30 July 2011

RESPONSE - Are you listening?

Listening is a skill that can be intentionally developed. Julian Treasure gives a fascinating TED presentation on this, but are there parallels between listening with our physical ears and listening with our spiritual 'ears'?

Julian Treasure on 'listening'Yahshua told his followers about the importance of spiritual hearing and seeing. He spoke about people listening and listening but not hearing, looking and looking but not seeing. We are all prone to this.

Julian Treasure presents a compelling TED Talk on listening. I suggest you hear what he has to say and then come back here to continue reading.

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Did you enjoy his presentation? I certainly did!

According to Julian, hearing is something that our ears do pretty much autonomously, but listening requires intent, focus, and deliberate attention. But Jesus says that even though we listen (pay attention) we still may not hear (understand in depth). He says there are those who pay attention and hear the words but the spiritual meaning eludes them.


The process, I believe, is
  1. Physical hearing
  2. Listening (paying attention)
  3. Spiritual hearing (spiritual understanding)
To make this clearer, suppose you are in the crowd and Yahshua is speaking. Unless you are profoundly deaf, the words he speaks will enter your ears and the brain will receive the information. This is item 1 in the list above. If you are distracted by your child, someone else talking, or thinking about that job you need to do when you get home, the process may stop at that point. You have heard but you have not listened.

But perhaps you were paying attention to Yahshua's words. You not only heard with your ears, but you noticed what he was saying. Perhaps you were puzzled, or offended, or confused by what he said. Although you heard the words clearly and they entered the attentive, thinking part of your mind, they made little or no sense. This is item 2 in the list.

But item 3 demands an additional awareness that has nothing to do with the physical world of ears and brains. It requires, but goes far beyond, simply understanding the words that were spoken. Spiritual understanding is given and received, not merely earned by paying attention to words. If you lack spiritual understanding, ask Yahshua to provide it.

The process is physical hearing > listening > spiritual hearing. That's why Yahsua said they listen but don't hear. He sometimes healed the physically deaf, he also heals the spiritually deaf. He is willing! So ask.

Julian Treasure hints at step 3 but doesn't explore it. Yahshua took step 1 as a given and focussed on step 3.

Physical reality always points to a spiritual reality; that's why Yahshua spoke so often in parables. Understanding the physical truth can help us grasp the parallel spiritual truth. The need to pay attention to physical sounds points to the notion that we also need to pay attention to spiritual 'sounds'.  We need to listen intentionally to the Spirit of Christ in the same way we listen to the words of the people we meet. The Spirit is a still, small voice. We have to pay close attention to him.

In the physical we are exposed to sound, listen to the sound, and understand the meaning in our minds. In the spiritual we are exposed to truth, pay attention to the truth, and comprehend the truth in our hearts.

So let's explore how Julian Treasure's thoughts on listening might apply to spiritual listening (paying attention to the truth).

We are losing our listening - The church has substantially lost the ability to listen spiritually. Many believers are not even aware that listening is possible, others have no idea how to go about it.

Making meaning from sound - A process of extraction, recognising the Holy Spirit's voice among all the other spiritual noise around us. What is 'spiritual noise'? Where does it come from? What will happen if you listen to the wrong sources? How can you distinguish the Holy Spirit's voice?

Filters - These define what we pay attention to. How, for example, might our craving for authority, security, or independence affect our spiritual attention and listening? Can you think of more filters?

Awareness - Are you tuned in? Are you aware of Father's presence, of his nearness, of his love, of his sorrow and grief, of his purity and holiness, of his exuberant joy and laughter?

Sense of eternity - If listening with your mind provides your main source for a sense of time, might spiritual listening be the main source for your sense of eternity? I think so!

Recording - Writing, sound recording, and video recording reduce our need to pay attention (we can always go back to check). Do you depend too much on books, speakers and musicians to provide your spiritual questions and answers? Do these sources reduce the effectiveness of your own, personal, spiritual listening?

Conversation - Do you wear spiritual headphones? Are you regularly having good spiritual conversations with Father and with one another, or are you isolated in your hearing?

Soundbites - Are you conversing spiritually or are you substituting this with 'personal broadcasting'. Do you speak and listen or just speak? We are supposed to ask in prayer, but are we supposed to only ask? Is your spiritual communication two way? Is it a conversation or just an expression of need?

The quiet, the subtle, the understated - Do you hear the still, small voice? Do you pay attention to him?

Listening creates understanding - We cannot understand without paying close attention. Do you want to grow in spiritual understanding? Are you prepared to pay the price of proper listening? There are serious and frightening dangers attached to not listening. What are they? Hint - lack of physical listening may lead to anger, even war. What might lack of spiritual listening lead to?

Techniques to improve listening - Silence or quiet, channels of sound, savouring the mundane (hidden choir), appropriate listening positions, RASA, teach listening (encourage others to listen). Can these or related methods help us improve our spiritual listening?

You might like to listen to Julian again with a view to spiritual listening. If you like, follow through the headings above as you do so. We need to listen to the Spirit of Christ in everything, every sight and sound and smell and touch - in pain, in comfort; in turmoil, in peace; in activity, and in stillness. If we are a hearing people, if we are not spiritually deaf, spiritual life will be rich and fulfilling and new every single day.

Go for it!

(Related post, 'RESPONSE - The need to listen')

26 July 2011

THOUGHT: Follow my leader

Ex Google CIO, Douglas Merrill, says that businesses tend to look in all the wrong places for strategies that will lead to market success. He doesn't say it in so many words, but he certainly implies it. I think he's right and the principle applies in every field of human endeavour - work, sport, church, business, science, technology, and more.

Douglas Merrill, ex CIO of GoogleSome of the things Douglas Merrill said are mentioned in this IT World article, I'll list the most provocative of them below. My own experiences working in science, technology and IT for BBSRC and in web development for Unilever strongly support the Merrill view.

Below each item I've added some questions about common ways we 'do' church. Do we need to rethink?

  1. Companies stuck in traditional management practices risk becoming irrelevant.

    Might this apply to some of the more traditional denominations? Might it even apply to some attempts at smaller, organic expressions of church too? What practices and traditions and habits do we cling to - even though they don't feature in the New Testament?

  2. Leaders should not be afraid to do 'dumb' things. Sometimes being dumb changes the game. (Example - In 1990 a young Kodak researcher invented the charge coupled device which is the core of every camera today. His boss said, 'You're a moron - we make film'.)

    Where do these 'dumb' things originate? Often from the 'naive and simple' people on the 'shop floor'. People who know how things really are, people who are not divorced from the practicalities! Managers are often not in touch with reality. How often has a church leader dismissed a good idea as impractical when it might have made a huge difference?

    Innovative ideas in technology and business are like inspiration in church. Can we rely too much on the Holy Spirit's guidance and prompting? Should we suppress some of the things he reveals to us? I don't think so!

    Just because a new idea challenges the status quo does not mean it is wrong.

  3. The more project management you do the less likely your project is to succeed.

    Jesus said, 'I will build my church'; how much room does that leave for project management? If his role is to build, what is your role, what is my role? Hint - we are living stones, he is the builder, what is the role of a stone in the hands of the builder?

  4. It's not about hardware and capex.

    Buildings, sound equipment, projection facilities, big budgets - is church about these things? Does it really need these to succeed? What are the truly important things about church?

  5. Build your product and then figure out what to do with it.

    If someone comes up with an idea that might work, give it a try. What is there to lose? If it turns out to be effective take advantage of it. If not, look for the next good idea. Be open to spiritual guidance and prophecy. Test prophecy, in fact test everything. But don't reject something just because it's new or different.

    When Jesus gives you something but you're not yet clear what it's for - ask him to show you.

  6. The most important thing to take advantage of is to see innovation from everywhere - inside and outside.

    Steal good ideas wherever you see them! Something that works well in other walks of life may adapt very well for church application. Be wary and alert, not everything is suitable or beneficial but rejecting an idea just because it comes from business or education or entertainment is foolish.

  7. It is prudent not to listen too carefully to customers ... you can't ask your customers what they want if they don't understand your innovation.

    For 'customers' read people who need to get to know Jesus. Don't pay too much attention to what people say they need. Show them love, demonstrate the truth, let the light shine.

  8. Don't lose the ability to learn from the people who do the work. People will do what you measure - make sure you measure the right stuff.

    Don't pay attention to things like tithing, attendance figures, outreach programs. Instead try to find ways to 'measure' (in the loosest sense) love, caring attitudes, gentleness, wisdom, joy, and peacefulness. Give out feedback on what you see. If you tell someone how impressed you were at the thoughtful and loving way they handled a situation they will be encouraged. Never miss an opportunity to encourage!

  9. Hire someone who annoys you as they are more likely to be diverse and diverse practices are better.

    The hiring part probably isn't relevant, but do try to spend time with people who will challenge your actions and words and motives. Don't avoid people who think differently from the way you do. Make up your mind to benefit and grow in grace through everyone you meet, however inconvenient or unattractive they might seem at first.

  10. The single most common thing executives do is get in the way.

    Hmm... Who are the executives in church life? Don't listen to them! Love them, but step around them when necessary. We have one head, not many headlets.

  11. The culture of secrecy in business is a fallacy and people should talk about everything, well, almost everything. IT security people tell you what you can't say and HR people say you might hurt people's feelings, but the actual stuff you need to keep secret is small.

    Be suspicious of any areas of secrecy in church life. There is no place for 'us and them', for clergy and laity, for special and ordinary. Sometimes there's a need for confidentiality, but ideas, plans, proposals and decisions should all be as open as possible. Everyone should be involved in these aspects of church.

Food for thought? Please leave some comments, I'll check back to reply.

24 July 2011

RESPONSE: Norway and Amy Winehouse

Almost a hundred dead in Norway following a bomb and a shooting spree, and a great singer/songwriter dead before the age of thirty. Two tragedies that are not connected - or are they?

The Oslo bombingThere's no direct link of course, yet there is a common element (as we shall see) and the tragic events took place just a day apart.

On 22nd July Anders Behring Breivik set off a huge home made bomb in central Oslo and followed it up with a multiple shooting on the island of Utøya about 20 miles away.

On 23rd July Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home.

Amy WinehouseI feel deep sympathy for the victims of both tragedies, and for their friends and families who will be struggling emotionally and in practical ways to cope with the new reality of life without a loved one. Life with an unfillable hole in it. When my wife died in the mid nineties I was aware of a Judy-shaped hole in my heart and in my life. And I knew that our daughters, our parents, and our friends also carried similar holes within them.

In time (be it short or long) the hole will mend. My prayer for those suffering loss is that as the hole eventually fades it will fill in with many happy memories. These will remain for ever - they do for me.

Paul, writing to the Corinthians, explained that faith, hope and love remain. 'But', he wrote, 'the greatest of these is love' (1 Cor 13:13). In your losses cling to all three, but focus especially on love.

Lack of love (or a perceived lack of love) is always a killer. So is a sense of failure or defeat.

We read that Anders Breivik was a Christian fundamentalist of some kind. But Jesus told his followers to love the Father, to love one another, and to love their enemies. Paul wrote this description of the nature of love...

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Whatever Anders Breivik is, he clearly doesn't understand what Christ meant by love. If Jesus' love is in a person's heart, murder and harm are not among the possible outcomes. The immense harm he has done is not compatible with the word 'Christian' in its true sense.

Amy Winehouse, on the other hand, needed to know that she was loved. How can it be that a young star with a brilliant career ahead of her could throw it all away with drink and drugs? She was loved by friends in and out of the music industry and by family members. Many would have done anything to rescue her. But addiction is a trap that is hard to shrug off, even with willing help and support from close family and friends. It takes much more than human help and willpower to break free and build a new sense of worth and value.

We live in a broken and desperate world. It's a world in which anger and fear, hatred and despair, violence and loneliness are always crowding in and wanting to own us. Often they have their way with us as these two tragic events highlight.

The answer is more love, not less hatred; more light, not less darkness; more life, not less death. As with a serious illness, treating the symptoms can never cure the underlying cause.

The cure for a broken world is Jesus. Not a Jesus preached in church on a Sunday morning but a Jesus living in the lives of his people, making a difference in the world by pouring out abundant love, light and life.

Jesus said, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life' (John 14:6). The Father 'is love' (1 John 4:8).

If you are a follower of Jesus, let his light shine! Let his love and light and life pour out from your heart daily and extravagantly. Let his love pour out on good and bad alike, just as the Father does. And remember, where your ability to love falls short, his goes right on. If Jesus is living in your heart he will fill any gap caused by your own limits. Trust him!

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