Honing in on Your CQ (Cultural Intelligence)

CQDavid Livermore’s goal in Cultural Intelligence is to effect cross-cultural transformation, rather than just impart information (12). Across the barriers of difference and “the barrage of cultures around us” (11), we still “have so much in common” (11). As we navigate the tensions of sameness and difference, Livermore notes, “These points of difference are where we find both our greatest challenges and our greatest discoveries” (11). Yet Livermore wants more than just cultural awareness. He says, “We must actually become more multicultural people so that we might better express love cross-culturally” (12).

Undergirding all levels of cultural intelligence is Livermore’s call to love, coupled with a robust theology of the Incarnation. I appreciated this theological and practical grounding. He writes, “The language of God is Jesus. The incarnation is the ultimate form of contextualization, the fullest embodiment of cultural intelligence” (33). As a result, Livermore warns those who think the Gospel can only be expressed in “one right way” (34). Jesus himself was a culturally situated figure, and yet a liminal one. The Gospels show Jesus’ interaction with 1st Century Palestine’s institutions and structures, where sometimes he embraced and other times he protested against the cultural values and practices of his day. Even if some readers will find his theological exposition familiar territory, it is nonetheless compelling.

CQ (cultural intelligence quotient) goes beyond educating ourselves about culture—even if it must start there. CQ “measures the ability to effectively reach across the chasm of cultural difference in ways that are loving and respectful” (13). An important step toward a fuller expression of love across lines of difference is growth in self-awareness. One must not only learn about other cultural mores and traditions, but one must know one’s own cultural heritage, and how that shapes one’s identity.

Livermore divides Cultural Intelligence into four basic types, which constitute the major sections of the book. First, there is Knowledge CQ, which pertains to a basic “level of understanding about culture and culture’s role in shaping behavior and social interactions” (48). This is CQ at the level of cognitive awareness. There are several important kinds of awareness: my awareness of my culture, my awareness of your culture, and my awareness of your perception of my culture (49). Livermore provides some practical metrics to help readers measure their Knowledge CQ: fluency in other languages, awareness of how other cultures resolve conflict, knowledge of cultural differences in how Christianity is expressed, lack of projecting our values onto others’ cultures, and so on (58, 61). Especially helpful is Livermore’s division of culture into three domains: socioethnic culture, organizational culture, and generational culture (93). His description of these domains addresses what would otherwise have been a concern of mine: that “culture” is not just a racial-ethnic phenomenon. I’ve worked at churches where the socioethnic culture and even generational culture were similar, but the organizational culture (“shared personality”) between the two was vastly different. Ministry methodologies and initiatives that worked in one church simply would not fly in the other.

Second, there is Interpretive CQ, which is metacognitive, since it relates to thinking about how one thinks. Interpretive CQ is essentially applied Knowledge CQ. If Knowledge CQ is basic exegesis, Interpretive CQ is hermeneutics. A key virtue here is that of empathy: “noticing what’s apparent about another person and trying to tune into her or his thoughts, emotions, and feelings” (158). Livermore connects Knowledge CQ and Interpretive CQ together into “cultural strategic thinking.”

Third, Livermore outlines Perseverance CQ, which is “our level of interest, drive, and motivation to adapt cross-culturally” (213). Anyone who has sought to form deliberate partnerships (or even just close friendships) across cultural lines is aware of the potential for discomfort, miscommunication, misunderstanding, and frustration, especially as intimacy builds. Perseverance CQ is the desire to push through these feelings for the sake of expressing love across the cultural gaps the author describes. Livermore offers an important set of questions and considerations:

What fuels our motivation? Why are we reaching into a new cultural context in the first place? We have to honestly face the motives behind our service, travel, and work. And we have to bear in mind that we are the Other to billions of other people. (225)

To push back, one may find oneself in cross-cultural relationships without deliberately engaging in service, travel, and work. They may exist “at home,” so to speak. Even so, the questions are worth asking. And the emphasis of othering the self that pops up throughout Cultural Intelligence is a needed (if difficult) perspective.

Finally, there is Behavioral CQ. This is the on-the-ground evidence that we love the Other. Livermore describes it as “the extent to which we appropriately change our verbal and nonverbal actions when we interact cross-culturally” (233). True CQ leads to action. We will not be able to “accomplish flawless cross-cultural behavior” (240), but we can become more faithful in “reflect[ing] Jesus to the Other through culturally intelligent communication” (241).

Cultural Intelligence concludes with a practical “What now?” chapter with “Twenty-four Ways to Advance Your CQ” (242). Then follows a CQ self-assessment, which is a brilliant inclusion. I first took the CQ self-assessment six years ago. I was surprised then to have tested so high (“excellent”) in the last two modes of CQ: Perseverance and Behavioral. Re-taking the test in 2016 I oddly dipped in Perseverance and Behavioral CQ, but went up in my “Cultural Strategic Thinking” (Knowledge and Interpretive CQ).

I wonder whether this is because my cross-cultural awareness has grown over the years, while my comfort with my own culture (and my being content with that comfort, to some degree) has led me to make cross-cultural stretching less of a priority. It’s not that I don’t interact with people from different cultures on a regular basis (whether socioethnic, organizational, or generational cultures); it’s just that given the choice I might default to monocultural settings, since they are “easier” (in some senses) to navigate. This is especially true when it comes to workplace and organizational culture. This may be sin I need to repent of—or just a reflection of my plate being over-full already, and the fact that my focus is strained until I graduate from seminary! I found the assessment to be somewhat limited, with its forced choices.

Readers will likely note at the beginning of Livermore’s book that the tasks the author sets out could be more difficult for “white” people who think of themselves as people who “have no ethnicity.” The outdated (but still present!) “Ethnic Foods” aisle is instructive here. “Ethnic” is understood all too often in opposition to “non-ethnic,” or “regular,” which then becomes culturally normative. The insidious danger is when this move happens subconsciously. Everyone has ethnicity, and all foods (and churches) are “ethnic.” The question is rather, “Of which ethnicity?” Livermore’s book reads, in some senses, as being geared toward such a person. However, even those who have done more extensive reflection on their own ethnic and cultural identity can benefit from his work.

Cultural Intelligence is an excellent primer for anyone seeking to enhance their cross-cultural fluency. Livermore is patient with the reader, but not overly so—he’s not afraid to challenge where needed. His truth-telling and practical step-by-step explanations combine to have a powerful impact. Anyone who gets lost in the various interdisciplinary concerns of the book will have a handy Glossary to refer to. Church leaders, Christians, and concerned citizens alike should carve out the time to not just read but also work through the concepts of the book—maybe even with someone with whom they have cultural differences.

You can find the book here at Amazon or here at the publisher’s page. Go here to read a .pdf sample.

This Just Went to the Top of My Reading Stack

Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker

 

For months I’ve been waiting for this book to come out. Today I received it in the mail. As it weds two of my loves in life–youth ministry and Bonhoeffer–it’s going straight to the top of my reading stack.

About Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker:

The youth ministry focus of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life is often forgotten or overlooked, even though he did much work with young people and wrote a number of papers, sermons, and addresses about or for the youth of the church. However, youth ministry expert Andrew Root explains that this focus is central to Bonhoeffer’s story and thought. Root presents Bonhoeffer as the forefather and model of the growing theological turn in youth ministry. By linking contemporary youth workers with this epic theologian, the author shows the depth of youth ministry work and underscores its importance in the church. He also shows how Bonhoeffer’s life and thought impact present-day youth ministry practice.

With appreciation to Baker Academic. I’ll post a review here this fall. Check out the Table of Contents and first chapter here. You can also pre-order the print book on Amazon or the Kindle edition.

 

The First Youth Ministry Talk I Never Gave

A Day of Hope cover slide.001

On September 16, 2001, I was planning to deliver my first ever message as a vocational youth minister. It would have been about Philippians 3.

I had just taken a position at an Episcopal church in Illinois as part-time youth minister. In my excitement to start ministering among youth and families, I invited all the parents of youth to come to our first youth worship service that Sunday. In the weeks leading up to that service I worked hard on my sermon, which was going to be about Paul’s pressing on toward the goal and striving to know Jesus Christ more and more. I hoped this would be a central theme in my new ministry.

On Monday, September 10, 2001, I went for a long run and mapped out the outline to my talk. I came back from my run refreshed and ready to go; I couldn’t wait to begin that Sunday.

The next morning, as I walked to a youth ministry class, my friend Michael asked me if I had heard the news. What news, I asked? He told me about a plane, commandeered by terrorists, crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, taking the lives of thousands of people. When I arrived at class, my professor turned on the TV as our session was set to begin and just said, “I’m going to stay here and watch the news about this; feel free to stay if you like; feel free to go home if you need to.”

Maybe it goes without saying, but I didn’t preach to the youth and their families that following Sunday about Philippians. Instead, I turned to Psalm 46, and tried to convey some sense of hope, because of the strength we can find in God, even when awful things happen.

To try to do that I used a collection of projected images (that we had been seeing in the news all week anyway), with the text of Psalm 46, bit-by-bit, underneath, next to, or on top of the images.

Here is a .pdf version (unedited since then) of our worship focus that morning. Though it’s been almost 13 years since that Sunday, I’ve found myself–still–turning to this Psalm in the wake of tragic events.

I preached on Psalm 46 this last Sunday, from which the above is adapted. See also here.

Before and After #NoFilter

A sermon on Romans 6:1-11, on the day of ocean baptisms.

I’ve always been a little suspicious of Before and After photos. It’s as if Before photos are bad on purpose, and After photos do everything they can to try to enhance the actual improvements that have taken place, whether the subject is a human body or a newly improved, re-stained back deck.

I just found an article about a Before and After set of photos of an Australian fitness trainer. On first glance the After photo looks like about three months worth of exercise and nutritional improvement, compared to the Before.

Before and After

But, in fact, one scrolls down past the Before and After to see a note: “Check out my transformation! It took me 15 minutes.” Meaning, the Before and After photos were 15 minutes apart.

A paragraph accompanying the photos goes on, in part:

Wanna know my secret?  I…. smothered on some fake tan, clipped in my hair extensions, stood up a bit taller, sucked in my guts, popped my hip, threw in a skinny arm, stood a bit wider…pulled my shoulders back…Zoomed in on the before pic, zoomed out on the after and added a filter. Cause filters make everything awesome.

It seems that actual transformation–whether it’s of our bodies or of our inner selves–is elusive. We often try to short-change the process, or make things look better than they really are. And yet it’s a burning human desire to be different, to look better, to grow, to change.

Paul’s Before and After

The apostle Paul understands that. He speaks in Romans 6 of true transformation, a fundamental shift in the selfhood of the one who believes in Jesus. There is no doctoring of Before or After photos needed, because the picture of transformation that Paul paints is the most real kind of personal change there is.

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

When we give ourselves to Jesus, we understand that sin does not rule over us. We are free from having to sin. We are free from the inevitability of it.

In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Even as we are being sanctified, we’re far from sinless–and the next chapter in Romans will emphasize this frustrating reality. But we are to consider ourselves dead to sin, or, we might say, that sin is dead to us, because we are “alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

This is “Before and After” for the child of God:

Before: living in a body of sin, slaves to sin, an old, listless, aimless self.

After: dead to sin, alive to God, united with Jesus in his death, and so united also with him–and other Christians–in his resurrection glory, in new life.

This true transformation, the Christian’s inward change, Paul points out, is marked by baptism:

Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

The old self walks to the edge of the water, wades in, is dipped under–washed in the ocean of God’s love and forgiveness–and the new self comes up, freed to live a new life in Jesus.

Or as God’s prophet Ezekiel so eloquently put it:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

What Baptism Is

Baptism is a physical, visible, experiential sign of this inward transformation that takes place when a person says, “Yes,” to the gift of God’s grace.

In just a few moments I will ask our candidates, “Do you renounce the powers of evil and desire the freedom of new life in Christ?” They will say, “I do.” Before: we were slaves to sin, afraid to even try to cast off the “powers of evil.” Or maybe we didn’t want to. After: we have renounced those powers. We celebrate our freedom. We have new life in Christ.

Also in just a few moments, all of us, as a congregation, will say: “Out of the waters of baptism, we rise with new life, forgiven of sin, and one in Christ, members of Christ’s body.” We affirm this “Before and After” that baptism represents, and we do it in a larger, communal context. We are “one in Christ, members of Christ’s body.”

Ancient Baptismal Pool (Source: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary)
Ancient Baptismal Pool (Source: Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary)

As we’ve gone through our high school confirmation class last month and this month, we’ve been talking about baptism and confirmation as a multi-faceted commitment. On the one hand, baptismal candidates and confirmands are themselves making a public commitment to God in the presence of us, the church. And on the other hand, we promise our commitment to them as they seek to carry out their baptismal vows. Ultimately, the waters of baptism signify God’s commitment to us to continue and one day complete his work in us.

So please do support these young people who are about to be baptized, as best you are able. When they go out of state for college and then come back on breaks to worship here, ask them how they’re doing–not just in school, but in their relationship to God. Seek them out during coffee hours in future Sundays. Commit to pray for them. You might even pick one or two of the folks you see being baptized today and decide that you will pray for them by name, for the next month, six months, two years.

Identity

We began our confirmation class with a short teaching video and discussion centered around the question, “Who Am I?” How do I understand my identity as a person? We watched and discussed a short video by a teacher from Grand Rapids, Michigan named Rob Bell.

Bell talked about our tendencies to compare ourselves with others, to measure ourselves against those around us. As he talked, the camera followed a cast of actors who had t-shirts with a single word printed on the back: baker, consultant, double degree, Southern, apathetic, ashamed, listener… single words that can define how we think about ourselves, especially in relation to others.

But Bell says:

We need to be saved from all the times we haven’t been our true selves. All the times we’ve tried to be someone else.

All of the lies we’ve believed about who God made when God made us. All the times we’ve asked the wrong questions:

‘What about him? What about her? What about them?’

And we’ve missed the voice of Jesus saying, ‘You, follow me.’

To those who are about to be baptized, I want to say, this is who you are: one who is loved dearly by God, one who is saying “yes” to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. You are choosing to not miss that voice. You are saying, “Yes, I will follow.”

Your decision to be baptized means that you are affirming your identity in Jesus–as one who is “forgiven of sin, and one in Christ with the members of Christ’s body, the church.” “The old has gone, the new has come,” as Scripture says. Baptism is a physical sign of the ultimate “Before and After” transformation.

Remember Your Baptism

This Baptism Sunday is also a chance us who have already been baptized to remember our baptism. We know that we at times wander away from God, but we can never be un-baptized. We always come back to our fundamental identity as ones forgiven by God’s grace, and given new life.

So, whether your baptism was years ago or is about to happen today: remember your baptism.

Whenever you look at the ocean, may God remind you of the cleansing, washing power of his forgiveness.

May the vast waters call to mind the immensity and intensity of Christ’s love for you.

Remember who you were before you said “yes” to following Jesus, but especially remember the new life to which you are now called.

Just as Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again, “In the same way, Paul says, “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Scripture quotations above are from the 1984 NIV. See my other sermons gathered here.

Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, reviewed

Unpacking Scripture in YMWhen I was a vocational youth minister, I tried to help young people (and myself) read the Bible not just for information, but for transformation. I had a number of zealous starts in my own teenage years with an overly ambitious Bible-reading plan, only to find by January 22 that no, I can’t actually read and absorb three chapters a day. This is not to disparage Bible-reading plans, even ones that have you reading through the whole Bible in a year, but it is to say that it’s all too easy to just read the Book for the sake of being able to say, “I’ve read it.”

Andrew Root, author and professor of family and youth ministry at Luther Seminary, makes a similar suggestion. In Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, he offers a short volume of “dogmatic theology written through youth ministry.” The book is part narrative, part theological mini-treatise, and follows the story of a fictional youth worker named Nadia. Throughout the book Nadia wrestles with her own views on Scripture, how to engage youth in Bible reading, and how to respond to the parents, pastors, and facilities committee members with whom she is in community.

The book is just over 100 pages and part of a larger series called A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry. (See the other three volumes here.) A blend of fictional narrative and theology is hard to pull off in any book, but the transitions here between the two are smooth. From the very beginning scene (Nadia is called at 7 a.m. by a not-entirely-happy facilities coordinator at the church), Root’s storytelling is compelling, funny, and sometimes painfully relatable. Nadia is not the only youth minister, I’m sure, to have been grilled on her biblical theology by the building and grounds committee.

There are discussion questions for each chapter at the back of the book, which would make it easy for a youth minister to lead a team of volunteer leaders or staff through it. Unpacking Scripture and its series fill a gap in youth ministry literature–it’s great to see serious theological reflection coupled with practical application (and done creatively with Nadia’s narrative throughout).

Insatiable Interpreters

Root makes a fascinating point (that I’m still mulling over): “Today, access is more important than memory; we surrender our memory over to gigabytes.” Youth, then, and youth ministers should not see the Bible as a source of knowledge, Root suggests, but as a locus for the construction of meaning. Young people are insatiable “hermeneutical animals,” so Root warns against “frozen biblical knowledge,” since “adolescents interpret everything” in life anyway. He calls for youth ministers to ask:

What does this text mean in the midst of my life? And what does it mean in relation to my existence between possibility and nothingness? What does it say to this struggle I know in the world and in my bones? And…What does this text mean in relation to how God is moving and acting?

Root uses the story in Acts 8 of Philip and the eunuch to unpack his own vision of how to read and interpret the Bible. Philip, he writes, “is not only concerned with helping the eunuch understand the text, he wants to help the man experience it next to his own existence.” Right on.

100% Human, and…?

Root, in his chapter, “The Authority of Scripture,” leads off by talking about the paradox of Christ’s two natures–fully human and fully divine. He uses that as a springboard to look at “the Bible’s two natures,” which I expected to be an articulation of its having been written by human people (who were all too human) who were yet divinely inspired to write. However, Root goes farther than I’m comfortable accepting by saying that the “contradiction of the Bible is that the story of the divine action comes to us in a book that is simply, and profoundly human.” The Bible “contains all the shortcomings and fallibilities of any written text.” And, “The Bible is a 100 percent human book.”

Eunuch and PhilipI would have been on board, had he followed up with the ways in which the Bible is also “100 percent divinely inspired” or “breathed-into,” etc., but the emphasis seems to be largely on its human production. To be fair, this “human book,” Root notes, “is essential for encountering the living God,” but other than Acts 8, there wasn’t much discussion about what the Bible says about itself (with due respect to all the footnoted Barth). If this Word is “living and active,” and capable of transforming us (because it is God’s Word/words), doesn’t its inspiration go beyond just the fact that it is a “witness,” the purpose of which “was to reveal God’s action by articulating what God has done”? In other words, could there also be something about these very words that can transform? (Darrell W. Johnson, in his book The Glory of Preaching, notes, “[T]he word of the living God is a performative word” (my italics).)

Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, and I don’t know Root personally–I suspect that given more pages, or over a cup of coffee, he might say more about the divine inspiration of the Bible, or about its performative power. But I thought at least this book may have put too much emphasis on the human element, as it described “what the Bible is not” and “what the Bible is.”

What is the Goal in Youth Ministry?

Where I find myself agreeing with Root is in his articulation of the goal of youth ministry in relation to Scripture:

So our goal in youth ministry is not to get kids to know the Bible, but for them to use the Bible–to become familiar with its function–so they might encounter the living God, participating in God’s own action through its story.

Of course, the goal in youth ministry could/should be both of those things. We want young people to know the Bible and know how to use it, just as Root describes the eunuch’s both understanding and experiencing Scripture. Youth ministers will still need to help young people differentiate between genres (just as English teachers do) and help them know how to dig into the historical background of a text, which often helps to explain it more than just a surface read.

So we need to get both “behind the text” (“boring” or not) and “in front of the text” to be faithful interpreters. To say, as Root does, that the Bible “only can live, then, by being drawn into our world, into the world in front of the text” has the potential to turn into a me-centric way of reading.

Perhaps the length of this review is an indication that Root has succeeded in getting ministers to think about their own views of Scripture, and how they would engage others in reading the Bible. That is a good thing! I’m not sure I would use this book for youth minister training, since there’s a good deal I’d feel compelled to qualify or further nuance. (Though it’s hard to think of an alternative book along similar lines to suggest.) Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry has, however, very much provoked me to a great deal of reflection. I hope that Root continues to write more about theology, Scripture, and youth ministry, and that others follow suit.

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy, given without expectation as to the nature and content of this review. The publisher’s product page is here. You can find it on Amazon here. A sample .pdf is here.

Read Your Bible: But How? (Lectio Divina)

Open Bible by Petr Kratochvil
Open Bible by Petr Kratochvil

“Read your Bible.” But how?

I’ve benefitted from reading large portions of Scripture–whole narratives, books, and multiple chapters–in one sitting. I’ve also benefitted immensely from slowing down and meditatively just reading a few verses at a time. Lectio Divina is a way of reading Scripture that encourages that. It’s reading, as many have said, for transformation and not just information.

Lectio Divina means “holy reading” or “divine reading.” The idea is to deliberately reflect in God’s presence on God’s words, inviting God to echo his words in us today. The most classic formulation of this ancient Benedictine practice is the four-part: lectio (read), meditatio (meditate), oratio (pray), and contemplatio (contemplate).

I’ve also seen a slightly adjusted form, which I’ve used in groups and individually.  It goes like this:

    1. Read: What does the passage say?
    2. Pray: What is God saying to me through this passage?  (short phrase or single word)
    3. Listen: How is God calling me to respond to what he’s saying?
    4. Respond: What will I commit to God to do in response?

Lectio works best with smaller passages–a few verses from the Psalms or Proverbs… perhaps some words of Jesus or a Pauline prayer. Colossians 3:15-17 is a good place to start, if you’re new to the practice:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

In a group setting, readers (four different ones) can read the passage out loud (slowly) before each of the four movements. Individually, one could just read and re-read the passage before each of the four movements.

I’ve also found benefit in doing the fourth “respond” movement creatively: maybe I respond not just seated through prayer, but perhaps there is a response through song or drawing or movement that I can offer.

There are other approaches to Lectio; it’s certainly not meant to be formulaic. But whether I do it in 5 minutes or 30 minutes, with a group or by myself, I find that I am always impressed with how much God’s Word/words still can speak today–if I quiet myself enough to listen.

More than 125 youth workers at Open Boston

Open Boston Worship More than 125 youth workers gathered at Gordon College on Saturday, February 2 for Open Boston. An initiative of The Youth Cartel, Open Boston brought together more than 20 speakers to lead sessions on topics ranging from student leadership and youth ministry innovation, to soul care and strategic relationship building. Interactive sessions enabled mutual collaboration throughout the day, evident from the event’s Twitter hashtag. An opening and closing session of worship served as bookends to the day.

Open Boston was preceded by Open Seattle and will be followed by Open Paris. The Open events are about “celebrating fresh ideas in youth ministry.”

I spoke about developing student worship leaders. Here’s the handout (PDF) I used.