Once a week I write a pastoral letter to the good people of the West Congregation of the Austin Stone Community Church. I will occasionally add some of those letters here.
Dear West Family
The staff team at West laugh at me a lot. I console myself with thoughts that they are laughing with me, but I think it is mainly at me. The cause of the hilarity usually has to do with the way I speak, and not my accent as much as my choice of words that are in English, but not the way Americans speak it. It has made for some truly very funny moments.
When I say slip slops, I mean flip flops.
When I say moonbag, I mean fanny pack (PS never, ever say fanny anything to someone not from America. You’re welcome).
When I say jam, I mean jelly.
When I say jelly, I mean jello.
When I say I need to put something in the boot, I mean put it in the the trunk.
When I say I am going to pop the bonnet, I mean the hood.
When I say I am going to do something just now, I mean I will get to it at some point in the coming hours, days or weeks (time is fluid in Africa and the staff are learning this the hard way.)
When I say something is decent, I mean it is good, or awesome in American.
I am loving this adventure of learning to listen to each other and to understand each other. It has led to many moments in the office where we have had to stop each other and go, “wait, what are you actually saying right now?” This got me thinking. How often do we speak past each other, even though we may be speaking the same language? And how often do we hear things that people haven’t actually said? At the center of so much human conflict is the absence of the lost art of intentional listening. People are communicating all the time, either verbally or non-verbally and we are hearing all the time, but are we listening?
We all too quickly adopt the posture of the social media generation who make lots of assumptions about what people are actually saying even when they aren’t saying anything at all, and I can’t help but think that we bring that same posture into our everyday relationships with friends, family, spouses, church leaders, colleagues….everyone.
I recently re-read James (we have to teach through this book soon because it is straight awesome fire), and in James 1 it says, “My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger,” (James 1:19 CSB)
When I read this, I tend to want to obey the part that makes me slow to speak, but that is only part of the instruction. It also tells me to be quick to listen and slow to anger and I think those two are related.
A quickness to listen leads to a slowness to anger.
Friends, where do you need to be a better listener? Do you need to be more attentive at home? Well, start there. Put the phone away and listen. Do you have a grievance that may actually be based on the fact that you heard someone say something that they may not have said? Could you benefit from greater clarity that would come from more intentional listening? Do that.
I am more and more persuaded that truly engaged and fully present listening is a gift that Christians could give uniquely to the world, as we of all people aren’t constantly clambering to be heard.
Listening is a sacred thing. I think it might be a spiritual discipline actually. Let’s be quick to listen to one another.
See you Sunday.