December 16, 2017

Wisdom Week: The Pastoral Wisdom of Small Talk

birds-on-a-wire

No one has imparted more wise insights to me about the pastoral life than Eugene Peterson.

I’m sad I’ve never met him, even though when I lived in Maryland, his church was right down the road. How different my course might have been had I been introduced to him then! But then perhaps that would have short-circuited the process of stumbling, meandering, sticking my foot in my mouth, and mostly missing the point that ended up being my primary source of learning as I’ve tried to live out my ministerial vocation. Our educational approach tends to rely on a “study, then apply” process, when in reality, the best order I’ve found is: “try, fail, then study and find out where you went wrong.” Through his writings on the pastoral life, Peterson has come to me as a part of that way of learning more times than I can count.

Peterson’s book, The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, is foundational in the modern canon of pastoral studies. I’d like to give you a taste of what I’ve learned from him over the years and hope you can savor and benefit from a bit of his wisdom. You don’t have to be ordained to appreciate the passage I’ll quote today. I wish all those in vocational ministry would carry wisdom like this around with them in their pastoral toolboxes and use it daily.

Pastoral work, I learned later, is that aspect of Christian ministry that specializes in the ordinary. It is the nature of pastoral life to be attentive to, immersed in, and appreciative of the everyday texture of people’s lives — the buying and selling, the visiting and meeting, the going and coming. There are also crisis events to be met: birth and death, conversion and commitment, baptism and Eucharist, despair and celebration. These also occur in people’s lives and, therefore, in pastoral work. But not as everyday items.

Most people, most of the time, are not in crisis. If pastoral work is to represent the gospel and develop a life of faith in the actual circumstances of life, it must learn to be at home in what novelist William Golding has termed the “ordinary universe” — the everyday things in people’s lives — getting kids off to school, deciding what to have for dinner, dealing with the daily droning complaints of work associates, watching the nightly news on TV, making small talk at coffee break.

…Given a choice between heated theories of the Atonement and casual banter over the prospects of the coming Little League season, I didn’t hesitate. It was the Atonement every time. …What time did I have for small talk when I was committed to the large message of salvation and eternity? What did I have to do with the desultory gossip of weather and politics when I had “fire in my mouth”?

…Such approaches to conversation left no room for small talk — all small talk was manipulated into big talk: of Jesus, of salvation, of the soul’s condition.

But however appropriate such strategies are for certain instances of witness (and I think there are such instances), as habitual pastoral practice they are wrong. If we bully people into talking on our terms, if we manipulate them into responding to our agenda, we do not take them seriously where they are in the ordinary and the everyday.

Nor are we likely to become aware of the tiny shoots of green grace that the Lord is allowing to grow in the backyards of their lives. If we avoid small talk, we abandon the very field in which we have been assigned to work. Most of people’s lives is not spent in crisis, nor lived at the cutting edge of crucial issues. Most of us, most of the time, are engaged in simple, routine tasks, and small talk is the national language. If pastors belittle it, we belittle what most people are doing most of the time, and the gospel is misrepresented.

…Pastors especially, since we are frequently involved with large truths and are stewards of great mysteries, need to cultivate conversational humility. Humility means staying close to the ground (humus), to people, to everyday life, to what is happening with all its down-to-earthness.

…Such art develops better when we are convinced that the Holy Spirit is “beforehand” in all our meetings and conversations. I don’t think it is stretching things to see Jesus — who embraced little children, which so surprised and scandalized his followers — also embracing our little conversations.

• Eugene Peterson
The Contemplative Pastor, pp. 119-122

Comments

  1. First? I once attended a church where during the prayer meeting the people gave their stories from the past week about “steering conversations with unbelievers toward spiritual things.” And, how they could feel Satan resisting them at every turn. I must admit, it was really hard work trying to manipulate every conversation I had. And it was really hard work to turn my conversations with my co-religionists back to small talk.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > How they could feel Satan resisting them at every turn

      That wasn’t Satan, it was Normality.

      I remember many hours in such meetings…. sigh.

    • Steve, it may have been Satan, or it may have been the Holy Spirit.

      I’m glad you’ve escaped that church.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      I once attended a church where during the prayer meeting the people gave their stories from the past week about “steering conversations with unbelievers toward spiritual things.” … I must admit, it was really hard work trying to manipulate every conversation I had.

      Which is why when you see a guy with a Bible or been tipped off he’s CHRISTIAN(TM), you never make eye contact and walk very fast in the opposite direction. Before he targets you and the Wretched Urgency Jesus Juke Fire Insurance Sales Pitch begins.

  2. I think most of my life has been verbal small talk but the silent conversations within have been about life and death.

  3. Burro [Mule] says:

    Well, now we have the Innernet for big talk.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      Yes! The Internet makes this problem worse by an order of magnitude. By its very nature the Internet is a obsessed with the abstract and big ideas.

      • Someone once poo-poohed Saturday Ramblings for a lack of spiritual content. Seen in this light I think it holds up as is. So how’s the weather in Peoria?

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          I’m in Grand Rapids, MI. I got rained on on my way to work this morning; but the temperature is back down to the comfortable 60s, so I’m happy anyway.

        • Randy Thompson says:

          I may sometimes miss the daily Internet Monk. I never miss the Saturday Rambler–if for no other reason than for the picture of the Rambler! (And by the way, who knew there are that many pictures of Ramblers available?)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        By its very nature the Internet is a obsessed with the abstract and big ideas.

        Then how does that explain Twitter?

        Hard to get more abstract or big idea than “I made a poopie!” in 140 characters.

  4. A man I admire liked to say, “Idle chit chat is neither idle nor chit chat.” He was a non-practicing Jew, but that little saying has informed how I listen and engage in conversation. It made me realize that every conversation is “doing something.” People are living out their lives there, and loving people means participating in “the doing.”

    (I could be less hand wavy, but this guy was training me in the academic subject of conversation analysis–how conversation holds together, the “grammar” of conversation–and that rabbit hole is deep.)

  5. …Given a choice between heated theories of the Atonement and casual banter over the prospects of the coming Little League season, I didn’t hesitate. It was the Atonement every time.

    My problem wasn’t “wretched urgency” so much as I found theology very interesting, and sports boring as hell. Now I realize that 90% of theology isn’t worth arguing over, but 90% of what other people chit-chat about (TV shows, sports, celebs, or God help me, the upcoming election) still bores me stiff. Unless I can drag the conversation towards history or D&D. :-P. This, on top of an already introverted and slightly depressive nature, makes me a quiet conversationalist most cases.

    Yet another (good) reason God in His wisdom diverted me from the path of ministry.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > My problem wasn’t “wretched urgency” so much as I found theology very interesting,
      > and sports boring as hell.

      I certainly sympathize with that. WU came easy to me, as everything else was sooo boring.

      > Now I realize that 90% of theology isn’t worth arguing over,

      Yep, I’ve arrived there as well.

      > but 90% of what other people chit-chat about

      It is almost a kind of ‘spiritual discipline’. I think forcing myself to go there has been very healthy… although it is still pretty boring at time.

      Thank goodness history, especially local history, is in vogue currently. That provides a reasonable place to meet in the middle with people.

      • My husband, formerly president of the CalTech Anime Society, ended up at a church next to a football school. He read “Football for Dummies” and despite being a fairly awkward person socially, ended up hosting football parties. I still wonder how he does it.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      My problem wasn’t “wretched urgency” so much as I found theology very interesting, and sports boring as hell.

      That sounds like a variation on Fannish personality, with the narrow vision and deep interest on the subject of the fandom.

      • I found myself in the position where I have thousands of hours of theological study under my belt, so many more hours than actual study/practice in a real profession, and here I am ditching all of that because I don’t care about any of it anymore. So what’s left? Trying to figure that out.

        • Stuart I’d do anything for those hours of study. I hope you know what a gift you have in them. Keep asking God and He will lead you, whether you use them or not.

        • You can “ditch it” for a time to open yourself up to more ideas, but it will come back over time when you need it.

          I was helped to learn not to obsess over bible study/prayer/devotions etc. when I read somewhere (on Internetmonk maybe?) that our study is training for real life. As an athlete trains for the race, we train as well, but at some point we need to enter the race, live the life, and not live with our head in the clouds. And yet, as I live life, the things I studied in the past have come to mind when the situation called for it. Now I read the Bible for the stories, mostly, learning about how these people reacted to their circumstances and the call of God in their lives. I hope this makes sense.

      • I am convinced there is a direct correlation. I think one reason I got so heavily into theology was that it was clearly communicated to me after my conscious conversion in my undergrad years that D&D was NOT SOMETHING CHRISTIANS DID. Theology became my substitute nerd drug, and I eventually drifted into the subculture of theological Fan/nerd-dom that is the Reformed tradition, because that tradition (especially in it’s white suburban US manifestation) is a unabashed enabler of that kind of mania.

        One of the best things to happen to me, spiritual development-wise, was to get BACK into D&D. 😉

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          Discovering D&D was what pulled me out of that aberrant Shepherding-group “Fellowship” I got mixed up with in the Seventies. (I found out later some of the guys who stayed had to be forcibly deprogrammed.)

          I had finally found Others Like Me. D&D was my “small-talk” of life, away from the “Big Talk” of Jack Chick + Hal Lindsay (which is a very dangerous combination; the only one worse is Hypercalvinism + Dispy). Like the Jewish idea of “Live Your Life”.

    • Absolutely, Eeyore. I appreciate in theory the point CM is making, but too much of what people call small talk consists of people sitting coiled, eyes glazed over, waiting impatiently for the person across from them to shut up so they can tell *their* story. I find that both boring and annoying; it has had one pleasant outcome, though — I get a lot of crocheting done when I know I’m going to have to listen to people talk for a long time. I’m not a good pastoralist, obviously.

      I do enjoy the gentle reports on weather, animals, family, etc., that I exchange with my neighbors when buying eggs or walking the dog. These are not competitive but mutual.

  6. Today’s useless fact, and small talk starter: Catfish are the only animals that naturally have an odd number of whiskers.

    • Before this all goes in the way of silliness (and I’m ok with that), I would like to hear some perspectives on Peterson’s particular point: that ministers, who may be tempted to think engaging in small talk is a waste of time, should rather see the wisdom of paying attention to the details of people’s lives that small talk often reveals.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > I would like to hear some perspectives on Peterson’s particular point: that ministers,

        I am not a minister, nor do I [any longer] spend any measurable amount of time with ministers/pastors/etc…

        But I spend time with other organizer/leader types; I don’t know what to say other than: this is generally always true. If you want to help people or integrate with people on a local level you need to go into the day-to-day [boring?] stuff. I doubt there is much here that is unique to ministers.

        You probably also have the same issues though. Organizers of any type – and ministers are a subset of such – will almost always be more ‘thinkers’, people who like ideas, vision, etc… So they have a stronger inclination to ‘go there’ than many other people. Ministers must, like all other such people, be careful about turning their Thing into a club they beat people with [and especially for ministers not using concepts like The Great Commission as an excuse/justification for clubbing people].

        • Good points, Adam, and one of the reasons why I think leader/organizer types aren’t necessarily designed to be pastors — unless your goal is building and running an organization.

          • I think Eugene P. was most unusual: something of a mixture of “vision guy” and pastoral as well. I’d be encouraged if the gifts and expression of pastoral ministry had a better place at the table (taught and emphasized as important to the life of the church….. stir in hospitality as well). Even Mr. SuperVision should be encouraged to have just folks over for bergers and brats…. and Mr. Pastoral can learn to fit the BIG PLAN into the conversation sometimes.

            An obvious elephant in the room: chit chat and visiting with ‘just folks’ is not seen as a “revenue producer”, does not quickly and easily transition to either 1) higher attendance or 2)greater giving.
            The VALUE must be seen apart from these….. or that plant won’t see the right attention, IMO>

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            > leader/organizer types aren’t necessarily designed to be pastors

            But those are the types that seem to be recruited to such positions. The linking of Teacher [preacher – up from speaking guy] and Pastor/Minister almost forces this to be a dual-role for people; at least in smaller [as in most] churches.

            If you are up in front of people regularly you do become a defacto leader, that is unavoidable human psychology: you’re the guy up front people are listening too. The teacher is the guy who knows stuff – otherwise why are people listening to him?

            Having a non-leader in a leader role is also a recipe for making a mess.

          • Adam,

            Organizer = project manager = make me run screaming… ok, current project is getting to me…

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Radagast, I think we mean different things by “Organizer”.

            If I meant [corporate] Project Manager I would likely just use the term “suit”. 🙂

            By Organizer I mean the lady who organizers the block party, the guy who recruits people to clean up parks and support the parks department, the guy who works to coordinate the NPOs [and interested churches] around the impoverished segment of our population. I have noticed a great deal of commonality between Organizers and the Pastors/Ministers I’ve dealt with.

            I think society owes an enormous debt to our Organizers – and some of them are ministers and priests – however, like all types [and everyone], they have their characteristic failings. The best Organizers ‘fly low’ and learn the skills the chaplain discusses in this post; soaring Organizers all too frequently end up crashed [although society is occasionally gifted with a few who can pull it off].

      • Maybe because I led a women’s ministry, it never occurred to me that details didn’t matter. My experience was that listening was the primary expression of grace. Truth giving/proclaiming was a very small piece of the puzzle even though I would hear comments like, “That speaker was so great/wonderful/convicting.” In terms of taking the next step with Jesus, what I would hear was, “And so-and-so was with me when my husband and I were having a hard time/ my mom was diagnosed with cancer/ my boss chewed me out/ when my boyfriend moved out.” And by “with me” 9 times out of 10, it meant “just listened”.

        I will say that in the 5 years we were at our last church, the emphasis went from listening to less Jesus, more sin management, and by the time we left, buying property. It was both sad and hurtful.

      • There’s a practical element for ministers to get to know people. I’ve often observed (and felt) hurt feelings or frustration when someone with a particular skill isn’t called on because so one bothered to find out he had it. I love a little small talk with my students and am delighted to find a taxidermist, baker of brownies, guitar player, mortician, and EMT shoulder to shoulder in my English classes. They always have something weird and wonderful to offer the conversation, but I wouldn’t know to leave room for their wisdom if I only talked about English.

        • but I wouldn’t know to leave room for their wisdom if I only talked about English.

          THIS: and now we have at some of VALUE come to light….. back to the farming metaphor: who knew roots and legumes could be so tastey ???

      • There is the Ephesians 4:11 passage that lists various Christian roles “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;”. I noticed that Peterson focused on pastors/pastoral work in that passage, and said particularly that pastors need to do the small talk. I think that was intentional on Peterson’s part.

        Pastors need to be connected. Which means they need the small talk. And since day to day life is lived in the farm and the small things, pastors need to be engaged with the small things and the day to day life.

  7. This group of people at iMonk is at the top of all those available online for conversation in my book. I’m not a “dining out” person but I would gladly attend a luncheon or dinner with any six people here chosen at random, or one for that matter. If I could do the picking, there would have to be multiple groups of a comfortably small size, but I would even attend an open banquet, hopefully with an open bar. The pastor of the church I attend is the only one I know in my immediate meat world I can talk with about things that interest me most. If I had to choose between spending the rest of my life talking about sports and your grandchildren or being burned at the stake, I’d have to think about it. If I could pick out one person in the world to talk with about less serious things, it would be Jeff Dunn. My favorite conversational mode is writing.

    • The closest person I can talk to about things that really matter to me is 5 hours away. The next is 20 hours away.

      Both are fairly long drives.

  8. David Cornwell says:

    Marge and I go to church early on Sunday morning in order to sit in the fellowship room, drink coffee, and eat donuts before worship. There we meet friends and just get up-to-date with each other. Some are suffering from serious illness, either of themselves or a loved one. Next door to the church is a temporary home for women who are recovering from different mental issues. At times they join us for conversation. We can talk about anything.

    At some point, the pastor will come into the room and talk with various ones of us. The talk is the same, the “ordinary” of his life and ours. But with most people, none of this is just “ordinary talk.” It’s the talk of birth, life, celebration, illness, and death.

    When I miss this time together I feel I’ve missed half of what Sunday means to me.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Like “The Little Way” of St Therese of Lisieux.

    • This is the point of the post, I think. This isn’t a post about what we, as ordinary Christians, talk about; it’s a post about what ministers and pastors should talk about. And connection between shepherd and his sheep occurs best with simple words.

      • Very well said; I am hoping , and very occaisionally praying, that the next generation does a better job at this than mine did. Fewer essential END TIME tasks, and more plain talk around broken bread, and broken lives…

  9. Most ministers I know I have known mostly in their “ministering” capacity, and in that they have been very good. I generally try to get them a bit off-track by talking about their dogs, their grandkids, or whatever, and they are willing and pleased to do that, without any “wretched urgency”. But then, I don’t come from an evangelical background, TBTG.

    I know one minister socially, and in that relationship I am mainly the listener (and willing and pleased to be so). In most of my “conversations,” with everyone except a couple very close friends, I am mostly the listener.

    Like Eeyore, in the past (before a lot of time in recovery programs, plus anti-depressants), I used to find small talk horribly boring. I would try to keep my head or at least nostrils above water while the talk swirled around TV programs or sales at J.C. Penney’s, but inside I wanted to talk about Big Ideas. Not necessarily theology, but things like literature and history and archaeology.

    Now, perhaps like seneca griggs, I’m fine with small talk, but inside I translate it to Big Ideas, as if I were interpreting other people’s dreams (which I also do quite well). I learn a lot about the person, though I never “interpret” any of my thoughts to them, because it would probably be disturbing or even offensive if I said to, say, a hard-core right-winger talking about how we should nuke all the Muslims, “I agree that the current news tends to hype global violence so much that America can feel like a very scary place, even though our actual lives are quite safe.” Or even to a sad friend reporting that people in her church don’t seem to warm up to her, “I understand how it is to be lonely.”

    I do still miss talk about Big Ideas, and there’s no one in my real world I can talk about them with. So I come here and a very few other places on the internet to do that.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “””“I agree that the current news tends to hype global violence so much that America can feel like a very scary place, even though our actual lives are quite safe.””””

      🙂 I suspect we have a very similar internal monologue.

  10. Jan Karon created some pleasant novels featuring an Episcopal minister in a small town (At Home in Mitford was the first). The minister, Father Tim, is exactly the type of minister Peterson was talking about in your excerpt, Chaplain Mike.

    I think most people in the pews would be delighted-over-the-moon to have a Father Tim in their pulpit, and most ministers would be pretty horrified at the idea.

  11. Our pastor stands in the atrium to greet everyone as we walk in. I think a priest’s life is pretty full of ‘serious’ conversation so I always have a joke for him before mass. He good naturedly rolls his eyes when he sees me coming. That goofy thirty seconds has become our connection. My latest: An elderly couple is sitting on the porch in the rocking chairs. She looks over at him and says, “Darling, when one of us dies I’m going to California.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      When it comes to priests, my current pastor at St Boniface is a “second vocation” (a priest who didn’t start out that way, but came to the vocation later in life). A Mexican immigrant, he originally worked construction for several years (Hispanics — primarily Mexicans — have pretty much a lock on the less-skilled labor trades out here). He said he entered seminary knowing only a couple dozen words of English — and all of those were cusswords. (Sounds blue-collar…)

    • Two subjects my Priest likes to talk with me about:

      1. Rock and Roll history (late 60’s/early 70’s)
      2. Civil War Trivia

      Notice how I didn’t say faith and Religion…

      Sometimes ya just need a break…

      • My dad needs to meet this priest. He’s a huge Civil War buff who actually just wrote a book last year about an Illinois regiment during the war (dad’s home state). Also likes 60s rock and roll quite a bit.

  12. Patrick Kyle says:

    I too am sad I have never met Eugene Peterson . He grew up in the same remote corner of Montana that I did, only a couple decades earlier. (Actually 14 miles away) Should the Lord tarry, he will be numbered among the spiritual giants of the church and his writings will rank up there with the Reformers. I know Pastors who have had their ministries salvaged and rescued from shipwreck by reading Peterson’s works. He still lives on the shores of Flathead Lake, not too far from my dad’s house and attends a Norwegian Lutheran Church, or did a number of years ago. May God grant him a long and peaceful retirement

  13. Small talk is for extroverts, of which I’m not, and I think many pastors aren’t either. I wonder if this factors in to this. Perhaps just listening could take the place of chatting if one isn’t prone to small talk.

    • Joel, I am an introvert, yet must make small talk everyday with strangers as I visit in their homes or in facilities. One characteristic of introversion, which I see in myself, is that I struggle with large group settings but tend to focus on one-on-one communication or small groups of people. As a pastor or chaplain, I am much more comfortable in a smaller setting with a limited number of people than in a crowded room where I’m called upon to “work the room” or at an event where I have to interact with a lot of people. That wears me out.

      Also, I think you make a wonderful point about listening. Peterson himself makes that point — that what this is really all about is paying attention, and there is no better tool for that than listening.

      • Interesting. Conversation in a large group literally wears me out too. Sometimes I have to leave the room. Paying attention I get. I believe God has gifted you and other introverts with the ability to listen and pay attention to those most folks forget. Keep up the good work and thanks or being a role model for how God uses introverts. Can’t wait for the book.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > Conversation in a large group literally wears me out too

          Oh yes. Try it with inner-ear nerve damage; it is exhausting. Lip reading helps, but after about 25 minutes of that I’m ready for nap.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Small talk is for extroverts,

      I disagree. Small Talk is a learned skill. I had to learn it. Doing so has proved very beneficial.

      Perhaps, like many things, it comes easier as a skill to some than others. Financial prudence is the same way, some people clearly struggle with it – it is still beneficial for them to attempt.

      • Well, I need to learn it too then. Because I’d rather gouge my eye out with a spoon than “shoot the breeze” with someone. I do enjoy listening, though, as long as I don’t have to contribute much. : )

        • Agreed. I don’t mind shooting the breeze with friends, but put me in a room of strangers to shoot the breeze….UGH!

        • I actually will walk up and talk to the Mannequin in the store. seriously though I am a pretty friendly person, like to tell stories but I can also ask a lot of probing questions to listen to others… I tend to like people but avoid those who are looking for people to talk at. Some exceptions though …there is a retired fireman at the gym, has some great stories but he is an incessant talker… I simply incorporate him into the workout – like “load that 45 lb plate on that side of the bar”… or “keep talkin – I can hear ya while I do my set”… he’s adjusted, I’ve adjusted, everybody’s happy….

  14. Charlotte says:

    “Nor are we likely to become aware of the tiny shoots of green grace that the Lord is allowing to grow in the backyards of their lives. If we avoid small talk, we abandon the very field in which we have been assigned to work.”

    This is golden! When I notice and then suspend my own assumptions about what’s important, I can be open to catch a glimpse of whatever new thing God is creating. And that’s always more beautiful than whatever I’d envisioned.

    Humility. It is the way we know ourselves found by God and it’s the way we host the Holy Encounter between God and our neighbors.

  15. Yes. This. I rarely read anything by Peterson that doesn’t both resonate with me and challenge with me.

    I think American culture exacerbates the impatient “professional” approach of both ministers and others who have little time for small talk. We’re in a hurry, with an inflated sense of our own importance and little ability to listen. But the reality is that you have to show yourself trustworthy with the small things before people will trust you with the bigger stuff.This takes patience and requires a long view of things. And ironically its reward is often delight in the most smallest and seemingly most ephemeral of moments.

    But it’s more than that, too. We so often miss the fact that the small talk is itself spiritual precisely because that is where people live most of the time. We’ve lost the ability to really listen and thus to understand this. We want to talk at someone rather than with someone.

    I also think the Quakers have one of the best and most useful perspective out there on real listening and real living in community that is attuned to the ordinary events and pace of life.

  16. Randy Thompson says:

    As a pastor, my feelings about so-called “small” talk is best expressed in a re-purposing of Luther’s line about Scripture.

    As I recall, Luther said that Scripture is the manger in which the baby Jesus lies. From my perspective, small talk is the manger in which serious talk lies. Hours of small talk lubricate a relationship so that when the time is right and appropriate, important talk can happen. The daily, conversational routine about gardens, lawns, sports teams, and grandchildren paves the way for bigger things. Small talk is what makes certain relationships possible and, over time, habits (hopefully healthy and good habits). The habit of talking with someone builds comfort and trust. When the time comes, if someone is comfortable talking with you about composting, they’ll be comfortable talking with you about their spiritual lives.

    A case in point: For years, I met with a young man and we would talk about the Yankees and his relationship with God. We talked more about the Yankees than his spiritual life, as I recall. But, it was the Yankees that kept our occasional conversations about his spiritual life alive. In his words, he was in “contract negotiations” with God. That went on for years. A year ago, he called me, and told me that he had come to Christ and been baptized. During that hour long conversation, only five minutes (maybe) was devoted to the Yankees.

    Let’s hear it for small talk!

    Further: Much of the apologetics I read when I was young served only to prepare me for conversations that would happen only in my imagination.

    I’ve gotten a lot more mileage from random chats about compost (ot the Yankees). .

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Hours of small talk lubricate a relationship so that when the time is right and appropriate,
      > important talk can happen.

      I completely agree, and this is very important. I get to know my neighbor first by letting him borrow my shovel.

      But such terms can create a very utilitarian relationship – if I let my neighbor borrow my shovel in order to setup a possible later chance to Jesus talk him. Nobody appreciates that, it is disingenuous. [I am not implying you are advocating this particularly but it does get advocated a lot].

      Charity, Hospitality, and even Love, need to be practiced without an End Game; otherwise they are none of those things. People should be listened to because people should be listened to, because they are persons.

      • “Charity, Hospitality, and even Love, need to be practiced without an End Game; otherwise they are none of those things. People should be listened to because people should be listened to, because they are persons.”

        Yes. Good point.

      • Randy Thompson says:

        No, I wasn’t advocating this. I go into relationships with no sense of end game. What God does is up to God; all I can do is pay attention to what He’s up to.

      • Don’t need a shovel but if you have a good digging bar…..

    • The habit of talking with someone builds comfort and trust. When the time comes, if someone is comfortable talking with you about composting, they’ll be comfortable talking with you about their spiritual lives.

      Really like this: comfort and trust…. these are ‘crops’ that grow slowly , and only with attention to detail, and without great striving. Just daily , small doses of good farming (listening, slow and careful recognition… casual observation… occaisional humor)

  17. Randy Thompson says:

    Not that I’m against apologetics, by the way. It encouraged my own faith.

  18. Stating the obvious I think; women are much better at small talk than men, generally speaking. They know magically how to ask questions that elicit more than a yes or no. They also listen to the answer and go from there.

  19. Online private club or net private club is the on-line and modernised
    versions of standard private club.