National Day of Listening


“The mission of StoryCorps is to honor and celebrate one another’s lives through listening.”

Last week at my mother’s birthday lunch, I listened to my Grandpa Grubbs tell us about making sorghum molasses when he was in high school. It was a fascinating story I had never heard before. Then this weekend, the Nickerson family gathered to celebrate Grandma Mary’s 90th birthday. I didn’t hear her tell any stories, but I saw a picture of the cabin where she was born in the foothills of northern California. I wanted to ask her about that cabin and what it was like living there.

Opportunities like this don’t come around often, but the holiday season is a great time to take advantage of them when they do! In that spirit, the StoryCorps campaign from NPR has dubbed Friday, November 27, 2009, as the National Day of Listening.

StoryCorps is an oral history project that records the interviews of loved ones and keeps a copy for posterity. You choose someone you would like to interview (a parent, grandparent, neighbor, etc.), and StoryCorps helps you make it happen. StoryCorps trailers travel the country, as well as having several permanent locations, and you can book time in their recording studios all over the U.S. The compilation book from the founder of StoryCorps is titled Listening is an Act of Love. Over 10,000 conversations have already been recorded. And besides this formal arrangement, StoryCorps is also inspiring Americans to try the same project for their own enjoyment and memory keeping. That’s the National Day of Listening!

The StoryCorps website has all kinds of tools and resources to help you complete an unofficial oral history with someone you love. Look it up! There are all kinds of ways to participate. Some of you would totally love the idea of gathering some recording equipment and preparing a list of questions (they even have a master list of Great Questions for you to consider). Others of you might just use this as an excuse to ask a loved one what their greatest joy in life has been and write it down on a piece of paper.

How about it, think you could do a little of that over the course of this holiday week? I’m going to be teaching about this, so I’d love your feedback. Who would you interview on the National Day of Listening? And what would you ask?

Celebrate the National Day of Listening

I hope you’ll take advantage of the National Day of Listening, even if you do it informally. Because, too often, our holiday gatherings don’t include as much listening as they should. Sometimes they look a lot more like this instead:


SCOUTING THE DIVINE by Margaret Feinberg

scouting cover

Most of my readers know I’m a big Margaret Feinberg fan. Scouting the Divine is another favorite.

I actually listened to the audio version of the book read by Feinberg, a great touch considering the personal nature of this book. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll even notice, like I did, when she was fighting that cold because her voice gets deeper. (Stalker material, I know.) This memoir-like journey by Feinberg is captured in her subtitle, “My search for God in wine, wool, and wild honey,” but the sensitivity and gentleness of Feinberg really shines through her voice in the audio version.

Dan bought the audio book for our 6-7 hour drive to Chicago last month for the Story Conference. It was a great way to set up our time there. Not only does Feinberg offer a unique perspective for reading the Bible, she also presents a writing strategy that really works in this format. Scouting the Divine is a pleasant and insightful read (or listen) for almost anyone.

As a writer, I appreciated the way Feinberg approached her topic. The book is basically a memoir of her visits with a shepherdess, a farmer, a bee keeper, and a vintner (wine-maker). Drink tea in their homes, wear your boots into their fields, and encounter divine appointments in the midst of an agricultural life. Feinberg even gives us the background stories about how she connects with each of her “experts.” Some of them are old friends, others are new acquaintances. Feinberg asks each of them, not all of them professed Bible believers, to interpret particular passages according to their knowledge of their profession.

This angle brings new life to familiar Scriptures. Margaret’s narrative brings new life to what could have been a familiar Bible study. One of my favorite ideas comes from the opening section. When Feinberg asks the shepherdess to tell her what she makes of the Nativity story, she says that in middle eastern cultures, the shepherds are often the weakest among the family – the children, women, or elderly. What a beautiful image that God would send his Beloved to be greeted by the “least of these” that would again and again share the spotlight in His earthly story.

This information, of course, means I have to get a shepherd girl for my Fontanini Nativity set this year! But I don’t mind, I love letting God and his story out of the box I put them in. Scouting the Divine would make a great gift this coming season or a wonderful audio gift to yourself if you have a long holiday drive. Check it out!

Reflections on STORY: Part 2 – John Ortberg

I’ve been teaching from John Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted for several years. I use it in complement to Gary Thomas’ book The Glorious Pursuit. Between the two of them, I have created an introduction course to Christian spiritual disciplines where our success is measured not by the length of our devotional time but by growth in the practice of the virtues demonstrated in Jesus’ life (humility, love, discernment, etc.). This semester my class includes a number of students still completing their recovery program at our church and it has been a rejuvenating experience for me to learn from them.

Can you imagine how excited I was to get an invitation to a free luncheon at Story where John Ortberg would be the featured speaker? Free food + John Ortberg = PERFECT!

And the experience (hosted by the Monvee group – more on them another day) was all that I hoped it would be. Maybe more, except since we had to eat at the same time I felt a little bit blasphemous letting mayo and tomato juice drip down my hands while Ortberg shared his generous thoughts on spiritual formation. He doesn’t know who I am, but I was embarrassed anyway. I ate as quickly as possible so I could start scribbling down notes.

Here is a great picture taken during this lecture as well as one of my favorite quotes from the luncheon:

“We must aim at the transformation of people’s actual lives, not merely their devotional practices.”

I’ll be thinking about that one for awhile! And I’ll share. I have some ideas. : )

Reflections on STORY: Part 1 – THE VOICE

It is always nice to wait a few days after an exciting event and see which elements of the day stick with you, hang onto your thoughts and won’t let go until you’ve visited with them for awhile. One very specific message from Story is definitely doing that for me. In one of the general sessions, pastor Chris Seay introduced the Bible translation called The Voice. Here is a short clip of Seay speaking (it has baseball in it, so consider it my World Series reference even though, really, who cares?) – it doesn’t have anything to do with this Bible version, but it will give you a sense of his style and why I enjoyed his message so much at the Story Conference:

If you like The Message, you’ll enjoy this version as well. Seay and his church’s Ecclesia Bible Society, along with the impressive backing of Thomas Nelson publishing, put together Biblical scholars with modern writers and poets. Their goal was to rediscover the story of the Bible. It is a beautiful attempt. For example, and from the title of this version, they translate “the Word” in John 1 as “the Voice” for very specific reasons. We read “the Word” and automatically think of the physical book sitting on our nightstand as if we are reading it every day. But this team translated it as “the Voice” in agreement with the original Greek meaning that this Logos is alive and active in our world today – not just a bunch of pages glued together and covered with fake leather.

Dan and I have been reading from The Voice since we got home. It is enticingly simple and artistic, but my Bible College “theologians” also agreed with its self-described tag line of “faithful.” My son Jesse liked the way the narratives are written in play form, each speaker clearly identified before his or her lines. From our reading, we’re reminding each other that Jesus is our Liberating King and realizing what a beautiful difference that perspective makes.

Dan bought me a special copy of the New Testament that came with a handmade leather cover from Argentina (a project designed to provide jobs for a fair wage in good working conditions).  You’ll have to get your own!