In a culture of shouting, people of faith must address listening deficit

JONATHAN DAVIS | JANUARY 28, 2019 -BaptistNewsGlobal

Some days I feel like I have very little right to speak. Even as a preacher. Maybe especially as a preacher. I have little right to speak to minorities who have known discrimination and bigotry their whole lives. I have little right to speak to those who are economically disadvantaged and suffering in tangible ways. I have little right to speak to those fleeing violence and persecution in their countries of origin.

I am a straight, white, upper-middle-class, American, Christian man. I need to do more listening. Listening to the brokenhearted. Listening to the poor. Listening to the single mother. Listening to the ostracized. Listening to those wondering where their next meal will come from. Listening to the teen labeled “at risk” by all the adults in his life. Listening to people who will never experience the world beyond their urban community or rural county. Listening to people with differing political opinions and biases than the ones I harbor.

In a polarized world, listening seems a rarity. Everyone is shouting. It’s hard enough to listen to the shouting when it’s my own children (whom I love). Listening to the cacophony of clamorous caterwauling between grownups I’ve never met? I find it vociferously deafening.

How can we listen in a culture of shouting, especially when listening to shouting is so spiritually and emotionally draining? The question is largely rhetorical, because I do not profess to know the answer in full.

“Sermonizing is not a solution to the listening deficit in our culture.”

More and more, I find that friendship and personal relationships are the only way to listen deeply. I try to listen deeply to God’s Spirit when preaching and speaking, but in the moment of preaching, the conversation is vexingly one way. Sermonizing, then, is not a solution to the listening deficit in our culture.

The fact is, different people have different perspectives and experience reality differently. Media coverage of a recent encounter in the nation’s capital between a Native American elder and the Catholic schoolboy attests to this. Nobody wants to hear the other when everyone is ready to shout first. When everybody shouts, nobody is truly heard.

When we fail to listen to the other, we make the mistake of reducing people made in God’s image to foregone conclusions, concise soundbites and imbedded biases intent on demonization. Instead of jumping on every viral video meant to induce outrage, should we not listen first (which may result in thinking before responding)?

I’m afraid we don’t have the patience for listening fully and respectfully. Doing so may require a few days or weeks or even longer. What if the news cycle – which often is more accurately an outrage cycle – passes us by in our listening? Wouldn’t that be a gift?

Of course, listening in the right ways gives our words more power when it is time to speak. Too often the things we say stem from confirmation bias and parroting someone else’s talking points than any deep reflection on our part.

“Listening in the right ways gives our words more power when it is time to speak.”

Understanding the need to listen deeply does not remove the responsibility or burden of speaking. In his famous speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos, without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world: my own government.”

Have any of us paused, or listened long enough, to consider that the Native American elder and the Catholic school boy were both in Washington that day to do (in their own way and according to their own understanding) what King called us all to do? Aside from their encounter with each other, each was there to speak against what they understand to be oppression and to lift up a “voice for the voiceless,” as Oscar Romero said.

In a previous column, I wrote about the challenge of preaching weekly and trying not to lose my voice in the current culture. I’m growing more convinced that it’s only out of listening – and hitting a personal pause button on all the feigned and manufactured social outrage – that I actually have a voice. Whenever I join the chorus of outrage my voice is no longer my own, but that of group-think, confirmation bias, partisan pundits and talking heads.

Failing to speak amid injustice and abuse of power is a sin, to be sure. When we fail to speak we lose our agency, voice and prophetic witness. All the same things happen when we fail to listen.

As a follower of Jesus living in a divided culture, how do you balance listening and speaking?

 

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A MORNING PRAYER: REMEMBERING THOSE WHO WORK FOR SO LITTLE

Rev. Susan Sparks: Madison Avenue Baptist Church NYC
January 20, 2019

Gracious God,

We give you thanks today for all our many blessings. So many of those blessings are provided to us by our brothers and sisters—your children—who work for so little.

We raise up all who do the jobs others don’t want: those who clean, who take care of our sanitation, who care for our poor, homeless, sick or elderly.

We give thanks for their work.

We remember those who do the jobs behind the scenes: those who wait on our tables, cook our food, deliver our papers, drive the trucks that bring food to our grocery stores, operate our transportation, patrol our streets, and protect us from fires and danger.

We give thanks for their work.

We acknowledge those who do important jobs for low pay, like home healthcare aides, teachers, farm workers, nurses, and social workers.

We give thanks for their work.

We specifically pray for all the federal workers who are furloughed or working without pay: our TSA and homeland security workers; our tax workers; our air traffic controllers; the National Park Service workers; the National Weather Service; our EPA inspectors who keep our chemical factories, power plants, oil refineries, and water treatment plants safe; workers in the criminal justice system, including the F.B.I., the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons, Customs and Border Protection, the Coast Guard, and the Secret Service; and our Food and Drug Administration workers who inspect our food and protect us from contamination.

We give thanks for their work.

Lord, this morning we are mindful of those blessings provided to us by our brothers and sisters—your children—who work for so little. May we remember their sacrifice. And may you give us the strength to ensure that the blessings we receive from them are not only used for the betterment of our world but someday are equally returned to them. Amen.

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Jimmy Allen, visionary denominational leader, dies*

BOB ALLEN | JANUARY 8, 2019 – BaptistNewsGlobal

Jimmy R. Allen, the last moderate president of the Southern Baptist Convention and executive director emeritus of the New Baptist Covenant, died early Jan. 8 at Southeast Georgia Health System in Brunswick, Georgia.

His pastor, Tony Lankford of First Baptist Church of St. Simons Island, said the 91-year-old had been in failing health. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Jimmy Allen

Named in 1999 one of the most influential Baptists of the 20th century, Allen served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1978 and 1979, the two years before conservatives took over control of the nation’s largest Protestant body in a move they called the “conservative resurgence.”

In 1990 he presided over the Consultation of Concerned Baptists in Atlanta, forerunner to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. In 2008 he agreed to become program chair and coordinator for the New Baptist Covenant, a pan-Baptist gathering promoting racial unity spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter.

In 1995 Allen wrote the book Burden of a Secret, a personal account of his family’s battle with AIDS.

A pioneer in religious broadcasting, he led the Southern Baptist Convention’s Radio and Television Commission from 1980 to 1990, hosting a national cable talk show called “Life Today.” In 1988 he won an Emmy as producer of a show produced for ABC television filmed in the People’s Republic of China titled “China: Walls and Bridges.”

Always interested in ethical concerns, Allen led the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas from 1960 to 1968. In 1962 he helped plan the first state workshop on Christianity and race relations in Southern Baptist history. During the Johnson administration he helped plan the first White House Conference on Civil Rights.

From 1968 until 1980 Allen served as pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas – at the time the sixth largest church in the SBC – leading the urban congregation to establish new social ministries while at the same time expanding its evangelism and nurturing ministry base.

As SBC president he launched Mission Service Corps, a pathway for adults to serve as missionaries, and was chief promoter of Bold Mission Thrust, a plan to take the gospel to every person on earth by the year 2000.

In 1993 Allen joined Los Angeles Times journalist John Dart in a prize-winning report on the relationship between news media and religion called Bridging the Gap.

He once served as a non-governmental observer at the United Nations and led a fact-finding mission to Iran during the hostage crisis at the United States embassy in Tehran in 1979-1980.

In later years he served as chaplain of Big Canoe Chapel, a multi-denominational chapel in the north Georgia mountains, before moving to St. Simons Island in retirement. Lankford, who began serving at First Baptist Church in St. Simons Island in 2015, called it “an honor to get to know him.”

“He blazed a trail of ministry in such a way that younger men and women could follow,” Lankford said. “Many people, including me, are grateful for the life and ministry of Rev. Dr. Jimmy Allen.”

Suzii Paynter, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, said she has “known, loved and respected Jimmy Allen” her entire life.

Paynter called Allen “a visionary Baptist leader who believed in the power to convene good people for the surprising work of God.”

Paynter said Allen “engaged in honest dialogue and true cooperative ministry” and “brought a strong voice of encouragement and expectation to any endeavor.”

“I am so grateful for this pilgrim of faith,” Paynter said.

Hannah McMahan, executive director of the New Baptist Covenant, described Allen as “a man of vision and compassion” who will be “sorely missed.”

“He dedicated his life to the steadfast work of the gospel and was a shining example of a life well-lived,” she said. “Under his leadership, the inaugural meeting of the New Baptist Covenant in 2008 reminded our entire Baptist family what we are capable of when we lean into the best of who we are.”

*I first met this wonderful man in 1986 when I went to be interviewed on the Acts Network in Ft. Worth. Years later he graciously agreed to write a chapter in my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. I was blessed to attend the first meeting of the New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta. His vision and leadership will be missed.

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Mary’s song, let’s be open to its subversive message – Russ Dean*

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