Thursday, October 31, 2013

This Is Who I Am: A Personality Profile Matrix

I thought it might be interesting to see all my various personality profiles mashed up together. So I went to, which is one of those nifty wordcloud generators, and came up with a rough system for weighting the profiles:

* I typed in my top term from APEST and Enneagram five times.

* I typed in my second APEST category four times, then three, then two, then one, till all five were represented.

* I typed in my two Enneagram directions three times each.

* I typed in my Myers-Briggs and StrengthsFinder terms twice each.

* I typed in my Enneagram wing once.

Then the wordcloud generator did its funky work. Here is what it kicked out, designed as a footprint, which I think is a pretty good visual representation of how I fit into the world.

Or, if you prefer, here I am as a trendy, self-aware giraffe:

This is not at all scientific. It's just for fun. If you do something similar, let me know; I'd love to see how you look. If you're wondering what any of these words means, let me know and I'll fill you in.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Whistling--A Life Plan

My dad taught me to whistle. I've recently become aware of this. I don't think he taught me how to whistle; I would hope that I taught myself that, since the mechanics of whistling are simple: as Lauren Bacall put it, "You just put your lips together . . . and blow."

But the bliss of whistling -- that I learned from my dad. He whistles a lot. Like, all the time. And, like, everywhere. Walking through a store. Walking through the neighborhood. Stepping into the pews at church. Sitting down for dinner at home. He whistles while driving, while reading, while waiting around for the next thing to happen. He's a whistler. And so am I.

I started to become aware that I had inherited my dad's whistling disposition when I got the eponymous first album by "newgrass" band Nickel Creek. The trio that made up the band played their respective instruments with the speed of youth and the acumen of veterans. And I whistled right along with them. I whistled the melody; I whistled the harmony. I whistled the fiddle part; I whistled the mandolin part. And I did it all from the comfort of my desk at work.

Imagine how that must have annoyed my neighbors. I got made fun of a fair bit, and I know that I deserved it. I'm pretty confident, however, that as annoying as I was, no one stayed annoyed at me. Whistling is too innocent, too blissful, to resent for long. Plus, there's no denying I'm good at it. Anyway, I kept doing it --not out of conviction but out of habit.

Something happens to you, I think, when you make a habit of whistling. It lightens the load of life, I think. It's hard to nurse grudges while you're whistling. It's hard to dwell on some slight, to fret over some mistake. It's hard to stay angry or stay panicked. Whistling takes you out of time and drills you down deep into a particular moment. If you're whistling, chances are you're in the zone.

Or maybe you're desperately trying to get in the zone. "Whistling in the dark" is what we call putting on a brave face; ironically, it's roughly equivalent to keeping a stiff upper lip, a state that is hardly conducive to whistling. Whistling somehow, mystically, shores up our resolve, emboldens us in the face of danger. We distract ourselves by whistling in order to do what we might not otherwise want or feel able to do. If you find yourself whistling, chances are you're in the thick of it.

My dad taught me to whistle not out of fear but out of serenity. He didn't set out to do so; he just whistled everywhere he went, and he gave off a sense of serenity in the process. The message kind of stuck with me, and the habit embedded itself in me. And now, the older I get, the more I get it: life is no match for a person who whistles.

You think you're a good whistler? Put your lips together and blow through this one -- "The Lighthouse's Tale" by Nickel Creek.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Prophetiquette: How to Be a Prophet Without Being a Jerk

In my previous post, most excellent blogophile, I identified some pitfalls that people facilitating a paradigm shift often stumble into. As a reminder (although, come on, how long would it take you to read a 500-word post?), they were as follows:

1. Treating smart people like they're stupid.

2. Treating competent people like they're incompetent.

3. Treating committed people like they're uncommitted.

I suggested that these pitfalls could be avoided, or their impact mitigated, by a prior commitment to the second great commandment of Jesus: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Today I read, in Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim's energizing book The Permanent Revolution, a similar set of rules for people of a prophetic temperament. The authors are setting up a kind of taxonomy of spiritual "intelligences," the various aptitudes listed by the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:1-16 that, taken together, are the engine of Christianity as a missionary movement through history: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds (or pastors) and Teachers (APEST). Everyone, it seems, is bent toward one of these intelligences, something that appeals to the Myers-Briggs junkies among us. But the emphasis here is not on the individual but on the collective--how the five share their energies, pool their resources and engage in common mission. I'll concentrate here on prophetic intelligence, since it's related to paradigm shifting (and since that's as far as I've gotten in the book), but the greatest value in any one piece of the APEST puzzle is found in the context of the whole.

Anyway, Hirsch and Catchim define a prophet generally as a "guardian of faithfulness."

They are seen to be the God-intoxicated, biblical existentialists, calling all to live faithfully in covenant relationship with God and consistent with his kingdom and rule in the world. The effect of prophetic ministry is to bring our world into divine focus.
This presumes, all too rightly, that most of us live out of sync with what we profess about God and the world, making the prophetic intelligence a somewhat maddening burden:

This experience of encountering two contradicting realities causes the prophet to passionately call into question the existing order of things. ... By forcing us to face up to these gaps in our faithfulness, the prophet creates a context that allows us to perceive the truth of our situation. ... People, and the institutions they inhabit, can find themselves being held hostage by their own logic and systems of justification. In such situations we need prophetic imagination to deconstruct and dismantle these systems of justification that so often conceal our fears and selfishness.
Sound like a paradigm shift? It's a helpful reminder that paradigm shifts aren't just change for the alleviation of boredom; they're an acknowledgment, arrived at gradually by increasing numbers of people, that something is out of sync with reality, and a commitment, arrived at with varying levels of enthusiasm, to return to equilibrium. Paradigm shifts need prophets, not just to shake the foundations but to identify where the foundations are and how we find our way back to them.

Given this setup, prophets sound awesome, right? But they have their own rules of engagement. Hirsch and Catchim identify six.

1. The prophet is to point people to God, not to the prophet's preferred reality. There's something objective driving the prophet's concern, which is why we test prophets to distinguish between something objective and something loudly, annoyingly subjective.

2. "Criticism is not a license for cynicism." Underlying the prophetic task is a commitment to the possibility of change and to the responsibility to point people toward that change--not just to chide people for their stasis.

3. Love is the foundation of prophetic ministry. If you're not motivated by love for the people you're prophesying to, you're doing it wrong.

4. "Critical distance should not translate into permanent distance." Prophetic imagination has its own allure, and can draw us into a bubble of our own insight. No man is an island, and no prophet is without a people.

5. "Prophets are not infallible." Prophets rely on intuition, which can be wrong. Prophets, again, need the rest of us to test and approve their prophetic imaginations, just as we need prophets to keep pushing our buttons.

6. Prophets can make a situation worse. Prophets have a responsibility to their own message, to keep refining it and asking questions of it and considering the pitfalls of it. There's nothing worse than a prophet who doesn't know what she's talking about.

Anyway, that's how Hirsch and Catchim see it. It's a tragedy when prophets get stoned, or killed, or marginalized or suppressed. But sometimes, when they lose sight of these rules, a little suppression might be in order. Prophets aren't messiahs, after all. They work for us, just like we work for us.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Shifting Paradigms 101: Pre-Course Requirements

I run around with a lot of people who are trying to change people's minds on a lot of things. How we do church, how we do publishing, how we do social change, how we do what we do--all of these things are, in the minds of my friends (and, for the most part, in my mind as well), up for revision.

Some of these things are better primed for change than others. "There's something about the gallows," a publishing executive I know likes to say, "that focuses the mind." Publishing, in other words, is in danger of perishing--unless we make some changes. I think that's hyperbole, but I think that mainly because I'm predisposed to change and see it as the normal order of things.

In any case, a change junkie would say something like that, wouldn't they? "Don't waste a crisis," I think Rahm Emmanuel said when he stepped into the role of White House Chief of Staff for new president Barack Obama. "The sky is falling!" doesn't have to be cause for panic; shouted by the right Machiavellian mouth, it can be the preamble to a paradigm shift.

Many a movement has been dissembled from within, however--even by the loudest, shrewdest champions of it. I'm pretty sure that the following remedial rules apply to any effort to lead people through significant change:

1. Don't treat smart people like they're stupid. You see the need for change sooooo clearly; your colleagues see things differently. Do them and yourself (and even your agenda) a favor and assume they have well-reasoned reasons for being dubious about your proposal.

2. Don't treat competent people like they're incompetent. You'll be tempted to point to failures under the current paradigm. Remember as you do that these failures trace back to real people, who acted in good faith on their best effort drawing on the best information they had available. Even if they acknowledge that the failure was in fact a failure (they may well disagree with you), it will still sting to hear it discussed, and they won't be especially excited to stick their neck out for something new.

3. Don't treat committed people like they're uncommitted. Just because you perceive that people's hard work is misdirected doesn't mean that they're not working hard, in good faith, toward a desired outcome that looks a lot like yours. Some of these folks will have been at it for years--years more than you have, actually. I've found this often to be the case that newcomers see the dead ends more quickly and clearly, but old-timers see the potholes and pitfalls, and they know from experience the damage they can do.

Pitfalls and potholes are, of course, common along the journey through a paradigm shift. Just because they're there, looming on the horizon, doesn't mean change isn't in order. You know that; the other early adopters know that. So do, as a matter of fact, the smart, competent, committed people you're trying to coax into the change you're seeking.

Paradigm shifts aren't the sort of thing you can manufacture or manipulate; they are a kind of collective epiphany that people arrive at in staggered sequence -- some subtly, some dramatically, some begrudgingly. Paradigm shifts don't need puppet masters, mercilessly pulling the strings of people they think are too stupid or lazy or unskilled to respond to reality. Paradigm shifts need something more like a midwife: knowledgeable about the signals for action, attentive to the vulnerabilities and anxieties that get exposed along the way, ready to respond to any crises that present themselves, committed both to the one to be born and the one giving birth.

Like everything, then, the first requirement of a change agent is love--not love for the idea of change or the imagined future some change may bring, but love for those among whom some change is being born. For some change agents, this kind of love may be its own paradigm shift.

I don't suppose I'm the only person who's thought about this, nor am I the only person who's struggled through needed change in an organization or two. So I hope you'll share your stories and insights about prerequisites for paradigm shifts, either here in the comments or on my Facebook page, Google Plus or Twitter.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

How Not to Pray

My church has found me. I must have passed some threshold of monthly giving or something, because lately everyone in every corner of the church is inviting me to serve with them. Youth ministry, homeless ministry, marriage ministry, small group ministry, communications, uh, ministry, and even . . . prayer ministry.

Yes. I, who scored "present" on an online test measuring the quality of my faith, hope and love, am now regularly praying for people after our worship services. Don't worry, I don't get a lot of traffic. But occasionally someone comes up to me for prayer, at which point I am, occasionally, sent into a tizzy.

Recently I was sitting around, trying to look welcoming and spiritual, trying not to look at my phone, when I was approached by a woman I'll call Joan. Joan needed prayer, mainly for discernment, because she had two friends who she was trying to figure out when and how to inform that they were sinners and she would no longer be hanging out with them.

Seriously. This is the sort of thing some people request prayer for. This is, I believe, how not to pray.

I listened to her story and tried to remain sympathetic, but inside I was sort of seething. Who does this woman think she is? I wondered. In what universe would this kind of prayer make sense? What kind of God would respond well to a prayer like that? I asked her some questions for clarification, and then I closed my eyes and started preaching.

This, by the way, is also how not to pray. I learned this from Andrew Wheeler, in his excellent and woefully underappreciated book Together in Prayer. Preaching with your eyes closed is not praying. When you tell God what you want other people in the room to know--when you teach God Christian doctrine or remind God how bad people are at following him--you're not praying. You're preaching, and you're not even dignifying your audience by looking them in the eye.

I know this. I get really testy whenever I am invited into prayer, and I close my eyes, and someone does this. I gripe about it in the car to my wife on the way home from such proto-prayer times. I'm hip to the fact that this is not how to pray. And yet I did it. I think it's fair to say they set the bar pretty low for prayer team at my church.

Most of us are unaware of when we're preaching with our eyes closed. And in fairness to us, it's an easy habit to slip into. God is invisible, ineffable; God may be present, but he's not in view. In the meantime, there's any number of visible, effable people standing right in front of us, and we're pretty sure they need to hear what we need to say. It's instinct, the way any will to power is an instinct.

Anyway, I "prayed" for this woman, thanking God for placing her in proximity to these two friends, praising God for being loving and merciful and patient and grace-giving and for loving even those who reject him. I asked God to help her sort out when to speak words of challenge to them, but mainly I invited God to show his love for these two people through this woman. I laid it on thick, I can tell you.

I opened my eyes and she was still there, so I asked her what she was thinking. She softened a bit, talking about her concern for her own children, who were learning some bad habits from one of these people. She talked also about her concern for the children of the other person, who were suffering from the mistakes their mom was making. She lamented how many people call themselves Christian and yet ignore obvious ways that Christ might speak into their relationships, their morals, their life decisions.

I softened too, considering how hard it must be for a parent to make decisions not just for herself but for her kids, how desperate in particular Christian parents must be to see their kids embrace faith in the way they've embraced it, and how scared they must be given the increasing cultural disaffection with a Christian subculture. So we closed our eyes again, and this time I tried to keep it prayerful. I again prayed for love and grace and mercy, but I also prayed for courage and opportunity to speak truth and all that stuff. When we were done, I opened my eyes again. So did she.

Then she complained about how this generation has rejected good family values, and how the previous generation was all great and awesome. I hate that stuff. I prodded her a bit on it, and to her credit, she gave in a bit. Then we shook hands and parted ways.

Ta da! I had prayed for someone. Mission accomplished. Box checked.

This coming Sunday I'm all in: I watch that Bible TV show with some homeless folks, then I talk about following Jesus with a bunch of middle schoolers, then I attend the worship service, then I pray again. And a few hours after that I discuss a book over snacks with my small group. I may even edit a church newsletter or something. I'll feel pretty good about myself, I suspect--good enough that I'll be tempted to preach at someone with my eyes closed. Maybe you could pray for me that I won't do that. I'd go so far as to say that something like that is how we should pray, and I'd welcome it.

Both Inspiration and Cautionary Tale: Excerpts from Middling

What follows is an excerpt from the Winter 2021 edition of Middling, my quarterly newsletter on music, books, work, and getting older. I'...