Monday, November 24, 2014

Gentleness: For guys, too (guest post by Brian Jennings)

I quoted Virginia Woolf at the beginning of my "31 Days for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series: "Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations."

As a woman who was raised in the church, when I hear the word "gentleness," the echo comes back "and quiet spirit." I associate gentleness with being a feminine quality. I can't remember ever seeing a sermon or book about gentleness for men, but there are plenty pink and flowered covers expounding on 1 Peter 3:4 on women's inspiration shelves.

So I really wanted to hear more about gentleness from a man's perspective as I blogged my way through every Scripture in the Bible that mentions the word. Luckily, Brian Jennings reached out to me on Twitter. It turns out, this is a topic he's given a lot of thought to.

Brian is joining us today to share his perspective.

Brian Jennings lives in Tulsa with his wife, Beth, and four children. He has ministered at Highland Park Christian Church since 1998. He serves on the Board of Trustees for Blackbox International, which provides help for trafficked boys, and he's writing his first two books. When not buying milk for his family, he enjoys tennis, basketball, running and coffee. You can read his blog at

Deep in the heart of Texas, my wife and I rose before the sun and stumbled to the camp stables. A dozen other sleepy souls shuffled along the same path, ready for the morning ride. I expected to be greeted with a southern “howdy,” but silence blanketed the morning. The ranch hands quietly tightened saddles and adjusted reigns. I passed the awkward hush by retying my shoes, not knowing that a crusty cowboy was about to teach me an unforgettable lesson. The barn was his classroom. Gentleness was his subject.

The Apostle Paul penned the characteristic of gentleness right in the middle of a host of heavyweight virtues: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-24). Other Bible books join Galatians in trumpeting this virtue. Colossians says we are to be clothed in it (3:12). Proverbs speaks of its power (25:15). Daniel, Esther, Moses, Hosea, Isaac, Joseph and others demonstrate it. The Lord speaks to us with gentleness (1 Kings 19:12). Jesus uses it to describe himself (Matthew 11:29), and He perfectly models it.

But I can’t recall hearing a single sermon about it. Authors fear it won’t sell books. Some people dismiss it as nothing but a personality trait. Others take pride in their lack of it, making fun of those who embody it. So, why does gentleness receive such a scant amount of airplay in our culture, especially as it relates to men?

We mislabel gentleness as soft, feminine, passive and weak. It might fit on a Mother’s Day card, but don’t try selling "Gentleness" shirts in the men’s clothing department. Our culture celebrates guys who punch their rival, bark orders and spit roughness. Won’t gentleness neuter the man?

Plato used the word "gentle" to describe a tamed beast. In Greek literature, the word also describes powerful horses standing calmly together, ready for service. This is the kind of horse I was hoping to ride at the camp in Texas.

A look of disgust covered the tan face of Swanee, the head wrangler. While holding the reigns of a beautiful horse, he broke the morning silence, “Sometimes he just wants to do his own thing. He’s one of my best, but he darn near killed me this morning. A horse can kick with devastating power. Even a tame horse can revert to its old, reckless ways. I wonder how often I sadden God by acting the same way.”

Swanee mounted another horse and continued in his hushed tone, “This morning I had to use all my strength to get that horse’s attention. The more obedient a horse gets, the more it gets its rider’s purpose. I don’t even have to move the reigns for this horse to go where I want him to go. I only have to look. He can sense where I’m looking. God wants to lead us like that. It’s how you should want to lead others too.”

Swanee then looked to the left, only slightly shifting his weight. His horse gently turned and followed his gaze. The sleepiness in our eyes gave way to awe.

A well-trained horse, like a gentle man, retains his power, but relinquishes his will. It fully submits and tunes-in to the will of its master. A stiff-necked horse ignores whispers. It needs a whip.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). Harshness comes easy for most of us guys. We confuse harshness with strength, instead of realizing that it masks weakness.

When a woman caught in adultery faced death by stoning (John 8), Jesus spoke strong, not harsh, words to her accusers: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Then He spoke strong, not harsh, words to her: “Go and sin no more.” Strength. Gentleness.

Jesus never rejected the will of the Father, thus He never forfeited his power. The gentleness of Jesus amazed teachers, parted crowds, terrified demons and endured a cross. Can your definition of gentleness do that?

Friends, consider whether you’ve mislabeled gentleness. Fellas, have you chosen harshness over gentleness? Have you forfeited the powerful good that God intends to do in you and through you? Gentleness gets mislabeled and abandoned, but God works in us. He can change you, even if you’re as stubborn as a horse.

For more from today's guest, Brian Jennings, visit his website.

For more about gentleness, my "one word" for 2014, click here. I also am blogging through every Scripture about gentleness in my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series; you can read all the posts in that series, here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photo: Pixabay.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gentleness for the Rest of Us: Growing gentleness

This post is part of my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series. Yes, Beyond. I clearly didn't make it through all 31 Scripture passages in 31 days of October, so I'll be continuing the series with one or two posts a week through the end of the year.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law."  – Galatians 5:22-23

I never had much interest in gardening.

I had one, sad peace lily a friend had gifted me to brighten up my apartment when I first moved back to the Chicago area from New York. I'd dragged from apartment to apartment since and somehow it had survived. I called it my "drama queen": It droops desperately when it hasn't been watered, then perks back up within an hour or so of a drink. It hasn't flowered since I got it, even though I've done everything the Internet has suggested. I've put it in a smaller pot. I've trimmed it back. I've fertilized it. I've given it more light or less light and more water or less water.

Another friend gifted me a small, blue pot of flowers for my birthday one year. They died not long after.

About the same time, I won an African violet in a bridal shower game (I am uncannily good at bridal shower games – I've yet to leave a shower without winning some sort of prize). It didn't last long either.

But then I roomed with my friend Kristin for a couple years.

Pretty much every windowsill in Kristin's apartment is lined with plants. There are jade plants with leaves like turtle fins, grown from a single clipping from another plant. There are coffee mugs that pop off new aloe plants like gremlins when you add water. There's a tree she nursed back to health for another friend, staked and standing in the living room. There's a coffee plant in the bathroom and a fig tree on the back porch.

Here's the thing I learned about gardening while living with Kristin: You fail at gardening as often as you succeed. But you learn from those failures. And sometimes, even, those failures lead to even bigger successes.

Take that African violet.

Not long after it died, Kristin heard violets do well in pots that draw water from the bottom; they can take just what they need from there. And it just so happened, I had a pot like that: The little blue pot of flowers I'd gotten for my birthday. It looks a little like a pretty double boiler: The dirt and flowers go into a small pot that sits inside a larger pot full of water.

So I decided to take what she'd heard and try again. I pulled the last of the dead flowers from the blue pot and planted a new African violet inside the small pot. I filled the outer pot with just enough water to touch the bottom of the one inside and refilled it every week or two.

Years later, that violet is the prettiest plant in my apartment – and I now have quite a few. When it blooms, the purple flowers literally shimmer. I've never seen anything like it.

St. Paul describes gentleness as a "fruit of the Spirit."

Like anything else, fruit takes work to grow. That means gentleness isn't just a personality trait that some people are born with and some people aren't. It isn't an option; something that might be nice for somebody else, but isn't really my thing.

It is, according to Paul, the evidence of a life "led by the Spirit," something every Christian should be cultivating.

We like to think of Christianity as a matter of intellectual assent, of simply believing the right things. But, St. James the Lesser asks, "What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?" Our beliefs should motivate us to act. A living, thriving faith should produce good fruit just like a living, thriving plant.

If you're anything like me, that's going to take some figuring out. It's going to take some care: water and fertilizer and sometimes even a little research – spending a year studying gentleness or asking around what pot works best with your African violet.

It's going to take some trimming back.

And it's going to take some failures.

We learn from those failures, though. My greatest gardening success with that violet came from not one, but two miserable gardening failures. My windowsills now are lined with succulents I've propagated from other plants, and that peace lily still is kicking, even if it still hasn't put out another flower.

That lily tries my patience, but I haven't given up on it. I'm still learning.

Just like I'm still learning gentleness.

What fruits of the Spirit have taken the most work for you to cultivate?

Read all posts in my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series here. Sign up to get every update in your inbox or favorite reader here, and find even more inspiration on my "gentleness" Pinterest board.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gentleness for the Rest of Us: Not like that

This post is part of my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series. Yes, Beyond. I clearly didn't make it through all 31 Scripture passages about gentleness in the 31 days of October, so I'll be continuing the series with one or two posts a week through the end of the year.

"By the humility and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you—I, Paul, who am 'timid' when face to face with you, but 'bold' toward you when away!" – 2 Corinthians 10:1

You had me at #HowMediaWritesWOC.

The hashtag was trending this past weekend on Twitter, a discussion about how the media writes about women of color. As someone who works in the media and a woman interested in how women of all colors are portrayed, I clicked. I watched the tweets roll across my screen. I nodded in agreement.

I read about how the media fails indigenous women. I was delighted by "Columbus" being used as a verb. I was disappointed to see a breastfeeding mother who was black described as "controversial" while a breastfeeding mother who was white was "adorable" and "the greatest," and I was surprised to learn a character in my beloved Harry Potter movies originally was black – until she became a love interest; then she was recast as white.

And I thought to myself how terrible it all was. And how grateful I was for these courageous truth-tellers.

And how at least I wasn't like that.

Red flag, right there.

Because one thing I've learned is this: The things that upset us the most tend to be the things we most need to hear.

Or, at least, this is true of me.

I suspect it also was true of Paul. There are more words about gentleness in Paul's letters than any other part of Scripture, Mary Ann Froehlich pointed out in her book, "Courageous Gentleness." That's probably because he needed to hear them, too.

We're talking about the guy who held everybody's coats so they could stone Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian church. This is the guy who set out to destroy the church, dragging Christians to prison from their homes and breathing murderous threats against them.

Even after he encountered Jesus and became a Christian himself – on his way to take more people prisoner, it should be noted – he still struggled with gentleness. Being gentle generally does not equal stirring up conflict or using harsh words or being quarrelsome and argumentative, and yet throughout his letters, we see Paul trolling the early church like a boss.

So when I find myself getting upset and defensive with somebody else, I've learned I need to turn that back around on myself. When I come up with some great advice I think everybody needs to hear, I've realized I myself probably am the one who needs to hear it.

Humility and gentleness demand that I first look inward, that I consider whether I'm not guilty of the very thing I am upset about, that I remove the log from my own eye before pointing out the speck in another's.

It reminds me I am and always will be learning. And how very grateful I am for those willing to gently teach.

What advice do you find yourself giving that you yourself need to hear?

Read all posts in my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series here. Sign up to get every update in your inbox or favorite reader here, and find even more inspiration on my "gentleness" Pinterest board.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

What I'm Into {October 2014}: Catching up

A lot has happened since we last caught up.

Like, an entire summer.

Also, a trip to Europe.

And then October, possibly my favorite month of the year. And even if I'm a week or two late to join my writer-friend Leigh Kramer's monthly "What I'm Into" linkup, I can't let the month, with its apple picking and pumpkin patching and spooky storytelling, pass without a few notes.

So let's catch up again.

Things I love

Story 201. After completing the Story 101 e-course through The Story Unfolding this spring, I signed up to take Story 201 this fall. I thought maybe I would use the accountability and focused time on creativity to write a full-length book, but my goal quickly changed. It became clear if I ever was going to write a book, or really if I was going to continue to blog and freelance at the same pace without burning out, I was going to need to find my "hustle and flow," as Story coach Elora Nicole put it. Part of that, the European vacation stuck in the middle of the course taught me, was to make time to not write, to rest and refresh and come back to the work better for it. I also found an incredible writing partner in Vanessa Johnson, who is smart and funny and practical. If you liked any of the articles I've published in the past few months, you should know Vanessa was the one who read them first and kept them from being terrible.

Bucktown Apple Pie Contest. This was the fifth year my husband Joel and I were involved in the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest; our second, as judges. The neighborhood apple pie contest reportedly is the largest apple pie baking contest in the country. We competed for three years, then parlayed my idea for last year's theme – "Clash of the Pie Tins" – into a judging gig. This year, the organizers let us judge together, and we probably were the judge-iest judges of all the judges. So here are a few tips I can share after a morning spent tasting the 10 or so first-round pies: Don't overwork your dough. Go easy on the cinnamon. And go real easy on the blade mace – a tiny bit gives your pie filling a nice earthiness; any more than that gets funky quick.

Soups and Scary Movies. The theme of our annual Halloween party was conspiracy theories, so we screened "Lunopolis" and "The Conspiracy" (more on that later). Joel made kale and butternut squash soup, jalapeño avocado bisque and lamb stew and then fried homemade apple cider donuts. Then half our guests turned out to be injured, sick or pregnant, so it turned into a good night to readjust ice packs, wrap people in blankets and simply love on our friends.

Bike commuting. I'm incredibly spoiled in that my nearest El station is two blocks from my apartment. Unfortunately, that station closed this month and won't reopen until Christmas. So I fixed my bike back up again and am biking to work for the time being, which isn't unusual in Chicago; the city has done a lot in recent years to make the streets more bicycle-friendly. What is unusual is the bike itself, which I found in the shared basement two apartments ago and bought from the landlord for $30. It's a 1960s Schwinn cruiser with no speeds, and it started out gorgeous. But its wheels, seat and handlebars have been stolen countless times while locked in front of apartments past and present, and the replacements keep getting cheaper and sadder. Absolutely nobody else can ride this sad, awkward bike anymore besides me. Weirdly, I can't seem to ride any other bike either.

Best food I made/ate. While I was away from blogging what I'm into this summer, I had dinner to celebrate my dad's retirement at Alinea, one of the most decorated restaurants in the world. Head chef and owner Grant Achatz made dessert at our table and we sucked flavored helium from taffy balloons and – ever-classy person that I am – I popped mine in my hair and it was all magical and wonderful and sort of like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory for grown-up foodies. I also ate doener and cheap currywurst from stands on the streets of Berlin and drank beer on the Holy Hill in Bavaria and shared wine and family-style plates in Tuscany and sipped espresso on top of St. Peter's. Which brings us up to October and simmering soups for long hours on the stovetop and baking things with apple and pumpkin and all of the sweet potatoes all of the time. Shauna Niequist's blueberry crisp recipe in "Bread & Wine" continues to be my go-to crisp recipe; made more October-y with apples in place of blueberries and walnuts in place of pecans. I also am working through all those apples we picked with this tried-and-true apple streusel bread recipe and a crockpot full of applesauce. I'm not as pumpkin spice-crazed as everybody else appears to be, but I do make an exception for these two recipes: these pumpkin oat chocolate-chip cookies I just discovered and this whole-wheat chocolate-chip pumpkin bread that's come back for another fall.

TV and Movies

True Detective. A bunch of my coworkers were obsessed with True Detective when it first aired, but I just got around to watching the show. It started out amazing and then took a little bit of weird turn. The ending was satisfactory, though. It may not be my new favorite show, but I'm glad I watched it.

Lunopolis and The Conspiracy. These were the film selections for our conspiracy-themed Soups and Scary Movies party. Both are fictional but done in a documentary style with interviews and found footage. "Lunopolis" tells the story of a group of filmmakers who stumble upon a glowing green rock and uncover a weird Scientologist-Mormon cult that believes in time travel. In "The Conspiracy," a pair of friends stumbles into a secret society after a conspiracy theorist the two were filming mysteriously disappears. "Lunopolis" was a little goofy, but it gave us plenty to talk about at the party. "The Conspiracy" was scarier and more suspenseful. Both definitely are worth watching.

I know there are so many great shows on Netflix, like Gilmore Girls, and I haven't seen any of them, and I should, but honestly at the end of the day, all my husband Joel and I have the decision-making capacity for is tuning out to weird conspiracy theory documentaries. If we start wearing tinfoil hats and sandwich boards and proclaiming the end is nigh, please cancel our subscription and send help.


The Sistene Secrets by Benjamin Blech. This was a fascinating book, recommended to me by a Vatican guide before a trip to Rome. The authors argue Michelangelo hid secret, Kabbalistic messages in the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Some of the evidence is compelling; some, a stretch. Ultimately, I finished still wondering if they weren't reading as much into the work from their own Jewish backgrounds as I do from my Christian background (not to mention, Christianity grew out of Judaism, so many points felt familiar, rather than secretly, exclusively Jewish). Either way, it was a delight to see the frescoes through their eyes, adding layer upon layer of meaning to the famous artwork.

Courageous Gentleness: Following Christ's Example of Restrained Strength by Mary Ann Froehlich. I wasn't sure what to expect from "Courageous Gentleness" by Mary Ann Froehlich, but since it was released during my year of gentleness, I figured I'd better read it. I was pleasantly surprised. This book went beyond the usual, for-women-only, "gentle and quiet spirit" take on gentleness you find in the Christian inspiration genre, tackling everything from how Jesus displayed gentleness to how we as Christians fail at gentleness in our interactions with culture. It's a book I've revisited and thought about deeply since reading and have recommended to others.

Portals of Water and Wine by R.L. Haas. A friend recently shared this quote from Colin Firth: "When I'm really into a novel, I'm seeing the world differently during that time—not just for the hour or so in the day when I get to read. I'm actually walking around in a bit of a haze, spellbound by the book and looking at everything through a different prism." That's how I feel as I'm beta-reading "Portals" by my friend and fellow Story sister R.L. Haas. Everybody needs a bit of magic and wonder in their lives, and this book is bringing that to my days. It hits bookshelves and e-readers on Dec. 1, but you can preorder it now. I posted a sneak peek in October and am hosting the release party next month, and I can't wait to read the finished version.

Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost and Found Again by Preston Yancey. This is a beautifully-written memoir about Preston Yancey's spiritual journey while in college, from the incredible smugness of believing he had God all figured out to the surprise of the Eucharist and the saints and the perverse joy of crossing himself. It was a little meandering and repetitious in places, but it definitely resonated, enough to make me cringe as I remembered missteps on my own spiritual journey during those college years.

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger. I appreciated the sense of place William Kent Krueger created here, the way he reflected Anishinaabeg tradition and the complexity of faith. I was less compelled by the fairly predictable murder mystery that drove the plot, though I'm not totally put off the series after the first book.

On the InterWebs

Here are my favorites from the blogosphere this past month:

  • 31 Days of Living Boldly by Jenn of A Simple Haven. I partnered up with A Simple Haven for The Nester's 31 Days... writing challenge. Jenn and I both spent the month of October writing about our one word for the year, and her word, "boldness," was a great complement to mine, "gentleness." Other 31 Days series I loved: 31 Days of Indie Publishing by Elora Nicole, Jesus Blogger – 31 Days of Blogging like Jesus Would by Elaine Mingus of Super Rad Christian Writer Chick and 31 Days of Sacred Work by Miah Oren.
  • Denomination Derby hosted by Ed Cyzewski. If you're looking for a new series to follow, post-31 Days..., may I suggest Ed's guest post series, Denomination Derby? I've meandered through a lot of church denominations in my day, and each one feels like a bit of colorful glass in the stained glass window that is the Church Universal. I'm excited to see each of those pieces reflected in its best light in this series. As Ed wrote in the introduction, "Even if we never join a particular denomination, understanding the best of a denomination will help us become gracious conversation partners who can celebrate what God is doing throughout the church."
  • Practicing my Shut Ups: A Spiritual Discipline for Being an Ally by Abby Norman of Accidental Devotional. My friend, Story sister and fellow extrovert Abby is knocking it out of the park lately, what with her TEDx Talk and her e-book and her general blogging awesomeness and her Muppet face. If you are not already following her blog, Accidental Devotional, GET ON THAT.
  • In Transit by Addie Zierman. I like to catch up on my blog reading while brushing my teeth in the morning. I am a meticulous and obsessive tooth-brusher, so this works out well. So I started one day this month with this beautiful post from Addie, and it changed the way I looked at my whole day.
  • I would fail Abraham’s test (and I bet you would too) by Rachel Held Evans. Rachel wrote later she was "farewelled" and called a heretic after this post, but I thought it did what a good blog post does: It sparked a really interesting conversation. I appreciated reading and contemplating so many views I never would have arrived at on my own.
  • because I wrote a book. A real one. by R.L. Haas of DramaticElegance. Because she did, y'all, and I'm reading an advance version of it, and it is good. See what I'm reading, below.

On the blog

I came back from Europe just in time for 31 Days. I jumped in without thinking – and without prewriting any posts for the month of October. Which is to say I did not quite meet the challenge of blogging "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us" every day for those 31 days.

Along with my work for Story 201, I did, however, learn a lot about my "hustle and flow" as a blogger. Like when I'm not working on any other writing projects, I can crank up to three posts a week and still make time for rest and play and general life upkeep – all those other non-writing things people do. I also challenged myself to write short, 300- to 500-word posts (and sometimes succeeded). And I'm committed to finishing all 31 posts, one or two posts a week (knowing what I now know about my flow) through the end of the year. I'm calling it "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond."

The most popular post so far in the series is about conspiracy theories. It also happens to be one of my favorites.

In the paper

Here are a few of the posts I've written for the Chicago Sun-Times since last we caught up:

In other publications

My article about a Christian response to trolling ran in August on Christianity Today's Her.meneutics blog and has sparked some great conversation. How do you handle trolls?

What have you been into this month?

I once again am a bit late to add my link to Leigh Kramer's "What I'm Into" linkup, but you can find more posts like this there.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Photos: For more photos of my everyday adventures, follow me on Instagram.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Gentleness for the Rest of Us: The hospitality of listening

This post is part of my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series. Yes, Beyond. I clearly didn't make it through all 31 Scripture passages in 31 days of October, so I'll be continuing the series with one or two posts a week through the end of the year.

"For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?" – 1 Corinthians 4:20-21

One of the weirdest things about being a journalist is that I can ask people just about anything and they actually will answer.

Race. Politics. Religion. All those controversial and deeply personal things you're not supposed to talk about in polite company – as journalists, we walk up to complete strangers and instigate conversations about them. And most of the time, they answer us.

I've never taken being trusted with those stories lightly.

I've spoken with people who have had such very different life experiences than mine, who have shared the deep hurts of racism and homophobia and injustice. I've sat with mothers who have lost children to school shootings, to suicide and to drug use and with a woman my own age who just had lost her husband in Afghanistan. I've been amazed at the courage it took to share those stories.

And as much as we as journalists think we're going to write these compelling articles that are going to Change Everybody's Minds about some issue, more often than not, I've had my own assumptions and beliefs challenged – in the best possible way.

That's because, as Chicago freelance journalist Tricia Despres put it, "At their core ... the best interviews are simply just great conversations."

And great conversations happen when we truly listen to each other.

Here's how Mary Ann Froehlich, author of "Courageous Gentleness," describes this kind of listening:

"David Augsburger writes that 'silence is the language of respect' and people have a profound need to be heard by a 'listener who will be silent enough to practice the hospitality of listening.' The hospitality of listening invites a conversation. ... We come with no agenda. True silent listening requires to give our guest's words our undivided attention and respect, not simply think about what we will say when there is a break in conversation."

And The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston:

"Sometimes I think if I have no other spiritual skill, at least I have the gift to listen. It is not as easy as it sounds. I have to pay attention to the reality around me, be aware of the many layers of that reality, take nothing at face value, be discerning in my own prejudices as well as in the agendas being pushed toward me. I have to be patient, open minded and, at the same time, critical in my thinking. I need to understand my own social and cultural location. I have to educate myself when there are subjects with which I am not truly familiar. Spiritual listening is not an exercise in being polite. It is growing in wisdom through faith and change."

The most important way Christians can communicate gentleness to the world is through our speech, Froehlich said.

Gentle speech is restrained speech. Gentle speech is kind and patient speech. Gentle speech isn't loud and pushy, but draws others to it with its wisdom. It puts others' need to be heard above our own, seeks to understand more than to be understood.

And yet, Todd Deatherage recently wrote on RELEVANT's website, there appears to be a disconnect between the way many Christians engage the broader culture and the central Gospel message that "the God who made us and loves us is about the business of making all things right." In other words, our speech doesn't taste like the spiritual fruit of gentleness. Deatherage noted the pointedly-worded bumper stickers and heated discourse, the tone more angry activism than hopeful engagement.

How many minds have been changed by a bumper sticker?

How likely are people to listen when they don't first feel heard?

Or, as St. Paul asked, "What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?"

A brief programming note

Speaking of listening... I'm scheduled to discuss my latest article for RELEVANT – Have we gotten Jesus wrong? – on The Ride Home with John & Kathy tomorrow on WORD-FM in Pittsburgh.

If you live in the Pittsburgh area, tune in to 101.5 FM at about 5:10 p.m. Eastern time Thursday. If not, you can listen in on iHeartRADIO or connect with the program on Twitter and Facebook. Assuming all goes well, I'll post the audio afterward on the blog.

How can you offer somebody the hospitality of listening today?

Linking up with The Nester's 31 Days... writing challenge.

Read all posts in my "31 Days of Gentleness for the Rest of Us ... and Beyond" series here. Sign up to get every update in your inbox or favorite reader here, and find even more inspiration on my "gentleness" Pinterest board.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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