About Geoff Boyce

Creating and supporting opportunities for human flourishing. geoff@geoffboyce.com

The Age of Telling is Spent

Mother Theresa.001

“The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply.”             
― Roy T. Bennett

(Quoted from Sidewalk Talk Monthly Newsletter, Nov. 2018)

I am wondering where this ‘listen to reply’ comes from, to understand its roots, since it seems so widespread and such a roadblock to really understanding another person, or even oneself.

Ours is an Age of Transition
I think it is likely the root cause lies in our history. I buy the idea that the context for life in the western world is in transition from an industrial, colonial, white, Anglo-Saxon, patriarchal, ‘christian’ age, characterised by hierarchy, entitlement and a mechanistic mindset (what I am calling the Telling paradigm), to an emerging post-industrial, pluralist, more egalitarian period that requires understanding each other to make sense of it, and ultimately to survive (a Listening paradigm).

The Telling mindset seems to relegate listening to understanding information that the Teller is empowered and entitled to tell, often rewarding or punishing for obeisance in order to maintain power. Husbands telling wives, churches telling congregations, bosses telling employees. But higher education is beginning to call hierarchical power into question; and with it, the Telling paradigm.

As a former school teacher, the word ‘control’ was used unapologetically in my teacher training during the 1960’s as the key objective for classroom management. ‘Keep control in the classroom!’ I can vouch for the counter-productivity of this fear-based, coercive approach, having tried it out in my first years of teaching. It took a huge emotional toll on me. I came to the conclusion that what looks like an ordered classroom created by Telling is often one that turns violent when the external pressure comes off. Any wonder, given it is likely students mirror the same autocratic Telling behaviour of their teacher, and quite often their parents. Discipline has been applied externally, stunting the growth of students to acquire the self-discipline needed for social responsibility.

In those days, a teacher in a classroom, could continue to tell, demanding to be listened to. The carrot was a good report at the end of the term, the stick was the threat of  punitive consequences for lack of respect of the teacher’s authority. Telling was, and probably still is, justified by tellers to maintain ego. In those days, the Telling teacher was provided with little alternative. The Teller’s default behaviour was the way the teller had been taught. That meant trying to keep everything ‘normal’, the way it had always been – or even, the way it was ‘meant’ to be!

The end of Telling
Walter Brueggemann heralded the transition out of Telling within the realm of theology with ground-breaking books like The Prophetic Imagination, Hopeful Imagination and Then Comes the Poet. In an exploration of modernity and post-modernity, his book, The Bible and Postmodern Imagination – texts under negotiation, (SCM 1993, Augsburg Fortress), Brueggemann sums up his understanding of the transition (p.10,11):

The large, experienced reality faced daily by those with whom we minister is the collapse of the white, male, Western world of colonialism. While that world will continue to make its claim for a very long time, its unchallenged authority and credibility are over and done with. This new reality touches each of us in threatening and frightening ways. It touches the economy and reaches right down into our patterns of employment and retirement. It touches home and domestic authority in families. And as our systems of management and control break down, the collapse makes us at least anxious and perhaps greedy, and in the end it leads to a justification of many kinds of brutality. The experience of this collapse is profound, intense, and quite concrete. There is a lot of political mileage in rhetoric that pretends the old system works, but it is deception. Thus the end of modernity, I propose, is not some remote, intellectual fantasy, but reaches down into the lives of folk like us.

Resistance to finding alternatives to ‘telling’ is evident in all kinds of human abuse – widespread bullying in the corporate world and at home, all kind of sexual and emotional abuse of minors, racial conflict and the rise of hardline fascist, nationalist and religious movements – the ‘tellers’ that want to exert their authoritarian, self-interested power over others, even if clothed in respectability,  at seemingly any cost.

At the heart of a transition from ‘telling’ to ‘listening’ is the disempowerment of ‘bosses’. Tellers are obviously not happy about losing their elitist or entitled privileges! That is why Frederic Laloux‘s exposure about the brokenness of past organisational systems and the rise of organisations without ‘bosses’ is so pertinent. Like Brueggemann, Laloux is a herald – his research points to what is already happening!

But don’t expect the Colonial, Industrial, White, Anglo-Saxon, patriarchal, ‘christian’ hegemony, in which we are immersed, to fall over without a fight!  If there is Listening, it is often for the purpose of telling! That is what is behind the quotation from Bennett: ‘we listen to reply’.’

Telling’ is self-aggrandisement. It massages a sense of superiority. It gives a sense of power and feeds the ego.

The ‘Listening’ Herald
The ‘listening’ that I am talking about puts on hold ones own agenda, for the sake of understanding the world of the other. That is, to serve a wider purpose. The well-loved catholic pastoral theologian Henri Nouwen, proposed a radical approach to achieving the kind of listening for understanding that Bennett is after, one that has no place for ‘reply’. Furthermore, Nouwen’s conception disempowers any ‘telling’, creating a freedom for others to take control and be responsible for their own lives and to make their own connections. It empowers the other. That is why Nouwen’s conception of hospitality is so crucial for those like me who are jumping out of the grave of the Age of Telling to a new life in the Age of Listening.

An Age of Listening demands a new, but radical, hospitality 

* Hospitality… means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can   enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
* Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.
* It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
* It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.
* It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit.
* It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opportunity to others to find their God and their way.
* The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.
* Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt a life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own.

Henri Nouwen. Reaching Out: The Three Movements in the Spiritual Life. (1975 Doubleday. New York) (p 68)

But it is not easy to unlearn ‘telling’ – particularly for a former Evangelical Christian who was also a teacher!


Opportunity For Rome Talk


SAPOL invited me to provide a keynote presentation at their Police Chaplains Conference last week. They had found my work on Oasis at Flinders University on the Internet and thought the story might be of interest.

When I sat down with the Acting Superintendent of the Health, Safety and Welfare Branch and the Manager of the Volunteer Coordination Unit to get an idea of what they thought of what I was thinking for my presentation, I sensed that SAPOL was beginning to make a transition to ‘own’ chaplaincy more, and discovered that all of the police chaplains were Christian.

I wondered whether the transition SAPOL was beginning to make might be similar to what we made at Flinders, from Christian to multi faith and from Religious Centre to Oasis. But this invitation also gave me an opportunity to have an ‘inside’ conversation with my Christian colleagues in Christian language. As Boyce’s Third Law says, ‘When in Rome, speak like the Romans do!’

So I apologise in advance to my non-Christian friends who may want to follow what I had to say at the conference in this blog. Below is a link to the write-up of the presentation.

I tell the Oasis story within the framework of challenges, insights and responses. The overwhelming challenge was the practice of exclusion by Christians. Then I reminded my chaplaincy colleagues of the values and attitudes of the prototype inspirer of the vocation of chaplaincy, which happened to be consistent with the responses I had made to the challenges of exclusion. Finally, but I did not have time to present it, a brief theological rationale for chaplaincy in the pluralist public domain.


Since writing the ‘Theology’ it occurred to me that I ought to spell out in Christian language, what I mean by ‘human flourishing’. It is a phrase I picked up from the Yale Centre for Faith and Culture, where Miroslav Volf is the Director.

In my view, ‘Human Flourishing’ is the goal of chaplaincy. It is a universal aspiration, and therefore is an expression in language appreciated in the public domain. It can refer to both individuals and to society. For me it also refers to the global common good.

For a Christian, ‘human flourishing’ is equivalent to the Abrahamic concept of ‘shalom’ or ‘salaam’, usually translated into English as ‘peace’. It is a concept that refers both to the individual and to societies.

We often think of ‘peace’ as the absence of war. But actually, in its original context, it refers to right relationships, everything in its appropriate place. It is supported by ‘law’.

In Australian Aboriginal culture, ‘The Law’ about who may marry whom, when followed, results in right relationships, right genetics, right ‘peaceful’ societies. ‘The Law’ was given at creation and encompasses a whole system of how to live.

This passage from ‘Why Warriors Lie Down and Die’ by Richard Trudgen, referring to the Yolnju people of the far Northern Territory, expresses the concept eloquently:

The Madayin (the way to live) established the boundaries for each clan estate and empowered the clan and nation, for the teaching and maintenance of a rule of law for all Yolnju citizens. The Madayin taught Yolnju warriors the raypirri’ dhukarr – the
discipline of mind, body and soul, along with respect for all life and the greater
good of the community and cosmos over individual need or greed.

Since the beginning of time, the clans have assented to this law through a
ceremonial process called Wana-Lupthun. In this process the djunjgaya, the
person responsible for looking after the law objects for that particular clan,
stands on the water’s edge holding these law objects, which encode the law,
above his head. While he is doing this all members of the clan go into the water
and immerse themselves. Wana-Lupthun signifies that all Yolnju are under the
rule of the Madayin — no-one is above it.

This complex Madayin system is seen as holy, demanding great respect. It was given at creation to establish and maintain a state of mägaya. One of the images
the people use to describe mägaya is a flat smooth sea, or the surface of a lake
without a ripple, wave or swell – a glass-smooth surface. It is this tranquil state,
where every clan member can live in freedom from hostility or threat of
oppression, that the Madayin produces.

This is the same concept as the Jewish shalom, the Muslim salaam and the Christian peace.

For me, human flourishing embraces this concept of living free from hostility or threat of
oppression, and suggests a further element, human creativity.

Call it the ‘Kingdom of God’, the ‘Reign of God’ or living in the ‘promised land‘ of shalom-salaam-peace. ‘Human Flourishing’ might be the goal and the underlying vocational aspiration of every chaplain, particularly those chaplaining in the public domain.


The Social Entrepreneur 2

Amy and Bear



I think it’s important to be grounded in the foundations underlying any paradigm. For me, Frederic Laloux’s work on paradigms of organisation, for example, provide greater clarity to understand and articulate the new paradigm of organisation that is emerging today. In my life as a chaplain, the foundational life of the ‘father’ of chaplaincy, St Martin-of-Tours, informs my adaptions to my context to hopefully create a chaplaincy that is relevant to today’s world. It also helps me see the negative aberrations of chaplaincy over time. ‘We walk into the future looking backwards’ seems to be an appropriate Indigenous proverb.

The tectonic plates of the western world are grinding against each other. We must adapt without losing the spirit of that which has contributed to human flourishing in the past. In the social arena, the challenges and opportunities for this adaption inspires the social entrepreneur.

We have always had entrepreneurs. Those who see opportunities and have the inner drive to take the risks to bring them to fruition. Watch ‘The Shark Tank’ to witness aspirants for innovation in the business sector.

Andrew Mawson and others in the UK, driven by the failure of systems intended to create real change among the disadvantaged, and motivated by their own passion for social justice, directed their entrepreneurial attention to the social sector in the mid-1980’s. The category descriptor ‘social entrepreneur’ was born some years later, after a journalist coined the term, inspired by Mawson’s work, to describe this movement.

Mawson’s book was published in 2008, giving insight into what his entrepreneurship had achieved over 20 years. Ten years later we are still struggling to appreciate the dynamic of his leap forward. Our government sectors continue to be paralysed in systems that cannot seem to deliver real change. The Church sector continues to shoot itself in the foot with factional in-fighting and abuse. And our welfare sectors continue to be influenced by that same spirit of control and domestication, strangled by dependency on grants, with all the constrictions of stop-start programming and conditional agendas.

I see a confluence of adaption since Mawson’s book.

There is movement by two groups of people disenchanted with modern organisation, typified by government and corporates, or, if you like, ‘institutions’. I think education, including travel and the availability of knowledge on the Internet, are contributing to this disenchantment.

The younger group of Gen X and Y seem to be saying, ‘I have a dream, and I can’t bring it to fruition while I am a cog in your (institutional) machine.’ They often hang in for the pay packet, because that’s all part of the institutionalised system of survival. But many are breaking out into ‘start-ups’ to follow their dream. Places like ‘WeWork’ and other ‘Hubs’ are providing the infrastructure for new ways of organisation and achievement.

The older group I call the ‘mid-life crisis’ group. They are people who have attained a certain stability and sense of financial security. They have a roof over their heads and their kids are relatively independent. Retirees, like me, are part of this group. They are saying, ‘There’s got to be more to life than just working to earn money to have a comfortable life.’ ‘I want to make a difference in the world – I can see it needs it!’ 

I hear both groups saying, almost to a person, wherever I have come across them, in Australia or through my travels, ‘I want to make a difference in the world’.

But then my father would have said this. He was a woodworker – carpenter and cabinet maker – in the Railways. He got great satisfaction, contributing to the world, through his work. But what frustrated him more than anything else, was the disconnect with the ‘people in the office upstairs’ who came up with their plans and imposed them without understanding their consequences. They  saw themselves above the workers (and hence the glass offices were upstairs!) Apparently they were the educated ones who were entitled to create their dreams, but the workers were considered incapable of contributing, save following their plans.

Social entrepreneurship happens when people break out of the credentialed entitlement system.

I see a movement today, occurring beyond Mawson’s 2008 book.

Mawson focussed his attention on creating a (tangible) neighbourhood hub. It was a centre where the spirit of his vision for social justice could be enacted beyond the dead hand of government. It was also a centre that reached out into the local community, and a model others might be inspired to adopt. 

WeWork centres are fulfilling a similar role for the new breed of innovative workers. Mawson’s model and the WeWork model influenced me in the adaptions we made at Flinders University to transform a Religious Centre into Oasis, while fulfilling its original mandate to be a ‘place for all, to support the religious and spiritual life of the university.’

But the Internet is beginning to also enable social initiatives that are not dependent on a tangible space. The Good Karma Networks springing up around Australia are a good example. The leap forward Amy Churchouse is making is the provision of an easily accessible Internet-based framework as a channel for people in a local neighbourhood to help each other – ‘ to connect and solve problems together to have better lives’. Intuitively, Amy has called this generic movement the Good Karma Effect. That is, the goal is actually the effect on neighbourhoods whose individuals sign on to helping each other through the framework she has set up, initiated intuitively from her own experience of neighbourhood help to find her lost cat.

The Social Entrepreneur 



I first met Andrew Mawson in 1995.

Actually, I didn’t meet him – but saw him in the distance at the Bromley-by-Bow centre he had created, busy helping a group of disabled locals into a van – presumably for some kind of life-expanding excursion away from one of the most socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods in London.

What an amazing place, this centre! In such a depressing neighbourhood!

My recollections: 

Opening on to the street, the ‘Pie in the Sky Cafe’ serves take-away coffee and light meals to passers by. It’s also an entrance to the centre. You can go inside for a sit down affair. Or make your way to any of the spaces in the centre.

Behind this ‘front’ there’s a woodworking space. Upstairs, if I recall rightly, an art room in full swing carving sculptures from soft rock, a kitchen with a handful of women of various nationalities, cooking favourite recipes. This place was an old church hall. Now, as I visited, it was full of local people engaged in all kinds of activities!

Mawson had been appointed to this church by the United Reformed Church some years before, and had been going hammer and tongs reforming it into something well beyond its twelve elderly ladies on Sundays and their problems paying the heating bills in winter.

The church itself had been transformed into a child-care facility, with professional staff. It had been cleverly designed so that it could easily be converted back into a church space for Sundays.

I talked with a lady outside the cafe. She lived in a little Council flat nearby and had just dropped off her children into childcare. Now she was heading in to help some disabled people with their reading. I followed her.

Mawson had started with a cot-case church, in a cot-case neighbourhood, with apparently cot-case people and with just 400 pounds in the bank. HIs biggest asset, apart from his own vision for social justice, his persistence and his communication skills was that he was starting with what nobody wanted. Though he did have to win over the twelve elderly ladies!

This week I discovered a copy of his book, which tells its story. It’s written in 2008, but it contains some great clues for leading social change, particularly meaningful for those of us who experienced the Thatcher-Blair years.

I share some of his little gems from the ‘Introduction’:

Social entrepreneurs do not follow conventional ways of working. Their view of the world begins with people, passion, experience and story – not policy, statistics and theory.

The trick is first to demonstrate what you are proposing to do for people in a small tangible way and then to expand the sense of possibility. 

Seeing is believing. Integrity is the name of the game.

Social entrepreneurs often defy easy definition.

Learning is by doing. Social entrepreneurs call into question the systems and processes of government, which are still run by well-qualified civil servants who rarely get hold of the pieces (of the jigsaw puzzle) themselves and whose approach has so failed many of our poorest communities.

What marks out social entrepreneurs from business entrepreneurs and other kinds of charitable and public-sector workers is that they are not driven solely by financial profit or ideology, or by a career or a pension scheme…They feel they have something important  to share that must be demonstrated both emotionally and practically…they care a lot about people and are talented at forming relationships and creating committed teams and communities around them. They are very serious about learning from, and applying business experience and ideas, to social questions. They are fundamentally interested in what works in practice and how you scale up ideas to achieve effective growth. (or ‘scale across’ – Jim Wakelam)

Difference and diversity, not conformity and equality, are the fertile soil of social change.

Serious social entrepreneurs…have seen through the weaknesses of philanthropy and the dangers of its grant-dependent culture…

Where others had seen an appointment to this ‘dying’ church in a hopeless neighbourhood as mission impossible, Mawson started moving around the neighbourhood, looking for any and every opportunity for change. He said ‘yes’ when others had said ‘no’. He asked ordinary people for help. He used the language of ‘us’.

He was prepared to pay the personal price of time and energy that social change demands. And he was prepared to stay the course, beyond the disappointments and setbacks. He not only empowered others to do their dreams, but continued to extend the capacity of his neighbourhood to dare to imagine a bigger, ‘impossible’ world he could see as a new, exciting opportunity for their human flourishing.

Andrew Mawson. The Social Entrepreneur – Making Communities Work. (Atlantic Books. London. 2008)

Message to Pilgrim Church, Refugee Sunday

Pilgrim Church 9.30 Congregation
Refugee Sunday, August 26,2016

Faith, Hope and Love abide, and the greatest of these is Hospitality!

I wonder whether it is time we dropped the word ‘love’ from our vocabulary, particularly when talking in the public sphere. Any check of the dictionary will show that the most common meaning of ‘love’ is reduced to a feeling!

Even among Christians the practice of agape is often twisted. ‘I love Muslims’ a Christian colleague once said to me, but I could see no evidence of it.

I think he ‘loved’ them because he was supposed to love them, perhaps in the sense that one should ‘love one’s enemies’! But equally likely, I suspect he ‘loved them’ only so he could try to convert them – a carry over from the so-called ‘love-bombing’ by Christian sects in the 70’s – a massive display of generosity in order to attract others to join them.  ‘Love’ with hidden agendas!

The word ‘love’ has accumulated so much baggage as to mean almost anything. ‘Love’ has become so ambiguous it can even justify violence if it makes you feel good.

I bet, in conservative Christian circles, George W Bush Jr could say that he loved Suddam Hussein! Suddam needed George’s ‘love’ for Saddam’s own good!

In our materialist age, agape is the casualty when translating the three Greek words, eros, filios and agape with the one English word, ‘love’.

We need a new word that embraces agape.

I am suggesting that, particularly in the public domain, that word is hospitality.

I know we have the same kind of linguistic problem, that ancient practice having been appropriated by the Hospitality Industry and reduced to being a polite, comfortable transaction – for a price.

The great pastoral theologian Henri Nouwen defines hospitality as the creating of space. 

This is such an appropriate concept for our age, when space is being squashed out of so many areas of our lives by higher and higher expectations and tighter and tighter deadlines. Time, after all, is money! And efficiency – doing more with less – is the name of the game. It’s the condition for your next pay rise!

This ‘Radical’ hospitality of Nouwen is a practice so desperately needed in the world.  At the same time I find an openness among those I meet in my public life to consider and embrace it. Whereas ‘agape’ seems to have passed its used by date.

This is what Nouwen is talking about:

Hospitality… means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.
It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment.
It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit.
It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opportunity to others to find their God and their way.
The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations.
Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt a life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own. 

Just like agape, it turns the whole world upside down: No longer my interest first, but together with yours.

I visited my dear friend and colleague, Raimund Blanke in Germany again this year. I first met him in 2004 at a conference when he was the Catholic Chaplain at Cologne University. But, squashed out by his Bishop who wanted a conservative influence in the university, over the last eight years he and his colleague Peter have built a wonderful parish in Bonn in which hospitality is the key feature. No wonder so many families want to belong to it!

Raimund once told me about one of his congregation, a recently retired medical professor at the University of Bonn. He is a European authority on pain management.

About eight years ago this professor, in the prime of his career, decided to become a Catholic on the strength of what he saw in the life of Pastor Peter and the life of his congregation.

Modelling on those values he has initiated his own ministry – to the poorest and most disadvantaged in the parish.

He started by taking all of twenty plus of them on a cruise up the Rhine – a fantastic party to brighten their lives. 

Visiting Raimund again this year, he told me that the professor has opened his holiday house on the coast of Spain to the parish and gives these disadvantaged people a holiday there every year – every expense paid.

Raimund showed me a photo of the Professor with a disabled lady. He was hosting an outing in the country for people with disabilities. It was time for a walk together and the lady said she could not walk. Come with me he said, taking her arm, and they went on and completed the 4 kilometre walk!

His is not a ‘church program’ as such. He just comes up with these ideas to bring life to others. And he has the resources to do it without impacting the church budget.

No wonder, when the time came to help the wave of refugees, Raimund and Peter’s parish put their names forward to care for 1,000!

Being German, they are super-organised, a team of fourteen from the parish headed by a psychiatrist and supported by lawyers, social workers and health professionals. I’ve met them. Even the elderly in the parish, at first feeling frightened by these strangers, fell in love with them after they had met some of them. Now their ministry includes knitting for them.

This year they are caring for 1,300!

Hospitality is agape-love in action. Creating unconditional, friendly space for the other to sing their own songs, dance their own dances and tell their own stories.

Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is hospitality!


How to avoid putting up capital to have your book published by a recognised publishing house?
How not to have a stack of your books sitting in the garage unsold?
How to easily have your book available through all major on-line book sellers?

I use Lulu.com

Here’s one of their knowledge videos aimed at not-for-profits that might be a helpful introduction, if you want to get your ideas or stories out there.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/271742917″>Self-Publishing for Non-profits</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/luludotcom”>Lulu Press, Inc.</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Check out the Lulu website to get inspired!