The fine art of being snubbed: the one fact rule

Third lesson in the fine art of being snubbed (review lessons one and two here and here):

Remember the one fact rule.

The one fact rule is simple: behind most obnoxious behavior is one fact, which, if known, would place that behavior and the person (mis)behaving into context and make the whole thing a bit more palatable.

In the case of Parker Palmer’s “Student from Hell,” it was encountering that student more closely later on that provided the “one fact” he needed:

The young man lived with his father, who berated him daily for his foolishness: “The world is out to get people 97059like us, and college is part of the scam. Drop out, get a fast-food job, save whatever you can, and settle for it. That’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it’ll always be.

Daily this young man felt his motivation for college fading away. “Have you ever been in a situation like this?” he asked. “What do you think I should do about it?”

We talked until it was time for my plane to take off, and for a while afterward we corresponded. I do not know whether I helped him—but I know that he helped me. He helped me understand that the silent and seemingly sullen students in our classrooms are not brain-dead: they are full of fear.

The Student from Hell is not born that way but is created by conditions beyond his or her control. Yes, one or two of them may have been sent here directly by Satan to destroy Western civilization as we know and love it. But this particular student—whose plight represents many others—forced me into a deeper understanding of the student condition, one that is slowly transforming the way I teach.

I first encountered the statement in John Eldredge’s book Waking the Dead (another seminal read for me), and though it’s often attributed to Plato, evidently Ian Maclaren was the first to put it in writing:

Be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone you meet is facing a battle.

Or at least that’s my paraphrase.

I also call it the one fact rule.

I don’t know what the one or multiple facts that provide context to the “GIT!” from the angry man. He was in church, yes, but he was in a wheelchair too. Did he see me dancing during worship and was that the issue – is dance in church itself offensive, or was my dancing offensively bad (too often a fair cop there!); if it was my dancing, was it received more as taunting than refreshing? Or was it something else altogether? Was it just the timing? Or is he just a bitter, angry man stuck in a chair and this really has nothing to do with me? If it’s the last scenario (or any of the others) the reality is churches should be havens for bitter, angry men and women, in or out of chairs.

I didn’t have the opportunity that morning to learn the “one fact” – when I next looked over across the room, he was gone.

Perhaps another time.

So what more was there to do but leave the snub, receive back the dove, and pray grace over whatever “one fact” remained concealed from my eyes, praying for the grace to be given that I myself so desperately need when it’s my turn to yell “GIT!” to a total stranger?

Like on my way home from work tonight…



Posted by on October 23, 2015 in haverings


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the fine art of being snubbed: taking back the dove

Second lesson in the fine art of being snubbed (see the first here):

Learn how to take the dove back into your boat.

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Yes. We need to know how to do this. We need to know when to release the dove of peace and friendship, of welcome and embrace. And we need to know how to take it back into our boat when it doesn’t find a place to land. As opposed to launching the measured response of our own counterstrike. No. Bring the dove back into your boat.

This was the skill Christ tried to impart to his disciples when he sent them out “as sheep in the midst of wolves.” He warned them that not everyone would be happy to see them, that not every face would receive nor would every door be opened.

Whenever I ask people what Christ told his disciples (that would be us, by the way) to do when they faced the slammed door of rejection, I am invariably told, “He told them to wipe the dust off their feet.”


Well, he did. But he said something else crucial first:

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This is the part we forget.

When you enter a house, you first give it your “Shalom.” You release the dove of peace. If she finds a “son of peace” on which to perch, receiving an olive branch in return, then you can unpack your bags and enjoy the fresh air. If not, it’s not time to go nuclear. It’s time to take the dove back into your boat. It’s time for a Dori moment; it’s time to just keep swimming.

Learn how to take the dove back into your boat.

Then you can wipe whatever residue of rejection is still clinging to your clothes and shoes off and leave it right there, before you move on to the next threshold and again send out the dove.



Posted by on October 21, 2015 in haverings


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GIT! On the fine art of being snubbed…

I’ve been told this.
At many times and in various ways.

“I don’t care if I ever talk to you again!”
“Get out of here, you jerk!”
(That one was accompanied by a literal kick to the rear. I deserved it. Richly.)

Those are the most notable “gits” in my memory.
Uttered by people I had known and for reasons I fully grasped.
I really did deserve them!

Yesterday it was “Git!” with an angry thumb emphatically pointed behind. This time from a total stranger. In a sanctuary. For reasons unbeknownst to me. I thought they were words in jest at first, so I laughed.

Clearly, this didn’t help.

The repeated, “No, not ‘haha’, GIT!” left little doubt of that – even for me.

Since this was that brief “turn and greet someone” moment in church, I knew that wasn’t the time or place to plumb the whys, so I bowed and said, “Happily, sir” and then proceeded to embrace everyone around him.

First lesson in the fine art of being snubbed:

Take the hugs, leave the snubs.

Or, to put it another way, don’t get sucked into the black hole of “the Student from Hell.” Parker Palmer relates the tale of “the Student from Hell” in what has been for me a highly shaping read – The Courage to Teach:

I had just finished a two-day faculty workshop on a Midwestern university campus. Amid high praise for the 97059work we had done together—which, I was told, had given people deeper insight into the pedagogical arts—I was ushered into a political science class where I had agreed to be “teacher for an hour.”

I should have left while the leaving was good.

There were thirty students in that classroom. It is possible that twenty-nine of them were ready to learn, but I will never know. For in the back row, in the far corner, slouched the specter called the Student from Hell.

The Student from Hell is a universal archetype that can take male or female form; mine happened to be male. His cap was pulled down over his eyes so that I could not tell whether they were open or shut. His notebooks and writing instruments were nowhere to be seen. It was a fine spring day, but his jacket was buttoned tight, signifying readiness to bolt at any moment.

What I remember most vividly is his posture. Though he sat in one of those sadistic classroom chairs with a rigidly attached desk, he had achieved a position that I know to be anatomically impossible: despite the interposed desk, his body was parallel to the floor. Seeking desperately to find even one redeeming feature in the specter before me, I seized on the idea that he must practice the discipline of hatha yoga to be able to distort his body so completely.

At that point in my life, I had been teaching for twenty-five years. Yet faced with the Student from Hell, I committed the most basic mistake of the greenest neophyte: I became totally obsessed with him, and everyone else in the room disappeared from my screen.

For a long and anguished hour I aimed everything I had at this young man, trying desperately to awaken him from his dogmatic slumbers, but the harder I tried, the more he seemed to recede. Meanwhile, the other students became ciphers as my obsession with the Student from Hell made me oblivious to their needs. I learned that day what a black hole is: a place where the gravity is so intense that all traces of light disappear.

I first encountered this story nearly two decades ago, and it has been affixed to my soul ever since. Snubs can so easily – and quickly – work their way into our skin, turning us sour and sullen like King Ahab obsessed with the one piece of ground he can’t have. What an essential skill of life not to get sucked into the black hole of the snub, the rejection, the averted glance, the Facebook unfriending, or the mere lack of likes on our latest brilliant, witty, observant post.

We can be surrounded by multiple encounters with life and light, but we can’t see past the black hole of that snub.

Leave it.

You have better things to do…



Posted by on October 19, 2015 in haverings


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the OY! at the heart of all things….

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I love stumbling upon word treasures…

After eleven chapters of Paul’s most systematic presentation of his God-thinking (aka theology) in what we know as the book of Romans, Paul now is perched to make his appeal to action – for with Paul, all true, healthy God-thinking must lead to true, healthy God-doing.

And he begins with “please.”

He could order, he could hammer, he could harangue.
But he begins with “please.”
The “please” is actually obscured beneath the traditional rendering, “I beseech” – although I would actually love to see a rejuvenation of “I beseech,” as in, “I beseech thee, kind sir, to make me a caramel vanilla latte.” Yes, do try that with the barista next time around.
Paul says, “please” – and then he says, “my brothers.” Family, connection, embrace, kiss. If we perceived Paul in a pulpit glaring down at us, we must now re-envision him next to us, his arm embracing, his tone close and endearing.

To be living sacrifices is his appeal, but it’s the motive behind it that arrests me now.
It’s our word. οἰκτιρμός / oiktirmós / oyk-tir-mos’.

I could have been satisfied with the gloss of “mercies,” but dictionaries are dens of discovery for me rather than tedious depositories to be avoided. I love authors who make me look up words. It slows down the read, and we’re all in so much need of that. So I looked. I wanted to catch the flavor, see from whence it came, examine its verbal swaddling clothes.

οἰκτός. It goes back to οἰκτός. And οἰκτός goes back to οἰ.

Oy! The interjection of extreme pity and compassion that can’t help but move us to get up and do something about it. That’s the kind of compassion we see in οἰκτιρμός. And it’s plural. And it’s what’s at the heart of God that drives the appeal for us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.

At heart of God, at the heart of all reality is “Oy!” More than that, a chorus of multiplied “Oys!” “Oy” is the engine that drives all things. Much more so than “woe!” The Greek interjection for “woe!” is οὐαί! (oo-WHY!) which is one of those onomatopoeic words imitating the cries of vultures circling their prey. οὐαί is filled with a grieving denunciation, it’s filled with death. There is a time and place for it, to be sure, in this broken world. But the exclamation at the heart of the Story, at the heart of Reality, at the heart of all true religion and healthy God-thinking isn’t οὐαί! but οἰ! It’s not shame, death and denunciation, but a relentless pity that shapes restoration and healing.

Pivotal, this.

For herein lies the practical difference between the offering of our bodies as sacrifices that build the world,
or the offering of them as sacrifices that burn it.


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Posted by on October 17, 2015 in haverings


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palate touching moments

Go for a slow and mindful walk.the-parents-tao-te-ching-ancient-advice-for-modern-parents-a-new-interpretation_2816976
Show them every little thing that catches your
Notice every little thing that catches theirs.
Don’t look for lessons or seek to teach great
Just notice.
The lesson will teach itself.

Love this piece of parenting advice from The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents by William Martin.

I was far too fast as a parent.
Far too fast.
Lessons, I think, were too much like frontal assaults. They tended to suffer from the same sledgehammer effect that afflicts most attempts at movie-making by Christians.
We’re far too explicit, far too direct.
It’s the art of the oblique, the indirect. Ehud parenting. Left-handed, minus the dagger.

“Train up a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

More proverbial, ancient eastern wisdom – though our English translation conceals the beauty and simplicity.

“Train” conjures up the instruction regarding facts and procedures; external principles being transferred through classroom impartations, when the metaphor employed by the proverb is much more primal and intimate. It is the mother touching the palate of the child she would wean by sharing whatever she happens to be chewing. There was no “Weaning 101” class where the child was taught the value and necessity of leaving the breast for the brisket. There was only the seeking out and utilizing of natural palate touching moments, of sharing what was being chewed and in so doing shaping tastes that would not only draw the child from teat to table, but would shape appetites that would last a lifetime.

This extends far beyond the weaning of a child. It reaches all meaningful relationships. It informs (or should inform) all mentoring walks, for they should be just that, mentoring walks. Slow and mindful. No desire to teach great things is here. The best mentor is the one who isn’t trying to be one. The best mentoring sessions are the ones that are anything but that.

Palate touching.

This is at the heart of parenting, of mentoring, of friendship.
The sharing of what I happen to be chewing upon at the moment, of the little things that are catching my eye.

This, of course, implies that we are, in fact, chewing on something – and that it’s something worth sharing.
It implies that we are walking slowly enough to notice the little things.

And that we are moving slowly enough, and closely enough, to do the sharing…

courtesy of Henry Moore

courtesy of Henry Moore

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Posted by on October 15, 2015 in Books, haverings


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I’m not ready for the friends of my youth to die.

I just told, again, the story,
the story of you,
to another youth,
to another generation,
the day before you died.
I can’t tell my story without telling of you.
A lost, hidden youth I was,
trying to be a rebel
but failing to even look the part
with my scraggly hair
and untucked shirt.
But you saw me.
You loved me in.
You opened the Book.
You taught me to sing.
You made me believe in me –
pathetic, rebel, hiding me.
We’ve lived apart for the past three decades
and more,
so why does it pierce me so
to know that we no longer enjoy
the same sun
rising and setting
that we no longer feel the same breeze
or wonder at the heavens above?
But it does, to the core of me, it does.
Where is your sting, O death?
Why, here. Again. And again.

I’m not ready for the friends of my youth to die.

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Posted by on October 10, 2015 in Poetry


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in praise of slow

A friend shared this from Rabbi David Wolpe (and I do believe I have a crush on the rabbi) on the Jewish holiday Sukkot:

All of us acknowledge how we rush the moments. If the computer lags for seconds, it feels endless as an insomniac waiting vainly for sleep. If our flight, traversing thousands and thousands of miles, is an hour late, we complain as if the sun refused to rise. We are not even minute men, but nanosecond men and women, splitting the day into innumerable microdrops of time. We do not merely fail to look at things under the aspect of eternity, we can rarely stretch our vision past the next moment.

Thankfully, there is Sukkot. During this holiday we read the book of Kohelet, Ecclesiastes. Kohelet reminds us that there is a “time for everything under heaven.” In the famous third chapter we are told that there is a time for living, for dying, for laughing, for weeping. We think ourselves masters of time but the true artistry of life is to live fully in time’s passing.

You would do well to read the whole article.
I was struck by two things.
First, that a Jewish rabbi gets it.
Okay, it shouldn’t be an epiphany that a Jewish rabbi gets it, especially when it comes to getting his own holiday. It’s just that the contrast with so much of the hysteria in Christian circles with the convergence of Sukkot, blood moons, and papal visits has been astounding. A holiday that leads too many to frenzied fears of what might happen at any moment as they look away to the uncertain future leads another to an embracing of the simple rhythms of life in which we find the “true artistry of living fully in time’s passing.”

It makes me want to convert to Judaism. Oy!

Second. The dovetailing of this article with the book I’m   s l o w l y   reading: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honoré. The book was written ten years ago, but is more relevant than ever. Honoré observes:US-cover-200x300

As we go on accelerating, our relationship with time grows ever more fraught and dysfunctional. Any medical textbook will tell you that a microscopic obsession with detail is a classic symptom of neurosis. The relentless drive to shave time into ever smaller pieces – it takes five hundred nanoseconds to snap your fingers, by the way – makes us more aware of its passage, more eager to make the most of it, more neurotic.

The very nature of time seems to have changed, too. In the old days, the Bible taught that “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” – a time to be born, to die, to heal, to weep, to laugh, to love and so on. In Don Quixote, Cervantes noted that “Que no son todos los tiempos unos” – not all times are the same. In a 24/7 world, however, all time is the same; we pay bills on Saturday, shop on Sunday, take the laptop to bed, work through the night, tuck into all-day breakfasts. We mock the seasons by eating imported strawberries in the middle of winter and hot cross buns, once an Easter treat, all year round. With cellphones, Blackberrys, pagers, and the Internet, everyone and everything is now permanently available.

Honoré’s evaluation of Christianity’s effect on us, our time, and our acceleration?

“Christianity piles on pressure to put every moment to good use.”

How sad.

Followers of Jesus should be at the forefront of a counterculture “in praise of slowness,” but all we seem to manage to do is to spin the not-so-merry-go-round that everyone else is riding, pushing faster and faster. Time is short, after all. Behold the blood moons…

But maybe, just maybe, this is not what “redeem the time” means.

“Make it your ambition to be quiet,” says Paul.
Quiet = sedate, tranquil, restful – used of those not running hither and thither.

Methinks we have some rethinking to do…

Courtesy fatboyke (Luc)

Courtesy fatboyke (Luc)

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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Books, haverings


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