It is funny how things that might be obvious suddenly occur to you. For example I realised this week that Luke was born on the 50th day of the year. Now it could be that everyone else noticed that a long time ago but failed to mention it to me. I am not sure if the thought has occurred to Luke himself - it probably has he knows most things! I will ask him when I get home. Coincidentally this is the 50th post on this blog.
The other revelation that came to me this week was that people might call me Andy. I was checking in at the hotel and the receptionist asked for my surname and finding the reservation looked up to ask is that ND. In a relentless quest to save money and accrue as many extra benefits as humanly possible while travelling I am a member of more loyalty programmes than a loyal person would be. This particular programme has my initials rather than my name on file. "I have never seen it spelled like that before" she smiled "It is usually spelled with an A and a Y or sometimes an I". This took me by surprise and I took a few seconds to mentally unravel what she meant. I tried to explain that my name was Nigel. "Wow" she exclaimed "that must be confusing when people keep thinking your name is Andy."
I was mulling this over as I walked to my meeting with Todd a local Pastor. Since I tend to text in proper words it had never crossed my mind in 40 years that my initials made a name. I tried to think of other names that could be made this way and got to KT, wondered about BB but I think that was his initials not his name, KC, ED and GF all work although the last one is better with a kiwi accent. You might be able to think of others. All this was still in my mind when I arrived at Starbucks. I was early so went ahead and ordered a coffee. They like to write your name on the paper cups so the nice hispanic waitress asked what mine was. "Nigel" I said albeit slightly slowly as that name part of my brain was still a bit muddled. "Mario?" she asked. The place was not busy so I decided just to go with it. "Close enough" I replied.
As I was waiting Todd arrived and joined me at the table. "Ampio skinny latte for Mario" came the shout from the counter. "That's for me" I said. Todd was confused "Why are you drinking Mario's coffee?". I asked what he would like and placed the order when I went to collect mine. "What's your name?" the second barrista asked. "Nigel" I said. To my relief she accepted the answer. A few minutes later the shout came "Grande Cappuccino for Miguel". So Mario and Miguel shared coffee at Starbucks. A young guy stood next to our table waiting for his order to go. He noticed the names on the cups sitting side by side. "You guys don't look very latino". Todd swung into gear, "Nigel is from New Zealand and I'm a Pastor". The young guy clearly had no idea what ANY of those things might be. Fortunately his Frappucinno was ready and he left with a smile, "Nice to meet you Mario and Miguel".
How much does anybody listen, and how do we respond when what is said is unfamiliar to our ears? I am starting to feel less and less understood anywhere in the world. There is a lot of cross cultural communication for all of us in every day life. Relating to different ethnicities, generations, genders, values frameworks and life experiences means I need to listen more carefully or maybe just listen more. I only really notice when other people get me wrong, I am sure there are many more times when I get other people wrong. So if you bump into Andy, Mario, Miguel or Nigel you could remind them of this. I think it is a major issue in apologetics and Christian communication too. Christians need to listen as well as speak.
Nehemiah did a detailed reconnaissance of the broken walls of Jerusalem, Ezekiel sat with the exiles, Jesus spent 30 years before he said much and when he got going asked a lot of questions and Paul spent time in Athens looking around before he opened his mouth. At our recent orientation for new staff we spent a session on Victoria University campus, exploring in 2s and 3s. Looking at contact points, issues, trying to see what happened where and when, praying for people and the institution. It was just scratching the surface but an important learning experience. One of the issues that we face is that technology makes it increasingly possible to live in our own little bubbles. Students coming out of lectures frequently check their phone rather than talk to the person walking through the door with them. Many of us have had the experience of being distracted by am email or a text message when we should have been listening more closely.
While this is amusing it is also an image I find uncomfortable. It is especially easy in leadership to become so consumed with the vision and the mission that you think you can listen with one ear. I try to tip my lap top screen down when someone comes into my office because I know I look at it when it is up. I was asked to speak on Acts 3 last week. Peter and John are going to the temple when they are spotted by a lame man who asks them for money. Peter and John look straight at him in verse 4 and then tell the man to look at them. In verse 5 the man gives them his attention, expecting to get something. Luke spells out the looking, contact is established and then communication takes place. The guy came every day to beg at the same spot, but this day he discovered something that he never knew before, which transformed his life and resulted in many more lives being turned around in response to Peter's preaching to the crowd who gathered in response to the beggars healing.
While in Starbucks we spoke about Starbucks. I confessed that is not my favourite coffee shop. Certainly in New Zealand there are many better local variants and they all know what a flat white is. What cannot be denied is the impact Starbucks has had in growing a global coffee culture and pioneering the concept of a third space for people to interact outside of home and work. Right now they have a series of coffee cups called "The Way I see It". The one above has been attacked by some churches as being anti-christian.
"Heaven is totally overrated. It seems boring. Clouds, listening to people play the harp. It should be somewhere you can?t wait to go, like a luxury hotel. Maybe blue skies and soft music were enough to keep people in line in the 17th century, but Heaven has to step it up a bit. They're basically getting by because they only have to be better than Hell."
Joel Stein, columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
Other churches have labelled Starbucks as Satanic and called for a boycott in response to another cup quoting Armistead Maupin on homosexuality.
Interestingly atheists have also complained about some of the cups "thrusting religion down peoples throats", particularly The Way I See It #92featuring Rick Warren of "The Purpose Driven Life.
"You are not an accident. Your parents may not have planned you, but God did. He wanted you alive and created you for a purpose. Focusing on yourself will never reveal your purpose. You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense. Only in God do we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny."
I have not seen them all and have put a few more on Cultural Connections but I quite like number 158 quoting Mike Doughty who is a musician.
"It's tragic that extremists co-opt the notion of God, and that hipsters and artists reject spirituality out of hand. I don't have a fixed idea of God. But I feel that it's us - the messed-up, the half-crazy, the burning, the questing - that need God, a lot more than the goody-two-shoes do."
Now that could be quite an interesting new thought to a lot of people. It is the kind of thing which could at least be a conversation starter. At least it could if we spent less time complaining and more time listening.
And if you have the time my names Mario and I'd like a trim flat white and my friends call me Andy.