Attention Grab

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

For most of us, surprises are overrated.  Just ask your fellow board members how much they really enjoy surprise parties.  Life as we like it thrives on certainty.  We are better able to sleep at night if we expect to awaken to a world that is pretty much like it was when we closed our eyes.

At the same time, we are more likely to pay sustained attention to things that surprise us. Research has revealed a surprise-attention link, through which events that defy our expectations lead us to dwell longer with them.

In the following poem, contemporary Chinese poet Xiao Xi places us behind the steering wheel of a car that is backing up into a crowded and unpredictable world.


the car is backing up, please pay attention

by XIAO XI 小西

translated by YILIN WANG

be mindful of the rocks behind you, the tiny blades of grass

the roar of thunder, and the flash of lightning.

watch out for the sprinting kids and cats

for the elderly and the hushed trees.


take note of the rotting fruits

and of the snow that has just fallen.

look out for the ants under your car tires

the light reflected on broken glass.

be vigilant about rolling leather balls

of nails with malicious intentions.

observe the sorrowful face in the mist

the traps that have lost their lids.


pay attention to the hands begging for money.

beware of firecrackers on the ground that haven’t yet gone off.

take heed of the sudden uncontrolled sobs from the roadside.

Translated from the Chinese


As in driving, so too in church leadership.  An array of realities surround and even crowd you, deserving attention.  How can you keep them all in view and out from underfoot?  Which realities affirm the direction you are headed, and which call for a pause, an acknowledgement of what you don’t know, even a change of course?

Jesus experienced this crowd pressure in Luke 8:

40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’s feet and began pleading with him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, and she was dying.

As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from a flow of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, and immediately her flow of blood stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are hemming you in and pressing against you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman realized that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

Notice how the pressure of the crowd builds in these passages, from welcoming Jesus, to waiting for him, to pressing in on him, to hemming him in (sound like any experience you have ever had?).  The disciples, overwhelmed by the scene, are also pressing Jesus and imploring him, in essence, to keep moving ahead.  But a woman in great need makes him stop – and pay attention.



What kind of world is Jesus navigating in Luke 8?  What gets his attention, and why?


How does your church board respond to unexpected demands for attention?


What kind of world are we navigating in Xiao Xi’s poem? What details of this world seem most important to you?


What is Xiao Xi asking us to do, as we back up into this world? (And why are we backing up?)


What do you pay attention to, when you are trying to change direction?


What should your church board pay attention to, when it is trying to change direction? (And how can you practice that kind of attention in your next board meeting?)

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