Showing posts from November, 2019

The Power Of Specificity

In 1994, psychology professors at Santa Clara University tested a theory they'd been developing about the power of specificity as it relates to compliance.  They called the procedure pique technique. 

The professors enlisted students in the experiment to go to a public place known to be frequented by panhandlers, and begin asking passers by for money.  Some of the students simply asked people for spare change, or for a common amount like a dollar, but others became very specific in their requests.  

Several of the students asked specifically for thirty-seven cents, an odd amount, which would more often than not pique the interest of the people they were asking.  In the end, a greater number of people stopped and inquired of the students why they were asking for thirty-seven cents than stopped for the students who weren't as specific.  

And more often than not, they would give something to the thirty-seven cent students after the exchange--regardless of the reason they students of…

Do Your Best Until You Know Better

I've been practicing what I preached, and it hasn't been easy.   

I gave my congregation homework to do after the last two sermons that I preached as part of a sermon series we've been doing at my church.  The sermon series is entitled "Under God?" and it's a series focused on exploring how Christians can be peacemakers during times of division and contention. 

In case you weren't aware, we live in a particularly divided culture.  We're divided over politics, religion, social issues and a whole lot more. 

I told my congregation that one of the many ways that we can bridge these gaps is to spend time listening, reading and engaging people with whom we have disagreements.  And I gave them homework to do just that. 

However, it's been a challenge for me to change news outlets, read different authors and try to engage in conversations with people who hold different views than I do on the aforementioned issues. 

But I have learned some things. 

First, I foun…

We Are Made of Stories

Some years ago, I got the chance to have dinner and chat with the Congressman, who represented my district in the U.S. House of Representatives. 

I was kind of skeptical about meeting him at first because I was diametrically opposed to most of his stances on a variety of social issues.  But he was not at all what I expected. 

To begin with, I quickly learned that I had more than a few points of agreement with him on a surprising number of things.  Sure, he held some views that I disagreed with, but there was also a lot of common ground. 

And then he told us about his efforts to build bridges between an increasingly divided Congress. 

Every month he would hold a dinner at his house in Washington, DC and he would invite members of Congress from both political parties.  Democrats and Republicans would gather to eat at his house, with only one standing rule:  No one could talk politics.

Instead, they had to tell their stories.  They had to share the stories of where they came from, what matter…

What You Love Well, Remains

I used to draw and paint. 

When I was a kid, someone told my mother I had promise, so she spent money our family didn't have to get me oil painting lessons, and then tutoring with a retired art teacher, who specialized in pencil.

I took lessons all the way through middle school and into high school before I finally convinced my mom to give up.  

You see, I realized that in order to be a truly great artist, I was going to have to work hard at it.  Talent will only get you so far, unless you are a prodigy, and I was no prodigy.  

And I wanted to play sports, hang with my friends, have a girlfriend... So I set aside my paints and pencils and never really picked them up again.  

After my mom passed away, I was going through some of her belongings, trying to determine what to keep, what to store and what to let go.  I had to smile when I  found some of my drawings, and a painting of mine that she'd kept. 

I thought back to those lessons that she couldn't afford.  

She took some of the…

When You Swim Against the Current

I  was talking with a friend recently, and our conversation turned to reflections on how quickly time passes.  I shared a quote with my friend that I'd heard from somewhere--a quote I've shared in similar conversations:
"The days are long, but the years are short." Afterward, I got to thinking about that quote, and what it means to me.  It's a simple and yet profound idea, isn't it? 

Our days get filled with tasks and appointments---places we have to be, people we need to meet. We often schedule ourselves with very little margin, and then wonder why we are exhausted, stressed and overwhelmed. 

And then there's this...

I don't know about you, but I often find myself at the end of a long day feeling as though there is more left undone than done.  Perhaps you feel the same. 

Maybe what you feel is a sense that if you'd only had more time in your day, you could have done more, which is ridiculous because you went from one thing to another all day long with…

Trust The Process

Off and on for the past year, I've been reading a little book about architecture written by Matthew Frederick. 

The other day I read a line that resonated with me, but (per usual) I had to sit with it for a while before I began to understand why.  

Frederick wrote about the design process and how frustrating it can be when the solutions to problems aren't immediately evident, or when the ideas aren't flowing well.  This is what he had to say:  
Engage the design process with patience...  Accept uncertainty.  Recognize as normal the feeling of lostness that attends too much of the process.  Don't seek to relieve your anxiety by marrying yourself prematurely to a design solution; design divorces are never pretty.  Today I found myself reflecting on Frederick's words---especially in light of the many challenges swirling around me at the moment.  I  have tasks that need doing, problems to solve, feelings of uncertainty to deal with, things to write...  

And the place I oft…

Ruining Your Canvas With Paint

Do you have something hanging over your head today that needs to get done?
Are you having a hard time getting started?

Maybe you've had a project that you have been needing to get done, and it is still sitting there in your inbox, on your table, in your garage, on your computer screen...

It sits there accusing you of stuff, like:

"What's the matter with you? Lazy, much?"
"Hey I'm not going to finish my self, Pal."
"You aren't good enough to do this, are you?"
"Why aren't you more like your brother... sister... successful cousin?"
"I'll just be here reminding you of how you never finish things..."

Wow.  That list came pretty easy---too easy.  I'm guessing that there are a few of us out there who resonate with this all too well.

And sometimes the things that we haven't started are transformative actions that we know need doing, but doing them will disrupt our lives too much, turn things upside down, or bring the kin…

Under God? Week Two

Today we are going to continue the sermon series that we started last week--a series that is going to take us all the way through the month of November...

Which just happens to be the month where we begin our year-long trek to a national election that could be one of the most contentious in American history.

So there's that.

But there's hope... and that's what we're going to be spending the next several weeks focusing on--the hope that we can find when Christians actually do what Christians are called to do when it comes to healing the divisions among us.

To that end, this series is focused on how those of us who call ourselves Christians can be peacemakers in a culture that seems hopelessly divided and at war with itself.

Today we are going to dig a little deeper as we discover how important listening can be in the peacemaking process.

In 1968 elementary school teacher Jane Elliott conducted a famous experiment with her students in the days after the assassination of Dr. Ma…

How Do You Know If Your Prayers Work?

I've been thinking about prayer a lot lately. 

Confession:  Most of my thoughts on prayer seem to tend toward whether I'm doing it right or not. 

Because of my church-y baggage, I have this nagging notion that if my prayers aren't formed correctly, somehow God won't hear them. 

It's irrational, I know.  But it's there, and that stuff is hard to shake, friends. 

You see, I prefer to pray by writing down my thoughts.  The act of putting pen to paper and actually seeing the words appear as a result, makes the prayer more real to me.  Sometimes, I'll even pause for a moment when I'm writing, and read the words I just wrote again. 

I might even read them out loud.  

Back to my worries over whether I'm praying rightly...

Whether my prayer was correctly formed and able to pass muster when it comes to God's prayer-filter (I made that last thing up--because God must have a filter, right?) is a thing that passes through my mind more often than I'd like to ad…

The Word Is Very Near To You

During my reading this morning, I  read the following passage from the Hebrew Scriptures, Deuteronomy chapter 30:11-14:   
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, "Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, "Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?" No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.Something about this passage resonated with me today.  In this portion of the Torah, God is working out the details of God's covenant with God's people.  And there's such beauty in this back and forth between them.  

God seems to be saying here: 
"In the end, all of this is pretty simple--I'm not asking you to do anything that you are not capable of doing.  Just hold on to this one down-to-earth truth: T…

The Music In The Middle

There is an old story that I read recently about the semi-mythical Middle Eastern "wise" man Nasr-ed-Din--a character who often exhibited bizarre behavior in order to convey a larger truth about life, God and the universe.  

It seems Nasr-ed-Din was sitting in the village square playing his guitar, but only playing one note--over and over again.  

Finally, after hours of this, a man from the village approached Nasr-ed-Din and said:  "That's a nice note you are playing Mullah, but why don't you vary it a bit the way other musicians do?"  

Nasr-ed-Din paused for a moment, gazed at the man and then said shortly:  
"Those fools, they're searching for the right note. I've found it."

The point of the story is one that we all should take to heart:  While it's wonderful to be right and certain---sometimes our certainty sounds like one note playing over and over again... and not really at all like music.  

I  read this bit of a poem by Wallace Steven…

Why Not Me?

There have been more than a few times in my pastoral career when I've had a stark revelation when I'm counseling someone or offering them guidance.

I  would be sitting with them, listening and suddenly realize that my counsel was not what they were seeking at all.  What they were seeking was an answer to the question, "Why?" 

"Why did this happen to me?"
"Why am I in this predicament?"
"Why am I struggling to move on?"
"Why am I still addicted?" 
"Why does God seem to be silent?"  

Our questions of "Why?" are often at the heart of all of our conflicts, issues, challenges and frustrations in life.  They are also at the core of so many of our interpersonal struggles with others.  And they are almost always at the foundation of our problems with religion and faith.  

I had this epiphany the other day when I was fighting my way through some moments of self-pity.  I was asking my usual "Why?" question, which is…

The Truth About You

Today I woke up realizing that I hadn't worked ahead like I've grown accustomed to doing over the past few months, and the Daily Devo wasn't written.  

Typically, what arrives in your inbox on a daily basis is written the day before---or if it's Monday, a few days before.   

And to give you an idea as to how I am wired, this means I woke up feeling a bit like I had failed, and when I  say a bit... I mean a lot.  I don't get it, but that's how it is.    

The accusing voices that whisper to me in my head (we all have them), were telling me that I was lazy, I  should have been more prepared, that whatever I  wrote today was going to be terrible because I  was rushing it...  

So in response, I decided to write about it.  

You see, every one of us has to decide in the end whether we are going to believe the accusing voices that try desperately to bring us down, or the Voice of the One who knows us better than we know ourselves.  

Because the Voice of the One (and I'm …

Under God? - Week One

Today we are going to be launching two things:  A new sermon series, and the beginning of an election year.

Did you know that we are in an election year?  I know... just reminding you.  Some of you are thinking, "But Leon... haven't we already been in an election year?"  Touche'  

But still, we are marking the beginning of the actual year-long festivities now... which is awesome.

Our sermon series is entitled "Under God?" And we are going to be spending the entire month of November exploring what it means for Christians to be peacemakers during seasons of division and contention.

Which in our culture seems to be one long, terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad season, am I right?

Speaking of horrible... I'd love it if you would do me a favor right now.

What are some words that you would use to describe our current political and social situation?  Go ahead and share them.  Just don't use the four letter ones, okay?  At leasts out loud.  This is a family mom…