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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.)

Quotations I love: A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work

Friday November 4 2016

Quotations I love: A. W. Tozer on worship that illuminates work

“God wants worshippers first. Jesus did not redeem us to make us workers; He redeemed us to make us worshippers. And then, out of the blazing worship of our hearts, springs our work.”
          —A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) [1]

I try to picture who A.W. Tozer was thinking about when he said these words. Was he envisioning a hard working Sunday School teacher who had been teaching kids for thirty years and who was a bit tired, but determined to continue? Maybe he was thinking about people who have what I call a “martyr spirit,” who work hard and get a lot done for the church, but who serve a bit grudgingly, out of a sense of duty. When Tozer was speaking and writing, in the middle years of the twentieth century, the two World Wars and the Depression would have been strong influencers on Christians, teaching them the values of duty, perseverance and hard work.

Even though “duty, perseverance and hard work” are less common descriptors of what motivates people in churches today, I think Tozer’s quotation is valuable in our time for two reasons. The first reason relates to the human tendency for joy in a task to diminish over time. Many Christians today began their Christian life with a sense of joy in God’s goodness. They responded by jumping into some form of service, and their joy has diminished over the years in the hard slog of life. For someone who might use the word “slog” to describe their life of faith and their service of God, Tozer’s emphasis on worship is worth pondering. Perhaps the sense of slog might lessen, and feelings of joy might increase, with a renewed focus on worship.

My second reason why Tozer’s quotation is valuable today relates to the opposite problem, people who view the Christian faith as a means to their own ends and have no intention or desire to work hard for the Kingdom of God. I once read some interviews with young adults, many of whom seemed to view their faith in God as a way to get help to meet their own goals. One of the interviewees said something like this: “I want to be a lawyer, a successful one, and God helps me study and keep my focus now while I’m a student. After I become a lawyer, I know God will help me succeed.”

Tozer refers to the “blazing worship of our heart” as the source of our work. I assume he means all kinds of work: paid work, unpaid work in the home, and various forms of service in the church and community. It’s worth pondering which forms of work in our lives arise most clearly out worship and which forms are somewhat or mostly separate from a heart that’s blazing with the love of God.

And it’s worth pondering what kinds of worship set our hearts ablaze. When, where and how does that kind of worship happen for you?

Work that is motivated and illumined by blazing worship of God will have a different character than work that we view as our right and our achievement. Are we creating climates in our congregations where we encourage “blazing worship of the heart”? Do we talk in small groups and with friends about the connections between worship of God and work/service in everyday life? What would it look like to link worship and work more closely together in your life?

(Next week: Arnold H. Glasow on hospitality as making others feel at home. 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.)

[1] From an address at a Youth for Christ convention, date unknown, quoted in In Other Words, Fall 1999, page 5.

Quotations I love: The Jerusalem Talmud on enjoying good things

Wednesday October 26 2016

Quotations I love: The Jerusalem Talmud on enjoying good things

Everyone must render an account before God of all the good things he beheld in life and did not enjoy.
          —The Jerusalem Talmud

I find it quite challenging to accept the notion that we have some sort of responsibility before God to enjoy the good things of life. For most of my adult life, I’ve had an inner dialogue running through my brain along these lines: “How can I truly enjoy this wonderful event when 22,000 children will die today of the effects of hunger?” [1] “How can I relish this beautiful weather when 11.4 million Syrians are displaced from their homes?” [2] Ever since my mid-twenties, I’ve been much, much better at mourning with those who mourn rather than rejoicing with those who rejoice.

However, I’m doing better these days enjoying God’s good gifts. I want to reflect on how that happened. I’ve identified four factors:

1. The Sabbath. Since the quotation above is from a Jewish document, it’s appropriate that a Jewish Sabbath tradition contributed in a lovely way to my spiritual growth. In Jewish tradition, prayers of intercession are not appropriate on the Sabbath because it’s a day of rest. In contrast, prayers of thankfulness are encouraged. On my Sabbath day, when I start thinking about any kind of pain in the world, the kind of situations that might motivate prayers of intercession, I tell myself, “You can think about that and pray about it tomorrow. Today’s focus is rest and being present to all of God’s good gifts.”

Over many years, that Sabbath habit has helped me turn off anxiety and sorrow, albeit briefly, and focus on the gifts of the moment. I see good things more readily now, and I can enjoy them, knowing that the time for sorrow and prayer will come. Indeed, for everything there is a time and a season under heaven (Ecclesiastes 3:1). (If you want to read more that I've written about the Sabbath, numerous articles about the Sabbath are posted on this blog, and you can check out my Sabbath book and Sabbath Bible study guide.)

2. Thankfulness prayers. More than 20 years ago, my husband and I decided that every time we pray, we would begin with thankfulness. This practice has changed my perspective and enabled me to see and enjoy God’s good gifts more often. When we thank God for things, our eyes are opened to more things to thank God for. (I described our experience with thankfulness prayers in more detail in an earlier post on this blog, and I’ve written quite a few other posts on thankfulness.)

3. The Psalms. In the Psalms, confession, lament, praise and thanks recur over and over, reinforcing in my mind that there is a time for everything and that life should be lived in a rhythm. Yes, it is completely appropriate to grieve over Syria and to pray for refugees. But it is equally appropriate to stop and look and enjoy the beautiful clear eyes of a small child or a flower newly unfurled.

4. Jesus the Redeemer. I’m not God. I’m not responsible for running the world. I’m not the Savior. We already have a Savior, and it’s not me. Yes, God calls me to feel sadness and compassion about the brokenness of our poor hurting world, but God also calls me to embrace joy and praise and thanks because so many good gifts surround me. But ultimately Jesus is our Savoir and Redeemer, and my job is to respond in gratitude, faithfulness and prayer. This reality has become more real to me over time as I have practiced lack of worry and sorrow on the Sabbath and as I have practiced thankfulness. My habits have changed my thoughts.

None of the shifts described here happened very quickly for me. But I can see movement over time, and I have to say that after decades of feeling so much sorrow and sadness, having a good number of moments of joy is pretty wonderful. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High. . . . For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your works; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 91: 1, 4).

(Next week: A. W. Tozer on God’s call to worship. 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.)

[1] The Hunger Project
[2] Syrian Refugees

Quotations I love: Thomas Aquinas on loving people we disagree with

Friday October 21 2016

Quotations I love: Thomas Aquinas on loving people we disagree with

“We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject. For both have labored in the search for truth and both have helped us in the finding of it.”
                      —Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274).

In this contentious time, characterized by deep divisions and polarities, this quotation is challenging. Do I really believe that the person who has a different opinion than I do on a topic I really care about has “labored in the search for truth”? Do I really believe that such a person has actually helped me find what I consider to be truth?

Aquinas emphasizes the search for truth, a cognitive process. He calls us to honor all who engage in that cognitive process.

His words provide an interesting juxtaposition with a quotation I’ve been using a lot as I teach listening skills:

“There is a difference between understanding and agreeing with a speaker. We need to develop new psychological habits that encourage us to keep an open mind and a positive attitude to the motivation behind what is communicated to us orally.”
                               —Mohan et al., Communicating! Theory and Practice [1]

These authors argue that we can disagree with people but still be interested in how they came to embrace the position the position they hold.  Mohan et al. call us to honor the motivation that lies behind another person’s thinking. They ask us to engage in a psychological process of curiosity in way that honors another person’s journey.

When teaching listening skills, I encourage people to ask the kinds of questions that get to the motivations and experiences that have shaped people we disagree with.
     • “Tell me about why that perspective is so important to you.”
     • “What were some of the experiences that shaped your opinion?”
     • “Would you be willing to tell me a little bit about the journey that brought you to this belief?”

Aquinas might encourage the addition of a couple of additional questions:
     • “I’d love to understand some of the thought process that brought you to this opinion.”
     • “Tell me about the search for truth as you experienced it.”

I find it very difficult, as most of us do, to listen to someone talking on and on about something I disagree with. I’ve found it helpful to ask some of the above questions, because frankly I find it at least somewhat interesting to hear about how a person got to that belief that I find so repugnant. Sometimes the back story really does help me love the person more, because I understand more about the forces at work in their life that led them to the place where they stand.

In Matthew 5:44, Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” The Message version repeats the first words but adds some additional challenging words: “I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.” One form “the best” can take is asking questions that help us understand what’s going on inside the people we disagree with. How I wish this could be a part of our political dialog in this contentious time, and how I wish people in churches could have this perspective in the midst of profound disagreements.

(Next week: The Jerusalem Talmud on enjoyment. 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.)

[1] Terry Mohan, Helen McGregor, Shirley Saunders, and Ray Archee, Communicating! Theory and Practice, 4th ed. (Sydney: Harcourt Brace, 1992), 417.

Quotations I love: Paul Tournier on building good out of evil

Wednesday October 12 2016

Quotations I love: Paul Tournier on building good out of evil

The most wonderful thing in this world is not the good that we can accomplish, but the fact that good can come out of the evil that we do. . . . Our vocation, I believe, is to build good out of evil. For if we try to build good out of good, we are in danger of running out of material.
          —Paul Tournier

My father was an air force pilot, an officer. His precision as a pilot kept him safe while flying fighter planes in World War 2 and while flying cargo planes in the decades after the war. My mother excelled socially. She was and is a hostess extraordinaire, serving guests beautiful food in a well kept home. She thrived at bridge games and charity events. Apart from about 15 extra pounds my father gained in his 30s and could never lose, my parents never gave me the slightest indication that they had any flaws or weaknesses.

I grew up expecting to excel at everything I undertook. I was an outstanding student, Girl Scout and piano player. Imagine my frustration when I couldn’t get rid of my extra pounds and failed to measure up to my slim and well dressed mother. And then when I fell into depression in my first pregnancy – a depression caused by a vitamin deficiency that lasted off and on for 16 years – I was utterly confounded by my weakness, failure and inability to excel.

As you can see, the quotation above from Paul Tournier evokes a lot of reflection for me. For a person raised in a seemingly perfect family, with high expectations to replicate it, Tournier’s words are unsettling, yet also somehow reassuring.

I remember a startling moment when I was a young mother in the midst of my recurring bouts of depression. One of my friends said to me, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.”

I said, “What in the world do you mean?”

She replied, “I’ve been thinking about thank-you notes. I’m not good at keeping beautiful cards handy. I’m not good at writing eloquent notes. I’ve learned it’s better to take some white paper and write, ‘Thanks for the gift,’ and throw it in a plain envelope and mail it, rather than wait around until I can do it perfectly. Because I’ll wait around forever and the note will never get in the mail. So, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.”

In my family, if you thought you might do something poorly, you didn’t even attempt it. The ability to do many things well creates a myth that our efforts – human efforts in general – can be good and lovely and close to perfect.

In a departmental seminar last week, one of my colleagues said, “There is no part of our efforts that doesn’t stand in need of redemption.” He was responding to the seminar speaker, who had said that God’s truth, beauty and goodness are evident in creation but are also marred by sin in every setting and every action.

The poorly written thank-you note shows a lack of care – a form of brokenness and sin – even as it affirms the value of the gift and the preciousness of the connection between gift and giver. In a very small way, that’s good coming from evil. But does the eloquent thank-you note, written on a lovely card, also need redemption? Perhaps there’s some pride or paternalism or self-aggrandizement in it. Perhaps I can’t identify the part of my beautifully written thank-you note that is in need of redemption, but just because I can’t see any aspect of brokenness there doesn’t mean my action isn’t in need of God’s grace and redemption.

I’ve focused here on thank-you notes, a small and increasingly disregarded part of daily life. I could have talked about other “small” things like meals, clothing or sports. I could have talked about “big” things like jobs, ministries, parenting or marriage. But no matter what aspect of life we talk about, increasingly I see that there is no part of my life that does not need redemption. Yes, we are in danger of running out of good material to work with, whatever we do. Paul Tournier’s words help me remember my need of God every moment.

(Next week: Thomas Aquinas on loving people we disagree with. Photo of my father with his P-51 during World War 2. 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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