We are living in complicated times. We are learning from the wars in Ukraine, Gaza, and Sudan that we are globally connected. What happens halfway across the world has immediate effects on the economy, political protest, and migration patterns here in the United States. And the church cannot hide under a veil of denial or other worldliness. Yet, the church must balance its messaging. It must recognize that in a healthy congregation, there are people from all sides of an issue. In a healthy presbytery, there are folks who are ready to march and protest on opposite sides. We are challenged to be the body of Christ that is not torn or broken. We are challenged to talk with one another and listen to one another with respect, even valuing the welfare and opinion of others more than we value our own.
I spent last Friday and Saturday leading a men’s retreat for First Presbyterian of Libertyville. The focus was on how we can talk with deeper meaning and listen to one another with better attentiveness and curiosity. We learned that to listen to someone, we must believe they are God’s creation and are full of exciting mystery and story. Listening means approaching one another with a humble curiosity. Instead of jumping to conclusions regarding what the other person is saying, we can listen for the surprising revelation of who the person is and what they want to communicate. By letting someone tell their story, listening can be an experience of joy and wonder instead of frustration and fruitlessness.
I have found a new hobby: talking to strangers! I enjoy talking with Uber drivers and having subtle random conversations in restaurants! I have heard some fantastic stories. I believe each of us walk away a bit more human because of our exchange. I confess to observing and overhearing conversations as well. I’m struck by the amount of inattentiveness people give to one another. I see people avoiding eye contact and even on their phones while in conversations (we all know that multi-tasking is a myth!). Talking with one another is a gift. Being in a respectful conversation with the sharing of values and ideas is a blessing.
As we approach Thanksgiving, for those of us who will be at table with family, friends, and strangers, I pray we take the time to engage one another. Perhaps these small interactions will help to diffuse the anger and frustration being felt in our nation and around the world. A few words of care and a few moments of silent, active listening may bring humanity and soul into someone’s life, including our own.
Rev. Craig Howard