The Power of Questions

I love to go on long bike rides.  Whether it be from Vancouver to Tijuana, Maine to New York or around the Big Island of Hawaii.  In my opinion, traveling on two wheels is one of the best ways to experience the world and get to know yourself.  Not too fast so you can’t smell the roses. Not too slow so you can’t see new sights. And plenty of time to reflect.   

Last year, I went on two epic bike trips: down the west coast of Ireland and around Sicily.  My ancestors emigrated from these two places, and it was an incredible trip to see where my family came from.  The following thoughts are from reflections I had while on this trip.

For my entire life I have attended church.  It is where I find my rest and hope. For my entire career I have focused on empowering entrepreneurs; from directing a leading microlending department in the US to testifying in front of Congress.  I have attended too many dying Christian places of worship seemingly not reflecting beyond their concept of faithfulness, as well as financing too many market driven entrepreneurs seemingly not reflecting beyond their concept of success.  As I pedal, I wrestle with a question that I cannot seem to shake: What would our communities become if Christian places of worship and entrepreneurs helped each other become fruitful?

Sacred Space was launched with a vision that  places of worship are perfectly positioned to integrate rest, family, faith and work for these two seemingly mutually, exclusive problems to be solved symbiotically.  Creating time, relationships, and purpose to flourish, Sacred Space is a community space for our neighbors. All are welcomed. We focus on women, impact entrepreneurs, artists, students, and transitional workers.  Our space provides business and educational services, day care, and spiritual formation for productivity, hospitality, and creativity.

Pastor Jeff Purganan, works at Sacred Space, shared his perspective, “While we often talk about our worship as a body, we rarely if ever talk about how our body exercises her unity throughout the week. Through the act of sharing space, we imagine together how to integrate our whole lives within every sacred place we go throughout the week?”

It hasn’t been all clear, blue skies at Sacred Space.  There are red skies almost every morning. But I would rather be heading into a storm with direction than in calm waters lost at sea.  In Sacred Space storms have take the form of a church board member’s resistance to new expressions of church or a neighbor’s apathy for participating in our community.  In these times, questions have been a useful tool to uncover deeper truths. If, “Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.” – The Message – How many orphans and widows do we help?  How are we guarding against corruption? How are we loving those in/on our streets throughout the week? These questions aren’t solutions.  They are the constellations by which we navigate the storm. Like Peter stepping out of the boat, we must trust that God’s consistent call for such activity is worth doing, and may in fact be where he stretches out his hand to calm the storm and settle the waters.

After co-founding Prime Produce, a co-op supporting entrepreneurs, educators, and artists who share values of service and hospitality in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, Christ Chavez was still wrestling with what are better ways to serve his neighbors?  At Sacred Space he had worked to clarify his goal to reinvigorate the civic spaces seeded by communities of faith through a group practice of silence, inquiry, and meditation. Simply – creating a moment to share questions -big and small – that we grapple with each and every day without discussion, conversation, or answers.  Modeled after a Quaker style circle of community interaction, this experiment invites us to gather and hit the pause button on our instinctive desire for quick and easy answers or exchange, in order to make space for vulnerable inquiry, however this vulnerability might translate for each participant.  The vulnerability in such spaces is itself a creative resistance to the temptation for economic exchange over and against neighborly flourishing.

To take this concept of shared inquiry even deeper, In Let Your LIfe Speak, Parker J. Palmer writes,

“You take a personal issue to this small group of people who are prohibited from suggesting “fixes” or giving you advice but who for three hours pose honest, open questions to help you discover your inner truth.  Communal processes of this sort are supportive but not invasive. They help us probe questions and possibilities but forbid us from rendering judgement, allowing us to serve as midwives to a birth of consciousness that can only come from within.  The key to this form of community involves holding a paradox – the paradox of having relationships in which we protect each other’s aloneness. We must come together in ways that respect the solitude of the soul, that avoid the unconscious violence we do when we try to save each other, that evoke our capacity to hold another life without dishonoring its mystery, never trying to coerce the other into meeting our needs…Because they were not driven by their own fears, the fears that lead us either to “fix” or abandon each other, they provided me with a lifeline to the human race.  That lifeline constituted the most profound form of leadership I can imagine – leading a suffering person back to life from a living death.”

One day a  weary traveler entered Sacred Space and said, “Everyday I have to decide between being a present parent or a focused entrepreneur.  I would love it to wake up and not facing that decision.” This inspired us to create a pop up space for toddlers while their parents work. Others have stepped into the sanctuary to meditate, pray, and read.  And many have come in for the space, stayed for the community, and left asking how they can better serve their neighbors?

Like the testimony above, how many churches or faith driven companies’ culture would benefit from such vulnerable inquiry?  

Peter Thiel, Zero to One speaks to this need at a cultural level,

“Religious fundamentalism, for example, allows no middle ground for hard questions: there are easy truths that children are expected to rattle off, and then there are the mysteries of God, which can’t be explained. In between— the zone of hard truths—lies heresy. In the modern religion of environmentalism, the easy truth is that we must protect the environment. Beyond that, Mother Nature knows best, and she cannot be questioned. Free marketeers worship a similar logic. The value of things is set by the market. Even a child can look up stock quotes. But whether those prices make sense is not to be second‐guessed; the market knows far more than you ever could.”

Greg Ehlert, Campus Minister/UC San Diego and friend speaks this need at an individual level, “You’re right about questions … they are not just “informative,” giving us the data we need but “formative,” exposing the thoughts/intentions of our hearts.  The core of a question is “quest,” the pursuit for meaning and purpose.”

So, what is your pursuit for meaning and purpose look like?  Members of John Wesley’s Holy Club asked themselves 22 questions every day.  I’ve decided to make them my desktop background so it’s the first thing I see each morning, and is easily referenced throughout the day.  These are the ones that consistently hit me the hardest:

  • Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the publican?
  • Am I consciously or unconsciously creating the impression that I am better than I really am?  In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  • Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  • Is Christ real in me?

What questions as a Faith Driven Entrepreneur do you ask yourself?  Here are a few to consider:

  • How do you deal with adversity?  Does it stir hatred or sow seeds of peace?
  • Who in business would call you a good neighbor?
  • What parts of your leadership style would your staff say reminds them of Jesus?
  • How do you include God in your decision making?  
  • How do you find joy in the midst of hardship?  
  • Do your financial statements reflect serving God?
  • Where does your business respond to Jesus’s invitation by coming, seeing and living?

Scripture reflects, as Richard Rohr points out that God interacts with questions in a very noteworthy way.  

Jesus is asked 183 questions directly or indirectly in the four Gospels. Do you know that he only answered three of them forthrightly? The others he either ignored, kept silent about, responded with a question, changed the subject, told a story or gave an audio visual aid to make his point, told them it was the wrong question, revealed their insincerity or hypocrisy, made the exact opposite point, or redirected the question elsewhere! Check it out for yourself. He himself asks 307 questions, which would seem to set a pattern for imitation. Considering this, it is really rather amazing that the church became an official answering machine and a very self-assured program for “sin management.” Many, if not most, of Jesus’ teaching would never pass contemporary orthodoxy tests in either the Roman Office or the Southern Baptist Convention. Most of his statements are so open to misinterpretation that should he teach today, he would probably be called a “relativist” in almost all areas except one: his insistence upon the goodness and reliability of God. That was his only consistent absolute.

Scholars tell me that it is these three questions that Jesus answers directly:

  1. “‘So you are a king, then?’ said Pilate. ‘Yes, I am a king. I was born for this’” (John 18:37). Yet even this is said after first clarifying what king and kingdom mean. Rather relativistic.
  2. “‘Lord, teach us how to pray, just as John taught his disciples. He said to them, ‘This is how you pray,’” and he taught them the Our Father (Luke 11:1-4), which is really more of a request.
  3. “To disconcert him, one of the Pharisees put to him a question, ‘Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?’ Jesus said, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your soul… And the second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:35-39). This one question he surely answered directly and forthrightly.

In closing, did you know the first conversation Jesus had with humanity was in the form of a question?  In John 1:38, Jesus asks the Disciples of John the Baptist, who have sinned, “What do you want?” Unlike Adam and Eve, the Disciples respond with a question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  They totally use the Socratic method on Jesus! Jesus responds by inviting them to “Come and see,” and they respond by coming, and seeing where he was living.  One of those disciples was the brother of Peter, who Jesus built his church upon.  Likewise, did you know the first conversation God had with humanity was in the form of a question too?  In Genesis 3:9, God asks Adam and Eve who have sinned, “Where are you?” Adam responds much differently than the Disciples, in a statement out of shame and blame.  I asked Paul Taylor, Pastor and blogger of Allthingsnew.tech, what would have happened if Adam or Eve would have acknowledged their sin, became humbled and asked a question to reconcile to God like, “Where are you staying? (Because that’s where I want to be!!)”  Paul said, “Perhaps the Bible, the story of reconciliation between God and man, would be a lot shorter.”

I wish they had asked themselves whatever question(s) necessary to acknowledge their sin, become humble and reconcile to God.  The good news is we still can!

 

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