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water

The Coolest - Water

Note: This is another one of those email conversation things. See also The Nineties.

Water:

I was driving home yesterday (ed. note: “yesterday” was about 3 months ago), and the thought occurred to me, “who is the coolest person alive today?” I’m not sure what brought this to mind, but it made me wonder if it’s really possible to be cool anymore. I think coolness requires a certain amount of mystery, and, with the blogonet and the intersphere, it’s nigh impossible to remain mysterious. Also, the instant anything cool or noteworthy happens, there are about 1,000 people waiting to deconstruct it or make parodies of it and tell you why it isn’t really that cool, and, in fact, is the lamest (see my previous comment about “fake” and whatnot).

Anyway, who is the coolest person alive today? Here are a few candidates provided upon minimal reflection:

1. Jack White. He’s been the driving force between three very different but successful bands. He has some definite mystery with the whole Meg White sister-wife weirdness and what with looking undead and all. See also Dave Grohl and Julian Casablancas

2. Banksy — very mysterious and came off as about the coolest guy ever in Exit Through the Gift Shop, though there is the haunting feeling that Exit Through the Gift Shop was just a vehicle to make him look cool and mysterious.

3. Paul Newman — yes, he’s dead, but he’s also Cool Hand Luke.

4. Every character in The Wire. Except Ziggy. He was the worst.

5. The Situation. Ha ha! I don’t even know what that means.

“No coolo.”

Are there any current athletes or actors that qualify? None come to mind for me. I’m afraid I know the answer and that the answer is Jay-Z, but, if that is true, can anyone explain the allure of Jay-Z to me? He seems like a really boring guy to me. What am I missing? I haven’t really listened to his music that much, but the little I’ve heard was just boring. And nothing I’ve seen of his fashion strikes me as compelling. I mean Snoop in the 90’s was cool. You could say the same for Tupac and, I guess, Biggie, though I confess ignorance when it comes to him. Even Eminem had something about him that you couldn’t turn away from, something that was compelling as hell. Other than the fact that he sits next to Beyonce, Jay-Z doesn’t hold my interest at all.

What say you?

Wheat:

There’s a great moment in the movie 500 Days of Summer when the lead character looks into a mirror and the reflection looking back at him is Han Solo. This happens when the character sees himself at his highest/coolest point. I laughed out loud the first time I saw it. I think I believed I was the only one who felt this way about Han, but Mrs. Wheat confirms that every white male of my generation thinks the same. Although some might say they are basically the same character, Indiana Jones is just as cool as Han Solo. But Harrison Ford is not necessarily able to take this off of the screen and into real life. I still can’t get over the earring.

Hold on a second, I need to put on some music for inspiration. For those of you listening along at home, try some John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things.” I will wait for you to start it. Ready? Now FEEL it. Wait for John to come in. Nice, right? Now this is cool.

Why is it so cool? For one thing it seems easy. He’s playing one of the most well known songs in the United States. And he is literally playing with it, taking the melody to places that curtain dresses never dreamed of. So it is new and fluid and yet familiar and timeless. A person/character who is cool to me achieves the status in much the same way.

This ease, this being comfortable in my own skin is essential. There are only so many roles that a person can play. We come to know the roles intimately early on in life and categorize people into them without making conscious decisions. So when someone comes along that either exemplifies the role or tweaks it in a subtle way, then they become cool. People are drawn to him/her whether the individual wants them to be there or not. I agree the mystery is a part of it, but there are times when what is cool is so obvious that it becomes a mystery how the person can be so successful with it.

Also I think there is an unattainability that has to be associated with cool. Remember how cool the older kids were, but when you reached that age it was no longer that big a deal. There is always a peak beyond in order to climb for the ephemeral being of cool. I envy young black men with their hair grown out a bit on top, then worked it into together into simple twirls. This style looks so chic. Anytime I see a man with this hairstyle, then he is immediately cool to me, no questions asked. But the reason that I envy it at some level is that I can never look that way. Frankly, you can never underestimate hairstyle when evaluating coolness.

However, if you are pressing me to define the coolest character or person that I know, then I think of Coach Eric Taylor and Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights or George Clooney, and even Steve Jobs-all for very different reasons. I also understand that at some level all of these choices are fictional.

Texas Forever

Beyond those I think of my older son, Jamison. At four years old, he fits all the qualities. People love him without exception. They are drawn to him, and he repays with easy acknowledgements of hugs and smiles. He remembers names and what people’s interests are. He is a mystery to me much of the time confounding me in ways that both frustrate and amaze. He has something I will never have—youth. And he has good head of straw hair. Mostly though I think of him because he calls himself a “cool guy” and makes strange faces when his mother tries to take his picture.

Leaven:

Ahhh cool. It’s not cold, it’s not hot, it’s not extreme, it’s not tepid, it’s just nice – real nice. Cool breeze, cool under pressure, cool as a cucumber. There was a period in time when a tune might be really “hot” and that would be a good thing, although since an extreme modifier might be seen as a complete vote of confidence we now bestow our high praise in the most temperate way. I remember when the youth culture first wanted to counter what those old fuddy duds were saying by calling good bad, as in MJ’s importal question, “Who’s bad?” Boy, was that a confusing time.

I agree with Wheat and Water (on so many things really). Cool is unatainable and effortless and understated all at once. In fact, the word cool itself is probably too much of an overstatement for the coolest person in the world. It might be better to call him interesting.

…enter the most interesting man in the world. This idea was a stroke of genius on the part of Dos Equis advertising. This guy is subtle, laid back, has done impossibly awesome things (while always speaking of them as though they were merely interesting) and he is infallible – because he is fictional. Oh, and he has a rocking beard. If they were to pick a living, breathing athelete to endorse their product then we’d just find out about some raunchy sex scandal a few months later. And of course the finishing touch for this imagined icon of coolness is that not only does he not garner the highest endorsement (of being the coolest), but he doesn’t give it either. “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do I drink Dos Equis.” Well isn’t that a rave review.

“I don’t always read blogs, but when I do, I prefer The Basiks.”

It would be all to easy to pick a fictional character, because he would never never gush, grimace, or guffaw, no matter how lavish the praise, dire the situation, or funny the joke. If we were to passionately confess our love before he is slowly lowered into the carbonite he would only say, “I know.” So I will cast my vote on one who has a mortal coil and has not yet thrown it off. Wheat went for the youth vote, but as my nod to the most interesting man in the world might suggest I’m going to pay some respect to my elders.

Mamika

Not only does this 91 year old Hungarian grandmother look pretty great in KISS make-up and a cape, but she also has a mysace account with a bazillion friends. Could a bazillion people on Myspace be wrong?! While she has a wry since of humor in the darkest of times (cool), and can apparently get her hair done while wearing a crash helmet (cooler), she also risked her life by saving ten people from the Nazi’s during WWII (coolest). Sadly Mamika is not my grandmother, but then again, I never asked my grandmother how many people she saved and I never saw her sport a cape, so I can’t be quite sure. The coolest person in the world would never vaunt his (or her) virtues, because that would be so passe. So I think if we look for the alter ego of Mamika amongst the venerable around us we just might unmask the coolest person in the world.

Wheat

Did I mention sunglasses? Nothing’s cooler than the right pair of shades.

Water

So we’re agreed that Jay-Z is a no, then?

Have we derived any basic principles of coolness that dorks such as ourselves can apply in our daily lives? A couple of common themes I’ve noticed are (1) being comfortable in your own skin, (2) making the difficult seem easy, and (3) a sense of style or grace. I think this is interesting, because to have a sense of style, you have to put thought into what you wear or what you do, but you don’t want to make it look like you put thought into it. I’m reminded of my friend Matt, who’s a very cool guy, and who used to spend, like, two hours meticulously fixing up his hair to make it look like he had just gotten out of bed. Bizarre, but he made it work.

Based on these criteria, and, though it hurts me to say so, I’m going to award the coolest guy on earth award to:

Derek Jeter

I assume the list of women Derek Jeter has dated will be included on his Hall of Fame plaque.

Cool under pressure. The most graceful and stylish Yankee since DiMaggio, and does anyone seem happier being who they are than Derek Jeter does?

And if you disagree, my two word response is: Minka Kelly.


 Water
 Associate Attorney
 Hydrogen, Hydrogen, and Oxygen, L.L.P.


This post has 2 responses.
water

Gentle Advocacy - Water

The original idea of this blog was that a lead post by one of us would spark some ideas and thoughts by the other two. Wheat’s article on evangelism was, for me, the most thought-provoking post that any of us has yet published. My bovine mind has been ruminating some questions prompted by Wheat’s post:

How do we persuade people?

What is persuasive?

Is what’s persuasive today different in some way than what has been persuasive in previous generations?

Is it somehow right or wrong to try to influence people?

Do we have a duty to try to convince others what we believe is right or is it somehow presumptuous and prideful to try and impose our beliefs on someone else?

And, returning to Wheat’s original topic, how does this apply to evangelism?

Is seeking to persuade in an evangelistic context somehow different than trying to persuade in other contexts?

Has anyone trademarked a material for making handbags called “pursuede?”

“Pursuede?” “Nah. Guhyde.”

I doubt I’ll get around to answering all these questions. Well, I probably won’t answer any of them, but, well, you get it.

These are not academic questions for me. Seeking to persuade people is my livelihood. Whether a judge, opposing attorney, client, or co-worker, I spend all of my working life trying to convince someone else that they should agree with my opinion:

“Yes, I see what you are saying, but have you considered this? Isn’t this more reasonable?”

“I really don’t think the judge will see it that way.”

“Maybe, but is it really worth fighting over? Does your client want to spend the time and money it will take to take this to court or do we want to work out a deal?”

“It’s just a business decision. It’s just dollars and cents.”

Persuasion is also central to evangelism. If we are to evangelize, we must also consider the best way to persuade and influence people for Christ. So how do people persuade one another?

Authority

One of the simplest ways to persuade people is through authority. A parent tells a child what to do and where to go, and the child (generally) listens.* We see blue and red lights behind us when we are driving and we obediently pull over. Our doctor tells us we have some condition or other, and we believe him without demanding to review the CAT scan or lab results for ourselves. An attorney tells us our case is a good one or bad one, and we accept his counsel.**

*Yes, parents, I know this is a hilariously naïve statement for me to make, and that children are all willful demons bent on disobedience, but, just work with me on this one. **Though I’m always surprised at how many clients are convinced they know they law better than I do. I mean, we do actually read some cases in law school in between playing online poker and fantasy baseball!

Classically, this is the model a lot of people have used for evangelism. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Of course, at a foundational level, we have to rely on authority in evangelizing. We believe what we do because we rely on the reliability of Scripture, the teachings of Christ, the historicity of the resurrection, the authority of the Church, or some combination of these elements. But, if your model for evangelism consists of nothing more than a bald assertion that someone should or must believe in something because it appears in the New Testament, I wonder how persuasive you have found that model to be? Particularly among those of our generation?

Force of Will

This is also a very effective way to persuade people, and one I see a lot. If one party is intractable enough, he can often wear down the other side regardless of how irrational or unjust his position.

My boss is a master of this. Not at being unjust or irrational, but at getting things done through sheer force of will. This comes in quite handy when you have a client who needs to pay a bill or you’re trying to convince an insurance company to cough up some more in settlement. His technique is simple, but effective:

First, he will listen politely to what you say, then say, “no, you need to do [the exact opposite of what you just said].”

If you persist, he’ll, again politely, just say, “okay, what we need to do is [again, the opposite of what you just said].” All the while, he is scrupulously avoiding either acknowledging or addressing what you have said.

If you try to respond, he’ll interrupt, and say, “Wait a minute! Let me finish!” (This is my favorite. He is interrupting you, but complaining that you are interrupting him. This usually confuses and disheartens the victim.) “This is the way it’s got to be. You’ve got to make it happen!” (And, through some strange alchemy, you are suddenly on his side, and thinking, “Yes, I must make this happen.”)

“Don’t interrupt me, droids!”

I, on the other hand, am terrible at this. I am, by nature, the least argumentative person you have ever met.* So, I get to play good cop to the Water Boss’s bad cop, and, we get stuff done. It’s a good system.

*Mrs. Water used to try to pick fights with me before she realized that I had no interest in arguing over whatever it is she wanted to fight about. Drove her crazy.

This works well in the short term, but, as a long-term strategy, it has problems. When you’re out of range of the Jedi mind trick and have time to reflect, you realize that you have been manipulated and don’t feel so good about things.

Therefore, this is not a good technique for evangelism. Yet, I remember youth rallies that featured impassioned speeches by the campfire (which so conveniently and eloquently illustrated the dangers of damnation) that were essentially the evangelistic equivalent the Water Boss’s negotiating tactics. This resulted in many a youth being dunked in the camp swimming pool, but I always had a gnawing suspicion about the lasting effect of these “conversions.”*

*I, for one, always thought the organizers of youth rallies could more efficiently achieve the same results by thoroughly drenching the assembled youth with a fire hose. Persistence

I like to think of this as the mall kiosk type of persuasion. You’ve probably also been form-tackled by one of those guys perched at a kiosk in the middle of the walkway selling soap because you absolutely must smell the bath salts or whatever that he’s peddling. It’s almost enough to stop one from going to Chick-Fil-A to get a delicious spicy chicken sandwich and waffle fries for lunch.* This technique may be effective in making a sale, but it does not inspire repeat business.

*Almost

Some people take a similar approach to evangelism. They stand with their microphone and portable sound system at busy intersections, either extolling God’s love and mercy or warning of the impending judgment. Or they come directly to your home, arriving to discuss the subtleties of the seventh chapter of Revelation just as you are about to sit down for dinner. Though such passion and commitment are admirable, it’s hard not to wonder if the good news should really be delivered and presented in the same way as a fake Rolex at a flea market.

Sleight of Hand

This is the oldest sales technique in the book.* Need quick weight loss? More energy? Stronger libido? The ability to cut through a tin can with a steak knife? All of this and more can be yours for the low, low price of being a credulous dupe.

*Literally. See Genesis 3.
“I’m telling you, this fruit has, like, zero carbs.”

You would think this wouldn’t be an issue in presenting the Gospel, but it is. If you flip through the channels on Sunday morning, you’re likely to hear a message implying that Christianity promises you wealth, happiness, and 5% body fat. I half expect a disclaimer at the end like something from a pharmaceutical commercial: “Side effects include dry mouth, blurry vision, and taking up your cross daily. If your faith remains unchallenged for four days, you need to consult your minister.” Sadly, the lesson never seems to make it to these less pleasant, but essential, parts of Jesus’ message.

This is at the heart of the concerns raised in Wheat’s original post. How much do we “water down” Jesus’ teachings when presenting them to potential new converts? And if we don’t, how do we compete with the fellowship down the road that does?

I think it comes down to what your goal is in presenting the Gospel. Do you want to fill seats and upgrade your facilities? Then, yes, you should probably emphasize the more appealing aspects of Jesus’ message and downplay the call to sacrificial love and self-denial. Sure, some of your converts may become disillusioned when their life isn’t as easy or fulfilling as you’ve promised, but there will always be someone new to take their place.

But, if your goal is to make men and women into disciples of Jesus, then you may want to try a different technique. Which brings me to:

Trust

Each of the other techniques I’ve discussed can be very effective for quick results. But they all create more problems than they solve when used in a long-term relationship. If you build your marriage or raise your children based on trickery and manipulation, you can expect the seeds you plant to flower into resentment.

On the other hand, a relationship built on trust opens the door to lasting influence. To build trust, you must have credibility. How do we build credibility? I read somewhere that credibility is a combination of candor and competence.* I like this because it points out that honesty is not enough by itself. Each of us has had the niggling sensation of not trusting someone though we believed him to be entirely honest. Honesty is fine, but it doesn’t go very far if you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. To be trustworthy, you need to not only shoot you straight, but also have an informed take on the matter at hand. Candor and competence.

*I think this is from David Maister’s The Trusted Advisor, though it could be from Steven Covey or another source. And, yes, that’s some pretty awesome alliteration.
I believe you, Woody, I just don’t trust you.

Which brings us back to evangelism. If the goal is to convert our friends and neighbors into committed believers, then it will take more than a leafleting campaign or smooth talk from the pulpit. We need to develop long-term relationships that are founded on candor and competence.

Long –term relationships

Jesus compares the kingdom of heaven to the sowing of seeds. I think this beautifully illustrates the principle that changing the hearts and minds of people is a process that takes time. You may encounter resistance or hostility the first time you try to share your faith with someone, but you can’t tell what effect your words may be having. Though the work of the seed is slow and mysterious, you do not sow it in vain. But, in order to give the seed a chance to grow and flourish, you need to have a relationship of trust with your friend or neighbor, which will provide the fertile ground for the seed’s flowering.

The need for relationship today is acute. Technology continues to increase our isolation from one another. There is concern that students entering college lack the ability for face-to-face communication because they spend all their time texting, emailing, or facebooking one another. In light of this, the call to love one’s neighbor is a bracing countermeasure. Christians, above all others, are called to be people of relationship.

Candor

If we are going to present the gospel to our neighbors, then we need to present it honestly, in its full weight and glory. While you shouldn’t begin the conversation with assurances that believers will suffer for their faith, presenting a rose-tinted view of the gospel is merely an invitation for someone to build upon sand. The heart and symbol of Christianity is, after all, the cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer counseled, “when Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Yes, share the joy that comes with faith, but do not be afraid to share the harder truths of the Gospel.

Though postmodernity is rightly maligned for many reasons, I think it presents a unique opportunity for honest evangelism. We should not be ashamed to say that we are not perfect and do not have all the answers. We serve a God who is mysterious and beyond comprehension or imagination. Who are we to believe that we have completely unraveled or understood that mystery? Sharing the gospel, then, is not an invitation to our neighbor to give assent to a set of doctrines. Instead, it is an invitation to engage fully in the mystery and wonder of God. To wrestle with God, as Jacob did, and, as Jacob was, to be blessed.

Competence

We must take our discipleship seriously if we would ask our neighbors to become serious disciples. No, we will not attain perfection, and, yes, there will be failures, but we must earnestly engage with God and consider what he demands from our lives. We must commit ourselves to the disciplines of study, prayer, and service to others if we can effectively model discipleship to those around us and make disciples of them as well.

I think this is the most intimidating part of trust-based evangelism. We can put on the happy face for a few hours on Sunday, but to truly invite someone into your life, to open to them the good, bad, and ugly, is to invite criticism and rebuke. But, again, I think this is the only real path if our goal is to convert people into committed, engaged disciples rather than mere pew-warmers.

Conclusion

Is our goal to introduce people to a superficial relationship with Jesus, or is it to develop fruitful disciples? Are we peddling a commodity, or are we inviting people to transform their lives? Are we offering them a security blanket for their conscience, or are we inviting them into a community of grace? Though it is not the quick or easy path, we should eschew the hard sell and embrace trust-based evangelism.


 Water
 Associate Attorney
 Hydrogen, Hydrogen, and Oxygen, L.L.P.


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leaven

That’s a Reach - Leaven

When I first read Wheat’s post on evangelism, the first thought that popped into my mind was about the current state of the Christian music genre, which my father-in-law Mr. Salty calls, “Jesus is my girlfriend” music. I read on thinking how I miss singing good ole Hymns during church services, but how those songs are also harder to clap to and don’t sound very much like Coldplay, so they might not affect the youth today. You have to admit that this Chris Martin guy knows something about reaching people with music. Other religious people have noticed it too. I’ve visited numerous churches around town and plenty are reaching out rock band style.

Yep. Look again. It’s Chris Martin.

However, no sooner than three days after reading Wheat’s post, I was the recipient of evangelism myself. I drive up to the home front and there is Mrs. Leaven on the porch with a pair of fine, upstanding looking young men. To my surprise they were both elders, just the youngest ones I had even seen. They had walked right up to the door and began sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, making references to scripture without directly quoting from The Good Book. This was my first experience like this.

Elder One was born and raised in this particular version of Christianity they were spreading and Elder Two was raised in a much, much, much older Christian faith, but was converted after hearing the Truth and being touched by it. I learned so many things in that hour about how differently people can read and interpret a religious text. Both of them study the Bible daily for hours as part of their mission and they are trying to reach people by going out, sharing their faith trying to make connections. You could feel the sincerity shine through their faces.

We talked a good bit about doctrine and whether or not someone could be saved with Jesus and the Bible alone, or if people needed supplemental reading and a supplemental prophet. What surprised me was the repeated phase that came up in our discourse. “The Truth has touched our heart, we’ve shared the Truth with you, and now it is for you to decide.” After hearing that phrase a couple of times the talk concluded with a brief conversation I raised about how God reveals himself and the idea of balancing the responsibilities of seeking the Truth and sharing the Truth. I was truly impressed by the honest effort they put forth and said that I hope to be as genuine in sharing what I know to be true, even if I know that this is not the general practice of my own body of faith. I encouraged them to keep reading the Bible – all of the Bible – to increase their knowledge of God and what he reveals about Himself.

Wheat mentioned one of the most memorable sermons he heard on evangelism, so I’ll offer up one of the most memorable movies I’ve seen on the revelation of God, conversion, and yes evangelism. We’re talking Pulp Fiction here. I realize this is also an incredibly vulgar, base movie, so please forgive me that. In the beginning of the movie Jules shows up at the door with his partner, both in shirt and tie because their on a mission, and he’s okay with quoting a little scripture as he proceeds.

“Hey Jules, do you think showing up at the door would go better if we took off the jackets and used name badges?”

At the end of the movie Tarantino (by way of an enlightened henchman) reveals a great insight, when Jules says (and I paraphrase), “It doesn’t matter if He turned Pepsi to Coke what matters is that I felt God’s touch. God got involved.” The thought that struck me is that his confession is not enough. He says he will go walk the earth like Kane in Kung Fu, but what he has to do next is to evangelize, to share his hope and belief, which he does with Pumpkin and Honey Bunny. He tries to save them. …and he reinterprets the same scripture from the earlier scene!

As the two young elders are leaving the porch and I am going inside I’m thinking on both their heartfelt effort and some of their strange doctrine and I think, “Now that is really reaching.” As I close the door I am feeling secure in a faith that I shared with no one that day. They move on to the next house.


 Leaven
 Social Worker
 Agent for Change


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