|Artwork by Izzie, Used with Permission|
“Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No, but he would give heed to me.”In other words, Job is saying “at least he would hear me!” How incredibly human is that desire? Isn’t this something that everyone longs for at some point in time? Although, you may not agree with me, at the very least, let me know that you hear what I am saying to you! Each of us longs for someone else to listen to what we have to say!
As a mother, I can remember times, when my children were little, and they would come up to me with a picture, or they might tug on my arm wanting me to come see something that they had built. Needless to say, sometimes their need to be acknowledged and my schedule didn’t always match! Sometimes I could stop what I was doing to go look at their creation or listen to their story. Other times, I would have to say “just a minute” and they would have to wait. But I always tried to acknowledge their effort, or their point of view. When they got older, the topics changed and there were a lot of family discussions around the dinner table. I might not always agree with their position but I took the time to listen and acknowledge their point of view. That longing to be heard is hard wired into each of us, from a young age and that longing doesn’t change no matter how old we grow! Each and every one of us has a desire to be heard!
So why is it so hard to be heard? Because in order to be heard, someone has to take the time to listen. And listening seems to be in short supply. It’s like we are all talking past each other rather than talking with each other. Sometimes we have to stop talking and instead start listening! That doesn’t mean that you will always be in agreement on a topic, but at least you will have made the effort to hear the other persons point of view.
Now I could use the United States Congress as a prime example of “talking but not listening” but I have another example that I would like to bring up-General Conference. For those of you who are not Methodist, let me briefly explain what General Conference is about. Every four years the Methodist church sends delegates from around the world to meet together for “Holy Conferencing” to discuss the state of the church and to debate issues regarding the future direction of global church efforts. It’s a little more complicated than that but this gives you a rough idea in a nutshell. This year, is a General Conference year, and we have a new “hot button” issue to add to the list of perennial hot button issues that come up at General Conference time. The issue is how does the United Methodist Church reverse the membership decline that has plagued so many “mainline“ denominations? In preparation, our leadership formed yet another committee to do a study, in order to come up with a plan that could be presented at General Conference. It has a catchy name “Call to Action”. This group, called in consultants and did various studies and then issued a report with their recommendations. Since then, there has been a tremendous amount of debate from both sides and lots of ink used to defend various positions. As we approach General Conference, the rhetoric is starting to pick up in tempo.
As a lay member who will not be at General Conference and has listened to both sides of the debate on restructuring all I have to say is I see a whole lot of talking going on, but I surely do not see a whole lot of listening going on! If this is our definition of “Holy Conferencing” then we are in trouble! When you have individuals from Bishops to Delegates writing and essentially saying “this is my position and I don’t care what you have to say” then we have a problem! Everyone is so busy talking past each other and highlighting “bullet points” and defending turf that we have turned a deaf ear to listening! This group, will decide the future of my church and expect me to take them seriously, while pounding the war drums of entrenched positions! Seriously??? Where is the Holy Conferencing? Where is the prayer, the discernment, and most importantly, the listening to each other, even if you do not agree? With everything going on in the world this is where we draw battle lines? How many people are starving in the world? How many people are dying from preventable diseases? How many people could use a roof over their head, or clean water, or training that would give them an opportunity to make something better of themselves? Dear delegates, I am begging you-please stop talking long enough to listen!
I pray that each of you will go to General Conference with a willingness to listen. I pray that you are filled with a spirit of discernment and an openness to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying, regardless of whether it lines up with your pre-determined position on a topic. I don’t care what the consultants recommend, I don’t care what popular culture is expecting, I care about what God is asking us, as a denomination to do! Be open, be flexible, but most importantly, be willing to listen! There is so much to be done and we as a denomination will not be able to move on and do the things that need to be done, if we are too busy advancing agendas, instead of listening to what God is calling us to do! Imagine that the Holy Spirit is the guy, out in the middle of nowhere, holding the cell phone, saying “can you hear me now?” Be the one who says “yes, I’m listening!” And may the Lord truly bless our ministry!