By Rev. Cara Scriven
A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in our kitchen with my eyes firmly glued to my iPad. I remember my daughter asking me something and responding with a “uh huh.” My daughter immediately replied, “You don’t ever listen.” I was shocked by this and quickly shut my iPad and sat and listened to my daughter.
Since that moment, I have been more aware of when I think I’m listening, but actually am not. I want to model for my children how to listen to others as I believe this is a skill that they will greatly need as they mature and it is not naturally taught in the high-tech world we live in today.
Listening is not just a skill children need to learn; it is equally valuable for the church as well. I recently started a book called A Spirituality of Listening: Living What We Hear by Keith R. Anderson. The author begins by articulating the problem-that in today’s world, we don’t trust the institutional church nor do we believe that God still speaks to us today. “The accepted view of popular culture is that it’s one thing to pray, to talk to God, but to make the claim that you hear God speak implies you are crazy.” Anderson argues that this belief caused us to forget how to listen to God and in some ways, silences God.
Anderson goes on to explain that Listening should be “our own response of love, respect and honor, not only of each other but to God.” A few pages later, he says that spirituality at its core is “learning to pay attention to the speaking voice of God in everything.” In other words, spirituality is about listening for God’s Word in the ordinary things of life. Anderson lists six things that a good listener does:
- Empties one’s own agenda to give voice to another
- Stays curious, expectant and ready to engage with the person who is speaking
- Waits with anticipation
- Attends to the person speaking ready to encounter change
- Practices presence and “showing up” for others
- Pays attention
Listening in this way, takes real skill, practice, and a willingness to listen rather than plan one’s rebuttal. I wonder if we listened to our children in this way, what would be different? If we listened to God and for God in our everyday world using these skills, how would we be different? How would our churches be different, if we listened with anticipation and curiosity? How would our denomination’s debate around human sexuality be different if we listened in this way?
This week I used these skills in discussions with two people I highly respect and yet disagree with on some issues of theology. Yet, in both cases, I walked away deeply saddened by the pain they feel. If we, progressives and evangelicals, really took the time to listen to one another, would The United Methodist Church be in the same place we are today?
Upon our Bishop’s urging, we’ll be hosting intentional conversations in April and May of this year across the Greater Northwest Area. While these opportunities, called Table Talks, will focus upon the church’s current discussion of human sexuality and the report of the Commission on a Way Forward, one might hope that the practice of listening deeply (a key element of these conversations) could bear fruit in other areas as well.
One is already being planned for Saturday, May 12th at Olympia First UMC; a second will be held on June 2nd. Keep an eye open for more details as they emerge. You can learn more about these Table Talk gatherings by clicking here.
I pray that as our denomination moves forward towards General Conference in February of 2019 that we respond with love and respect towards one another and God, by listening deeply to each others joys, pain, and sorrow.
Cara Scriven serves as superintendent for the Tacoma District in the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.