Archives for category: communication

Is there something in the water that’s making people freak out on retail employees?

Maybe it’s not a zombie apocalypse for which we need to prepare, but an angry shopper-pocalypse. At least that’s what it’s felt like the last couple of days.

Last week I saw a customer becoming extremely irate at a cashier at a local Target. Perhaps this sort of thing wouldn’t have caught my attention normally, but this rather large woman was screaming down into the face of the much smaller cashier, who eventually left the checkout lane in tears.

While waiting for her contact lenses, a Costco optical employee told my wife the story of a customer completely freaking out on her over the weekend.

* An aside; It’s not in the Bible, but I’m pretty sure my lovely wife has the spiritual gift of making complete strangers feel so at ease that they end up sharing much of their story with her in a very short time. Amazing. 

Just yesterday, I was asking a Verizon employee a few questions when I noticed her glance over my shoulder a couple of times. There was another customer at the entrance losing it on another employee, ranting and gesticulating wildly.

Diagnosing the low-grade fever of anger seething beneath the surface of many people in our culture is above my pay grade, but I do see troubling connections between people freaking out at the local big box store and how we, as the Church, often handle conflict.

Rick Warren recently set forward a chain of events that played out as it has many times before (Kathy Khang has been a great voice in all of this; catch up on the particulars of what transpired here). Thankfully, this story ended in a sort of apology (for reals, one of the first things I learned in married life is that an authentic apology does not contain the word “if”).

I can’t read the minds of the three aforementioned aggrieved shoppers, but I wonder if they know what they look like from the outside when their faces become contorted in anger, seething red and rage for everyone to see. I know we’re all capable of forgetting ourselves, so I don’t want to judge them too harshly — in fact, I’m guessing that it wouldn’t even occur to them to consider what is happening outside of themselves in that moment.

And therein lies the problem for the Church.

Sure, others might look at someone who is hurt or offended and run down their checklist of dismissals:

  • Get over yourself. Don’t take yourself so seriously
  • Grow a thicker skin. Get a sense of humor.
  • I wasn’t offended by that, so what’s your problem?
  • Why are you looking for reasons to be offended? I’m so sick of the PC police.

But should this be the heart of those who proclaim Christ as King? Seriously, take a look (if you have the stomach) at the list of dismissals, attacks, and “you’re great; what’s wrong with those people?” in the comments of Rick Warren’s FB apology. Double yikes.

In Scripture, followers of Jesus don’t say, “You shouldn’t feel that way. What’s wrong with you?”

They humbly serve like Jesus, listen, seek to understand, and hope to win their hearts. At least that’s how I’m reading Philippians 2:1-11.

Even if we think someone’s concerns are ridiculous or unfounded, what benefit is there in waving them off with a sneer, questioning their very salvation, or attacking their character? Has such an approach ever changed someone’s mind?

Of course, the way of Jesus is much, much slower and more difficult than any of us would like. As James says:

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Listening is an act of love, as StoryCorps often beautifully reminds us.

If Jesus is our King, and He is redeeming us, then shouldn’t there be visible evidence that we will live, move, and have our being in profoundly different ways than what encounter out there?

What if we asked Jesus to crush that urge we have in us to respond with, “Well, that’s dumb” when we hear someone share their concerns with us. What if we listened with the Father’s heart?

Doesn’t look like much of a revolution but, then again, the Kingdom is sort of like that.

Listening — really listening — could be the unseen force that becomes tangible, visible evidence that another Kingdom is already here and is on its way.

.   .   .   .   .

Seriously, read this story from an Apple store employee (it’s the last one in this long post) and tell me that listening won’t change things: 

A manager scans the Genius Bar then approaches me. “Got something for you,” he says.

I exhale, leaving behind the comforting barrier of the Genius Bar for the open floor.

“See the lady that Dana is talking to?,” he says. “Her cat just died. So did her hard drive. You’re going to sit with her while we see what we can do. It might not be much, so prep her for that. You got this.”

He strides off to the opposite side of the store. To put out another fire, I presume.

All employees learn acronyms of steps to help empathize with customers. I can’t disclose them, as the Wall Street Journal already has, but they’re less important than the holistic goal. The gist is this: If you’ve never lost a cat, like this fragile woman Barbara just has, you can at least conjure a loss that would be as significant to you, so that you can relate. If you can illustrate to her that you get it, you’ll feel more and seem fully sympathetic.

However, since my mom never let me have a pet, I got nothing. I consider lying. I don’t want to lie. I wish I knew how the repair was going. I tell her I have lost hard drives before. I try to laugh bravely to her about semesters of research and libraries of mostly legal music evaporating. How it’s nothing like losing a companion, but how devastating it was to my freshman self.

Barbara is deflating on the designer stool right in front of me when my teammate brings out her laptop and, thank God, it actually boots up intact.

“It’s working,” I beam.

“Do you know how to check my pictures?”

“Sure,” I reply. “Right here in iPhoto.”

A grid of images of Barbara and a silver-haired man spring up. I wish I could un-see some of the images in customers’ photo libraries, but these are extraordinarily vanilla. Awkward-seated portraits in a garden, by some boats, at the beach, basic slice of life banality.

“That’s my husband.”

She’s crying with joy.

“He died last year… before I could print any of these images out. Thank you!”

My stomach drops. This, my manager didn’t know to tell me. I try hard not think of what it would have meant had we not gotten her computer back online.

I look up at the dozens of people cradling their aluminum babies. Tapping their feet, chewing their nails, licking their lips, they’re worried bad about something that matters to them. I wish Barbara the best of luck, really meaning it, and excuse myself. I unholster my iPod and call out the next customer’s name.

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Sigh.

Yesterday, to his Facebook and Twitter streams, Rick Warren posted this update:

Warren

Let me preface this by saying I have, from a distance, lots of respect for Rick Warren. By all accounts, he seems to be a humble, authentic pastor who is investing in the lives of others for the sake of the Kingdom. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for Rick and his family to re-enter public ministry life after losing their son to suicide and, unimaginably, have some of his enemies even rejoice in that tragedy. I can understand being sensitive to criticism during a time like this.

While ignorance shouldn’t give anyone an automatic free pass, I can even understand how Rick would not understand why this Red Guard propaganda photo is so terrible. I think it’s hard for anyone to know world history for cultures different from themselves Dr. Sam Tsang educates all of us regarding the atrocities the Red Guard has committed [h/t: Kathy Khang].

If Rick took the time even to glance at Dr. Tsang’s article, he would realize the depth of this mistake. 40 million people died in the Great Leap Forward. Countless others were tortured and killed by the Red Guard in ways that I cannot even bring myself to type on this page.

I think what hurts — as a fellow pastor and brother in Christ — is Rick’s response to those who were offended by this post:

People often miss irony on the Internet. It’s a joke people! If you take this seriously, you really shouldn’t be following me! Did you know that, using Hebrew ironic humor, Jesus inserted several laugh lines- jokes – in the Sermon on the Mount? The self-righteous missed them all while the disciples were undoubtedly giggling!

So now anyone who laughed at this joke is a true “disciple” and anyone who was hurt is a “self-righteous” Pharisee.

Wow.

This incident has followed what has become an exhausting, predictable cycle:

  • Incident: Rick posts this photo and status update.
  • Response: People are, rightfully, hurt and offended.
  • Overwhelming backlash: The offender digs in, becoming defensive; supporters come out, claiming that the offended are “not real Christians” who need to “get over it” or “get a sense of humor.”

For many Asian Americans, the daily experience of racism is akin to death by papercut. While many of us have experienced our fair share of blatant racism and discrimination, often it is the compilation of a lifetime of small racist incidents that causes the most damage.  Dr. Sang Hyun Lee explores this damage powerfully in From a Liminal Place.

Perhaps non-Asian American people would have a hard time understanding why “one little joke” could be so hurtful. Consider, for a moment, how many television shows and films rely on Asian stereotypes for cheap laughs (where, more often that not, the whole gag is “Look how funny and stupid that Asian person’s accent sounds!”). Off the top of my head:

  • Arrested Development (which is painful, because that show is filled with clever writers — why should they fall back on lazy stereotypes when they have so much material at their disposal?)
  • Turbo
  • Despicable Me 2
  • Saturday Night Live — particularly awful offenders, having their non-Asian actors practically get up in yellowface several times over the last couple of seasons.
  • Dads — which, apparently, built its entire pilot around the premise of racist (and misogynistic) Asian stereotypes
  • And on and on and on…

As a follower of Jesus, I want my life to count for what matters. I don’t want to get caught up in useless in-fighting, or sidetracked by nonsense. I am fully invested in the church community God to which God has called me — I want to unleash their God-given dreams in order to bless and serve San Diego and the world. We believe God has not given up on the world and that Jesus is calling us to cultivate better expressions of His love & grace to our neighbors.

However, although I am bone-weary over this kind of nonsense, this is a fight worth fighting.

Not for the sake of arguing someone else down, but to show the world that, yes, the church still makes bone-headed mistakes but our Redeeming King makes it possible for His people to see their mistakes, recognize how they’ve hurt others, and attempt to make things right. Jesus actually does change us.

I take Rick Warren at his word when he says he didn’t mean any offense. But that certainly does not excuse his defensiveness or outright dismissal of the many, many people who have been hurt through his actions.

We all have blind spots. I hope — and pray — that Rick sees what has happened and demonstrates true Christian humility. The world needs the better way of reconciliation and shalom that only Christ can provide.

One of the hallmarks of our postmodern, internet-driven culture is that communication is moving away from the written word toward images. Just check your social media streams — the perpetual-motion reblog machine that is Tumblr, the Ecards filling up your Facebook news feed, the ubiquity of infographics. We live and breathe images today.

Design matters.

Not simply for the sake of an aesthetically-pleasing picture (which, I would argue, does matter) but in order to communicate effectively.

That’s why I’m always intrigued by efforts to redesign documents and forms we use every day. Simply put, many of them are a cluttered mess — the unspoken message, when a person picks one up, is often, “What, exactly, am I filling out now?”

This is an interesting take on redesigning the British birth certificate. Granted, there is some unnecessary information here, but your eye can easily find what’s most important on this document.

Think how much easier it would be to understand the most important information (i.e., where I am going and when) if your airplane ticket looked more like this?

Apparently, sometimes these things work. Perhaps American Airlines took several of the suggested principles from this designer in their recent rebranding/website re-launch.

.   .   .   .   .

Pastors, we are called to share the Word of God, which endures forever.

In service to this high calling, I encourage you to learn to communicate the Word of God visually.  You don’t have to be an artist, and you don’t have to ride a motorcycle into the main sanctuary (for reals), but tying together visual elements will help you deliver more effective sermons.

Keep it simple. Too much information per slide is kind of overwhelming. You don’t have to go ultra-simple, full-on Pecha Kucha — 20 slides, 20 seconds each — but please don’t use any of these cluttered, crazy presentations as your guides.

Seriously, you’ll end up with this.

Although this is ancient history (2007!), Seth Godin’s tips on simple, effective presentations still work today.

These days, I’ve been creating graphics to highlight Scripture verses and quotes (which I believe is more effective than simply putting the words onto a blank screen):

Beautiful feet

Great design is so much more than pretty pictures: A powerful image tells (or, in this case, re-tells) a story in a glance.

To wit:

Artist Juan Ortiz gets his Trek on with these geek-tastic designy prints.

This is the second of a two-part series, reflecting on the news of a handful of well-known pastors leaving their churches.

As a pastor of a local church community, I have often been asked, “So, what, exactly, do you do during the week?” This lack of clarity about the pastorate as a vocation extends not only to curious congregants, but ministers seeking to be faithful to God’s call as well.

As Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes,

Our vocation is facing something of a crisis. Many pastors aren’t sure how to describe their calling or explain why it matters to the rest of the world.

My wife and I have served together in vocational ministry as pastors for the last eleven years, but neither of us would claim to have even begun figuring this thing out. Far from being a systematic treatment, here are a couple of my thoughts on pastoral ministry:

Read the rest of this entry »

News of author and pastor Rob Bell leaving the church he founded, Mars Hill in Michigan, has set off another round of tweets and updates in the Christian blogosphere and Twitterverse. While this particular flare-up doesn’t seem to carry the particularly nasty tone of the whole Love Wins controversy, a few prominent church leaders have already taken to their keyboards with harsh words (which I won’t be quoting here).

While the cynic in me wants to wipe the dust of this latest Christian dust-up off my feet, particularly in light of some of the important national and geopolitical happenings this week, this news raises some significant issues for the Church and how we’re called to be the people of God together Read the rest of this entry »

The Idea Camp tribe has been so life-giving to me over the last couple of years.  This amazing group of compassionaries has inspired, challenged, and partnered with me in ways that have changed me and compelled me towards concrete action for good — to demonstrate the reality that God has not given up on the world by becoming better expressions of God’s love for the world.

I loved being a part of #Ideation11, even if it was only for a day. While the Ideation Conference is not strictly faith-based, this gathering of amazing idea-makers, creatives, and doers from both the nonprofit and business worlds moves powerfully together for good. A huge thanks to Charles Lee and the team for bringing together such an incredible gathering.

Read the rest of this entry »