“…A Faith That Is Authentic…” Part 2: Listening


When last you joined us–in Part 1–I had explained why, though I compete for “Most Dysfunctional Functional Person in the World” (I’ve never actually won, but I’ve come in 4th like six times), I also have the crazy privilege of profoundly influencing people, sometimes being one of the most influential people in their lives…and not even in a bad way.

After writing several posts and series on how people like us (go ahead, define that) survive and seek to thrive and trust God in the world, I’m taking the bold step of trying a series on what I do right.  That’s what this is.  I think I’m special only in the sense that God has worked in my life in unusual ways and taught me some thing that appear to be a bit off the beaten path.  If they help others, that’s worth sticking my neck out and offering them.


I don’t know if I’m a better listener than others.  I do know I listen a lot (I’m also rumored to talk a lot, which means I must spend a lot of time with people).  Listening is both easy and crazy hard work.  I’ve given a lot of thought to listening:  what it is, how it works, why so many people suck at it, and how transformative it can be in people’s lives.

  1. (and also 2., 3., etc.)  Care

The difference between merely waiting for someone to stop talking and listening to them is caring what they say.  Caring what people say is one of the most practical ways we can love them. Christianity is really big on love, since the founder kept commanding things like “Love one another as I have loved you.”

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Here’s a crazy thing:  Jesus was a great listener.[/pullquote]

Here’s a crazy thing:  Jesus was a great listener.  The wisest person ever to live listened well to others.  Had the most important things to say in history, listened well to others.  My favorite example is that on the way to heal Jairus’s daughter, Jesus stopped when the woman in the crowd touched him.  She was already healed physically.  But he wanted to identify her, look her in the eye, hear her story, and then send her in peace, proclaiming to her and everyone else that her faith had healed her.  Jesus healed her emotionally and socially.  He showed her that she mattered.  He loved her by listening.

People generally know if you are paying attention or not.  Paying attention is an investment in another human being.  It’s called “paying” for a reason.  It requires concentration, setting aside anything more urgent-feeling, and quieting the voices shouting “Squirrel!” and “I’m hungry,” and “Ooh, she’s cute.”  Eye contact helps. Active listening, i.e. asking real questions and giving ongoing verbal and non-verbal cues that indicate we are tracking, these demonstrate that we care what the other person says and help us succeed at listening, at the same time.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]For me, real listening means finding a way to connect with what the other person is saying.[/pullquote]

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What about Power?


Lately much of what I hear is a debate about power.  It may not be the stated or acknowledged topic, but between the lines or as the underlying theme?  Almost always.

When we discuss what to do about refugees, we’re talking about power.  When we debate who gets to own and fire guns, we’re talking about power.  When we argue over the best next leader for the United States, the heart of that argument is power.

arm wrestlingThis is not new, but I really think we need to acknowledge it.  If we don’t, we pretend to have different motives than those actually guiding our interactions.  If we deceive ourselves, we cannot be straightforward with our opponents.

Take this another step.  I think many people feel powerless.  Many folks think–or imagine–that they have lost power they screaming protestersonce had.  Was there once a sense of control, of being master of one’s own destiny, that has gotten away?  Is that why we’re so pissed off?  Is that why all political discussions immediately devolve into insults and name-calling?

I’m asking questions here, because though I am generalizing, I’m certain these matters are more complex than simply the issue of power.  Nonetheless, I see this issue acknowledged so rarely that I feel almost compelled to name it.

I hate–and I do mean that word, “hate”–how uncivil our political discourse has become.  I’ve said this before and it bears repeating–how we treat one another is more important than who we vote for or our political stance.  Jesus said so.  There were crazy levels of politics and power struggles going on in Jesus’ time, folks popping up claiming to be the Messiah, a whole insurgent movement against Roman occupation, a religious/political party claiming the way forward was holiness (Pharisees), another claiming it was gaining secular influence (Sadducees), and then a bunch of people hoping for a military revolution led by an all-powerful Messiah from God who would crush enemies under his heel.  And to that cyclone of conflicting factions, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you:  love one another as I have loved you.  They shall know you by your love of one another.”

Yeah, they don’t.  They, the non-Christians who see how we communicate, don’t know us by our love for one another so much when we scream over Hillary versus Bernie, or blare about how much we need to prevent these Syrian immigrants from entering our country so we don’t get blown to hell.  In fact, we almost seem to take it as a matter of pride that we don’t engage in civil discourse, that we don’t allow for the possibility that we could be wrong on any single point because we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that anyone who is of the opposite political persuasion from me, is both an idiot and an asshole.


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