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Thursday Three • January 13, 2022

Whether it’s kids or colleagues or friends or parishioners, I’m recognizing that I'm not always present, listening well, or seeing them in their fullness. So this week’s Thursday Three is about the work of friendship.
Thursday Three • January 13, 2022

Hey there. This is The Thursday Three — my weekly(ish) curated list of three things that have made me a better human being. I hope they do the same for you. If you like what you read, be sure to subscribe. And if you’re already subscribed, feel free to forward to somebody who could use some meaning and margin this week.

Since the start of 2022, I’ve been using a new planner called the Monk Manual. Inviting a daily rhythm of Preparation, Action, and Reflection, the Monk Manual has helped me to set daily and weekly intentions, name my priorities, practice meaningful habits, and actually sketch out what my schedule for the day might look like. There’s a spot for gratitude and a place to write what I’m looking forward to, and this framework has been so helpful. (I’m always here for a helpful framework.)

As I’ve worked through it, I’ve found that for me, the most important section of the Monk Manual is the space for reflection each day. Rather than only opening up this planner in the morning, the Monk Manual’s “Reflect” section beckons at night, inviting me to list my highlights for the day, note when I was at my best, and share when I felt unrest. The last prompt, though, is the kicker — an invitation to move from reflection to action the following day: “One Way I Can Improve Tomorrow.”

In the nearly two weeks I’ve lived with this daily question, my most frequent response to “One Way I Can Improve Tomorrow” is something to the effect of: “Be more attentive...” Whether it’s kids or colleagues or friends or parishioners, I’m recognizing that I’m not always fully present. And because of <gestures wildly> everything that’s going on, I’m not always listening well and not always seeing them in all their fullness, beauty, and giftedness. There is definitely room for improvement.

So to help me improve tomorrow (and maybe you, too?), this week’s Thursday Three is about the work of friendship.

+ “How to Have a Great Conversation with Anyone, Anywhere”

In his post, “How to Have a Great Conversation with Anyone, Anywhere,” Jason Schwartzman writes, “The best conversations crack us open. They leave us tender and reeling, alive again with possibility, mesmerized by the uncanny nature of things.” He then offers a few tips — big and small — that can catalyze those very types of meaningful conversation. Among his advice, “Go off-script.” In other words, try out something you’ve been chewing on but that’s not fully formed. He also recommended the more-difficult-than-it-seems counsel, “Be honest.” In other words, offer your true self, warts and all, and not just the “you” you want the other person to know. In all, my favorite piece of advice was, “Ride the rogue wave.” Here’s how Schwartzman puts it.

Try to suspend judgment and eliminate assumptions. Instead, cultivate a radical sense of wonder. Avoid thinking to yourself: “Here he goes with another bowling story…” Instead, go with it! Find out why the heck he’s so fascinated with bowling. Maybe he knows about bowling’s surprising origin, that it was an ancient German game meant to help exorcise one’s sins, or that the pins were once called “skittles.” Maybe he has an opinion about how the gutters coddle the modern bowler or maybe someone will have a chance to invoke Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, a study of the decline of collective activities in American society. The point is that everyone has expertise in something. Let them take you there. When we finally get around the obstacle of our own assumption is often the moment we learn something.

It reminds me a lot of Kevin Kelly’s bit of unsolicited advice: “Being able to listen well is a superpower. While listening to someone you love keep asking them “Is there more?”, until there is no more.”

You can read the full post here. And Schwartzman also has a new book out, and I might have to add it to my queue.

+ “The Doorway to Connection” with Kat Vellos

Speaking of books, one of my best book purchases early in the pandemic was Kat Vellos’ We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships. I was wondering about how to nurture and facilitate connection and community during the pandemic, and Kat Vellos became my go-to expert, helping me think through what that might look like in and through The Local Church.

And y’all, the price of the book is worth it for, if nothing else, the questions in the appendix that push groups beyond small talk toward real honest conversation — questions like “What advice would your 80-year-old self give you today?” And “What’s something that you’ve taught someone else?” And my personal favorite: “Can you think of ten ways to prepare and eat bananas?”

This conversation with Kat Vellos on Jocelyn K. Glei’s podcast Hurry Slowly is just as much a gift as her book, especially when it comes to friendship and relationships. Recorded in August 2021, Kat and Jocelyn discuss how friendship has changed during the pandemic and how friendship must go beyond extraction and transaction toward connection. For me, the most meaningful section was about how friendship takes work. It isn’t (and shouldn’t be!) effortless. I needed this.

“I think that the illusion of effortlessness is the cause of a lot of unnecessary strife and pain because none of these things is effortless. As you mentioned, not romantic relationships, familial relationships, and friendship — maybe because at some point in our life, like childhood, maybe some of us experienced friendship being really easy, being somewhat effortless, and so we're like, "Oh, it should always be that way," but nothing about being a child is equivalent to being an adult... So the same is true with friendship, unfortunately. And I don't think that's a "bad thing." We get more complex and our lives get more complex, and so sometimes our friendships and our relationships and how we interact is going to get more complex, but that's not necessarily a negative thing.

The whole episode is worth a listen, and you can find it here.

+ “Friendship” by David Whyte

From his incredible collection, Consolations, poet and author David Whyte gets to the heart of that effort needed in a friendship, specifying the work involved: forgiveness.

Friendship is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another's eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn. A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.

Thanks for making space in your day for The Thursday Three. There are so many things vying for attention, I am honored you’d find yourself here. Whether they’re thriving or need some tending, I pray that this enriches your friendships. As a reminder, if you enjoy this post or find value or meaning here, consider subscribing, sharing, or forwarding to someone.

God bless you, friend.