The need to listen…

There’s been an awful lot going on this last month…and sometimes it’s left me feeling discouraged.

  • Hurricanes leaving incredible devastation in their wake…and what feels like an inability (or unwillingness) to respond to the needs of the people who have lost everything and who must be wondering just where do you even start to recover…
  • Earthquake in Mexico…again leaving devastation and sorrow in its wake…
  • The protests against injustice and inequality…
  • Listening to incredibly painful stories of members of the LGBTQ+ community…

And yet…there is something to be learned–and hope to be found.

Recently I was at a weekend focused on history of faith communities that come out of the same heritage mine does. For many, many years, the various faith communities refused to talk to each other. We talked AT each other and we spent much of our time pointing out the differences between us and how we were right. More recently, though, we have talked and worked together–and that has been a blessing. We are still aware of our differences both in understanding our history and in our theologies…but we have found that there are many ways in which we can work together to make a difference.

Responders to natural disasters also at times need silence so that they can listen…listen to hear voices calling for help.

And as I watch the protests against justice and inequality–and listen to the responses about those protests–and listened to the stories of young (and older) people who have experienced incredible pain and sometimes severe trauma as they have struggled to be true to who they are…I have learned much.

It requires us to listen. Not just to listen–but also to hear. And sometimes that requires us to be silent.

I’ve just finished reading a book I’d highly recomment–On Living by Kerry Egan. She’s a hospice chaplain, and the book contains stories shared from her experience–both personal experience she had after the birth of her first child as well as stories her patients have encouraged her to share. I’m a minister in my faith tradition–and this quote from her book really spoke to me:

“When we dismiss an experience as “not real,” what we are actually rejecting is the person’s attempt at making meaning of the experience. That’s a cruel thing to do. Attempting to find or make meaning is perhaps the central task of the spiritual life.”

So what does that have to do with the issues I pointed out above? I think it has a lot.

We can get so caught up in all the horror of the natural disasters that we don’t really hear the cries for help.

We can have such a visceral emotional response to a protest that we are unable (or unwilling) to hear the pain that causes the protest.

What if we asked instead this question: “What does that [action…fear…event] mean to you?” And then, what if we really listened to the question? Really listened…

“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.” —Roy T. Bennett in The Light in the Heart

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Perception = reality

Several years ago my husband was caught flat-footed when some of his teachers told him that they didn’t feel like he was a particularly supportive principal. He felt he was very supportive and was hurt by their criticism. But when he stepped back and took time to listen and hear what they were saying, he realized that what he thought he was doing to be supportive instead wasn’t what they needed. He changed–and the relationship between him and the teachers improved significantly.

What he learned from that experience is that perception = reality.

We may be caught flat-footed ourselves when something we say or do is taken in a different way than we intended. We may intend something as a joke–but someone else sees it as hurtful. We may say something in what we think is a compliment–but because of life circumstances, it may come across as a put-down.

Our response might be “That’s not what I meant at all!” and we may be frustrated and irritated. We may say “You shouldn’t feel that way”…and perhaps that’s true.

But…perception = reality. And we need to learn to accept that.

It’s not always easy, and it requires a willingness to listen. We have to put our own defensiveness aside and try to put ourselves in someone else’s place. How we see and experience life is impacted by many factors, and it’s unique to each of us. We see the world through a constantly shifting lens, because our life experiences are constantly changing.

Our world is full of people who are convinced that everyone sees and responds to stimuli the same way…but we don’t. The more we are able to recognize that–and the more we are willing to understand that perception = reality–that more we have opportunity for meaningful interaction with and understanding of each other.

The Bible says… (part 2)

I’ve been thinking about what I think the Bible says…and realized that in some ways it was incomplete.

What I said there is still very definitely my belief, but sometimes people end up asking, “Well, then, what do you believe the Bible says? My response in the last post was this:

God loves us–completely and fully. All God asks in return is that we love God…and our neighbors.

Obviously that’s my paraphrase…and that doesn’t satisfy some who want specific words–words from the Bible. Okay, I can understand that.

So…as I’ve listened to the debates and political “discourse” (although I’m not sure it’s been discourse as much as it’s been seeing who can yell loud enough to get their points heard), these are the words from the Bible that I believe are what the Bible says to us today. They come from the NRSV version (emphasis added by me):

Matthew 22:36-40

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 25:31-45:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”

Praying–and working–for peace

Since December 3, 1993, my faith tradition has joined millions of others around the world who pray for peace on a regular basis. The short Prayer for Peace service has taken place every day, praying for peace in general but also specifically with a focus on an individual country each time. Yesterday I had the privilege of again playing for the service, and the hymn that we sang really spoke to me.

It was written by Geoffrey Spencer, a former leader from Australia (and a friend)…a man who in many ways spoke prophetically and was ahead of his time. His words were not always appreciated, but they were often prescient.

As I look around our world today–and especially what is happening in my own country–this is one of those times when I think his words provide a challenge for us all.

Why should the earth disclose a face
distraught by pain and anguish?
And how can hearts that beat with ours,
in tortured bondage languish?

Should men despair, or women weep,
in cruel deprivation;
or haunted eyes in children mock
the bounties of creation?

Oh, may our hearts be tuned to hear
their cries of quiet weeping,
and may the echoes of distress
disturb our restful sleeping.

The rich resources of the earth,
a table set for sharing,
are bread and wine for humankind,
a sacrament of caring.

The word made flesh in Christ declares
our lives belong to others;
so let us take our stand beside
our sisters and our brothers.

Let heart and hand reach out across
the walls of tribe and nation,
till every voice on earth shall raise
a hymn of jubilation.

As a follower of the Carpenter who came to change the world, the fifth verse especially speaks to me. He never said that following him would be easy–in fact, he indicated it would be difficult…and many would say that what he asked is impossible. But if we want a better world for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren…we really don’t have any choice but to see others as sisters and brothers. We have no choice but to find others who want peace as well, regardless of whether we call the Divine by the same name…or look alike…or worship alike…or have the same political beliefs.

Is it going to be easy? No. But is it possible? I believe so…because I am reminded of a quote often attributed to Margaret Mead…and because the small group that followed the Carpenter shows its truth:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

It’s that time of year again…

So…it’s that time of year again. Time to put away the winter clothes and pull out the summer ones. But not completely.

The weather forecast is calling for a chilly night again tonight (about 39 degrees), although it’s supposed to warm up again–at least somewhat–next week.

I’ve almost done this several times, but every time I was about ready to, the forecast called for a return to more winter-like weather.

But I decided that today it was the right time of year.

I put away almost all of my winter clothes…just kept out a few items that can work for either cool spring days or winter. I kept out a few jackets as well that will work just about any season. So hopefully I’m ready for the next few days.

For many of us, we’ve also just recently celebrated a time of putting away the old and entering into the new. Last week was Easter–a time that acknowledges death and yet rejoices in the power of life over death. In some ways that sounds so easy…after all, we see it happen every spring as trees and other plants bud out again and the grass turns from its seeming death into green.

But it’s not.

For life to triumph over death, something has to die. Our old way of seeing…our old expectations and hopes…sometimes even loved ones.

It’s not easy to let go of all that.

But every time I seasonally change my closet, I’m reminded that there are things I have to let go of…they no longer fit…I no longer like them…I don’t need them. And the same is true of my life.

It’s that time of year again. Time to let go…and time to be reborn!

Welcome the stranger…

Last night I sat in on a wonderful evening of story-telling from members of (and about) my faith tradition. Some of the stories were funny…some were more somber.

My faith tradition was birthed in the United States, but it did not have an easy birth or childhood. We were “different”…we challenged the status quo…and we became refugees. We were driven from place to place, and our founder was ultimately murdered. In many ways, it’s a wonder that we survived.

But the story that caught my attention last night was of one of those times of wandering. We were forcibly driven out of our homes in winter. We lost most of our earthly possessions–and many families did not know where their fathers were…or even if they were still alive. The journey was a difficult one. Sometimes we were able to find shelter–even if it was dirty and smelly; sometimes we were denied even that. Ultimately we found people who cared…people who saw us not as “other” but as human beings in need. We found a city of 1500 who were willing to take in 5000 refugees who had nothing. We found a temporary home while we regrouped so that we could go on.

As I listened to that story, I thought about the parallels with today…with my parents’ generation and my own.

In the 1930s there were people fleeing and looking for a place of shelter. They were people who had lost everything and who were afraid for their lives–and the lives of their children. Some found shelter, but many did not and perished.

Credit Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Today there are many fleeing and looking for safe places for themselves and their children. Some have found shelter–but many are still looking.

Yes, they are “other”…they are different.

But I am part of a country that has grown from the contributions of immigrants and refugees. I am part of a faith tradition that was welcomed as refugees. I am also part of a bigger faith tradition whose story includes both being welcomed as a stranger–and then being challenged to do the same to others. My people were welcomed…and I grew up believing this poem by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Compassion…to suffer with…

Sometimes there are almost no words to say. But I have to try.

Yesterday I was shocked and appalled at the current administration’s budget. But I was even more appalled to hear the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, describe it as “compassionate.” Compassionate?!?

This proposed budget includes a huge increase in defense spending–with corresponding cuts to (1) climate change research, (2) foreign aid, (3) public broadcasting, (4) national institutes of health, (5) meals on wheels, and (6) after-school programs…among others. The reasons? They don’t believe in the science that has been widely accepted around the world–and, in the case of Meals on Wheels and after-school programs, they don’t see any demonstrable benefits from them.

Really?

First of all, for many of the kids (and families) who depend on the after-school programs, they provide a safe place, food, and a place where they can get help with schoolwork. Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

And Meals on Wheels provides nutritional meals for folks who may be on the border of having to choose between food and other necessities…folks who may not be able to get out…as well as providing a way for someone to check up on them to ensure they haven’t fallen (or worse). Those aren’t demonstrable benefits?

I said yesterday that I believe that the GOP and I use different dictionaries to find the definition of compassion. The dictionaries I use indicate that the word comes from the mid-14th century, from Latin words that mean “to suffer with.” I do not see much suffering with those who are poor…hungry…in need.

And I am reminded of what Jesus said in Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited….

Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.