The art of asking … and listening…

There are many take-home lessons from Amanda Palmer’s 2013 TED Talk entitled ‘The Art of Asking’.

My wife Emma told me to watch this talk when it came out in 2013 but I only recently got around to watching it. Guess what? She was right! I should have listened J It is well and truly worth investing the 13 minutes and 47 seconds it runs to because it touches on a range of themes and issues relevant to living in today’s world, no matter how old you are.

The primary issues Amanda raises includes those around music piracy and torrent downloading, but like the tastiest of onions there are hidden layers to unpeel. So please grab a coffee or thick shake, watch, enjoy and comment below on what strikes you about Amanda’s message.

For me, the one layer of the talk I have found myself returning to is ‘vulnerability’. I sense there is a real fear of being vulnerable in today’s world. For some reason it is seen as a weakness or flaw in who we are. There is a moment in Amanda’s talk where she says “Thank you, I see you”. How often do we let ourselves be seen? How often are we able to let down the masks we wear or drop the shields and distractions that serve only to deflect attention away from who we truly are?

Thinking about today’s social media-driven society and the millions of interactions people are having every day with others from around the world, I wonder why we hear of so many longing for genuine and authentic connection and community. It’s simple: interactions do not equal connection!

Perhaps opening up ourselves and our faith communities to being vulnerable would encourage others to do the same; allowing relationships of the type that allow mutual sharing and vulnerability. It is clear to me from Amanda’s TED Talk that her willingness to be open and ask for help has led to wonderful moments of joy and deep connections with the people in her life.

This makes me think of the word ‘balance’ and the sense that we want to ‘control’ the see-saw of life; only allowing small movements as we place ourselves not too far from the centre, without much in the way of highs and lows. Whereas if you sit on the end of the see-saw you can have great highs and some pretty low lows. Perhaps being vulnerable is about our willingness as individuals and faith communities to give ourselves permission to sit further away from the middle of the see-saw. Perhaps it is about gaining the strength to be willing to go to those low places with someone which could also lead to the highs of life.


As a Christian, I wonder why we struggle to be vulnerable. We often talk about being made in God’s image, but do we say that thinking only about the nice good-looking bits of ourselves or does it include those parts of us we are ashamed of? There are plenty of songs we sing that talk about God being enough for us. But what does that say about being vulnerable? And what of the stories of the Bible that talk about how much we are loved or how far the Shepherd would go to find the lost sheep? Yet we are still driven to not show weakness or vulnerability.

In terms of Youth Ministry, I hear a number of people talk about their passion to see this generation of young people step up and revitalise the church. I also wonder how many generations have heard that message. Perhaps it’s time for us to change the message. Perhaps we as leaders and Ministers could focus on creating spaces and opportunities for relationship-building. Granted, it sounds so weird to say that as a church we need to focus on relationship-building. I mean surely we should know how to do that, but unfortunately many of us don’t. What would it look like if we focused a season on developing deeper relationship within our communities? Developing relationships forged on strength through vulnerability.

My final wonder, for now, is about how we expect young people to be honest and share their questions and struggles about faith and life if we as leaders and Ministers are not willing to show them how. One of the most powerful things you can offer in your youth ministry is authentic and honest relationships that empower sharing, vulnerability and a willingness to grow. Amanda Palmer will show you the way so don’t waste time and tune in to this terrific TED Talk.