Posts Tagged Listen

The Simple Gift of Attention an Antidote to Abstraction – Gregg Jarrell

On a Tuesday afternoon, Dave knocked on the door. His weathered face was covered in tears, his head held low. Dave is gruff even on his most pleasant days, always edges and elbows. This day, the sharpness was gone.

“I’ve hit bottom today,” he told me. “I’ve lived a rough 50-some years, and this day is the day I’m ready for it to come to an end.”

His head drooped lower. The dusty porch floor caught his tears. Between his sighs, he kept talking; the series of misfortunes, still piling up, had all collapsed into a single Tuesday afternoon. I just sat there, useless except to provide cool water and a snack.

And two ears.

Dave laughed at one point. He was holding the children’s book that was on the table next to him, which he had been reading while I was in the kitchen. Johnny Appleseed. He read me a page that tickled him. “That’s the first time I’ve laughed in weeks,” he said.

Concerned for him, and knowing my own limitations – I’m a pastor, not a mental health professional – I offered to take Dave to a crisis center where they could help him get reconnected with himself and treat any physiological or chemical issues before he returned home on his own. When we arrived, we walked in together and exchanged a hug. I watched as he shuffled behind a nurse, down the hallway and into a treatment room.

“Our attention is especially rich when lavished on those whom the world ignores.”

None of my actions was remarkable in any way. I just sat down and paid attention. And yet I’m aware of how rare attention is in this wired world. Attention is a gift, but I often withhold it, usually for reasons I cannot explain. That afternoon on my porch was an exception to the way I usually move about on my block.

I know I am not alone in this. The world constantly trains us into distraction. Buzzing, noise, notifications. “How’s that book?” my wife asks sarcastically, seeing the book lying open, face-down on the table as I stare at my mobile phone. Reading for a few minutes is not simple. It requires conscious effort – silencing gadgets, quieting children, hiding from the basket of clean laundry that needs folding. It is easier to drown in the distractions.

Sustained, uninterrupted attention is an unusual gift, both to ourselves and to others. It may be the thing that saves us. The moment of pure attention contains within it the possibility of a future worth having.

”Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer,” Simone Weil writes in Gravity and Grace. It is the seed of a revolution, a break from the fantasies of distraction and the alienations of rumination. Our attention is especially rich when lavished on those whom the world ignores. It makes us active creators of the world we want to live in, the one of justice and equity and beauty.

“An antidote – maybe the antidote – to abstraction and alienation is to return to the tangible: neighbor, porch, story; park bench, stranger, song; table, bread, wine.”

The future we long for begins in the present – often on a porch, or maybe a park bench or perhaps around a kitchen table. Along the way, true attention touches every place. It especially touches those places where the concentration of wealth and power have isolated people from themselves and one another. In those places, neighbors are an abstraction at best, and enemies at worst.

Culture and policy begin to reflect the impulse against neighborliness as the powerful exert their will through political and economic institutions and willful blindness. The current trajectory of the United States, moving headlong toward human rights atrocities, is fueled by the abstraction of neighbors. In the soul deadened by excess, there are no stories worth hearing, no life that matters but your own. There is no porch, no park, no commons.

The only place that matters is the balance sheet. Nothing is sacred but money, nothing worth sustained attention but the making of it.

An antidote – maybe the antidote – to abstraction and alienation is to return to the tangible: neighbor, porch, story; park bench, stranger, song; table, bread, wine. Paying attention to the details of the person nearby does not fix everything, but we won’t fix anything without that sort of careful attention.

Dave came back a few days later. He is better for now, but he is still alone. In a crisis, a trained professional will help. But for the mundane days, the ones where discontent simmers without boiling over, where folks stumble from one distraction to the next, what Dave needs is not a professional but a neighbor.

I suspect that is what we all need. The best neighborhoods are the ones that help us to tell good stories about ourselves. They are the spaces where we pay close attention to the details – where the birds nest, how long the pothole repair took, when we last saw Miss Evelyn on her porch. Our lives get caught up in those places. We get rooted in them, and they sustain us.

Neighbors know you with a casual intimacy. They know your schedule, how you greet your kids when they get off the bus, what music you blast while cleaning the house, what color flowers you tend to plant. Those daily acts of noticing – of attention – make the world a bit more gentle. They help us to tell better stories about ourselves.

“The best neighborhoods are the ones that help us to tell good stories about ourselves.”

A good neighborhood makes it easier to find someone who can tell you about the goodness of your story on the days you cannot see it for yourself.

Without neighbors, and without the careful attention that a good neighborhood encourages, people don’t know how to tell their stories well. A human needs to be seen, to be heard, to have a voice to sing in harmony with. For that, we have stories, and we have porches.

We have the choice to listen, and to live in the way of peace.


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When People Talk, It Can Make or Break Your Church – Bill Owen- ethicsdaily.com

When People Talk, It Can Make or Break Your Church | Bill Owen, Leadership, Community, Center for Healthy Churches, Healthy Churches, Conversation, Speech

Unhealthy conversations that go unchecked damage culture. It leads down a path of dissension and decline, Owen writes.

Church people talk.

They talk about all kinds of things: the pastor, her sermon, how many people used to be in worship, and what we ought to be doing but haven’t yet.

This kind of talk can be threatening to a pastor, but it doesn’t have to be.

Having people care enough about what’s happening at church to talk about it is a good thing. Conversation creates culture. It’s the path toward vitality and growth.

Effective church leaders must learn that the surest way out of an unhealthy climate is by changing the narrative, by reframing how “people talk.” This process is nuanced, but the gospels help.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all began as conversations. These writing evangelists stood in a long line of communicators, stringing together stories told and retold, heard and recounted.

They gathered the best and wrote them down so parents could recite them to their children, teachers to their students and neighbors to their neighbors. Before long, friends from remote places were also talking about Jesus as the Son of God.

The political talking heads tried to spurn Jesus’ story by mocking him and killing him for blasphemy. But those who had been near him had gotten word to those now far off that he was so much more.

They re-authored the culture surrounding Jesus’ story all because church people decided to talk.

Conversations can be powerful.

If you think about it, not one of us would have ever come to faith apart from someone having said something to us. Words as simple as “Hey, why don’t you come to church with me?” Maybe it was “I’ll pray for you” or “God bless.”

Whatever it may have been, the fact is someone at one time or another said something that touched us, “spoke” to us or maybe challenged or even angered us. It whetted our appetites or made us curious enough to take a step toward God.

This is how church has worked for two millennia now. It thrives on people talking to one another. This is how a carpenter’s son from Nazareth becomes known all over the world.

People talk and word travels. People talk and lives transform. People talk and churches are established. People talk and systems get established like hospitals and nonprofits to help the poor, the sick and the broken mend.

Just think what churches have accomplished, are accomplishing and still can accomplish by how they focus their talk.

But beware: Having people care enough about what’s happening to talk about it can also be bad.

Unhealthy conversations that go unchecked damage culture. It leads down a path of dissension and decline.

Too often, we underestimate the effects of how people talk. Serious matters treated too casually or electronically reduced to 140-word tweets or diminished to emoticons or scrolled across the bottom of television monitors threaten the culture being shaped.

Talk is seldom cheap. What we say, when and how we say it, counts. It matters in every realm – political, relational and spiritual.

When political leaders articulate with moral clarity our highest values, citizens rally to form a more perfect union.

When friends surround one another during times of crisis, words of comfort and concern give strength and peace.

When a neighbor tells the truth in love to one who has asked for it, when a spouse ends a quarrel with forgiveness, when a teacher bends to encourage a student to use her voice because every child matters – it makes a difference.

Pastors should never underestimate the power of conversation, whether in the hallways, around the table or from the pulpit. It all matters.

It’s easy to settle for tepid, empty words – to exchange pleasantries, to bless the status quo, to comment on the weather or exchange sports scores.

Don’t be duped. While everyday banter can help build rapport and establish trust, left alone or left unshaped is not pastoral leadership.

Good pastors articulate a consistent, clear vision of a God-sized future; communities of faith respond.

Effective pastors are able to spread the message: “Here’s the picture; this is what we’re doing; here’s why we’re doing it; if things go right, here’s what the picture will look like a year from now.”

The really good pastors are able to use their pulpits to offer a prophetic call to congregations to follow the narrative of Jesus without feeling threatened by a low trust culture.

The best pastors are able to get their ministerial staff to be collaborative leaders shaping the new narrative while they lead teams.

When this occurs, specific steps of implementation follow and real ministry takes root shaping the church’s culture, spilling over into the life of the community.

I, along with my colleagues at the Center for Healthy Churches, work to help church leaders and churches identify processes that enable such a shift in narrative building.

Healthy churches and pastors know how to establish a high trust culture that focuses attention on what and how people talk. Churches that put a premium on healthy, intentional conversations thrive.

People are going to talk. Why not make it a healthy conversation?

Bill Owen is the south central consultant at the Center for Healthy Churches. He served previously as pastor of Mount Carmel Church in Cross Plains, Tennessee, before retiring after 32 years of ministry. A version of this article first appeared on the CHC blog website and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @owenrevbill.

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The Most Effective Thing You Can Do While Ministering – ethicsdaily.com

The Most Effective Thing You Can Do While Ministering

Mitch Carnell

The Most Effective Thing You Can Do While Ministering | Mitch Carnell, Communication, Kindness 

When we are too busy or too distracted to listen, we demonstrate a lack of concern, Carnell writes. (Image courtesy of Ohmega1982/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

The ability to communicate is a gift.

We can bless others with this gift by using it to heal, to build up and not to harm. Conversely, we can use it to tear down, to harm and to destroy relationships.

We all need and search for connectedness. We know how it feels to be in a crowd and yet feel utterly alone and isolated.

We need and want to belong. We need to touch and be touched. We can be warmed by another person’s smile or simple acknowledgement.

Good conversation, like good music or a good book, nourishes the soul. Good communication builds relationships.

Nothing says more about a person’s caring than his or her willingness to listen without judgment or interruption. Sometimes our greatest ministry is simply to be 100 percent present in the moment.

One of my most cherished books is “As a Man Thinketh” by James Allen. Allen stresses that what we think about is what we will become.

We can control our lives by controlling our thoughts. If we fill our minds with goodwill toward others, that is what we will express and demonstrate.

Don Kirkland, retired editor of the South Carolina Baptist Courier, states in his book, “Something Ventured,” that what Jesus did in all of his time not accounted for in the Bible is clear: “He went about doing good.”

Goodness was in his heart and so it expressed itself. Kirkland goes on to say that, “Our Christianity must be visible to others or it is not Christianity at all.”

My mother and my late wife had the same favorite Scripture passage: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable unto thee, oh God, my strength and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

They both understood that what comes out of our mouths is a result of what is in our hearts. If our heart overflows with love, that is what we will speak.

Every Sunday morning, Clyde stands at the front door of our church and gives butterscotch candies to every person who enters and is willing to accept his offering.

He is greeted by broad smiles and a lot of hugs. When he is absent, everyone asks about him. Goodness overflows from him. His gesture of kindness helps create an atmosphere for worship.

Sister Sandra Makowski makes a case for kindness as a central ingredient for the ministry of good communication in her book, “The Side of Kindness”

“Could we say that saints were kind people? My guess is that kindness became their constant companion,” she writes. “It is what they carried with them when they prayed, when they worked for justice, and when they were martyred for the sake of the gospel. It became their companion in their life of prayer and the gifts that they developed in the service of others.”

The tremendous role that listening plays in the ministry of communication is expressed by Pope Francis in his book, “The Name of God Is Mercy.”

He asserts, “Mostly people are looking for someone to listen to them. Someone willing to grant them time to listen to their dramas and difficulties. This is what I call the apostolate of the ear and it is important. Very important. I feel compelled to say to confessors: talk, listen with patience, and above all tell people that God loves them.”

I asked my friend, Monty Knight, both a minister and certified counselor, “How do you talk to God?”

“Mitch,” he said, “a much more important question is how do I listen to God?”

When Mother Teresa was asked how she talked to God, she answered. “I mostly listen.” When she was then asked, “What does God say?” she replied, “He mainly listens.”

There are times when there are no words capable of conveying what is in our hearts, but there are no times when being 100 percent present with another is not effective.

Raymond DeSchazo, former professor at Mars Hill University, was fond of saying, “The way you know when you really love another person is when you can be in a room together for hours and neither of you says a word. Just being present is enough.”

For communication to be effective and work its magic as ministry, what we do and what we say must be congruent. There must be no conflict between our words and our actions.

Active listening is an essential behavior for showing concern and compassion for the other. When we are too busy or too distracted to listen, we demonstrate a lack of concern. We can change this perception by being 100 percent present in the moment with our communication partner.

Never underestimate the influence of an encounter no matter how brief it might be. It leaves an impression for good or bad. A simple act of kindness has the power to transform lives. An act of grace never goes unnoticed.

Mitch Carnell is a consultant specializing in effective communication. He and his wife, Carol, are members of First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina. He blogs at MitchCarnell.com and ChristianCivility.com

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Dialogue Requires Respect and Hard Work

Pope Francis emphasized the importance of dialogue during his visit to the United States. At each mention he stressed the importance of mutual respect. There can be no real dialogue until each party recognizes the inherit worth of the other. As long as I view you as less important than I am, there can be no real meeting of the minds.

Do you see me or am I just another statistic? Do you hear me or am I just another voice vying for attention lost in the crowd? We are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of homeless people, refugees, and migrant workers, children living in poverty or battered women that we fail to notice that these numbers are composed of individual human beings. We cannot wrap our minds around the overwhelming numbers. We must see each one as a unique creation.

We are staggered by the number of mass shootings in our country and yet individuals are murdered in our cities every day. We are numb to the numbers and to the frequency of these murders. The murder of nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston got our attention and held it until another senseless shooting occurred at Roseburg, Oregon. After that shooting, I heard the brother of one of the victims calling for more guns. Doctor Carson, candidate for the Republican nomination for president, called for the arming of kindergarten teachers. There seems to be no end or limits to the madness.

What will it take for us to see each other as real flesh and blood people? We like to think in terms of blocks of people: Muslims, Communists, Nazis’, immigrants, takers. That way we are not confronted by individual faces. We can bomb neighborhoods and talk about collateral damage. Collateral damage is made up of mothers, daughters, sons, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Pope Francis has it right when he calls for dialogue. There are no easy answers. We must learn to talk with each other not at each other. We must learn how to listen to what we do not want to hear and to what we do not agree with. This is hard work. It is much easier to get angry and to resort to violence. The next victim of collateral damage may be someone you care about.

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