Greetings all! I hope you are well and enjoying the summer months. I write this note in the midst of one of my annual continuing education events in beautiful Pacific Grove, CA. This is an event that I have been coming to pretty much every year since I was ordained and is one that anchors my journey, not just in my ministry in this denomination, but as a child of God, striving to be faithful every day. One of the best parts of this event is that the people here are made up of an amazing array of ministry and personal contexts and experiences. I am always moved by the stories of service that are shared, not just because people are DOING great things in the name of Jesus Christ, but because people, year after year after year continue to be energized and inspired to BE the hands, hearts and minds of Christ in the world. This morning as we were engaged in the academic segment of our day, I couldn’t help but to think about the gift it is to be in a place where we could listen to these stories of faith that each of us brought. Their stories in some ways become my stories, mine become theirs and in the end we have a deeper understanding of who God may indeed be for each of us.
This is the posture that I am taking as your Moderator. To listen. While some would have me make judgments, declarations and pronouncements about the relative merits of what I hear, as I begin my itineration time, I think the best thing I can model right now is to listen to what we are saying and in response, via the the gift of my office, share with the church what we are in fact saying to one another. This does not mean that I will claim any kind of false-objectivity or that I will not form a personal opinion or assessment, but it does mean that my primary posture right now is to listen.
Living the discipline of listening is crucial right now. With the many many many many – Did I say many? – voices, perspectives and opinions being raised in just as many venues and contexts, it would behoove us to remember that listening is a vital part of our discernment.
As I engage in this practice, I firmly believe that in order to best discern the will of God for our lives, we must FORCE ourselves to not only listen to the voices with whom we already know we agree. Regardless of the issue: theological, social or ecclesiastical, listening to opposing voices can be one of the most difficult and rewarding opportunities of our collective life as a denominational. And regardless of where we end up as a denomination, if we do not do this, we will not get there with grace.
Now I am not talking about some "pie in the sky" "if we just listen we will soon be surrounded by puppies and butterflies and the world will be a better place" ideal, but a posture of listening that embodies humility of spirit grounded in a confidence of faith. In other words, I believe that we can be confident in our faith, beliefs and discernment so that listening to other voices does not weaken our faith, but in fact, can deepen it. Just because we hear it, does not mean we have to believe it, but if we never hear it, we’ll never know of the possibilities.
As I approach this discipline in my own local ministry as well as Moderator, here are are a few reasons why I am committed to listening to the other.
- Listening to the "other" pushes me to better articulate, re-examine and refine what I believe. If I can’t articulate what I believe with confidence and conviction, beyond scripted slogans and bumper-sticker faith, I may need to think about the deeper foundations of where I have landed at this point and time. Listening to the other challenges me to come to a deeper understanding of what I claim to believe.
- Listening to the "other" makes known to me possible blind spots or unintentional ramifications of what I believe, say, etc. While at General Assembly someone who disagreed with me on my position on homosexuality said that all this talk of "the inevitability of ordination of GLBT folks" was not helpful to him who was trying to find a way to remain in community within our denomination. He basically said to me that even if that is what you think, saying it can often say to someone who is in disagreement, "We are just waiting for you to evolve, theologically mature and/or catch up to the rest of us." And while some may feel this way, using this as an argument for change is weak at best and condescending at worst. His story tight be something that day and I have no other choice but to remember that as part of our church’s story.
- Listening to the "other" makes builds community. This seems like a no-brainer, but as we know often times interactions disguised as dialogues or discussions are really opportunities to debate and/or talk AT one another. Listening rarely happens because, if we did really listen, we would have to admit that the other person was not pure evil and was quite possible even human. This may seem extreme, but we all do it. When we can put someone in a box: liberal, apostate, oppressor, progressive, conservative, neo-con, emergent, etc. we can deny their very humanity: that of struggle, discernment, creation and faith. But when we take the time to listen, even if we are diametrically opposed, personalities collide or we think they are just plan wrong, we can no longer so easily set aside the Christ-centered covenant we have with them. By listening we inherently claim community.
Well, this post turned out to be longer than I had hoped, but there you have it. Lets try to listen to one another. We don’t even have to like one another, in fact, we may not. But I think it is in all of our best interests for the building up of the body of Christ, in whatever form we take in the future, to listen.
Trying to listen,