I have without shame gobbled up Coca Cola’s #shareacoke marketing campaign. There was a day when I would heap scorn on such an acquiescence to corporate coercion. I may yet again. But I’m all in on this one. Here’s why.
#shareacoke is a platform for friendship. I am buying these named Coke bottles just so that I can post pictures of them to Facebook and tag all my friends with that name. It’s detrimental to my health, sure. But it’s an easy gesture of friendship that, while hardly earth-shattering, is better than the distance and isolation that reigns over much of modern life.
If nothing else, the name of the bottle is bringing to mind people I haven’t thought about in ages and wouldn’t otherwise. Encountering their existence anew is worth being perceived as a brand sellout.
If they say you’re not listening, you’re not listening.
You can protest all you want. You can line up the evidence: the meetings they failed to attend, the surveys they stuck under a pile, the voicemails they neglected. You can assemble a dazzling exhibit of attempts you’ve made to listen that they have missed or flat-out snubbed, all while maintaining that you’re listening.
But you’re not.
Sometimes people burn through our energy and we have to stop listening to them. I think that’s okay. I think some people should be told they’ve lost the right to be heard in certain circles. Don’t assure these people you’re listening, because you’re not and you shouldn’t be.
But I’m finding that more and more of my work is to understand how to listen to different people, and contemporary life is making it so that the pool of those who are easy to listen to is shrinking. Fewer people reply to emails and phone calls–even texts– ,and fewer still come to meetings to have their say. I spend more energy soliciting conversation than I ever did before, and the list of media I’m using to do it grows almost weekly.
It’s exhausting, but the rewards are manifold. Not only is our work enriched by the listening, but we turn would-be adversaries into partners and disinterested observers into leaders.
What’s your favorite listening strategy?
I spent a lot of time with this track back in 2000, when I was 24.
It came up on my iPod the other day, and I played the whole album through in a fit of nostalgia.
Richard Rohr thinks people need to “Learn from each stage [of growing up].” But he adds,”and yet you can’t completely throw out previous stages, as most people unfortunately do. In fact, a fully mature person appropriately draws upon all earlier stages.”
I met some of my best friends in my Sarah Harmer stage: my Best Man and the preacher at my ordination, for starters. My one bedroom apartment wasn’t in the basement, but the tap did drip all night, and one of the busted slats on the donated futon I used for a bed had to be propped up from underneath with a coffee mug.
I helped start a weekly meetup (before that’s what they were called) at a pub. I lived for an Emergent church (before that’s what they were called) even as I snobbishly judged it for its sophisticated cultural posture and insisted on a more Old Time Religion. I endured a breakup with my college girlfriend, met someone else, then got back together with the college girlfriend (our 12th wedding anniversary was two weeks ago). I decided to go to seminary, though with a mocking dismissal of the pastorate.
I was insufferable. I was broke. I was miserable. I was deliriously happy.
I’ve spent the last couple of days probing my memories of that stage of life looking for things to draw upon for the challenges and opportunities of this one.
Here’s another piece of the memory elixir.
One of my mentors died yesterday.
Rest in peace Dr. Craig Gannon.
When I was a doofus of an 18 year old college freshman more interested in what girl I had a shot with than academics of any kind, Dr. Gannon endured academic advising sessions with me that must surely have caused him to wonder what the Hell he was doing with his life. With folded hands on his crossed legs, and with the ubiquitous classical music of Kansas Public Radio playing behind him, he made gentle suggestions of ways to fill my schedule with core requirements. What a thankless chore.
That spring I took his Language Studies class. It was an overview of linguistics, and I was totally and hopelessly lost.
Still, two years later I decided on Language and Literature as a major, and over the next four semesters Dr. Gannon taught me Shakespeare, Kipling, Wordsworth, Woolf. He made me analyze prose and memorize poetry. The work I do now as a preacher and teacher derive directly from a sensitivity to tone and context, rhythm and diction, that I learned at his feet.
In 2002 he came to my wedding.
In 2006 he retired, and I was honored to write about it for the alumni magazine. The phone interview I did with him from the Memphis airport was the last conversation I had with him.
Today I recommit myself to the ideal of the literary life in honor of Dr. Craig Gannon.
I’m back from a week of vacation, and I’m thinking the most important parts of it were not the parts we planned but rather the parts in between the plans.
Who doesn’t want to lay on a white sand beach or visit a spider monkey sanctuary? That we’re able to enjoy such activities places us in privileged sector of the human family, do doubt. Yet vacation revealed to me just how lacking our life is in another valuable human commodity: unscheduled leisure time.
When else do you teach your kid to shuffle cards?
I’m working on persistence. It feels like a game of whack-a-mole.
For two weeks now I have persistently blogged posted a daily blog. I have also spent time with the daily paper. These are both habits I committed to.
During the same stretch my exercise regimen has evaporated, and my diet has tanked.
Is there a limit to the things you can persistently perform? Does committing to something new mean you have to give something else up?
Note: I’ll be on vacation next week and not posting at all. Be well.
Failure has become popular among the circles of writers and speakers I pay attention to, a trend I think is very healthy if not a little over-enthusiastically endorsed some of the time. So I love “The Worst I Ever Bombed,” the web exclusives posted by The Tonight Show where comedians share truly horrific stories of their worst performances (see Rob Riggle below).
Bombing isn’t always a performance. I’ve bombed at the supermarket as my kid’s toddler tantrum spilled all over the produce section. I’ve bombed in small talk (“So when are you due? What’s that? Oh you’re not pregnant? Awesome). I bomb in marriage all the time. One time I gave my wife a Christmas gift about which she had to seriously had to ask me–with a straight face–“Is this a joke?”
What’s the worst you ever bombed?
I did a Children’s Sermon about six years ago only minutes after my wife and I had sniped at each other on the church patio. With my lavaliere mic on. So things were already shaky. Then mere seconds into my story about Jesus feeding the 5,000, I made the rookie mistake of soliciting a response from the kids. They obliged. One girl in particular obliged more than her peers, launching into a story all her own.
I politely cut her off after several seconds and continued about Jesus, but every time I took a breath, this little girl picked up her story right where she’d left off. After about five of these interruptions, the congregation started to chuckle. By her eight or ninth intrusion there was open guffawing going on, so I stopped my story and implored the congregation, “What would you do?!”
A loud chorus of laughter followed, which had the immediate effect of shaming this poor little girl. As she buried her head in her hands I did my best to assure her that they were laughing at me and not her. Bomb.
I prematurely ended the story, leaving a hungry crowd and a humiliated kid.
What’s the worst you ever bombed?