Lynne is a Presbyterian minister and author of numerous books and Bible study guides. She lives in Seattle. Read more »
Soon before she left her position in New Zealand as senior lecturer in pastoral theology, Lynne recorded a one-minute video for her departmental website describing what's most important to her in her writing and teaching.
Lynne spoke last year on "Spiritual Practices for Preachers" (recorded as a video on YouTube.) The talk is relevant to anyone in ministry and focuses on how to draw near to God simply as a child of God as well as engaging in spiritual practices for the sake of ministry.
"Lynne's writing is beautiful. Her tone has such a note of hope and excitement about growth. It is gentle and affirming."
— a reader
"Dear Dr. Baab, You changed my life. It is only through God’s gift of the sabbath that I feel in my heart and soul that God loves me apart from anything I do."
— a reader of Sabbath Keeping
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Saturday August 9 2014
I have a new colleague in my department, and we're having our first one-on-one conversation. I ask him the normal questions: Where are you from? Where did you study? Tell me about your family. What are your interests?
I'm carefully watching my inner thoughts and feelings as he talks. I'm watching for a moment of tension or discomfort.
Maybe he'll tell me he's a bit of a political activist and I'll find out his political convictions are quite different from mine. Maybe he'll tell me he practices a religion other than mine.
And if either of these happen, I'll wonder if I'm conveying that I approve of his beliefs and convictions because I'm trying to listen well. That would make me tense. And I'll probably feel uneasy wondering how to respond to his expression of values different from my own.
Watching for that inner tension as I listen is a new practice for me. It comes out of research I conducted a couple of years ago. I interviewed 63 people about the role of listening in congregations, and I tacked on a question about obstacles to listening at the end of the interviews.
To my surprise, most of my interviewees were the most passionate as they described obstacles when listening.
Some of those obstacles come from outside us, such as noisy rooms, a soft-spoken conversation partner or someone who talks really fast. But many more obstacles come from within.
Quite a few of my interviewees used the term ''inner noise'' to describe the emotions and thoughts that make us want to stop listening, perhaps by changing the subject or getting up to do something.
I've already described two kinds of inner noise: wondering if by listening to someone I disagree with, I'm giving tacit approval to their point of view, and worrying I won't know how to respond appropriately.
My interviewees also talked about other forms of inner noise, including the tyranny of the ''to-do'' list floating around in our mind and a feeling of time pressure that makes it hard to be present with people we're talking to.
Tuesday August 5 2014
I view listening as a key skill for hospitality in all its forms. Imagine a traditional hospitality setting: you are offering a traveler a place to sleep. “What do you need right now?” you ask. “A shower? A nap? The wifi password? A cup of tea?” You listen to the response and try to meet the traveler’s need. In addition, you may need to listen to subtle cues that help you know what the traveler needs.
Meal times are another typical hospitality setting, and listening plays a key role in mealtime conversations. I have sat through many meals where one person is talking, talking, talking . . . taking up all the air time and dominating the conversation. And I have enjoyed many meals where the host or someone else draws people out and listens carefully. A world of difference!
The connections between listening and hospitality go far beyond lodging and meals, however. I have a very broad definition of hospitality (which I described in a post on the Godspace blog). I see hospitality as an open stance toward others, a receptivity to who they are and what they have to offer. I see hospitality as a welcome to others that can happen in a short conversation or a long-standing relationship. This kind of welcome and receptivity requires good listening skills and the willingness to stop talking long enough to hear deeply from the other.
One of the obstacles to this kind of listening comes from our fears that if we listen deeply and carefully to someone we disagree with, we will be communicating tacit agreement to their perspective. Imagine I have just met someone new in my workplace, and a few random comments she makes leads me to believe she practices a religion very different from mine. If I draw her out about her religious practices, will she think I agree with them? Or perhaps she expresses a political opinion diametrically opposed to mine. If I draw her out about her political convictions, will she think I give assent to them?
The authors of a communication textbook write, “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.”
These communication scholars might recommend language like this: “Tell me about X” (when X is the thing I profoundly disagree with). “Tell me what motivated you to get involved.” We indicate our openness to understanding what lies behind the other person’s commitment. We open ourselves to the other person’s story. At some point in the conversation we are free to say, “Wow, I don’t agree with the conclusion you came to, but it’s very interesting to see where your convictions came from. Tell me more about how you got there.”
As long as we believe that listening implies agreement, our ability to be truly hospitable to the people we meet will be truncated. We won’t listen well because we will be fearful that we will hear something we disagree with and that we won’t know how to respond. All of us can grow in believing that listening does not imply agreement, that understanding other people’s stories, motivations and thought processes will enrich us even if we disagree with them.
(If you'd like to receive email updates whenever I post something on this blog, look in the right hand column of this page for "subscribe." These ideas came from the research for my book The Power of Listening: Building Skills for Mission and Ministry. This post originally appeared in the Godspace blog.)
 Terry Mohan, Helen McGregor, Shirley Saunders, and Ray Archee, Communicating! Theory and Practice, 4th ed. (Sydney: Harcourt Brace, 1992), 417.
Thursday July 31 2014
“Home” has been a hugely contested, even painful, term for me. My father was an air force pilot and we moved 12 times in my first 15 years. We spent six of those years in Europe. I’ve never felt at home in the U.S., and I have never really felt at home anywhere. The word “home” has often made me feel uneasy and sad. My husband, who lived in one small town from birth until high school graduation, would often say to me, “Our true home is in heaven.” I can give cognitive assent to that truth, but somehow it never helped me.
All this began to change in early 2011 when I read Crossings and Dwellings: A Theory of Religion. In it, Thomas A. Tweed argues that religion helps us create homes in four arenas: our bodies, the house we live in, our country, and the cosmos. He also says that religion helps us move between these homes.
My first personal response to Tweed’s theory was focused on my body. I’ve struggled with weight all my life and have often felt as if my body betrays me by wanting foods that are not good for me. In recent years my weight has been more stable and closer to normal, and I have become more “at home” in my body. While reading Crossings and Dwellings, I began to see that the first “home” I need to nurture is my own body. And I could see ways I’d done that in recent years, without using that language to describe it.
Of course we know that God made our bodies, but that can feel a bit distant. God, way off in heaven, made this earth and each of us. The coming of Christ tells us that God is not far off in heaven but right here with us. In fact, God is right here with us in Jesus, who lived in a physical body just as we do. The New Testament gives us no hint that Jesus felt estranged from his body in any way. Instead, he seems to have felt at home in his body and this physical world, just as he felt at home in heaven and longed to return there.
The second personal application of Tweed’s theory came later in 2011 when I had a six-month sabbatical from my teaching position in New Zealand. I split that time between Seattle, where I spent 30 years of my adult life, and Europe, where I had spent time in childhood. In those months of moving between past places where I’d lived, I realized that I have several homes, and that’s okay. Seattle will always feel like home in one sense because I lived there longest. But my current hometown Dunedin, New Zealand, is wonderful, and I love many things about my house, my town and my adopted country. Dunedin feels like home now, in a way it didn’t before 2011. And a part of my sense of earthly home will always be in Europe because of my childhood there.
For the first time in my life, in 2011 I felt at home in all these places, rather than feeling at home in none of them. My faith in God, who became flesh and lived on this earth, enables me to move between homes because Jesus through the Holy Spirit is present in all my homes. Because the Holy Spirit dwells inside me, and because my body is the home that I take with me wherever I go, God is present with me in every place creating a home for me. But actually, God is present in those places before I get there and after I leave. I can watch for his fingerprints everywhere I go, and he will enable me to feel at home there.
Immanuel, God with us, has changed my life in the past three years by helping me begin to feel at home in my body and by enabling me to experience various places as homes. My husband is right that our true home is in heaven, but Jesus brought that true home to earth in his flesh, and we are invited to dwell with him and let him dwell with us, truly at home in him, in our bodies, and in our houses and homelands.
(If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)
Monday July 28 2014
Our older son, Jonathan, was two weeks short of one year old when we got a cat. She was all white, so we called her Vanilla. She was also about one year old. She was a wonderful cat for toddlers. Jonathan was so eager to have a relationship with her, and he would try to be gentle, but in his eagerness to relate to her, he would sometimes hurt her. She would walk away two feet and sit there, as if to say, “Hey, don’t hurt me. But if you want to keep trying to pet me, I’m here.” She seemed to know she and Jonathan were age mates, and that they would be important to each other in the future.
By the time Jonathan and Vanilla were three, they were best friends. She always slept with him, and he took such pleasure in her. When they were six, we got a second cat, black with hints of red in her fur. We called her Tiwi, and Vanilla welcomed her. During the day, they slept together curled around each other, but at night, Vanilla slept with Jonathan. Sometimes Tiwi joined her.
Whenever we had friends over for dinner who had small children, Tiwi would disappear, but Vanilla would stay there and let the kids pet her and play with her. Whenever they hurt her, she would walk away about two feet, still seeming to say, “Please don’t hurt me, but I’m willing to let you try again.”
As Vanilla got older, she loved to sleep in the sun. On cool days, she still slept curled around Tiwi, and on sunny days, she wanted to go outside and find a patch of sunshine. We learned later that white cats have white skin, and much like humans with fair skin, white cats are susceptible to skin cancer. When Jonathan and Vanilla were 14, she got a malignant melanoma on her nose. The vet told us there was nothing we could do about it, and as the months passed, the cancer ate away her nose.
When the time seemed right I took her to the vet to be put to sleep, and I took Jonathan along. I think it was right to take him with me, but I still agonize when I remember that he cried and cried and cried as she died.
I dreamt about Vanilla the other night, and I woke up overwhelmed with sadness that the lifespan of cats and dogs is so much shorter than the human lifespan. I can imagine someone might say, “She was only a cat.” No, she was a noble beast, and her love and patience reflected something important about her Maker.
You can’t plan a pet like Vanilla. She was a gift to our family. All you can do is receive a gift like Vanilla with gratitude. God, help us to see the gifts in our lives, both past and present, and help us receive your gifts with gratitude.
(If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage.)
(A note a few days after this post: A friend gave me a link to a song by Benjamin Britten called "For I will consider my cat Jeoffry," from "Rejoice in the Lamb." Some of the words go like this: "He is the servant of the living God . . . he worships in his way . . . for he knows that God is his savior, for God has blessed him with the variety of his movements.")
Saturday July 19 2014
As an adult, I have seldom prayed the Lord’s Prayer as a part of my personal prayer life, and I have not been in churches that use it regularly. Therefore, I simply haven’t thought of it very often. Earlier this year, a local minister asked me to preach as a part of his series on the Lord’s Prayer. Could I please do a sermon on how the Lord’s Prayer might inform our spiritual practices, he asked. So I began pondering that question.
In my first post on this topic, I wrote about the invitation to intimacy conveyed by the prayer. In this post I want to ponder the intercessory portion of the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one” (Matthew 5:11-13, NRSV).
I’m struck, right off, by the simplicity of this prayer. In a consumer age, when we are assaulted by ceaseless advertisements designed to create desire, this prayer is lean and spare, focused on essential needs. These intercessions, recommended by Jesus, make me want to be sure my prayers are focused on what really matters – what I need – and not on what the consumer culture tells me I want.
Two spiritual practices that have helped me detach from the consumer culture the most are Sabbath keeping and fasting.* Keeping a Sabbath gives me a day off every week from striving, from pushing hard, from believing I am essential and necessary. That step back from my everyday life enables me to separate needs from wants more easily. Fasting – from food or from other things like entertainment media, electronic devices, or shopping – creates space for prayer and clear thinking and for understanding my need for God.
The Lord’s Prayer also indicates the high priority Jesus puts on forgiveness. In an age when many church worship services no longer include a confession of sin, we need to make time in our personal prayer life to acknowledge our sin to God. This can happen silently in prayer alone, in prayer times with family members or small groups, while journaling or walking or singing a song about forgiveness. Confessing sin with some regularity requires intentional effort in our self-focused world.
Jesus couples two things: asking God for forgiveness and forgiving others. The first is challenging, and the second is sometimes next to impossible, which reveals our need for God’s help. These requests in the Lord’s Prayer trigger in me an awareness of my deep need for God. I need God’s help to know how to pray and what to pray for, to grow in praying in ways consistent with God’s priorities and not centered only on my own desires. I need God’s help to face my sins and particularly to forgive others. I need God’s help to desire not to follow evil paths.
What are the spiritual practices in your life that help you acknowledge and express your need for God? Which spiritual practices help you take steps to forgive others? In what setting do you pray most readily for forgiveness? In what ways do your prayers reflect your own needs, and the needs of others, and in what ways do your prayers reflect your desires? Which spiritual practices help you resist the consumer culture? These are just a few of the questions I think about when I read or pray the intercessions in the Lord’s Prayer.
(*If you'd like to learn more about the Sabbath or Fasting, I've written a book on each of those topics: Sabbath Keeping and Fasting: Spiritual Freedom Beyond Our Appetites. I've also written numerous articles about those two spiritual practices, which you can find on the articles page of this website. The Lord's Prayer and spiritual practices, part 1, is available here. If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage. This post originally appeared on the Thoughtful Christian blog, Gathering Voices. )