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How to Hold God Accountable

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3 Surprises About the Almighty


There is an old story of a wealthy man whose seven sons and three daughters continually held rounds of parties. The sons and daughters would meet at one son’s house to eat and drink. Next day they all met at the next son’s house for more food and drink. And so it went, day after day until all had hosted. Then they began again.

The wealthy man was pleased at their joy but worried that some son or daughter might curse God in a fit of exuberant boasting or perhaps just deep in her or his heart. So he took steps: after every cycle of feasting and drinking, he would rise early in the morning and make offerings. In this way he consecrated his children.

The wealthy man was known far and wide for his wealth but also for being a blameless and upright man. Everything seemed to go the right direction for this man and his family.

Until it didn’t.

In this old story, the man absorbed a one-two punch: he lost all this wealth and his children. Then he lost his health. Like any absorbing movie, that’s where the story really begins.

You may recognize the story of Job. A lot of people read themselves into Job’s story: things are going well and then whammo—the winged monkeys descend outa nowhere. And then as one professor liked to say, you are left to “sit with” the problems, the questions and the profound distress, scraping your sores with broken pots. If you can make it through all 42 chapters of Job, you’ll notice some surprises.

  • Surprise #1: Job’s pals comforted him with arguments any of us if-we-do-good-we’ll-receive-good theorists might use. In each case they were sorta right but mostly wrong.
  • Surprise #2: Life is full of a fair amount of un-knowing. Well that’s no surprise. But it’s worth repeating in our culture where we demand black and white answers to most of life’s vexations. Sometimes stuff happens and we never really know why/how/who/what.
  • Surprise #3: God can be held accountable—at least as far as our questions go. Which is not to say we’ll receive answers. But the questions…it’s the questions that spur conversation. And in Job’s story God was interested in the conversation.

Wait–stay with me:

This third surprise is tricky and I’ve added a gloss that does not quite ring true. We may want to hold God accountable for the bad stuff that happens, but there are a lot of reasons why we cannot (just) do that. We could talk more about that and have a thrilling conversation. But what I can say after living with Job for a couple months is that conversation with God is, well, it just may well be everything. The most important thing. The central thing—especially after the winged monkeys and sitting with job loss or death and the scraping of open sores with broken pots—the central thing may be this conversation.


Image credit: Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal via Lenscratch

Written by kirkistan

October 23, 2013 at 7:23 am

Posted in Ancient Text, Prayer, story

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Positioning ourselves as extreme listeners

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Image Credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

July 18, 2013 at 9:00 am

Posted in curiosities, listentalk, story

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Speak Up: I Can’t See You.

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We’re Walking Catalysts

tumblr_mf5hvdVRj71qbcporo1_1280-12282012There’s a point at the end of The Sixth Sense where everything suddenly shifted. One piece of information—one realization—and all the characters and their relationships went topsy-turvy. Then the story begged to be retold in this new light and the second time through I was on high alert, noting all the clues I missed the first time.

Our best interactions with our audiences can have this quality: holding attention until the reveal makes perfect sense, so much so that our audience says, “Duh. Of course. How did I miss that?” This is a great way to teach, but also very difficult to achieve. This kind of clever communication front-loads with just the right context and then delivers the missing key ingredient.

Our favorite products fit our lives in this way: how did we ever survive without the iPod or cell phone? Or the car? They make perfect sense in daily use. Well, now they make perfect sense. They didn’t always, that’s because a context grew up around the product that reinforced its use. We saw other people using it. And we found our ways changing in anticipation.

Products and ideas that demand something different of us don’t just happen. In fact, we resist them. Some kind of context must arise to reinforce the use of the product or adoption of the idea. That context is different for everyone, but usually starts with reason and proof points, but it doesn’t end there. Even the physician who claims to only be swayed by medical journals still has a soft spot for using the product her peers consider cutting edge. Emotion and relationship are big parts of why we use products and adopt ideas.

All this is to say that we constantly influence each other. Our words and our actions serve as catalysts—that missing ingredient that changes everything—often in ways that we never know. Most people don’t come back and say, “When you chose the salad instead of the chicken-fried steak, you changed my eating habits and my life.”

We don’t even realize how little observations add to big change.


Image credit: Jim Kramer via 2headedsnake

Written by kirkistan

December 28, 2012 at 10:19 am

Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow Predicted Storytelling in the Twitterverse

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Good story always depends on silent remembered chunks

Athey was a storyteller too, as it took me some while to find out, for he never told all of any story at the same time. He told them in odd little bits and pieces, usually in unacknowledged reference to a larger story that he did not tell because (apparently) he assumed you already knew it, and he told the fragment just to remind you of the rest. Sometimes you couldn’t even assume that he assumed you were listening: he might have been telling it to himself. With Athey you were always somewhere in the middle of the story. He would just start talking wherever he started remembering.

           (Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry. Beginning of Chapter 21)9781582431604_p0_v1_s260x420-12192012

That’s why Hemingway wrote and then returned to remove as much text as possible to make the story as spare as possible:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

(Hemingway’s self-proclaimed best work)

Our minds need to leap and grasp their way through a narrative to fully engage.


Written by kirkistan

December 19, 2012 at 8:53 am

I Believe Your Story. God Have Mercy if it Proves False.

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Sucker turns scrapper when story unravels

Duped is Dangerous

The woman shouting optimistic, full sentences from the top of the dune (that story here) highlighted my own willingness to be entrapped by a story. Although I have much of the cynic/skeptic in me, my basic approach to communication is to believe what is in front of me. This bit of openness (or blindness, as the case may be) allows me to enjoy stupid movies. Example: I watched and even finished Fast Five the other day. Fast Five is nothing but a string of car chases. In Rio. That’s it. I guess there was gunplay and corrupt officials and a few pretty girls. But the cars steal the show and the vault (I’ve said too much).

The movie never really asked me to believe it. From the beginning it was just a string of car chases.

Mrs. Kirkistan costumes theater productions. We often talk about what happens to actors the first time they put on their costume: they inhabit the clothing in a very visible way. The actor in costume becomes the character before your eyes. You believe, partly because the actor now believes all the more.

In the same way, we also talk about what happens when the costumes in a staged production are wrong. It’s not just that the production looks bad; it’s that the believability is sucked from the room and the play turns sour. The ill-fitting or badly adapted costume shouts, “This is a fiction.” Of course, the audience knew this already, but they had suspended disbelief. Until now.

And when the story unravels and proves false, you feel duped.

Duped is Dangerous

No one wants to be sold something. No one wants to be taken advantage of. And when we find we have been sold a bill of goods (as the cliché goes), our cynical/skeptical knob gets turned a notch or two. Sometimes we even become enemies. This is true for advertising. This is true for the company line the CEO utters from the podium. It is true for the pastor’s manipulative reading of a text from the pulpit. It is true for the talkative salesperson at the AT&T store. People turn when duped: loyal employees, devoted congregants, potential customers—each has the capacity to become the opposite when the truth is revealed.

Keeping things believable is tough work and a big challenge all the way through a communication event. Maybe that is why evangelizing for something you don’t fully believe is so hard if not impossible.


Image Credit: assorted schmidt via thisisnthappiness

Written by kirkistan

September 27, 2012 at 8:17 am

What Makes Something Remarkable?

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Old Volkswagen Station Wagons never die.

In several classes at Northwestern College we’ve talked about what makes something remarkable, as in, “Hey, let me tell you about this thing I saw….” The Heath brothers tried to parse out the secret of remarkable in Made to Stick, and did a good job noting six principles that make something sticky. But in our Social Media Marketing and now in Freelance Copywriting classes, we’re noting “remarkable” is less science and more art.

Was this ad remarkable in 1966 when DDB’s Marvin Honig wrote it for Volkswagen? Maybe. It is remarkable now because of the nostalgic, iconic bus—just look at the shape of that thing! But for me it is the story telegraphed from inside the bus and at the center of the image: the small businessman waiting to sell you some chili. The copy plays out the story benefit by benefit. Sure—you know you are being sold, but you’re willing to walk right into the story for the 26 seconds it takes to read the copy.

The ad is remarkable in retrospect because of the place this vehicle took in American culture. The story is in the ad, and the story in the ad played out in real life. Surely “remarkable” has something to do with reflecting real life. That’s where things get sticky.

Read the copy here.


Via copyranter

Written by kirkistan

March 15, 2012 at 9:15 am

Tell me a threshold story

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a story can spawn a conversation

In her excellent Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, Marilyn Chandler McEntyre wrote of a text as a place or a space to be entered. She wrote of entering the antebellum world of Gone with the Wind, or the restful city of Rivendell or the caves of Moria:

“When we enter a story, we leave something behind. We suspend disbelief, abandon the social contract that normally binds us and adopt a new one. We consent to the terms of the story, navigate its spaces…. “(72)

I’ve taken to heart (and begun to practice) the sharing of threshold stories when I teach. My hope is the story will help us capture that sense of “entering a space” though it is a discussion-space rather than a story. Sharing some story that helps us cross a threshold, that presents a wider or longer horizon than any of us had before class and so hints at what could be—that is the goal.

The best stories give a bit of information and also elicit a visceral reaction. A couple days ago I used this old commercial in my writing for organizations class. It became a threshold story as we talked about how best to prepare for writing. Many students—laboring to write papers they may or may not be interested in—do the least the assignment requires. But doing the least is not rewarded when working for clients. There is a lot to say about chumming the waters (with information and purpose/audience thinking) to come up with really good ideas. Threshold stories can also play a huge role in our regular conversations. A good story can open warehouses of good conversation.

What threshold story have you heard recently?


Image: Thisisn’thappiness

Written by kirkistan

September 6, 2011 at 5:00 am

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