Gossip Destroys, Especially When We Think We’re Not Gossiping but Really Are

From HBR, via ICHIRO/Getty Images
From HBR, via ICHIRO/Getty Images

I recently saw a survey given to young people that asked them something like, “Do you use your computer inappropriately?” The number was low, 10% or so of respondents answering yes. The next question was something like, “Do your peers use their computer inappropriately?” The number was much higher; if I recall, close to a majority of respondents said yes. In other words, I don’t do that, but they do.

I suspect that pattern holds with other destructive habits. Take gossip, for example. Deborah Grayson Riegel points out that in her coaching work, her clients often deny participating in workplace gossip, “with a look on their faces that indicates that they are insulted to have been asked such a question.” But when Grayson Riegel reframes the question, the response changes:

When I ask them whether they have ever participated in a “confirmation expedition” — whereby they 1) ask a colleague to confirm their own negative or challenging experience with a third colleague who is not present, or 2) welcome a similar line of confirmation inquiry from another colleague about a third colleague who is not present, most admit that this is, in fact, a regular part of their daily work life.

She talks about the importance of naming gossip (or a “confirmation expedition”) as such:

First, call gossip “gossip” to stop it in its tracks. If you are engaging in “informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present,” — especially if the aim is to confirm your experience rather than get constructive solutions — then you are participating in gossip.

The intertestamental book of Sirach goes further than just calling gossip “gossip.” It says, “Curse the gossips and the double-tongued, for they destroy the peace of many” (Sirach 28:13, NRSV). Gossip destroys the well-being of persons and disrupts whole communities.

The apostle Paul also warns his first century churches about “gossips,” which in Greek sure seems like an onomatopoeia: psithuristēs (whisperer). Think: “whisper networks,” but not the good, truth-telling kind that rightly bring down folks like Harvey Weinstein et al.

One of the dangers of gossip is that it seeks to confirm information (or at least claims to), but it risks getting reality wrong, because not all the involved people are in the room, including folks who may know more about a situation at hand. Not to mention that such furtive whispering is hard to hear, and often inaccurately conveys information when passed from one person to another (as happens in the kids’ game of “Telephone”).

Grayson Riegel has excellent advice for what to do about this dynamic (see her Harvard Business Review article here). I especially appreciate her “Let people know that you have a policy of ‘if you have a problem with me, please tell me first.’” (Although I think we need to be ready for the unfortunate possibility that some may simply ignore this request.)

I would add this prayer from Psalm 139:23-24, which could help us avoid doing what we are sure only others do:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Tempered Resilience (Tod Bolsinger)

Book cover of Tempered Resilience

 

The best way to introduce you to Tod Bolsinger’s new book is through a couple of quotations that wowed me:

A teachable learning mindset leads to a greater capacity for staying in a difficult position, taking on a particularly difficult task or standing up to resistance, because there is an inherent assurance that if all else fails this trial will—if nothing else—lead to further growth.

This sobering word, too:

A major difficulty in sustaining one’s mission is that others who start out with the same enthusiasm will come to lose their nerve. Mutiny and sabotage came not from enemies who opposed the initial idea, but rather from colleagues whose will was sapped by unexpected hardships along the way.

And this, which I shared with our church’s leadership and several other pastors I know:

One of the genuine crises of Christian leadership today is how inward focused it is. A movement founded on the salvation and transformation of the world often becomes consumed with helping a congregation, an organization, or educational institution survive, stay together, or deal with rampant anxiety (often all at the same time). It’s not enough to turn around a declining church, resolve conflict, restore a sense of community, regain a business’s market share, return an organization to sustainability, or even “save the company.” The question before any leader of an organization is “save the company for what?”

Bolsinger’s guiding metaphor is from blacksmithing: “To temper describes the process of heating, holding, hammering, cooling, and reheating that adds stress to raw iron until it becomes a glistening knife blade or chisel tip.” Others may find his drawing on the blacksmithing process more compelling than I did. I would have gladly taken Bolsinger’s wisdom straight up, sans analogy. (As in the quotes above.)

If you thought being sabatoged was unique to you? Par for the course, apparently. Bolsinger doesn’t deny the reality of church dysfunction; he seems to assume it. But then he equips the reader with how to lead resiliently in the face of adversity–even adversity coming from within. (“The call is coming from inside the house.”)

Bolsinger describes a “six-step process”:

1. Working: Leaders are formed in leading.
2. Heating; Strength is forged in self-reflection.
3. Holding: Vulnerable leadership requires relational security.
4. Hammering: Stress makes a leader.
5. Hewing: Resilience takes practice.
6. Tempering: Resilience comes through a rhythm of leading and not leading.

Despite a few dry moments or chapters that I thought could have been edited down, Tempered Resilience is an encouraging and empowering read. It’s offered me great encouragement these last few months, as well as given me a framework and tools to better understand the “crucible” of church leadership.

Tempered Resilience is available here (IVP) and here (Amazon/affiliate link).

 

Thanks to the good folks at IVP for the review copy, via NetGalley, sent without expectations of the content of my review.

Thomas Merton’s Prayer in Uncertainty

I’ve loved this prayer of Thomas Merton’s since I visited Abbey of Gethsemani as a teenager:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

A Call for Presidential Repentance

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, I wrote an “Appeal to Christians Regarding President-Elect Donald Trump,” which local and nationally known faith leaders, scholars, and ministers co-signed.

The petition began with an expression of concern about Trump’s character:

President-elect Donald Trump has bragged about sexual assault and berated his female accusers. He has repeatedly disparaged African Americans, Latinos, and other communities. He has denied what is true and promoted what is not. He has threatened political opponents, called for torture of U.S. enemies, and has failed to quickly and unequivocally denounce and distance himself from race-based crimes committed in his name.

Character matters, and a position of power brings out more of what is already there. People can change, yes—that’s the power of the Gospel! But Trump has expressed no interest in asking for forgiveness of wrongdoing, as he famously said in 2015.

My concerns about Trump’s character have only grown—perhaps a post for another time. Today, I simply want to say that more than ever, I stand by the five commitments in that “Appeal to Christians” petition:

  1. We will pray for President Trump, elected officials, our nation, our churches, and each other.
  2. Rooted in the teachings of Jesus and the prophets, we will tell the truth about the world around us, and we will speak up for those who have been marginalized and taken advantage of.
  3. We will actively resist the temptation to overlook or normalize values, speech, and behavior that are in conflict with what Scripture calls us to.
  4. In the name of Jesus, we call President Trump to repentance for dishonoring the image of God in others.
  5. We will fix our eyes on Jesus and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, redouble our efforts to honor the image of God in all people and to love all our neighbors as ourselves.

I’ve prayed for this presidential administration more than for any other. But the third commitment has been more difficult for me. Saying nothing or ignoring the news is easier. We can easily be desensitized, or lose our sense of shock. But it’s important that we keep our moral bearings.

Trump knew the other night that he would say in his State of the Union address: “We must reject the politics of revenge, resistance, and retribution.” Those words themselves are right. Did he mean them?

I don’t think so. Earlier that same day he is reported to have called Chuck Schumer a “son of a b*tch.” He called Omarasa “that dog” after she published a book about working for the Trump administration. He referred to the pornographic film actress he cheated with on his then pregnant wife as “Horseface.” The list goes on.

Trump doesn’t “reject the politics of revenge,” as his SOTU address called for. By his own admission practicing “politics of revenge” is, for him, a way of life. In a previous speech in which he shared advice for achieving success, he said: “Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it.”

So why is he pretending he believes otherwise? And are we being discerning in putting his words to the test?

Monday night’s talk of putting away revenge is not Trump turning over a new leaf (though we wish it were!)—it’s disingenuous lying (and gaslighting). In other contexts we would readily identify this as an abuser’s means of keeping control: he wants to keep others from pushing back on him while he continues to say whatever vindictive thing he wants to say.

Just as we would want our children to stand up to bullies at school, I hope the media and citizens alike point this discrepancy out—because as Marilyn Chandler McEntyre writes, we have “the responsibility not to tolerate lies.”

Frank Bruni was right on the money the morning after the address:

He pretends to care about matters that don’t move him in the least. He feigns blamelessness in situations where he’s entirely culpable and takes credit in circumstances where he has more to apologize for. He presents himself in a positive light, as one kind of person, when his actions paint him in a negative light, as a different character altogether. Many of his biggest lies are to himself.

Jeremiah warned the people about false prophets who said, “Peace, peace,” where there was no peace. So let’s acknowledge that Trump’s own words—about himself and directed to others—testify against him: he does not want to move beyond revenge politics. He just wants to quiet any who oppose him. That is not “peace.”

Consider this short post, then, one citizen’s small effort to make good on the third and fourth commitments from the petition above: to “actively resist the temptation to overlook or normalize values, speech, and behavior that are in conflict with what Scripture calls us to,” and “to call President Trump to repentance for dishonoring the image of God in others.”

Those are commitments that those who voted for Trump and those who voted for Hillary (and those who voted for Evan and those who voted for Jill!) can all get behind.

In his State of the Union address, Trump called on America to “choose greatness.”

I call on him to repent, come clean, begin telling the truth, and choose the greatness that he will only know when he asks God for forgiveness and begins to walk, as Scripture says, in the light of the Lord.

Memorize Weekly Verses in 2019

Open Bible by Petr Kratochvil

I’ve made a plan for memorizing verses of Scripture each week in 2019.

I intend, with God’s help, to follow this weekly plan. So far, so good! I have shared it with my congregation and wanted to share it here, in case any others have interest in joining me, or would otherwise find it helpful.

Each week there is a suggested verse or verses, spanning the whole sweep of the Old and New Testaments. There are never more than three verses to learn per week, except for the Psalm 23 week and the 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 week. Many weeks suggest memorizing a single verse.

You can find a printable/downloadable PDF of the plan right here. You’ll also find (on the first page) some notes about reading in context, as well as “16 Ways to Memorize” that could be helpful, should you choose to take this on.

Let me know if you’ll be memorizing (or reading) along!

Vote! And an Election Prayer

Paying Attention

 

The below is slightly modified from an email I sent my congregation Sunday.

Trying to enact Christian values in the public square and trying to map Christian virtues onto candidates and ballot questions can be challenging. There’s not a one-to-one match between what Augustine called the city of God and this earthly city.

Still, part of our calling as citizens of the kingdom of God is to be engaged earthly citizens. What Paul wrote to the church in Corinth applies to us: we are Christ’s ambassadors, joining God in his ongoing work of reconciling the world to himself. We want to be like the people God called through Jeremiah to seek the shalom of the cities in which we live.

It’s important that we bring our whole selves into the public square: our love, our hope, our witness, our God-shaped discernment, and our biblically informed values. We want to live out our faith in city council meetings and town halls and online forums and community events and in the voting booth.

Midterm elections are notorious for low voter turnout, so however our Christian convictions lead each of us to civic engagement, I hope we will make every effort—acting in good faith as both a citizen of the heavenly city and this earthly one—to vote on Tuesday. (Click here to learn more: polling places, hours, candidates, ballots.) And encourage your friends, family, and neighbors—in this state and in others—to vote, as well.

As we vote, let’s be constant in prayer for our city, state, country, world, and all who lead… that they would pursue justice, freedom, truth, and love for all people. Here’s a prayer for elections from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer to help shape our praying:

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Book Review: Raise Your Voice: Why We Stay Silent and How to Speak Up

Kathy Khang’s new book from InterVarsity Press addresses an important question:

You have a voice. And you have God’s permission to use it.

In some communities, certain voices are amplified and elevated while others are erased and suppressed. It can be hard to speak up, especially in the ugliness of social media. Power dynamics keep us silent and marginalized, especially when race, ethnicity, and gender are factors. What can we do about it?

In the introduction (“The Risk of Silence Versus the Risk of Raising Your Voice”) Khang gets right to it: “More often than not, raising my voice comes at some cost” (3). But not speaking up has a cost, too: “I learned that even when I chose to be silent and do nothing, I was still choosing to communicate something” (10). She says, “I want you to know that you have a voice. God wants you to use it, and the world needs to hear, see, and experience it” (10).

Khang roots our voice in the image of God and says, “Creation was not meant to be silent” (35). The God who spoke creation into being calls us to speak and even speaks through us.

This doesn’t mean raising our voice will be easy. Khang talks about fear, failure, and the risk of upsetting others. She shares experiences where speaking up for peace has been difficult for her—even times when trusted colleagues have (literally!) tried to silence her. Her sharing of her and her family’s life stories are a compelling part of her showing readers what finding our voice can look like.

I marked up quite a bit in this book. Here are some of the passages that especially helped me:

Rather than waiting for fear to pass, we must be willing to make small yet courageous steps toward the unfamiliar. We must simply be willing to “do it afraid.” (65, from a friend of Khangs that she interviews)

Speaking out is often labeled as rocking the boat or causing trouble, but silence is just as dangerous. (83)

Another thing to consider is what issue is pulling at your heart and soul so much that it might make you do something you never thought you’d do? (57-58)

I found the following idea especially compelling, and a great antidote to those who complain about “division” or “playing the race card” or whatever other reasons people give for avoiding difficult conversations:

Speaking up doesn’t increase division. It brings injustice and sin to the forefront. (66)

The book is not quite the step-by-step how-to guide I expected from the chapter titles, but Khang offers plenty of practical advice:

What issues do you care most deeply about? Identify what compels you to speak up. What people, problems, dreams, and values are near and dear to your heart? What things make you angry and question humanity? Where do you find hope? (57)

And her use of the Esther narrative as a lens through which to view using one’s voice is inspiring.

The book, by the way, is an excellent oceanside companion…

 

 

… and a good dinner partner:

 

 

It’s especially timely, given everything the current president does and says, as Christians try to navigate what to say and how to say it and in what venues.

 

 

Raise Your Voice releases July 31 and is available here (IVP) and here (Amazon).

 


 

Thanks to the good folks at IVP for the review copy, sent without expectations of the content of my review.

Book Note: John Fea’s Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump

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Image via Eerdmans

You’re probably tired of hearing the Pew statistic that 81% of white evangelicals who voted in 2016 voted for Donald Trump. (Joe Carter’s early clarifications of the statistic are helpful.)

As I have written elsewhere, I believe it is incumbent on the 81% to explain why they supported a candidate who so publicly disregards and even opposes basic biblical values. (There have been some attempts at this, albeit unsatisfying ones.) It’s not that people always vote all their values or in their own best interest (and a limited two-party system makes voting values tricky for many, myself included), but the disconnect between the professed tenets of classic evangelicalism and the words and actions of Trump is remarkable.

John Fea, a historian and evangelical at Messiah College, offers an explanation in his just-released Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans, 2018):

“For too long, white evangelical Christians have engaged in public life through a strategy defined by the politics of fear, the pursuit of worldly power, and a nostalgic longing for a national past that may have never existed in the first place. Fear. Power. Nostalgia. These ideas are at the heart of this book, and I believe that they best explain that 81 percent.” (6)

That’s the thesis of the book, which I will be reviewing here in the coming weeks. “This book,” Fea says, “is the story of why so many American evangelicals believe Donald Trump” (10).

In the meantime you can read more about the book here.

A Book You Should Read: Amy L. Sherman’s Kingdom Calling

Any church is an outpost of the Kingdom of God. There is the mission of the church, expressed in terms of what it does together as a congregation. Then there are the myriad ways members of a congregation—especially but certainly not limited to ones involved in teaching, social services, and other care-taking roles—live out the church’s call to love, to be salt and light, to share the good news of God’s love..

Even if we are at church four hours a week, we churchgoers spend some 98% of our lives not gathered with the congregation as a whole. How can churchgoing folks continue to build the Kingdom of God, not just when we are together, but when we are apart?

3809There exists among congregations an impressive amount of what Amy L. Sherman in Kingdom Calling refers to as “vocational power–knowledge, platform, networks, position, influence, skills and reputation.” As a pastor I am keenly aware of the importance of equipping the body of believers to use their “vocational power” for the growing of the Kingdom of God. How, as Ephesians says, can we “equip the saints for the work of ministry”—ministry not just at church but in our day-to-day lives, in all the places in which God has set us?

Sherman sets the course with a definition of vocational stewardship: “the intentional and strategic use of one’s vocational power (skills, knowledge, network, platform) to advance the values of the Kingdom of God.” In calling for “foretastes” of the Kingdom of God, she speaks of a righteousness that has three dimensions: up (God and me), in (myself), and out (the world and me). This robust understanding of righteousness gets at the heart of the Old and New Testament’s definition of righteousness as right relationship with God, self, and others.

Throughout Kingdom Calling Sherman tells inspiring stories of non-profit owners, teachers, pastors, small groups, construction workers, cleaning service providers, and many others who are helping to advance the Kingdom of God by offering foretastes of it in their own spheres.

As a pastor I appreciated Sherman’s focus on “four pathways for deploying congregants in the stewardship of their vocations” (22). These are:

  1. “Blooming where we are planted by strategically stewarding our current job,”
  2. “Donating our vocational skills as a volunteer,”
  3. “Launching a new social enterprise,” and,
  4. “Participating in a targeted initiative of our congregation aimed at transforming a particular community or solving a specific social problem.”

Sherman shares inspiring stories of church-school partnerships and congregation-wide initiatives, although it is hard to know how to replicate some of the successes Sherman mentions, absent more specific implementation suggestions. But insofar as her aim is to cast a vision to church leaders and attendees of vocational stewardship and the great potential found in vocational power, Sherman’s work has excited me to move ahead in my own church with what I’ve learned from Kingdom Calling.