Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Surprised by the Consultant

It was a three-day team meeting. We were having discussion sessions, free time to explore the natural beauty surrounding us, lectures, and presentations. And something else: private one-on-one sessions with a consultant on people’s differences and how we respond to them.

These one-on-one sessions were a big deal. We had completed an extensive questionnaire before the meeting. And we had been assessed on how well we related to others, and to others who were different.

This wasn’t some standard program on diversity. The team was fairly diverse – different races, ages, genders, experiences and socio-economic backgrounds. We were also more of a virtual team. And I was the oldest – a Baby Boomer white male. You can imagine what my expectations were. But I had answered the questions as thoughtfully as I could, and with careful (and truthful) consideration.

The one-on-one sessions caused no little anxiety for all of us. We would each receive what would be a different assessment, given during a one-on-one meeting over the course of the three days. Mine was scheduled toward the end.

As each session was held, I could see a variety of reactions. A couple of the women smiled and shrugged, but said little. A few said it was okay. One individual said nothing. Another muttered something about being a total Neanderthal.

My session arrived. The consultant went over my assessment. Whatever I was expecting, I was not expecting what she told me.

“It’s unusual to see a rating like this,” she said. “You’re as high or higher than the team lead, who’s been working on this for three years.”

I was an anomaly. A surprising one. An older white male who had surprising empathy for people who were different.

It took some discussion with the consultant and some personal consideration afterward to understand why.

Part of the reason was life experiences. My childhood years in the segregated South coincided with the massive social changes underway for both blacks and whites. My high school had experienced riots when it was integrated. My university days were marked by all of the various protest movement of the late 1960s and 1970s. My experiences in corporate America had taught me that corporate life was, on balance, normally unfair and not a merit-based system – and how much time I had spent trying to cushion that for the people who worked with me and for me.

But the biggest reason as what had happened to my heart. Since I had become a Christian in 1973, my heart had been taught, wounded, encouraged, discouraged, disciplined, and exhilarated. Almost without realizing it, I had listened to my heart and what God spoke to it and to me.

In Heart Made Whole: Turning Your Unhealed Pain into Your Greatest Strength, Christa Black Gifford describes the four “languages of the heart” that we all have – thoughts, words, emotions, and actions. Each of these languages is important, and each helps shape who we are and what we become.

“Listen to the heart God gave you today, beautiful friend,” Gifford writes. “ “Listen with grace like He does, and you will understand. Watch to see what kinds of thoughts, words, emotions, and actions are residing in your heart. And instead of swinging an axe at your sin and struggling in the name of devotion to God, why don’t you hand your axe to Him and see what He wants to do?”

In my case, what these actions had told me again and again was the importance of listening.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’re reading Heart Made Whole. Consider reading along and join in the discussion. To see what others are saying about this chapter, “The Languages of the Heart,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Window into Poetry and Change with Jane Hirshfield

Poetry, the poet and essayist Jane Hirshfield reminds us, was born in need. “We read or write poems because we need them,” she writes in Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. “The first poems were work songs, love songs, war songs, lullabies, prayers – rituals meant to carry assistance.”

Hirshfield is the author of eight poetry collections: Alaya (1982); Of Gravity & Angels (1988); The October Palace (1994); The Lives of the Heart (1997); Given Sugar, Given Salt (2001); After (2006); Come, Thief (2011); and The Beauty (2105). She is also a poetry translator, editor of anthologies, and the author of Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (1997) and other collections of essays. She’s received enough recognitions and honors to fill two or three articles; see her entry at the Poetry Foundation.

It was coincidence that I was reading Hirshfield’s Ten Windows at the time of the election. Published in 2015, the book is a collection of 10 essays on poetry. The subtitle, “How Great Poems Transform the World,” is somewhat misleading; the essays do not directly address that subject. Indirectly, however, they do. The essays are just subtler about it.

Like poetry.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, November 28, 2016

John Pollock’s “George Whitefield: The Evangelist”

If I asked you to name the fathers or founders of the United States, you might say George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. If you considered the Constitution as one of the founding documents, you might add James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.

What about George Whitefield?


George Whitefield (1714-1770) is associated with John and Charles Wesley as one of the key figures in what is known as the Great Awakening, the religious revival in both Britain and the American colonies in the 1730s and 1740s. Whitefield initiated the practice of open-air preaching – out of necessity, when this Church of England minister was banned from preaching in British churches (he aroused “enthusiasm” and attracted “lowlife” like coal miners, who had never attended church before).

John Pollock, in George Whitefield: The Evangelist, tells the man’s story, but he does it in an unusual way. First, this isn’t a standard biography; it reads more like a novel. Yet it’s based on reports, writings, papers, sermons, and contemporary accounts, so that it is “biographical.”

Second, Pollock starts the story with Whitefield at Oxford as a young man, just beginning his ministry. His earlier life is slightly referred to throughout the book but not described in any detail. For example, we only know of Whitefield’s birthplace of Gloucester, England, because of his visits home and ministry in the area.

And third, it is Whitefield the evangelist who is the focus, as opposed to Whitefield the man. This is not a full account of his life but it is a detailed account of his evangelistic outreach in England and America.

Whitefield made some 13 trips to America, starting in the colony of Georgia but eventually including all of the colonies. Benjamin Franklin knew him well. Franklin didn’t embrace Whitefield’s message of salvation but the two men were good friends and Franklin became his American publisher.

In his younger days, Whitefield was slender and not terribly impressive physically. Many friends and critics alike cited his “squinting,” a result of being cross-eyed. But his voice was captivating; listeners often compared it to music. And it could carry – Franklin estimated that up to 30,000 people could actually hear him clearly in Philadelphia.

George Whitefield
His first open-air sermon was near Bristol, England. Denied the use of the churches’ pulpits (despite his being an ordained Church of England minister), he stood in an open field and preached to miners leaving their work in the coal mines. He had no idea of whether they were listening or not until he saw the white streaks on their coal-dust faces; the men had been moved to tears. A gathering of a few hundred soon became a gathering of thousands.

Pollock points how the close relationship Whitefield has with the Wesley brothers, but they became estranged for a time. The Wesleys would break with the Church of England to found Methodism, while Whitefield remained within the C of E even if it often banned him from speaking.

John Pollock
Whitefield had a phenomenal impact in America; millions would eventually hear his message from both himself and the evangelists he inspired. And he kindled an American awareness of the idea that all men were equal in the sight of God, a belief that became common throughout the colonies and would set the stage for the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution.

Pollock (1924-2012) originally published George Whitefield in 1973; it was reissued in 2007 and more recently as an e-book. He was also the author of The Apostle: The Life of Paul; D.L. Moody: Moody without Sankey; Wilberforce; Hudson Taylor and Maria: A Match Made in Heaven; The Cambridge Seven: The True Story of Ordinary Men Used in No Ordinary Way; Gordon of Khartoum; and several other books. He was also an official biographer of Billy Graham.

George Whitefield is a well-told story. The Great Awakening and Whitefield had a major influence on the creation of the United States, and Pollock explains how that happened.


Painting: George Whitefield Preaching in Bolton 1750, oil on canvas by Thomas Walley; Bolton Museum and Art Gallery, United Kingdom.