  – 
That perches in the soul – 
And sings the tune without the words – 
And never stops – at all.

In those months of recovery from my mysterious illness, there was nothing with feathers perching on my soul. I just couldn’t get ahold of hope.

The months went by, the numbness and rawness receded, and slowly but surely I began to feel some flickers of hope again. I kept thinking about the line in a praise song, “In Christ alone, my hope is found,” and a line in an old hymn (a hymn that I never liked), “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Ultimately I decided that my hope is in Christ, and that’s really all I can say about it.

I think I’m still a little bit hope impaired. I read words like these of Desmond Tutu: “Iam a prisoner of hope. Yes, many awful things happen in the world. But many good things have happened and are happening.” I find myself wondering what it would be like to feel like a prisoner of hope.

I recently did a survey of the 165 verses in the Bible about hope. I learned that Bishop Tutu’s words about being a “prisoner of hope” are a quotation from Zechariah 9:12. I found that rooting my sense of hope in Christ has biblical precedent. The psalmist writes, “You, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth” (Psalm 71:5). Paul calls Jesus “our hope” in 1 Timothy 1:1.

I found numerous verses that imply that hope is a choice. We choose where we will set our hope.

“We have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people” (1 Timothy 4:10).
“Set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed” (1 Peter 1.13).
“In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11, 12).

The psalms link hope with God’s love and God’s word:

Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, 
on those who hope in his steadfast love. . . .
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you. (Psalm 33: 18, 22)

My soul languishes for your salvation;
I hope in your word. . . .
You are my hiding-place and my shield;
I hope in your word. (Psalm 119: 81, 114)

The Bible has a lot more to say about hope. I’m giving you a bonus quotation from Colossians 1 below, a chapter that mentions hope three times.

Since 2011, while I’ve been pondering hope, I think I’ve done one thing wrong and one thing right. I have fallen into the error of thinking that something is wrong with me because I have felt limited emotions of hope. But I have definitely tried to live in God’s love, faithful to God’s word, and from the scriptures I looked up, it sounds like I have been setting my hope on God, without naming my actions that way.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

(“Faith, hope and love” watercolour by Dave Baab. Next week: Frank Warren on secrets and compassion. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Bonus quotation:
“In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. . . . And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard. . . . I became its servant according to God’s commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations but has now been revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:3-5, 21-23, 25-27).

This is the 14th post in a series on quotations I love. Here are the earlier posts:   
Four Quotations about attention            
Breton Fisherman’s Prayer  
Arnold Glasow on feeling at home with people  
A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work  
The Jerusalem Talmud on enjoying good things  
Thomas Aqinas on loving people we disagree with  

Paul Tournier on building good out of evil 
Thomas Merton on our transparent world  
Moving from intending to pray to actually praying  
Eugene Peterson on paying attention  
Regret and fear are thieves  
Rick Warren on love and disagreement  
Henri Nouwen on being beloved
 

Quotations I love: Four quotations about attention

Thursday November 24 2016

Quotations I love: Four quotations about attention

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”—Simone Weil

I’ve used Simone Weil’s words often when I write or teach about listening. When we listen well, we are paying attention to another person’s priorities, values, feelings and thoughts.

The notion of paying attention includes listening, but attention matters in many other areas of life.

“Can one reach God by toil? He gives himself to the pure in heart. He asks for nothing but our attention.”—William Butler Yeats

This Yeats quotation is wonderful to ponder, journal about or discuss in a group. What does it look like to pay attention in the way Yeats is describing here? I bet a group could list a couple dozen ways, including paying attention to what God is doing in the lives of the people around us, noticing answers to prayer, and being attentive to the ways God speaks to us through nature, the Bible, our conscience and other people.

I would also love to discuss with a group the connection Yeats highlights between purity of heart and paying attention. How are purity of heart and paying attention related?

“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”—Mary Oliver

Maybe Mary Oliver’s words illuminate the connection between purity of heart and attention. To pay attention and be astonished requires some level of simplicity, a kind of humility or purity of heart that enables us to respond with wonder and astonishment.

Mary Oliver indicates that speech should follow attention and astonishment. I wrote a few weeks ago about paying attention to specific things other people do, so that we can give compliments that reflect precisely what we have seen, rather than general compliments like “good job.” So I would argue that one major form of doing what Mary Oliver suggests is helping others see what we see in them and in their actions.

A second form of speaking about what we have noticed and been astonished by involves witnessing. When we pay attention to what God is doing in our lives and in others’ lives, when we are astonished and grateful at what God has done, it is natural for us to speak about what we have experienced.

I have always believed that some Christians have spiritual gifts in evangelism (which I do not have), but that all Christians are called to be witnesses to what we have seen, heard and experienced in our life with God. Several years I wrote an article on that subject, and I just dug it out and posted in the articles section of this website. You can read it here.

The final quotation for this post focuses on the attitude of heart that is required for us to pay attention to where God is and what God is doing in every situation.

“Lord, give me an open heart to find you everywhere.”—Mother Teresa

How can we do what Mother Teresa suggests here – find God everywhere – unless we are paying attention? Her words are a prayer, and her prayer acknowledges that we need God’s help to have the kind of open heart that looks for God.

(Next week: Desmond Tutu on hope. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This is the 13th post in a series on quotations I love. Here are the earlier posts:         
Breton Fisherman’s Prayer  
Arnold Glasow on feeling at home with people  
A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work  
The Jerusalem Talmud on enjoying good things  
Thomas Aqinas on loving people we disagree with  

Paul Tournier on building good out of evil 
Thomas Merton on our transparent world  
Moving from intending to pray to actually praying  
Eugene Peterson on paying attention  
Regret and fear are thieves  
Rick Warren on love and disagreement  
Henri Nouwen on being beloved
 

Quotations I love: Breton Fisherman's Prayer

Thursday November 17 2016

Quotations I love: Breton Fisherman's Prayer

Dear God, be good to me. The sea is so wide and my boat is so small.
          —Breton fishermans’ prayer

What component of your life feels like a wide sea: overwhelming, scary, hard to navigate, with storms that might arise any moment? Is it a health issue for you or someone you love? A relationship challenge? A job or financial issue? Something political?

I love the power of the metaphor here, acknowledging that we often feel that our boat in the wide sea is just too small for safety. We need God’s help because on our own, some components of life are just too overwhelming. We need a sense of God’s enfolding, God’s arms holding us up, because some aspects of life are just too scary. We need God’s guidance because the sea looks the same in every direction.

I can’t remember where I came across this prayer many years ago. I have used it on cards and stationery for at least two decades. I have prayed it many times, and I’ve given the prayer to others in times of crisis.

When I did some online research to try to find the source of the quotation, I learned that this prayer was given to new submarine captains by Admiral Hyman Rickover (1900-1986). He gave President Kennedy a plaque with the words. Kennedy used this quotation in his remarks at the dedication of the East Coast Memorial to the Missing at Sea, May 23, 1963.  He kept the plaque on his desk in the Oval Office, and a replica of the plaque is available at the Kennedy Presidential Library.

The words on the plaque, however, are slightly different than the words I’ve been using for decades. The Rickover/Kennedy version goes like this: “O God, thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”

In the past few days, since I found that information and the slightly different version of the prayer, I’ve been pondering the difference between “the sea” and “thy sea.” The former, which I have been praying and thinking about for years, implies that the sea is simply there. The latter implies that the sea somehow comes from God or belongs to God.

I’m not willing to assert that evil comes from God, so I don’t believe God causes the bad things in our lives. But can get on board with the idea that “thy sea” implies that the big, overwhelming and challenging aspects of our lives, in some way, belong to God.

How are we to respond to this sense of being overwhelmed and challenged by big things? Build bigger boats? My husband, Dave, spent two years on the USS Enterprise floating around off the coast of Vietnam. The Enterprise is about as big as a ship can get, 247 meters (810 feet) long, almost one quarter of a kilometer and just over one sixth of a mile. Even on a ship that big, Dave says tropical storms in the Pacific were scary.

The only solution, as the prayer describes, is to rely on God’s mercy and help. And that’s okay, because that’s what we were created for. “This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him” (Psalm 91:2, NLT). “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 62:5, 6, NLT).

(Next week: a few quotations on attention. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Quotations I love: Arnold Glasow on feeling at home with people

Wednesday November 9 2016

Quotations I love: Arnold Glasow on feeling at home with people

“Hospitality is making others feel at home. Some folks make you feel at home. Others make you wish you were.” – Arnold H. Glasow (1905-1998)

Arnold Glasow was a businessman and a humorist. The quotation I’ve highlighted here is both insightful and humorous—in a sad way. How tragic that all of us have people in our lives who we would just as soon spent very little time with.

One challenge raised by this quotation is how we can learn to show love to people who make us wish we were somewhere else. My answer has to do with love and limits. God’s call to us in Christ is to try to love everyone we come into contact with. But, at the same time, Jesus says that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). In those verses from Matthew, he says that we are to learn from him. Jesus did not spend all of his time with people who frustrated him. He spent time alone with his beloved Father. In the same way, we don’t have to be martyrs and spend endless hours with people who we find difficult to love. We can put limits on the time we spend with certain people.

The second challenge this passage highlights is learning how to help people feel at home in our presence.  This includes people we like and people we don’t like. My husband Dave and I had a long conversation about what we view “home” to feel like, and we boiled our discussion down to two characteristics. Home, at its best, is a place where we feel safe from harm and able to be our true selves, to “let our hair down” and relax.

Here’s a conversation where I did not feel safe and did not feel free to be myself.

Me (at three in the afternoon): I hope you don’t mind. I usually have a snack at three.

The other person (significantly thinner than I am, who has never battled with weight, and who knows that I have): Oh, no, I never snack in the afternoon.

With that response, I felt unsafe, as if I cannot say what I need or want. And felt judged as a person who has found that snacking in the afternoon is a way to help me control my weight. I did not feel free to be myself with my unique needs.

What are some responses the other person might have made to create an atmosphere of safety and freedom to be myself?

Permission giving: “Feel free to have your snack now.”

Curious in a way that indicates interest in my life: “What kinds of snacks do you like?”

Forthright but supportive in a general way: “I never snack in the afternoon, but isn’t it interesting how different people’s bodies work so differently?”

Supportive of my specific journey: “How great that you’ve learned a strategy that works well for you. I know you’ve worked so hard to deal with weight.”

I’ve laid out four kinds of responses that I believe convey safety and acceptance of the other person:
     1. permission giving
     2. curious in a way that indicates interest
     3. forthright but supportive in a general way
     4. supportive of the other person’s specific journey

I invite you to think of a conversation you’ve had with someone where you have wanted to help that person feel at home but haven’t known how to do that. Use each of the four patterns I’ve suggested to imagine responses you could make.

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3: 12-14).

(Next week: Breton fisherman’s prayer. Illustration: Captain Cook’s cottage in Melbourne by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

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