Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What I Notice

Written by: on October 11, 2018


Having recently returned from our Hong Kong advance, I was reminded of a truth that I had unearthed while living abroad: that I learn at least as much about myself when traveling cross-culturally than I do about the culture which I’m visiting. That knowledge doesn’t come without some reflective work. At first I just notice things. In Hong Kong, I noticed the port and the skyscrapers immediately. Then I looked for evidence of what I had learned from Tsang and Pullinger. I noticed that there were fewer Caucasian people than I had expected in a region that had been under colonial rule for a hundred years, and wondered how residents felt about this period of transition from British to Chinese rule[1] . I noticed that the streets were much cleaner and safer than I expected; of course this is because I wasn’t in the Walled City which Pullinger had described, but still I noticed it[2]. Then I have to make some time to notice what I am noticing and what I’m wondering. In this case, I may also include the step of noticing what I had noticed in Tsang and Pullinger that shaped my expectations of Hong Kong. But travel has a way of insisting that I am located within a much broader context, and just as a book takes on meaning in relation to the other books in the library, or a word makes sense in relation to other words, so I find deeper meaning in my relation to a greater diversity of people [3].

Bayard’s observations and suggestions of how we might interact with books illuminates this process. His delineation of the inner-library as it emerges from the collective library [4]is useful in understanding the two simultaneous, though sometimes competing, identities I possess in my own noticing. The first is that I am a representative of certain demographics which shape my own subjectivity; I am a middle-aged, middle-class, Caucasian Canadian woman. This, and perhaps the multiple narratives that help define this identity might be considered part of my collective library. Incidentally there are also key texts included in the collective library of this demographic, for example the now classic Canadian children’s books The Paper Bag Princess [5] and Anne of Green Gables [6] . How I have lived out that identity or would offer further definition of that broader classification, as well as how I’ve interpreted those key texts, might be considered my inner library.

It is difficult to identify precisely what volumes are contained in our ‘inner libraries’ as we enter into dialogue with circumstances that are new and yet unexamined, but it is critical to acknowledge that they exist in order to resist the assumption that our own stories, experiences and texts are globally normative and all others must be subversive. This humility is generally what encourages me to ask questions about what I notice and seek to understand my new surroundings. Just as we must understand a text in order to be in dialogue with it [7], we also must work to be in dialogue cross-culturally by seeking to understand the ‘inner library’ of local people in an effort to be pointed towards their own collective library.

A key example of this during our trip was a conversation I had with our dear local friend Nana. After sitting in our group during a speaker and subsequent question and answer, she observed that our group made a lot of observations about women and power. She noticed what we were noticing. She went on to explain that she would not tend to notice these things and from her perspective, it would not be a key concern for people in Hong Kong. Was this suggestion representative of the collective library or her inner library I wonder? For me to understand why I notice, I pull from my shelf those two children’s books: The Paper Bag Princess and Anne of Green Gables. You see the fictional heroines in these books contributed to my understanding of gender identity. Elizabeth taught me I could be a rescuer and use my wits to outsmart a powerful adversary (the dragon)[8] . Conveniently, this book came out when I was little and keen on picture books. Unbeknownst to me, this book took a significant turn from Brothers Grimm and Disney (up until then) in making the princess a hero. What I internalized from this book, was to look at hard and dangerous situations and ask why shouldn’t I go? The second text, was published much earlier, but happened to be made into a CBC movie when I was young, re-igniting its popularity. Anne led me to assume that girls who were creative, intelligent and independent could make a favourable impact on the world—if they were willing to endure being misunderstood at times[9]. These early additions to my library are why I notice when women aren’t powerful. I wonder which childhood texts might have shaped our new friends?

It seems then, that I have found myself in Bayard’s final library, in the ‘realm of play’[10] where books are discussed. Bayard points to the “virtual library”[11] as the location where creative discussion and work takes place as together we create a collection of literary influences that have shaped us, or rather we have shaped them by our subjective readings. In talking about books he suggests we are exchanging parts of our very selves[12] . Could we expand that library to also include experiences we’ve had? People we’ve known? Places we’ve been? Each of these further contributes to the construction of ourselves as reader and as creative agent.

“The paradox of reading is that the path toward ourselves passes through books, but that this must remain a passage. It is a traversal of books that a good reader engages in – a reader who knows that every book is the bearer of part of himself and can give him access to it, if only he has the wisdom to not end his journey there.” [13] Perhaps this is the traveller’s journey as well. As I process and continue to discuss what I’ve experienced in Hong Kong, I’m aware that I am undertaking a creative work of intentional, subtle, self-recreation—or, if I am able to invite God into the discussion, yielded recreation.


1. Tsang, Steven. A Modern History of Hong Kong.New York: I.B.Tauris & Co Ltd, 2004. Chapter 17. Kindle.
2. Pullinger, Jackie and Andrew Quicke. Chasing the Dragon: Woman’s Struggle Against the Darkeness of Hong Kong’s Drug Dens. Bloomington, Minnesota: Chosen Books, 2001.
3. Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books you Haven’t Read. Translated by Jeffery Mehlman. Read by Grover Gardner. Ashland, OR: Google Play Audiobooks, 2007. Chapter 9.
4. Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books you Haven’t Read. Translated by Jeffery Mehlman. Read by Grover Gardner. Ashland, OR: Google Play Audiobooks, 2007.
5. Munch, Robert. The Paper Bag Princess. Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 1980.
6. Montgomery, Lucy Maud. Anne of Green Gables. Edited by Cecile Margaret Devereaux. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, [1908] 2004.
7. Adler, Mortimer J., and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book. New York: Touchstone Pbl Simon & Schuster, 1972. 140. Kindle.

8. Munch, Robert. The Paper Bag Princess. Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 1980.
9. Montgomery, Lucy Maud. Anne of Green Gables. Edited by Cecile Margaret Devereaux. Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, [1908] 2004.
10. Bayard, Pierre. How to Talk About Books you Haven’t Read. Translated by Jeffery Mehlman. Read by Grover Gardner. Ashland, OR: Google Play Audiobooks, 2007.Chapter  9
11. Ibid.
12. Ibid.
13. Ibid.

About the Author

Jenn Burnett

Jenn is lead pastor at The Well church in Kelowna. She longs to see the body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and contending for unity across difference. She also loves rugby, the outdoors, the colour orange and the chaos that goes with raising 4 kids.

8 responses to “What I Notice”

  1. Rhonda Davis says:

    Jenn, thank you for sharing your “noticing” with us. I must admit I am envious of your ability. Too often, I spend my time racing forward without pausing to wonder. There is beauty in the questions you asked both in Hong Kong and as a young girl. It is a valuable discipline to take inventory of our “inner library” as we navigate through important dialogue or issues that arise or questions we can’t answer. You have inspired me to notice more!

  2. Mary Mims says:

    Jen, I like the idea of the virtual library that includes what we have read and the experiences we have had. Like you, I loved Anne of Green Gables, both the movies and the books, which I watched and read with my daughter. I related to the character who was different and created her own path in spite of what others said was the norm of the day. I agree that both books we have read and the experiences we have had, have the power to change us. I am thankful for all of the interactions with my classmates and how it has added to my personal library of experiences, shaping me into who I am.

  3. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Glo and I miss you so, we pray you and your family are doing well! What an interesting take on Bayard, I love how you integrate books, people, and places we have read, seen, and visited. Also how you integrate your outward observations (your collective library) and your inward reflections (your inner library). It is interesting to see the books self-reported to be most formative for a specific person’s identity. We see the integration of your most formative books and your passion, your intoxicating love of life and people (especially little people). You are also brave and willing to be misunderstood at times to follow and fulfill your calling, you inspire us all. Glo says hi and I will see you next Monday, H

  4. Digby Wilkinson says:

    I think referring to yourself as middle-aged, is a bit of a stretch!
    It’s a good observation that our inner libraries are constructs of our culture and upbringing. To counter that requires deep reflection and a desire to read what we know disagrees with our cultural perspectives. The question of course, is why? It takes both courage and inclination, especially when it’s easier not to. But as you point out, some of those alternative books are people and experiences that are not so easy to avoid and they get added to our libraries even if we don’t want them – they inform us whether we like it or not. So what does yielded recreation look like?

    • Jenn Burnett says:

      I’m so glad you asked about yielded recreation! It’s an idea that has emerged out of praying for people who were going through tough seasons. God shaped in me the prayer that in such seasons, people would not be shaped by the pain and suffering, but instead be re-shaped by God in the midst of pain and suffering. This has expanded to a view that instead of letting external circumstances or experiences shape us, we are better to yield to God to be reshaped in light of them. It is easiest to refuse to be moved in light of experience; ‘objectively’ (is that possible?) judging it. It takes moderate engagement to allow oneself to be moved by experience. But it takes discipline and intentionality to yield to God and invite Him to re-shape us in light of such experience.

  5. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    You ask if we can include in our inner libraries, places we have visited or even people we have known? I believe we have to. My reading of Outlander and Harry Potter has changed since visiting areas of Scotland. I enjoy books about New York City because I have such a an immediate reference point. Has your reading of the Bible changed since you visited the Holy Lands?

    • Jenn Burnett says:

      Absolutely my visit to the Holy Land has expanded and shifted and informed my reading of the Bible. I generally find that what was a spiritual/theological perspective has been enhanced with a history/geography experience. There are some key passages that have jumped out in fresh ways as a result of the life experience. Perhaps this is why God puts a yearning in our hearts to travel and experience places? That we might know with our heads and with our hearts and with our senses—that our understanding might have multiple genres of texts.

  6. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Thanks, Jenn. Reading your thoughts and the quote you reminded us of in your last paragraph, I really appreciate the idea of having the wisdom to not end the journey in any “book.” When we do we get stuck. I was pondering Nana’s comments to you as well as Digby’s about the same issue. I wonder if a culture can “end the journey in a book” and get stuck as well?

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