Category Archives: Relationships

Quick Review: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

I’ve read sections of Jayson Georges’ Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures since it came out about a year ago but didn’t finish it in its entirety until last week. This is a book I highly recommend even if you don’t serve or work in an honor-shame context and I’ll explain why.

First – this was a great primer on life and ministry in honor-shame contexts. This is the context I have been in especially the last five years in Manila, but even the five years prior in Asian-American ministry this was the primary cultural framework in which ministry took place. This simply should be required reading for anyone going to do any kind of ministry in the majority world, especially Asia. It would have been immensely helpful my first year in Asia.

The book covers theological and Biblical foundations through an honor and shame lens as well as really helpful discussions on how honor and shame impact areas like relationships, community, ethics, conversion, leadership, and other areas.  The chapter on relationships I believe is still free as a download on his website honorshame.com and was one of the resources I used for a recent seminar I did on honor, shame, and conflict. There may be some follow-up posts here as I’ve been reflecting a lot on his sections on community and ethics.

But here is why I think all people should read this – it simply is a fantastic way to help people expand their minds to understand the limits of their own theological and cultural systems. Part of why there is so much polarization theologically and otherwise is a lack of understanding and imagination as to how big the world is and how culture impacts everything and impacts deeply.

This book would add some humility to people, but I think in general most would be surprised at how much an honor-shame lens of areas like evangelism and ethics would really help people in the West as well.  This isn’t a book “for Asia” or the East. This is a book to help everybody expand their knowledge of Scripture, the Gospel, Community and Church, and Mission.

There’s no doubt this will be one of my top 5 books of 2018 so I’d highly encourage you to read it no matter where you are if you are a follower of Jesus.

 

Quick Review: The Sacred Enneagram

I continued some of my exploration through the enneagram reading my third enneagram book in as many months. This one was The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher L. Heuertz. 

I’ve shared on the enneagram before with The Road Back to You and Self to Lose, Self to Find so I’ll just add a few elements of what makes this unique. This was by far the most contemplative of the three books, which for some is good and motivating, while for others that’s a more challenging feature of the book.

The book by far, from what I’ve read, goes into a lot of deeper theory on the enneagram and getting into the “science” of it. So there’s some really interesting stuff in there illuminating certain components. However, there really wasn’t as much content and insight into the enneagram as I was hoping because there were large sections of the book more dedicated to contemplative prayer and spirituality in general and as a foundation for the enneagram.  I wasn’t really looking for that in the book and it’s a large part of it. A solid spiritual base is important for any tool like this, but I was looking for more wisdom and practical insight.

The book is an authentic and solid representation of contemplative spirituality, but that’s not really the world I run in so some of the language at times didn’t resonate with me. But I appreciated the fundamental treatment of how each individual must battle certain fundamental sin patterns to find their life fully in Christ.

This book had the strongest section on the background and history and development of the enneagram so I did enjoy that . I found it very interesting. It also had some of the most accurate depictions the type I identify with so that was helpful as well.

I’m not sure I would recommend this unless someone really was into the contemplative spirituality scene given some of the other resources out there, but I did learn things that I did not in the previous two books. So – maybe it depends on your own personality and how you approach life with God.

 

Quick Review – Re-Centering: Culture & Knowledge in Conflict Resolution Practice

This month I’ve worked through the book Re-Centering: Culture and Knowledge in Conflict Resolution Practice by several editors and contributors.

This is a book written from an ethnic minority perspective on contemporary negotiation and mediation scholarship and practices. It’s a collection of 22 essays and papers covering a wide range of perspectives and cultural perspectives.

There’ are only a couple essays that I thought had marginal value, but by and large, this is an awesome resource for people working in a multi-ethnic context – especially related to theory and practice in dealing with conflict and reconciliation between cultures.

There are a few themes that stand out in this collection that are not often represented in a lot of the classic literature. One of these themes is that of power and neutrality. Majority culture driven practices often assume that neutrality is possible and approach conflict and mediation with a “blank slate” perspective.  This volume addressed that in multiple papers and from multiple angles and it really is helpful. There are some excellent perspectives.

Another theme is that of ethnic identity and how that impacts the arena of conflict and how the approach to a conflict can impact identity. Identity is a theme showing up more and more in the conflict and negotiation literature, though it’s more representative in peace and reconciliation literature. But here, those are woven together with a helpful cross-cultural perspective that illustrates why identity needs to be at the heart of any approach to conflict.

There are essays from a native Hawaiian, Chicano,  Latino, African-American and other perspectives that I thought were really insightful and add a lot of value.  There are some worldviews and elements to some essays I do not agree with and share, but the majority are quite insightful and powerful to read and reflect on.

If you do conflict work in multi-ethnic contexts or even broader cross-cultural contexts, I think this would be a much-needed resource to read for reflection and discussion.  It offers a framework for tensions between white leaders and structures and processes related to conflict and mediation and ethnic minority leaders who find themselves often further marginalized by the processes that others assume will help them.  I’ve already gone back to several of these essays/journal article style contributions to reflect more deeply on some of the themes.

 

Quick Review – Dignity: The Essential Role in Resolving Conflict

This month I read Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays In Resolving Conflict by Donna Hicks.  It relates to some of my current coursework, had high ratings on Amazon, and the forward was written by Desmond Tutu so I figured it was worth reading. I don’t give this book the 5-star rating many on Amazon do.  I don’t even give it the 4-star rating, but I’ll unpack the highs and lows of this book below to me.

First, there’s a lot of great stuff here in the book from a research standpoint. I will be using this as a resource to find different relevant research to the world of conflict resolution, negotiation, or mediation. There’s a lot of helpful research cited.

Second, the author writes many times how she has developed a “model” of dignity – “The Dignity Model” of conflict resolution. However, it’s nothing remotely resembling a model. It’s just a list really of behaviors that can increase dignity or diminish dignity in others and ourselves.  In some ways it’s a list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for treating people with dignity. But it’s not a model and I thought it was strange how often the author referred to it as such. It’s like calling the 10 commandments or even the book “everything I needed in life I learned in Kindergarten” a model.  There isn’t any conceptual framework in the model – just descriptions of how to treat people with a view towards increasing dignity.

Third, the whole approach is based heavily on evolutionary psychology and 19th-century psychologist William James. I don’t share the same fundamental worldview assumptions as the author so that’s a factor here, but I can still see value in unpacking things with a socio-historical perspective.  What’s hard for me is when the cavemen come out and we start talking about evil behavior and violence as “outdated survival strategies.” That’s just so empty to me and left me very unsatisfied.

This book goes beyond conflict resolution to really try to frame a human rights argument that at one point the author refers to as “God-given.” And in so doing, there has to be some effort to tackle the problem of evil and human darkness or “sin.” The worldview here attempts to build a case for dignity as a human right while also building a case for how fallenness in humanity is a result of a loss of dignity and the impact of these “outdated survival strategies” on an interpersonal, communal, or societal level.

This really is a secular humanist effort to build a theology of dignity without God.  It is a secular attempt at a theology of “the image of God” in humanity based on evolutionary principles and contemporary attitudes.  But the reality is the overwhelming majority of the book in its principles and its model would be obvious extensions of the Christian doctrine of Imago Dei and reflects really blatantly at times a New Testament ethic – just without reference to God.  So that’s the elephant in the room with this book – it represents a longing to treat people in light of innate God-given value and unpack what that looks like. But it tries to build that ethic on a foundation of evolutionary principles.  If there had been an attempt to acknowledge and integrate that these “ideas” were not “new,” but reflected in human history in other belief systems I would have done a lot better with the book. But there was a component of academic snobbery in asserting the “newness” of this approach when in fact – there wasn’t much new about it all.

Another criticism is the framing of “Dignity.” I think the word is good attempt to capture a governing principle here, but it’s a bit sloppy in its usage. The author uses the word dignity as a general concept that overlaps with dimensions of honor and shame, concepts of intrinsic worth, identity, and how Christians think about the “image of God.” There were points where the language of dignity as used ran into problems. There was also so many more opportunities to explore the dynamics of honor and shame, but they were treated with minimal effort.

So it may sound like I’m very critical – and in the ways I am I believe the book deserves the criticism because it really pretends as if whole bodies of knowledge and insight out there don’t exist. That to me is not good scholarship. However, the author and I probably share a lot of common values and perspectives. We just have a very different foundation.

It does bother me how many 5-star reviews there are, which reflects that people are highly interested in this topic and looking for solutions to the heart issues that plague mankind. But there are better paradigms that address the human heart and the human condition – but it takes the humility of faith to explore them. It seems like the fundamental effort of the book is trying to preserve “God-given” value by distancing fallenness and any concept of “sin.” The Christian worldview allows for both intrinsic value and completely sinful depravity – it just requires needing something outside of ourselves for redemption.  The tragedy is how Christian doctrine has been corrupted and abused for depraved purposes and power agendas – the merits of theology has lost credibility through leaders and societies seeking personal advantage.  But the theology is still there to be engaged and it’s foolishness for people to reject where such ideas are unpacked in favor of trying to “re-create” something similar on their own.

There’s tons of value here though and conversations and illustrations of how to treat people with dignity and what tends to lead to breakdowns in relationships and conversations. So it’s a worthy resource if you want to go deeper into the conversation about what is required to create environments in which human identity and worth is valued, respected, and preserved, then this can help challenge and refine some of your thinking.

 

Quick Review: Leadership Coaching

Over the past couple of months I was going through the book Leadership Ccoaching: The Disciplines, Skills, and Heart of a Christian Coach by Tony Stoltzfus and it’s such a great resource for leaders. Here’s some of why it was so helpful to me.

First – it goes after the heart, both in the coach and as the target of transformation in coming alongside others. The approach to coming alongside others puts a high value on honoring people and what God may be doing in the deeper places as the roots of their behavior. It was a refreshing focus and right on.

Second – he offers a helpful framework and paradigm for coaching that I thought allowed me to get a really good handle on the main components of the theory.

Third – maybe this is the best part of the book, but the book includes so many questions to use and they are grouped and categorized in helpful ways. I had not put much thought into categorizing types of coaches for different purposes, but that’s been really helpful for me to think about different groupings of questions according to what they are really trying to accomplish in conversation or in coaching.

If you are not aware of the industry of “coaching,” this is a growing part of the leadership community and business world that is recognizing the power of non-directive coaching. Instead of “telling” someone solutions or answers, a coach helps the other person “discover” or find the solutions themselves mostly through questions. This includes accountability, listening, question asking as mentioned, and discernment.  It’s a really important skill set for any leader and there’s a lot of books that are trying to pass on those skill sets.  This book blends those skill sets with the Christian commitment to heart change as the center of all transformative work.

This book finds a permanent place in my leadership toolbox and I’ve already gone back to it to review certain types of questions relevant to different conversations I’ve been in.

Highly recommend it! I’m convinced that the core principles of this book involve areas of development for just about every person out there so chances are it will really help you even if you’re not functioning as a professional coach.

In Memory of a Dear Friend

It’s been just over a week since getting the news that a dear friend of mine passed away after a year-long battle with cancer. Danielle (Tschirky) Montiel was my age, with kids roughly the same age as ours. Yesterday, those who knew her gathered together to celebrate her life and mourn their loss. Given that I am on the other side of the world right now, I wanted to share a few words both to honor her and to give some kind of expression to my own journey as I grieve the loss of a friend.

It’s tough to lose anyone in your life, to know that they are gone and the opportunity to connect one more time gone with them. It is even tougher to lose someone who holds a special place in your heart and life.

She was a significant person in my life at a significant time. We were both from Long Beach but did not meet until we both arrived at UCLA in fall of ’93. Through her and a special group of friends during those years, I was shaped in immeasurable ways.

Danielle had a unique role in my development during those years. She was a kindred spirit in some memorable ways. She had big dreams and vision, was passionate, loyal, and long-suffering. She also had qualities that weren’t as natural for me at the time – she was gentle, kind, curious, and full of joy. As I explored my identity and emerging calling with intensity, seriousness, and deep inner reflection, she consistently pulled me outward to see, appreciate, and recognize the beauty and wonder that I so often missed. At the time, there were so many things I was trying to get “right,” but she was a key guiding light that pointed to a place of rest and enjoyment of life.

Beyond our four years together at UCLA, we spent every summer of our college years serving together.  After our freshman year we spent the summer in East Asia together with many from our UCLA tribe. The next summer we served together in the inner-city of Los Angeles, where we experienced our first taste of team and ministry leadership while learning about different contexts and cultures.

But the summer I remember most with her was the summer before our senior year of college when we helped re-launch the college ministry of Arbor Road Church together.  It was through the joy of serving and leading together – experiencing the beauty, possibilities, and power of ministry in people’s lives, that I sensed a call to ministry. Ministry as a responsibility, duty, or burden was replaced by something deeper and so much more meaningful. As a person prone to discouragement, disillusionment, and seriousness, I do not believe I would have entered the ministry without that shift. I know for certain that even if I had, I wouldn’t have lasted. She helped me see that ministry was not something to be achieved, but something to live and enjoy.

As life took us on our separate paths I did not see her frequently after college, but we kept in touch. The topic of our interaction in most recent years was what she was doing helping pioneer a charter middle school with a virtue-based curriculum. As my ministry took an unforeseen shift about 5 years ago into an educational context, I wanted to pick her brain when I could. I saw her passion for education in college, but it was amazing to see it materialize into a concrete vision. And I was amazed that as the topic of virtue-based leadership development has come up in the course of my ministry in Manila, I’ve even had someone mention to me that “there’s this school somewhere in Southern California that is doing some cool things that you should check out.”

It’s hard to reconcile the loss of anyone important in our lives, but it’s even harder to reconcile the loss of someone that really knew you.  She gave me the gift of being known time and time again during those formative years and it’s a gift that kept on giving in the years since.

Danielle knew me, at times better than I knew myself and better than many in my life. She affirmed things about me that at the time most people including myself maybe weren’t sure were even there. But those things began to emerge over time. She either knew me that well or had the gift of being able to speak some of those things into existence through warm encouragement and confident vision. This would be a gift for everyone, but as a deep-thinking, culture-challenging, justice-seeking, truth-teller like myself who has routinely been misunderstood and at times judged for it, it’s a grace that helped guard my heart against darkness and point me towards a vision of what could be.

In the moments I get to see and celebrate any impact I may be making, she saw it first.  You can’t put a price on friends like that.

This summer she gave me one more gift. I was back in Long Beach just for a few days and we were trying to find a way to see each other, but it it was getting complicated with schedules and commitments. But she spontaneously visited on one of our last afternoons before leaving the country. We spent some time catching up on her journey – the struggles, her hopes, and her fears. She graciously shared with me the details she had to re-count no doubt hundreds of times. But mostly, I think we just enjoyed the moment of presence, which was a gift we have not been able to enjoy as much in recent years.

Danielle was relentlessly positive and hopeful, but as I was leaving the country for at least another year I have wondered if she was giving me one last gift.  While I prayed faithfully for her complete healing and restoration, I was still mindful that I might be saying goodbye. And that brief encounter has meant the world to me since.  It’s one of the moments I get to remember her by – where more was said than words spoken and where the fears of the unknown were briefly alleviated through the presence of the familiar.

I told her that day that the world is so, so much better with her in it. And I was right. I rejoice that hers was a life well lived and mourn for the many, especially her family and children, that must find a way to do life without her physical presence.  Please join me in praying for them in their grief.

If you read through this, thank you. It’s a needed part of my own process as I grieve in geographic isolation. I’m grateful for some friends who have kept me updated on the events of the past couple weeks and have passed on some old pictures. The majority of my days spent with Danielle were before cell phones and digital cameras so the majority of my photos and memories are in a storage unit in California.

I’m thankful to have had such a person in my life and to have had so many memories and moments that resulted in life change and impact. I am thankful her suffering is at an end and she has received the object of her faith. Her example of faith, love, and vulnerability all the way to the very end inspires me to keep aspiring to the picture of graciousness and care that so many experienced from her.

 

Quick Review: Between the World and Me

Last week I finished Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  What a powerful book. I did this by audiobook, which was read by the author, and I think that made it even more powerful. The book is part autobiography and part letter to the author’s son, bringing a powerful personal touch to weighty topics.

The author documents his journey growing up African-American in Baltimore and the impact of systemic injustice and iniquity on him and others in his community. He provides the historical background to understand a more robust view of identity as it has been shaped over time. It’s a powerful read or listen even if it’s just out of a desire to understand more one’s experience in communities so shaped by power driven or overtly racist policies. But it’s much more than that.

One of the central metaphors that Coates builds his narrative around reflects a philosophical as well as poetic framing of how systemic injustice and racism impact identity. This metaphor is that of one becoming “disembodied,” where because of injustice or racism and the reality of one’s identity that he feels the shame of someone else having control of his body. That loss of autonomy, safety, and the self-worth that comes with security is an ever-present reminder of how power structures work against him.

This brings the reflection and discussion of racism from beyond abstract arguments or activism to the visceral truth that systemic injustice always has a fleshly impact. It touches the core of the marginalized identity because it is a fundamental reality that someone else can take control of their body and exercise power over them in a myriad of ways.  This way of experiencing and seeing the issues adds further heartbreak for the ways so many are shaped by injustice in deep ways to the core of their being.

Coates uses some new phrases besides the typical language. He refers to majority culture folks who find comfort in the current unjust systems as “people who think themselves white.” White is synonymous with offender or perpetrator.  He uses another word which forces one to wrestle – plunderer. He is using these words of those who find comfort in the benefits of injustice or in various ways perpetuates the system. He is not equating all white people with plunderers or racists. He uses “white” as not just an ethnic designation, but rather as an ideological tribe of sorts that through self-interest perpetuates contemporary injustice. It’s not a rejection of white people, but of an establishment that is benefitting from various forms of violence that continually keeps those outside down through the various forms and threats of disembodiment.

There’s so much here and the whole thing is a skillful and beautiful expression of deep pain and righteous anger. My summary is wholly inadequate. I would have loved more spiritual reflection or engagement. It’s hard to read things like this when there doesn’t seem to be hope or meaning anchored in a larger worldview. But that’s not where the author is coming from and in the meantime, he does convey some form of hope, albeit alongside a strong dose of reality without sugar coating what it means to journey in this world on the other side of institutional power.

I recommend it as a powerful journey into the depths of just how dark the impacts of systemic injustice are in the U.S. from a history of racism and racist policies.  This isn’t my story, but these are stories that need to be heard.  There are parts that are hard to here as one who has lived a more privileged existence in the U.S. from an ethnic standpoint, but it’s important to look, feel, and reflect on how I live and the broader communities and society that I am a part of.

 

Quick Review: The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting

I have recently done several reviews on Brene Brown’s books  – you can search this blog for reviews on The Gift of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wildnerness.  Before the end of the year here I’ll add one more since I just finished her short audio book called The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting.

This is short, but from a life and value standpoint, it might even by my favorite of her books because we’re deep into the parenting life stage of life, on the verge of having teenagers. Ten years ago I made a commitment to reading a marriage and parenting book each year.  Now, I’m ramping that up to 3-4 books each year on marriage and parenting because there’s no point in saving that learning until after our kids are out of the house.

This book provides short summaries of Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, but there are just tons of nuggets that are awesome and life-giving for parenting and they often are directly backed up by research as well.  More importantly for me, most insights I believe reflect Biblical truths about leadership and parenting based on grace and truth.  The book is full of insights and principles that parents just need constant reminders so this is a book probably worth doing an annual review of because it’s that practical and helpful. It helps illuminate poor thinking patterns based on the surrounding culture and re-set for the sake of healthy and empowering relationships.

Some of the key sections relate to perfectionism and shame in parenting, over-functioning and control in parenting, struggle and hope, creativity and play, gratitude and joy, boundaries, and a variety of other things.

Beyond just being a general parenting book, the powerful piece still is the connection between shame and parenting which I believe also extends to leadership. Shame can be a factor in hindering play, increasing perfectionism and image management, and levels of control and comparison among others. This is important and reinforces one of her initial principles – who we are is more important than what we do.  That idea is really tough for a lot of folks, but it’s critical!

We have to deal with our own hearts. This is another reason why the question of where we get our worthiness from is crucial. People seek worthiness in all sorts of things – but I believe worthiness is ultimately only found unconditionally through a God who offers unconditional forgiveness in grace and truth. We need to be transformed first before we can be agents of transformation for others. If we have unresolved shame, that will translate to our efforts in shaping and molding those entrusted to us.

Here is a great specific summary of the audiobook that outlines principle by principle what Brown covers. This gives a real concrete picture of what is in the recording and the content.

 

Quick Review: Negotiation (An Ex-Spy’s Guide Series)

So as I’m researching and reading the topic of Negotiation in a lot of contexts I decided to add this book to my reading more for fun.  It’s a short, 100-page crash course on negotiation through the lens of “the field.” There’s a whole series of topics covered by the author and negotiation is one of them.

It was actually quite fun to read and there was a lot of practical advice and some of the general nuts and bolts were covered. But a lot of the focus was on dynamics that would take place in real conversations in which something was at stake. So the stories and anecdotes were great.

The big flaw with this though is that it is among the many Negotiation books that are focused on someone “getting what they want.” A phrase that repeatedly comes up is along the lines of, “It’s not good to manipulate people, but here are a few things you can do in this situation to make sure the outcome turns out in your favor.”  This is the spirit of a lot of contemporary negotiation literature – evident in titles like “How to Get What You Want” and the like.

It really is a completely different paradigm to look at Negotiation through a Biblical lens and the mandate to “look after the interests of one another” instead of the modern-day quest to ensure your interests even if they are at others expense.

That being said – there were great nuggets about navigating hard situations, regulating emotion, and assessing the needs and interests involved in a negotiation. And it was a fun read.  I don’t think this should be your negotiation primer, but it was a fun side read to compare and contrast some of the ideas from one experienced practitioner to what else is out there.