By Pat Plude, with Joanna Lawrence Shenk
Today we depart temporarily from the Ephesians passage we have been using throughout this series, to look at a time when Jesus demonstrates his humanity by speaking to a woman in a particularly snarky way! Using the story of the Syrophonecian woman in the Gospel of Mark, we will look more deeply at the practice of listening, another crucial component of learning to speak truth in love. As we go you’ll hear several voices and stories: those of the Syrophonecian Woman and Jesus, as well as my own and Joanna’s.
Most of this content comes from a course on “Mindful Communication” taught by Oren Jay Safer. Much of it will be in his book, Say What You Mean, which will be released in December.
Intention is the motivation or inner quality of heart behind our words and actions. Where we’re coming from in a dialogue is going to determine where things go. We can say the same words with very different intentions.
Intention is not: I want to get there on time. That’s a goal. Intention is where we are coming from inside, rather than a specific outcome or goal. Our intention determines the way the conversation is going to go — perhaps even more than the actual words I’m using. There’s a big difference in the quality of my conversation with my husband when we are in conflict if I come into the conversation with an intention of trying to restore connection between us than when I come into the conversation with an intention of blaming him or judging him or “making him see the light.” If our intention is off, other people feel it. They can tell if we are coming in with an intention that’s perhaps unconsciously set on blame or judgement or control or subtle coercion or defensiveness. They can also feel it if we come into a conversation with the intention to understand or another healthy intention like openness or collaboration or patience.
This the third sermon in our Back to the Basics series called “Speaking the Truth in Love.” Chris and Ann, two members of our community, role played conflictual situations throughout this sermon.
Ephesians 4 (selections)
So, before we dive into this topic of “not making room for the devil,” I want to do a quick review of where we’ve been up until now. At retreat, we looked at different conflict styles, which are based on the fight, flight and freeze response that gets activated when we are under stress. These are biological, hard-wired responses, as Kevin Graber so helpfully reminded us. We said that all of these responses to conflict may be called for at times, so we’re not placing a value judgment of “bad” on them.
But in this series, we are trying on another response to conflict, one that is less biological, hard-wired reaction than learned response. We’re calling it “speaking the truth in love,” and it’s a combination of both authenticity and care; speaking our truth with care and respect for the other person. Indeed, I believe this learned response — speaking the truth in love — is a spiritual discipline, one that we are called to as followers of Jesus. I also believe it is one of the most powerful and transformative spiritual disciplines we can learn. Like any discipline, any skill, it’ll take some time to learn it and we’ll need to practice it. And we will get better, over time, at it if we do.
Our “Back to the Basics” series this year is “Speaking the Truth in Love.” During our Education Hours, we are focussing on building skill and capacity for having difficult conversations.
This first Education Hour delves into the skill of “Leading with Presence.” I heard of some difficulties people were having with the content of this Education Hour, and so I’m also including some further clarifications about that presentation below. If you have difficulties with any presentation or sermon, please let us know! We can’t learn and grow as a community unless the “shared pool of meaning” is enlarged by all of our feedback.
Also… Throughout this series, we are mostly referring to situations where we are in conflict with people with whom we already have a relationship of some trust and safety — a spouse, a sister, a parent, a good friend, and (we hope) people within this community. In fact, one of the impetuses for doing this series is to build skill around “speaking the truth in love” within this community. Though many of these “speaking the truth in love” principles and practices might also apply to conversations with people with whom we have less trust or safety or where there is a large difference in power, we are not primarily referring to these sorts of conversations within this series.
In last Sunday’s Education Hour, I defined “presence” as an “embodied awareness of our direct sensory, mental, and emotional experience.” When we are present, we are better able to stay in the room when conversations get heated and not spin off into “fight, flight or freeze” responses. (See the “Conflict Styles” blog post.) We are also able to be more aware of the wisdom of our senses, emotions and intellect, which gives us more information about ourselves and others and also gives us more choice about how we respond. The more present I am able to be when conflict arises, the better I am able to be authentic to my truth and also be open to the other person’s experience. Read more
By Joanna Lawrence Shenk
Excerpts from Ephesians 4
Thank you Diego, for that reading. I wish we would had time to hear the entire chapter of Ephesians 4 because it’s chock full of wisdom for discipleship. Paul was writing to the Ephesians as a prisoner due to his association with Jesus’ revolutionary movement. He was writing to the Ephesians who were a largely Gentile community and therefore experiencing more social privilege than he was as a Jewish person in the Roman empire.
He was calling them to ethical living which was personal, communal and political. “The calling to which they had been called” as the church was to deep personal and political maturity. “To grow up” the text says “into Christ.” As a part of Jesus’ movement they were called to be, as Ched Myers puts it, “a social experiment in reconciliation between ethnically, politically and culturally alienated groups.”
This is the first sermon in our Back to the Basics series on “Speaking the Truth in Love.”
Ephesian 4 (selections)
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at the dinner table with your mother, son, uncle, partner, friend, co-worker… let’s just settle for partner in this example. (This example is adapted from the book Caring Enough to Confront: How To Transform Conflict with Compassion and Grace by David Augsburger):
The kids are acting up at dinner, clearly driving you crazy.
Chris: I’m so sick of this. I can’t take it anymore. Sit down. Shut up. Eat your dinner. How many times do I have to tell you that?”
Ann: Smooth move, Dad. Just like your father.
This information was presented at our annual retreat on Saturday morning. It is from Oren Jay Safer’s online course “Mindful Communication” and, mostly, David Augsburger’s book, Caring Enough to Confront: How to Transform Conflict with Compassion and Grace.
When the going gets tough, we tend to default to habitual conflict styles based on a “fight, flight or freeze” response to stress. All of these conflict styles have their place; they are not necessarily “wrong.” But, in this series we are trying to increase our repertoire of responding to conflict by getting beyond our habitual styles and learning how to “speak the truth in love.”
Competitive confrontation or “I’ll get them.” This correlates with the “fight” stress response. In this style we push full steam ahead with aggressive behavior. We are not really willing to do dialogue. In our mind, someone is clearly right (us) and someone is clearly wrong (you), and it’s my duty to put you right. We’re pushing for our own way so much that we can’t see or are unwilling to see another’s point of view. Examples of this are plastered all over social media, the comments section of the Internet, and talking head talk shows on cable. In this style, we attempt to meet our own needs at any cost, through control, dominance or coercion. Read more
I Kings 8: 1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43
Just as there are fundamental physical laws of the universe — like “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction” — there are fundamental political laws. Like: when a people feel threatened — whether that’s because they’re struggling economically or there’s lots of social change or because they feel unsafe, due to crime or acts of terrorism— they will often look for a scapegoat. When we get frightened, we start looking suspiciously at anyone who seems “other.” This is why it can be so scary to be an ethnic or racial or religious minority, or an lgbtq person, or a woman during bad times. Just ask anyone who was a Muslim living in this country after 9/11. Or ask any immigrant from Mexico right now.
This sermon was part of our church’s response to Mennonite Church USA’s request that congregations interact with the Renewed Commitments document and provide feedback to the denomination. We also met during adult Education Hour to discuss the document.
I admit that I wasn’t feeling it when the Mennonite Church USA — the denomination of which we are a member – asked congregations to provide feedback on these Renewed Commitments that you just heard. This is a bit of a Pavlovian response for me. I hear the words “Mennonite Church USA” and I instantly tune out. This comes from years of feeling like I or those I love were being marginalized by the denomination — our voices discounted, our pain not acknowledged, our insights not welcomed. It comes from years of listening to church pronouncements or reading church documents that seem so vague and lukewarm and middle ground that I just instantly turn off my brain when another one comes along because I don’t expect anything real or relevant to come from them. For too many years, it seemed to me that leadership didn’t want to honestly address the conflicts tearing the church apart, and so we avoided issues in the name of “respectful dialogue.” This ended up making both progressives and conservatives angry and unhappy.
Selection from Hebrews 9-10
When my Mom was dying, I would sing hymns to her. Her church didn’t use the blue hymnal we use, so I would sing from the “red hymnal,” the one that came before the blue hymnal. I would start at the front and begin singing the hymns I remembered from growing up: “Holy God, we praise thy name.” And “Come thou almighty king.” She liked those front-of-the-book hymns okay, but after a few of them she would indicate, with a small flick of her finger (since she couldn’t speak by this point) that I was to continue paging through to the back of the hymnal where the “Gospel Songs” section began.
These were the old-time hymns she particularly loved. Truth to be told, these are some of my favorite hymns, too. Please sing along if you know them: “I know that my Redeemer liveth and on the earth again shall stand.” And “Oh Lord, my God! When I awesome wonder, consider all the worlds thy hands have made.” However, there were many hymns in that Gospel Songs section that were… less favorites of mine. These are the ones I call the “bloody hymns,” the ones focussed on how the blood of Jesus saves us. One of my Mom’s favorites was “Marvelous Grace.” I won’t sing it — although I bet some of you can — but I will read its first two verses and chorus because it summarizes so well the theology of “blood atonement”:
A sermon given by guest preachers Ched Myers and Elaine Enns on July 29, 2018 (tenth Sunday after Pentecost).
Elaine: Ched and I are delighted to be with you all this weekend, celebrating the wedding of Pastor Joanna and Eric yesterday, and this morning having the opportunity to circle around the Word here at First Mennonite. We join with you in blessing the newlyweds in their life and ministry together. We bring greetings from Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries, and small gifts expressing our solidarity with two issue for which we share deep concerns with you: Watershed Discipleship and Indigenous Justice.
When Joanna invited us to speak this morning, she encouraged us to sing as well as preach, so we are mixing in a few songs. We would like to open this morning’s theme with a call and response song that we learned from the Wilderness Way Community in Portland, Oregon.
Song: “Come Gather Round”
Come gather round my friends
Welcome everyone, To the wilderness
Come you who hunger, Hunger for justice
Welcome everyone, To the wilderness
Sabbath and jubilee
Welcome everyone, To the wilderness
By Joanna Shenk
A few weeks ago I was in northern Indiana for a Shenk family reunion with Eric and the kids. It was the first time I had seen some of my extended Shenk family in a couple years. We had a lot of fun playing games in intergenerational groups, like kickball, super big boggle and ultimate frisbee.
One thing that I love about my Shenk family is our storytelling. My grandpa Shenk (who is passed on) and his four children constantly tell stories about us when we’re together. It could be stories of when I was a kid and the funny things I’d do. Or stories about my uncles and aunt when they were kids. Or stories about ancestors further back. Whatever the conversation, it often ends with the recollection of a family story.
This kind of storytelling instilled in me a strong sense of identity when I was young and carries through today. I know who my family is and what they value and I know what it means to carry on that identity. Through the work of differentiation I am also able to decide how I want to carry on that legacy in a way that’s authentic to my journey.