I’ve got the fourth in a guest post series called “Listen, Learn and Listen Some More.” Every Tuesday you’ll be invited into story from some writers who have something to teach the rest of us about the subject – and I’m so excited for you to know my new friend, Jonathan Puddle. You may recall listening to the two of us talk on this episode of the Puddcast …and today we get to listen in on how setting the table for others has been a game-changer in myriad ways. Proceeds from today’s article will go toward Preemptive Love.
“Does the world really need another white, Christian, male voice?”
That’s the question I found myself asking. Becoming a full-time writer was my dream and I had just finished my first manuscript. The response from publishers was typically, “Good message, but come back when people know who you are.” A podcast seemed to be the logical next step but six months later I was ready to call it quits. Fame and following were poor motivators for the hard, unpaid work of research & interview prep, discussion & audio editing, not to mention promotion. I went back to the drawing board to find a better why and instead found myself asking whether or not the world even needed my voice at all.
In my own journey I was spending more and more time in progressive faith spaces and I had begun to confront the deep issues of systemic power and privilege in my life. As a white male of colonial descent it was my responsibility to swallow many bitter pills. While I still had to earn the attention of a publisher, I would be doing so with publishers who were primarily interested in books by white males. While I still had to earn the attention of listeners and carve out an audience for myself, I would be doing so as exactly the kind of person most commonly found behind microphones and pulpits, and in front of cameras and crowds. These were wins for me, but wins for white, Christian males have rarely been wins for the world at large.
I resolved to do what I could do to change that fact. I dove back into podcasting with greater vulnerability. I wouldn’t just speak to those people whose stories wrapped up neatly with a bow on top. I wouldn’t just take guests whose anger had subsided. I would talk to people who might prove me wrong publicly. And I would commit to learning and being present within every conversation. Forget about building influence for me, I would set the table for others to share their stories.
The conversations began to change. I began to change. Even my guests began to change. Friendships were formed, safety and trust were forged. Hearts were opened and tears were spilled.
Like the middle-aged egalitarian Latina church-planter who spends much of her time in white male dominant spaces urging them towards a higher vision for the church. The events of her life had granted her some misgivings about recording an interview with me. But we connected deeply as she told her story. I was profoundly moved, not least by her words at the end, “Jonathan, you made me feel very safe. This conversation deeply impacted me.”
Or the disability advocate whose language around wholeness pierced me to the core, causing me to break down, cry and apologise on air for the ways that I have viewed people with disabilities. We shared a sacred moment of repentance and forgiveness, and she told me “Thank you, Jonathan. White men don’t usually get what I’m trying to say.”
When you genuinely set the table for others to come and fellowship with you and share their stories, you will be changed. I realised that perhaps what the world needed most from this white male was to observe a willingness to learn, to be wrong, to receive correction and to use his power and privilege in ways not commonly seen from those who look like him.
I started writing with a desire to show people an alternative vision of what is possible. I longed for people to embrace the freedom, hope and love that is theirs as people made in the image of God, created to be like God. I wanted to show people an alternative vision for the use of power, power that is laid down for the sake of others rather than protected and used selfishly. I still want to write about those things, but by setting the table for others to share their stories and letting them change me, I suspect I may have begun to model exactly what it is I set out to teach in the first place.
Jonathan Puddle is a writer, podcaster and kids’ pastor from Guelph, Canada. Featuring vulnerable, unscripted conversations with guests such as Wm. Paul Young, Priscilla Shirer, Kim Walker-Smith and Max Lucado, “The Puddcast” has been described by at least 1 listener as the only male-hosted podcast she regularly listens to. You can connect with him online.