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Posts Tagged ‘Jesus

How to Talk with a Republican

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Break with Talking Points: Talk about fears one by one

The Donald Trump phenomenon is fueled by fear—this we know.

Now that the Wait-This-Is-A-Joke period is over and the Fascists-In-Training period has begun, would we be better served addressing those fears head-on rather than pointing again and again to the incoherence of the candidate?

Mano a mano, as it were.Republican-20160304

What are the fears lodged in the Republican brain? We hear them from all the candidates: out of control immigration, an economic and political system rigged to benefit plutocrats, Christendom (as a geopolitical/cultural/social power) gasping for breath, whites are on their way toward being just another race if not minority status, the list goes on, of course.

One of the great early proponents of Christianity—a man not in favor with today’s Evangelical base—talked a lot about caring for the neighbor. Jesus said that after loving God with all your passion, the second most important thing was to love your neighbor. Could this thing Jesus said actually address fear without playing into the hand of an inchoate, would-be strongman?

A discussion about gut-level fears will descend into jobs and what it means to be treated fairly and irrational fever dreams about those we don’t know. It’s likely such talk would be politically incorrect—and we need to welcome that. On the other side of published Talking Points is a smoke-filled room where personal decisions get made even as friends and family hash out details. That’s where citizens need to hang out: telling truth as best we know it, from our perspective, not from the perspective of party bosses or mercenary haters, but from a hope-filled vision of people filled with neighborly love for all.

Naïve? Yes, of course. But sometimes naïve wins—just ask that pariah Jesus.

But look—this is gonna be messy. Let’s do this before we all start wearing yellow badges to stand with whatever group is in the crosshairs of Trump In Chief.


Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

What did Jesus say at the Trump Rally?

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Written by kirkistan

December 8, 2015 at 8:56 am

Is There No Antidote for Our Perpetual Push for Power?

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Some say there is

Trump wants power, of course. So do each of the Republican candidates for president. Just like the Democrat candidates—every candidate wants power and pledges to do right by those who grant them power. We are no different from those candidates:  We all want power. We want colleagues to listen to us, spouses to bend to our will, children to follow our directives.

We want what we want. Especially because what we want is good and pure and right, holy and God-ordained.

di Rosa Art Museum

di Rosa Art Museum

One ancient writer thought there might be a different way. Old (dead) Dr. Luke quoted Jesus as saying you are better off finding a way to help the helpless then you are arguing over who is most powerful. Helping those who have no way to pay you back opens doors to a different sort of life that has very little to do with amassing power.

In fact—all that energy you spent manipulating and maneuvering into power—it’s not likely to lead you to the kind of solid ground that matters most.

What would our presidential politics look like if candidates thought about serving rather than voicing shameful prejudices that pry power from blocks of fearful voters? Likely that would not be covered by the media, because there is no story in that.

The institutions and organizations that own the candidates would not like that.

But humans might actually flourish in those conditions.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

August 26, 2015 at 10:01 am

What Good Is a Group?

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The occasional spark. The intentional fire.

I’ve been wondering this lately: what good is a group?

Mrs. Kirkistan and I lead a small group that regularly meets together to read ancient texts. At the moment we’re slowly going through Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. It’s riveting stuff.

There comes a time in the life of every small group where people start to bow out. Life gets in the way. Work, sickness, commitments and gradually the small group is, well, really small. Only a few show.Group-04172015

Even so—with only one or two showing up—some magical spark can happen in the course of an ordinary conversation.  We talked about the pointed words Jesus had to say about lust and adultery—old terms we don’t hear much in our culture—experiences so common they seem to be just expected parts of everyday life. In the course of hashing through those words, we talked about seeing people as objects. And suddenly I was making connections with Levinas and Buber and realizing I am also in need of reforming bad thought habits.

These conversational sparks happen at work too. Yesterday I was lamenting to myself the ways large corporations dampen the enthusiasm of otherwise bright, motivated people. In the middle of that thought a client returned a call that we had cut short the day before. He had been thinking through our conversation and had five or six things to add. This client—from a very large corporation—had found a way to take personal ownership of the process and our discussion had a sort of breathless excitement to it.

This is rare.

And cool.

Our seemingly ordinary conversation had unearthed some live wire. And a group of us were doing our best to act on it.

So—all this to say that groups can do things individuals cannot. And sometimes a group conversation can create something brand new.


Dumb Sketch: Kirk Livingston

What about those hard conversations? (DGtC #27)

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Are explosive words better from an authority or friend?

I am convinced that where people gather: a classroom, a department, a congregation, discussion is a more effective use of time than all of us listening to monologue. Many teachers explore the flipped classroom, where their time together is in discussion and the preachy monologues and lectures slide to a different time, place and pace. In general I am attracted to collaboration and many voices speaking. I keep hoping coherence will show up.

We may want to collaborate, but obstacles arise. We may want to be walking catalysts, but something stands in the way. Unsaid obstacles can block collaboration. And sometimes we need to have hard conversations, the kind where we not only disagree, but our different positions are emotionally charged. To assert my position will cut at my conversation partner’s position and vice versa. There may be anger. There may be tears. There may be power-plays. This conversation could be explosive.

Demonstrating the explosive past for Minneapolis flour mills.

Demonstrating the explosive past for Minneapolis flour mills.

The late Wayne Booth advocated a kind of listening-rhetoric: listen intently enough to your conversation partner to faithfully tell their position (without denigration) while still holding to your own. This would not be the place for win-rhetoric, where your goal is to beat your message into someone else. Emmanuel Levinas might say we have an obligation to watch out for the person before us—this conversation partner. In fact, he might advocate that this person before us is our first priority. Martin Buber might say we continue to hold that person in high regard as a person, inviting them to consider this different perspective rather than trying to force our viewpoint. Even Jesus modified the law with love and compassion (he actually said love was the fulfillment of the law).


  • Say we take the listening seriously as we approach the hard conversation.
  • Say we take seriously our commitment to the growth and personhood of this conversation partner (stay with me here). And we recognize this person as a person (versus an employee or student or lesser-being).

Given a kind of love for the person before us, we say the hard thing. And the explosion happens. No guarantees, but that blow up can be a worthwhile communication event. Good things can come from that, hard as they are.

Personally, I shy away from these explosive conversations.

But is shying away from a potentially explosive conversation doing a disservice to the thing that needs to happen between us?


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Martin Buber, Jesus and Kim Kardashian walk into a bar

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The Sermon on the Stool


“I can’t be your love object, Marty,” said Kardashian.

“How could you be my object?” said Buber. “As far as I know, we’re still all “I-Thou.” Though I will say your Instagram screams “I-it.”

“That’s the spirit, Marty,” said Jesus. “Way to marshal your intent.”

“Bartender—give me a Jägermeister.”

[The End]


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Pick a Door: Blessed are the Poor

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How do you read this?

Jesus went up the mountain with his followers, as the great teachers do. His first words:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.


How you hear those words depends on where you come from. The images that come to mind, the connections you make, the hope or lack of hope—much is prefigured and preloaded by the conditions you bring.

What did the original hearers hear? That is the question.

But we make a start toward answering that question by asking what door we just stepped through.


Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Are Words Always as Powerless as They Seem?

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When we preach, our words often drop like stones from an overpass. And by “preach” I mean anyone who launches into a speech without a deep regard for her listeners. Pastors and priests can do it, but so do marketers, bosses, friends, even spouses. The guy at the party blathering on about his accomplishments—he’s preaching—and people walk away accordingly.

But our words need not fall like lead sinkers.

In 1955, the Oxford philosopher J.L Austin, gave a series of lectures at Harvard that became his book “How to Do Things with Words.” Austin proposed that there is a side to language where words actually cause stuff to happen out in the world. His famous example was with wedding vows: when the groom and bride say “I do,” and when the pastor/priest says “By the laws of the state of Minnesota, etcetera, etcetera, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” At that very point, something has changed in the world. Something changed because of the words spoken. Sure, those words gathered power from the context: the bride and groom, for starters. They agreed to get married. The priest or pastor officiating the deal contributed: the ordination process granted legal authority (at least in the eyes of the state) to pronounce these official words and have them mean something.


Why does preaching produce more leaden words than other kinds of talk? Again—not talking just Sunday sermon here. Corporations preach in their print ads and commercials and press releases. They collect a bunch of statements that are purposefully free from conversational context (you recognize this stuff by reading a brochure aloud. That’s when you realize no human talks like this). That kind of preaching that is more like wishing: wishing the world was a certain way. Wishing the reader was different from what he or she really is. The kind of preaching that tells others what to do or what the world is like, but is a lazy kind of talk that bears no resemblance to life. We all resort to this kind of talk that is unmoored from the people around us. Oh sure, we occasionally dress it up with an authoritative tone and we think we’ve accomplished something. But we haven’t.

Is there a way to get off our lazy butt of preaching and start saying things that make a difference in the world? Using words that instigate change? Is there a way to believe in the change our words signal?

I was reading the Gospel of Mark today, Mark 1, where Jesus starts the whole project. His first recorded words in Mark’s gospel are preaching: he preached the kingdom of God and invited his listeners to repent and believe (1.15). The rest of the chapter shows him, well, doing the stuff he preached. His talk about preaching and repenting and believing were not churchy words, meant only for the hour of the week where people piously peer up. No. His words demonstrated power by healing the sick. And the possessed. His were not empty sayings about a far-off God. They were words of invitation to taste something real. He was not just talk. He was walk.

Much more walk than talk.

How about your speech? Are you preaching to an audience who knows you are just mouthing empty words? Press release talk. Or are you saying things you can demonstrate? As a copywriter, am I doing this? And what kind of people do we need to be to deliver on the words we send out?

Makes me wonder.


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