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How Does Anyone Change Direction?

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Living with Questions

I met a preacher at a wedding recently. He had just officiated the ceremony, which was a beautiful thing—two people creating a great beginning. Afterwards, making small talk, the preacher told me how a few people in his congregation had changed. I was curious, because I had been reading Howard Gardner’s Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds. In these highly partisan days, where we carefully surround ourselves with our tribe who speak our language, agree with our view of the world and where we ingest the news biased toward our agenda, I’ve been wondering how anyone ever escapes their own personal echo chamber.


“God did it,” he said. “In quite miraculous ways. Real change. 180 degrees.”

The preacher’s story of change had to do with someone coming into his congregation and how their life was different now.

“Wow,” I said, because change is remarkable. And because I like to hear stories about God doing stuff in real life.

“Sometimes I wonder,” I said, “Whether God does stuff or whether people change to fit the new club or group they’ve joined. Because I’ve noticed that the things we attribute to God can sometimes be explained by communication dynamics—how this new club or group satisfies a question someone has. Or perhaps the group dynamic meets an impulse they have, and they are more than happy to abide by the rules and unspoken ways this tribe works. And that looks like change. And perhaps that’s where change takes place: as we adopt a new moral code and sort of work ourselves into it.”

Was the preacher backing away?

“Which is not so say God is not in it,” I added, quickly.

“Hmmm,” he said.

“Because I absolutely believe God works through ordinary conversations in very big ways (now’s when you would mouse over and order a copy of my new book ListenTalk. Or just click here.)

“But I’m just sort of eager to cite the proper authorities when we talk about change,” I said. “Because change seems more nuanced, more a response to the questions we carry with us.”

Was he nodding in agreement?

Wait—where did he go?

What questions do you carry into everyday life? Those very questions may be the beginning of change.


Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

14 Responses

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  1. Good job, Kirk. I like the way you think and question. If this pastor slipped out of the conversation, he took the road ‘most traveled’. Does God create change or do people adapt to the new tribe they’ve joined? Great question. Of course, I think the answer is that both occur, and it’s not always clear which is happening in the short run (or, as you hint, that God may be using the tribe to affect the change for good). Anyway, thanks for writing, and for sensitizing your audience to keep the doors and windows open so their tribe doesn’t become “an echo chamber.”

    Dan Flynn

    August 11, 2015 at 9:43 am

    • Dan-O: Thanks very much for your comment. I also believe it is both-and. Humans are subjective beings by design. I’m just trying get clarity around which is what. But I’m glad God works in human lives.


      August 11, 2015 at 9:59 am

  2. …you always stir the damn pot, kirk, sheesh. As an ex-pastor–(it ended when I came out to my congregation), my two cents have to do with the 3 word sentence, ‘God did it’. To use those words in a declarative statement is to quite simply make oneself larger than God, knowing what God is doing–sort of a Mr. Rogers, ‘well, why don’t we all go and see what God is up to, hmmmm? Just let me change into my Sunday best cardigan, and then we’ll go and peek in…’. We have no business removing the mystery–for ourselves, or for our people–if for no other reason than simply because we can’t. We can’t, because we do not know ANYTHING of what (to hearken to the Judaic) The-One-Who-Cannot-Be-Named is about. The cloud veils the mountain and we approach, if at all, with a godly fear of what awaits us. Because. we. do. not. know. (see? I’m becoming a Calvinist in my dotage). And for all that, we do not know if someone has changed, nor if we have, or are being changed–we do not know. But we do pray for mercy and understanding over that within us which hasn’t.


    August 11, 2015 at 10:32 am

    • I’m with you, brother. I think I really take offense (sounds like you do too) when someone thinks they have nailed down the mystery. Some of my favorite theologian/philosophers have emerged from the Judaic tradition. They have a strong sense of nuance. Thanks for your comment, Lance.


      August 11, 2015 at 10:40 am

      • Thank you for all your evocative posts. Christianity is a verbal, word-loving (in the best sense) faith–and you are a wordsmith to and for us.


        August 11, 2015 at 10:46 am

      • Lance–I sure appreciate that. I’m never even sure anyone reads these. Thanks!


        August 11, 2015 at 10:49 am

  3. I always read, don’t always comment, but always come away intrigued, or thinking, smiling….enjoying. Nice exchange with you and Lance. I love God but “religion” is just ….. not always a good thing. His situation, prime example of that. Anyway. Thanks, Kirk.

    Laura (Createarteveryday)

    August 11, 2015 at 6:39 pm

  4. I’ll second Laura (this is Kerfe). You always give food for thought (with great photos). Although I would substitute “Great Spirit” for God. My higher power is definitely androgynous, with many more female qualities than the God of the Bible seems to possess.


    August 11, 2015 at 7:30 pm

    • I could say amen to that as well, Kerfe. I tend to believe the Bible, but I like to stay open-minded. I don’t think any of us *really* has a clue, and I do think that is by design. I think the earth, the ocean, stars, planets, birds, flowers, etc. are all proof that God (or Goddess, or whatever name you’d like to insert there) exists, and I believe nothing is an accident. I think we’re all different because God wanted us to depend on each other. I think he loves us unconditionally, and I think it’s a shame that he gets a bad name when ignorant people do hateful things in his name. I think he’s a good friend and it’s nice to know he’s always there. But I don’t think people need to go to church or belong to a denomination to believe. I think art is one way to practice worship. There are tons of ways. Shining a light in a dark place (and not so dark places) is another. Ok, jumping off my soapbox…..wait for the crashing sound lol. Nice chatting with you both.

      Laura (Createarteveryday)

      August 11, 2015 at 8:07 pm

      • Thanks for the comment. I could not agree more with the notion that we’re different so as to depend on each other. Shining seems right–in whatever way we can.


        August 11, 2015 at 10:00 pm

      • No clue at all. But what an amazing gift the web of life is. Humans should say “thank you” every day and take better care of it and each other.


        August 12, 2015 at 3:59 am

      • You said it. And if we did…..we’d be worshiping God in our own way, wouldn’t need to sit in a pew, and IMO God would be smiling.

        Laura (Createarteveryday)

        August 12, 2015 at 7:17 am

    • Interesting that the God of the Bible is often portrayed as male, but the female qualities are there too, if you read closely. There is plenty of mystery, that’s for certain.


      August 11, 2015 at 9:58 pm

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