Tag Archives: Relationships

Quick Review: Strengths Based Marriage

My focus for a couple months, while we are in the U.S. and at a training for international staff, is family so I’m reading a bunch of books and resources related to family life right now because that’s a lot of what we are thinking about and reflecting upon right now. One of those books is Strengths Based Marriage: Build a Stronger Relationship by Understanding Each Other’s Gifts.

I was luke warm on this book, but was intrigued initially because I have some Strengths Finder training and often teach and do trainings related to the typical Strengths based themes.  There are some helpful things in this book for people familiar with StrengthsFinder, but in general I did not find it all that great.

First – I think the audio book experience for this one didn’t work for me. The book is divided up between a marriage counselor/expert and a strengths coach/expert. They rotate back and forth and I grew weary hearing them identify themselves as an expert in their field for each of their sections.  I read along in the book at points to take some notes and was not nearly as bothered in the written form.

There are just some things I wasn’t feeling – there was a lot of language that describes a lot of marriage things in stereotypical language. Like the comments that men need this and women need that, while men like this though women like that.  That kind of stuff.  There was helpful insight, but there was a bit too much labeling for me along the lines of the “Love and Respect” books.  There is some truth in there, but it gets lost for me in the generalizations.

I was surprised that there was a Biblical foundation or commitment by the authors so I appreciated some of the attempts to link it to Scripture, thought the use of Ephesians for the love and respect type of stuff above irked me a bit. But the stuff on servanthood was pretty solid.

Language wise – there was also a section in which complaining was encouraged as a necessary way of helping spouses having a voice with each other.  Some of it is semantics as their point was really about sharing your heart, but they used “complaining” as the actual word/concept and I think that’s a really poor choice of language and I don’t think that has ever helped anyone. I do support the idea of spouses listening to each other’s hurts, pain, frustration, and anger.  I guess I don’t see that as complaining.

The book is designed around the StrengthsFinder tool, but they recommend you take the version of the assessment online that gives you all 34 strength themes, not just the top 5.  I am not sure I am a fan of that, but they propose matching up your 34 side by side with your spouse to see where there are strength “tensions” or conflicts – say my top strength is strategic and my wife’s 34th strength is strategic (and that type of thing).  This could be helpful, but it draws a lot of attention to non-strengths and at times I didn’t like that Strengths was being presented as the secret ingredient to a healthy marriage.  I don’t know – 99.9% of human marriages in the history of time have not had access to the StrengthsFinder assessment. They provide

I don’t know – 99.9% of human marriages in the history of time have not had access to the StrengthsFinder assessment. They provide some helpful ideas as to how to encourage one another at the identity level and not just the performance level. But I’m not sure StrengthsFinder is the secret ingredient to most marriages – though it can help I suppose.

But hey – also, if you have ever wanted a conversation about how StrengthFinder impacts the marriage bed – this is the place for you.  That’s a whole next level of application there, but it was interesting.

If you are a SF junkie it’s not a bad book to read, but I’d encourage you to go elsewhere if you are really looking to go deeper in your marriage – maybe starting with Families Where Grace is in Place, which I reviewed a few days ago.

Quick Review: How to Have That Difficult Conversation

Over the last few days I had a chance to read Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s How to Have That Difficult Conversation: Gaining the Skills for Honest and Meaningful Communication.  This book formerly used to be called Boundaries: Face to Face but adjusted some things for a more practical application and marketing effort. And it’s a good move because this book is really about how to plan and prepare and execute plans in difficult conversations.

I have had this book for a while and wish I’d gone through it a long time ago. I found it very helpful.  The focus on it isn’t as much conflict resolution and reconciliation, but more on how to be an adult and have grown up conversations.

There’s immense practical value in this book and I’m thinking about adding it to the interpersonal relationships class I teach as a supplement to the other resources and books I use that deal with the heart and theology of relationships.

The book has some great sections related to dealing with your own self first, making a plan to have a conversation, helpful ways to talk through difficult issues, and how to be prepared for immature or other difficult responses to speaking the truth in love. It provides a lot of “how to’s” that are needed because most people are paralyzed in these situations – part because of heart issues and part because of being overwhelmed by the lack of knowledge and ability.  This book addresses the former in part but does a good job on the latter.

The examples are sometimes very clinical in nature or extreme, but they illustrate the principles well. One of the issues that is not addressed very clearly is the role of culture and context as most of the examples and contexts are Western and “white” for lack of a better word.  But it doesn’t mean the principles don’t apply, but they may be harder for people of a non-white, western context to take in and envision for their lives.  But I believe much of what is in the book is just as needed for the majority world and non-white communities and cultures.

The audio book is also good and pretty affordable, but it’s somewhat abridged.  The e-book has additional examples and Scripture foundations throughout the book while the audio book is more focused on the core content.  The e-book includes several appendix chapters that focus on specific relationships:  marriage, dating, kids, parents, and work.  These sections are like abridged versions of some of their other books like boundaries in marriage, boundaries in dating, boundaries, and others. But it’s a great compilation of insight and wisdom in these different relationships.

This is a needed resource for many, if not all of us and I recommend it.  I’m reading through books in the similar genre related to conflict management and this has offered some of the best practical advice on all the emotional/developmental/adulthood dynamics that make or break whether a good conversation can take place where reconciliation is experienced and healthy relationships are built.

 

Quick Review: Playing God

This month I worked my way through Andy Crouch’s Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.  Really this year I’ve worked through what is a trilogy essentially from Andy Crouch with three books that all revolve around the central theme of what it means to be human as God intended, as God’s image bearer. The first book in this thematic series is Culture Making, which I reviewed a few months back and I’ll review the third book Strong and Weak, which was released this year, sometime next week.

All three of these books are highly worth reading and I recommend reading them sequentially and together because of the continuity of ideas, language, and frameworks offered.

While Culture Making focused on the themes of creating and cultivating as image bearers, Playing God focuses more specifically on the theme of power and authority – related to its original design and intentions and to its abuse.

In a refreshing statement, Crouch begins the book with a clear thesis that power is a gift. It has purposes for people and communities that glorify God and that are meant to serve and honor other people.  But we all know the world is full of people who use power for their own gains, so the gift of power gets corrupted into something much worse. Actually we all use power for our own gain – that’s the power of sin in our lives. We all need to learn how God wants to redeem power for his purposes.

Crouch makes mention in several books of the importance of developing a theology of image bearing around the whole of Scripture – with special attention to Gen 1-2 and Rev 21-22. He argues that these 4 chapters guard against the dualistic theology prevalent for so many generations – where the only concern is trying to save souls from sin (Gen 3 – Rev).  I think it’s a helpful reminder to really think deeply about the whole Biblical narrative and its implications for all of life.  That’s the power of developing a theology of image bearing, whether it involves creativity or power. A solid theology of image bearing should inform all of life – relationships, power and authority, calling, and community.  This is what I appreciate about what Crouch attempts to do in his books.

Some of the sections that I think Crouch really did a great job with are his treatment of the themes of idolatry related to power. The chapters on idolatry and icons are really helpful and I’ve already gone back to a couple of those chapters.  There are some very helpful sections that help someone evaluate their hearts as the source of their behavior and what they worship in practice.

Another strength of the book is a framing and his effort to articulate the dynamics and even provide some measure of a theology of privilege. Privilege is often used pejoratively as a label. I’ve seen it misused more often than not, which is why Crouch’s efforts are really valuable.  While there are problems and limitations with the word “privilege,” no one can deny that this points to a reality which is very much true. It’s not an American thing either. Privilege exists as a social reality across the world that impacts identity and communities. Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and

Crouch offers one of the more balanced efforts to explain the blessings (opportunities) and the dark side of privilege in its impact on relationships and society. These are realities we must help people understand through a more complete theological lens – not just through the lenses of social activism and social justice. These issues point us back to a more comprehensive vision of shalom, of what human life and community is meant to be.   For much of the last century and beyond, t

For much of the last century and beyond, there has been a theological gap in bias and practice between social justice and evangelistic mission.  There continues to be a divide today, albeit with different influences and forces driving some of those divides and reactions. Crouch attempts to bridge some of this gap through a theology of image bearing and power.  It is not the focus of the book to provide a comprehensive theology of the church as it relates to social action, but nonetheless there are very helpful sections to help inform how we think about the church’s role in society as part of a Great Commission vision.

Much of his work in Playing God gets elaborated on in Strong and Weak, in which he provides a helpful conceptual framework to illustrate how image bearing and power in community goes wrong….and right sometimes.

This book has very wide relevance and application so if you have not read it, I recommend getting all three of these books onto your reading list soon.

 

 

 

Quick Review: The Tipping Point

A few weeks ago I finished reading Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little things Can Make a Big Difference.   I fully enjoy Gladwell’s books as they often popularize more complex ideas out there. His books are also ideal audiobooks for driving in traffic given how story oriented they tend to be.

More detailed reviews and summaries can be found out there, but I enjoyed the book because of its blatant relevance for leadership, ministry, and the sharing of ideas. Gladwell is focused on the phenomena of what makes some ideas really take off while others do not.

Gladwell is focused on the phenomena of what makes some ideas really take off while others do not. He structures the book around “The Law of the Few”, “The Stickiness Factor”, and “The Power of Context.”

The law of the few suggests that there unique types of people that drive the spreading of ideas. He calls them connectors, mavens, and salesmen.  Some people have unique gifts in connecting other people, some have unique talents and passions to be informed on all of what is going on, and some have the charisma and gifts that can bring alignment to ideas or products effortlessly.  I enjoyed the illustration about Paul Revere being an example of an individual who was a couple of these – why is Revere so remembered in the events of the opening of the Revolutionary War when there was another man who equally shared the same task?

“The Stickiness Factor” is the sense of memorability (if that’s a word) or ease at which people can lock into a concept, product, or idea.  This is what marketing strives for and what much of educational theory is working to master.

“The Power of Context” is looking at the systemic impact of the environment on change phenomena. I was intrigued most by the example of the “Broken windows theory” that was at the heart of change efforts in New York’s dramatic crime reduction over a decade ago. After analyzing a host of variables – the idea that small symbols of neglect can lead to widespread invitations for crime. By quickly cleaning up graffiti and making other quick improvements to fix things and keep things in shape among other minor changes, there was radical changes in crime for the better.

These are quick and hasty summaries, but this book is a great stimulator of ideas and creative energy if you are thinking about how to spread ideas or lead change in a particular context. All such efforts will involve the need to shape thinking, relationships, and behavior. This book touches on all three of these areas and thus, a great resource.

 

Quick Review: Daring Greatly

I finished Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly today and it was really great.  I’m not sure I need to give too much of an intro due to her enormous popularity through her TED talks and involvement in the Global Leadership Summit a few times in recent years.  So I’ve seen her content and enjoyed it, but I  hadn’t read one of her books and been able to be exposed to some of her research in more depth.

Brown is a shame researcher among other things and this book is really unpacking what dynamics are at work within us to either catalyze boldness and greatness in life or hinder and limit us.  The key as she communicates it is the idea of shame resilience – the ability to live vulnerability and bounce back with risk and courage in a world that often seeks to limit and judge.  So vulnerability and shame are at the core of this book as well as some of her other works as well.

From a theory standpoint, it fascinates me how the research reinforces what I believe the Bible teaches about identity, the fall, and redemption. She unpacks the crippling and paralyzing darkness of how shame works in peoples lives and communities. But she also illustrates how a person’s sense of what she calls “worthiness” or wholeheartedness is what makes the difference in people’s lives. That sense of worthiness that comes through love, grace, and emotional connection is what provides the security and grounding to risk and live with courage amidst vulnerability in this threatening world.  The research confirms clearly the Biblical narrative and its theology of identity.

Practically – there is excellent content that includes great content for parenting and for leadership.  As parents in the heart of parenting young kids, it’s super helpful reinforcement of what will help shape wholehearted kids and how to negotiate vulnerability as a family.  The same with leadership, but the content and application to family and parenting felt most valuable to me right now.

This is a significant book and the general arena is pretty key today. People do not understand the power of shame in these ways – in the west or east. In Asia, these are huge themes and topics that need addressing and leadership in the family and the church among other places.  But it’s the same in the west.

This is a great read for parents, leaders, spouses, and friends. It takes us to the heart of what’s going on in the deepest parts of us in our daily struggles and gives hope for a path forward if we feel stuck.  So I highly recommend the book or any of the talks you can find on youtube or the TED website. It’s worth it!

 

Quick Review: Quiet

Over the past month I read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  As I share some thoughts, I disclose that I am an introvert myself, which was part of why I read the book.

The book itself really isn’t about introversion entirely.  I found that a little misleading as there are plenty of things that deal with ethnicity and culture as well as popular culture.

One of my reactions to the book felt like it was more naming the obvious as it relates to introversion in life, relationships, and the workplace. I didn’t find the content to be extraordinarily revolutionary regarding the dynamics or experiences of introversion – in part because I am one and because I’ve been exposed to the concept through tools like the MBTI and others over the last couple decades.  But there were some great nuggets that I enjoyed and I think it’s worth reading – especially for extraverts.

One of the sections I found interesting dealt with the rise of the personality cult of leadership and two of the leaders compared and contrasted were motivational speaker Tony Robbins and Evangelical pastor Rick Warren.  I don’t think they are anywhere in the same boat, but it was insightful and worth thinking about how stereotypes or contemporary culture has impacted what people believe about what leadership is or should be. The Tony Robbins section was very entertaining to me and exposes the business as a grand marketing scheme that reinforces certain presupposed values about life and leadership.  The Saddleback scenario is more of an indictment of pre-packaged spirituality that allows people to be entertained without authentic reflection.

As I thought about the above examples – it did make me reflect more on my journey working for what I would describe as an “extravert” organization where social initiative is deeply embedded in the values and mission of the organization.  That’s always been a challenge.  I’ve learned it, but I also am not surprised that I’ve only found myself thriving when I’m in places where I am not required to be functioning socially in those ways.  These are new thoughts for me, but it was good to think again after more years of experience.

There’s a helpful section related to culture and stereotypes about leadership anchored in historical paradigms in the east versus the west.  While I feel like the author at times comes across unnecessarily critical of extraverted or outgoing leadership, it’s a helpful exploration of how Asian leaders or others that share similar qualities are marginalized in the western leadership context.  It unpacks some of the things we use to regularly interact over when I was working in Epic, an Asian-American ministry.  I’m facing some of those things now as I do leadership development in an international graduate school and seminary context.

One thing I didn’t like was that the author came across as a bit as having an agenda.  Maybe it was the audiobook version as I did this book while commuting over a couple weeks, but I just didn’t like the tone of the book or some of the assumptions or conclusions in the book.

One note I found to be quite irresponsible was the argument that Jesus was representative as a “western” god who was charismatic and outgoing compared to eastern gods who are more figures of silent wisdom.  When she attempted to enter into the religious sphere, including her treatment of Warren and Saddleback, she was somewhat out over her skiis.  But to say Jesus was an extraverted and charismatic leader in the western mold is just not true and reflects an uninformed knowledge of the Jesus of the Bible.  But there is a helpful takeaway – recognizing how cultures view wisdom should impact how you would want to represent Jesus and his teachings.

If you are an introvert and have never thought about your experience, then this would be great for you.  If you are an extravert and you are interested in seeing where your blind spots might be impacting the people around you and how you can help a large number of people around you succeed, then it’s a great book for you as it will open up your mind to some important social and corporate realities that impact how we go about what we do.

One last note – I really enjoyed the practical suggestion included of a “restorative niche” – a space or break that allows introverts to recharge.  This is something I want to think more about as I can often have extraverted activities stacked back to back to back but then I crash.  I need to schedule some introverted restorative niche space intentionally to allow me to manage my energy better throughout the week.  That was a great takeaway for me.

 

Pre-School Theology: I’m Here!

This entry is part 12 of 14 in the series Pre-School Theology

We’re in our last months of having a pre-schooler so the nostalgia is setting in.  But we continue to have moments that remind us that the eyes of a pre-schooler always provide a fascinating as well as entertaining perspective on life and even life with God.

Last week I attended a theological forum here in Manila on Peace and Reconciliation and was gone for a couple of days.  Even though it was held in the city, it was essentially like an out of town trip.  When I got back I took the family out for ice cream to re-connect after being gone and celebrate the end of the week given that it was a Friday.

IMG_4260It was a high energy meeting where kids were talking fast and relaying all their experiences from the previous few days and catching up on things.  The older kids that is.  After several minutes of chatter and fast talking by our oldest children, our five year old Kaelyn at the first real moment of silence in the conversation burst out with a simple declaration, “I’m here!”

It was an abrupt transition, but she had tons she wanted to connect about and she was feeling overlooked and somewhat overpowered by her siblings.  All that she was feeling in that moment just exploded awkwardly through that simple phrase, “I’m here!”

It was such an abrupt statement in the conversation that you can’t help but shift the focus of the conversation and explore what was going on for her. Sure enough, she had been wanting to share some specific things with me that she had been holding onto for a couple days and she wasn’t going to feel close or connected until I knew about the important things in her life.

It was a reminder that being seen, being able to have a voice, being able to have meaningful connection in areas that we want to be known is fundamental to living lives of purpose in community.  We all have moments in life, relationships, and work where we want to scream out, “I’m here!”  It’s a gift when others respond to our own different expressions of “I’m here!” with a gracious and listening disposition.  It also reminds me that it’s just as significant of a gift to others when we validate their “I’m here!” with a response of “Yes, you’re here!  And I’m glad you are! Tell me more!”

Lencioni refers to anonymity as one of the signs of a miserable job and all the pyschology literature shows us the many ways relational isolation wrecks havoc on well-being and communities.  But it’s in those moments of expressing, seeing, or responding to the “I’m here’s!” is where authentic and connected community is built.

There is a warning that we often find artificial ways to declare “I’m here!” in an effort to earn that validation, yet no achievement can provide the transformational power and depth of freely given acceptance and grace through relationship.

This is the power of the gospel for people in their journeys with God and with one another.  Connecting in the “I’m here!” moments are  the simple moments that build us up, transform us, and deepen our capacity to serve others.

Look for the “I’m here’s” this week and see how you can give the gift of, “Yes! You’re There! Tell Me More!”

 

1 Day 3 Kids 3 Ways of Affection

SAMSUNG

Our family is in a bit of transition, and we have been it seems for about 2 1/2 years now!  But recently we made a move to a different part of the city so our kids could make the move to a new school as part of our continued journey here in Manila.  This past week was a rude awakening as we were all up about 5am every day and because of traffic here there were days I didn’t even get to see my kids at night.

That’s what made Friday night such a relief – to make it through our first big week with our new schedule and everyone having their own world’s after a couple years of being together a lot.  But we missed each other and I couldn’t wait to be with my kids this weekend.  And I was encouraged that the three of them missed me too and the ways they expressed it enhanced my appreciation for their uniqueness.  So let me share the 3 different and unique ways my kids expressed affection for me that reflects their own unique personalities.

First, my oldest daughter Morgan (10) wanted to share everything she did at school. She wanted me to know what she did and what she has to do. She wanted me to know the types of things she enjoyed doing and the things she didn’t enjoy doing. (Probable ISTJ on the MBTI!) She connects a lot through talking and interacting about what she does, though I’m glad I got a “Dad, I really missed you this week” from her too!

Next up is our middle child, our 7 year old son Colin. He is a probable ENFP on the MBTI if that means anything to you, but if not – here’s how he expressed himself to me while we were hanging out on the couch Friday night. He said, “Dad, if I were a squirrel I would just crawl up right on your shoulder and get super cozy and let my big fluffy tail hang down your arm and I would be so warm and comfy.”  He communicates a little different than our oldest daughter 🙂

And finally our 4 year old Kaelyn who just started pre-school. She doesn’t quite have the same vocabulary, but I got a deep and hearty “Daddy, I love you.” I say deep and hearty because she has a deep and hearty voice!  But she also offered, “Daddy, will you sit next to me at dinner?” I don’t quite  have a beat on my youngest’s personality type, but I know that getting invited to sit next to her at dinner is a big deal so I was excited to sit in the place of honor!

I love my kids. I am grateful that they love me and I love the unique ways they show it. It reminded me that we all show care and affection in different ways and it’s important to recognize what is meaningful to others even when on the surface it doesn’t connect right away with our preferences.

 

New Review – Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

I just finished reading Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp’s Relationships: A Mess Worth Making.  I got this for free on Amazon last year and thought I’d read it to see if I wanted to use it in a class I’m teaching on interpersonal relationships.  I took a look at several books and this one won out for my purposes so I’ll be using this as a resource and as a text in the near future.

There’s a couple things I was looking for.  First, I wanted a resource that covered the fundamental areas involved in relationships.  I wanted content on forgiveness, communicating value, identity, serving, conflict, anxiety, and a host of other things.  This book addressed most every area I wanted and did so really well.

Secondly, I wanted something that would elevate an average person’s theology and ability to understand how all of those things listed above only make since in a larger theological framework and foundation with Christ and the Scriptures at the center. Not only does this book provide a “Biblical basis” for their writing (which is important but not sufficient to me), they also inform and elevate people’s theology in the process of discussing these things from Scripture.  Someone will walk away from reading the book not just with the biblically “right” perspectives, but more importantly they will walk away more theologically sound so they can understand how their everyday tiny actions in community connect to a larger theology that is bringing glory to God through everything.  This is important – to help people become theological thinkers in the context of everyday relationships. The book does an excellent job here.

Third, I also look at books with a view towards how it would apply cross culturally.  Not only do I have experience in ethnic minority contexts in the U.S., but I’m not teaching in an international contexts amidst students from over 20 countries all over Asia.  It’s important that texts be able to have the same impact in different contexts.  The book does not address cross-cultural relationships specifically – but there is great content on general diversity and difference.  However, while there is no explicit cross-cultural content I think the content is written in a way where the typical cultural barriers that show up when books get used in different contexts are not really an issue.  The content is taught in a way that I believe would allow everyone to really be impacted similarly, leaving room for each person to contextualize the truths and content to their situation.

It still has a North American flavor, but it’s not full of stumbling blocks and barriers to other perspectives.  I think they could have included some additional content on shame, cross-cultural communication, and culture in general.  However. I think most readers from other contexts can easily contextualize to their situations which is better than most books in this genre typically allow for.

I highly recommend this as a foundational resource for development in relationships.  If you run training programs in a ministry or church – this is what I would propose as a book to help create a healthy and theological foundations for your people.