08 Dec Learning to Listen Through the Lens of Faith
Most weeks after worship I offer a 30-minute “let’s talk about what we just heard” experience that I call Sermon Talk Back. It is very informal, highly interactive, and I love it. I love it because it lets me know what folks in my congregation are really thinking. (And, it is also extremely helpful to get such immediate feedback on my sermons and our worship services.)
I don’t have to wait long to discover whether a particular topic, scripture or approach to worship is connecting with people. But, none of that is what is most important about Sermon Talk Back. By far, the significance of this time together is that people hear from one another how God is speaking to them, how God is moving in their lives, and what difference this thing we call “faith” makes to our daily struggles, opportunities, challenges and joys.
Twice in the past month Sermon Talk Back has been “hijacked” by discussion about the recent presidential election. I use the word “hijacked” in nothing but a positive way. I sort of expected this might happen the week after the election, but I was rather surprised when it happened again last Sunday. Since I facilitate the discussion each week, I could have gently steered us in another direction, but it seemed more important to let the conversation play out on its own.
Several things emerged from our discussion. First, clearly the election is still very much on people’s minds. Yes, they have “moved on” in varying degrees, but it remains a daily subject of reflection, conversation and prayer. It still consumes a significant amount of emotional, intellectual and spiritual energy. What I heard is that while people accept the result at a historical fact level, there is much more work to be done to accept it at the gut level.
Second, the work of listening to one another is an ongoing project. It seems to me that one of the gifts that has come from the election is that many people’s assumptions got exposed as just that—assumptions. Previously, they had held those assumptions as “truth,” but they now know that half the country didn’t share those “truths.” And, the beautiful thing about this newly received reality-check is that we can now listen to someone else’s truth and respect it as such. We can empathize with a reality that perhaps we didn’t realize existed. And, through our renewed and deepening understanding of both ourselves and others, we can explore the way forward—together.
A few months ago a parishioner in my church shared a poem written by Reverend Victoria Safford well before the election. I hope you’ll agree that it speaks eloquently (and pointedly) to our current national mood. It also offers those of us in the church a reminder of our vocation to be light and hope for our world.
The Gates of Hope by Victoria Safford
Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope –
Not the prudent gates of Optimism,
Which are somewhat narrower.
Not the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense;
Not the strident gates of Self-Righteousness,
Which creak on shrill and angry hinges
(People cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through)
Not the cheerful, flimsy garden gates of
“Everything is gonna be all right.”
But a different, sometimes lonely place,
The place of truth-telling,
About our own soul first of all and its condition.
The place of resistance and defiance,
The piece of ground from which you see the world
Both as it is and as it could be
As it will be;
The place from which you glimpse not only struggle,
But joy in the struggle.
And we stand there, beckoning and calling,
Telling people what we are seeing,
Asking people what they see.