Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

Say The Secret Word

August 9, 2021

Comedian Graucho Marx presided over a game show at the dawn of commercial TV. “You Be Your Life” is the prototype of many game shows even today and in many different countries. One little ploy was, “Say the secret word and win $100.” If the contestant happened to say the secret word, a goofy stuffed duck would drop into the scene with the word taped to its bill.

I started thinking about words today listening to Andy Stanley’s Your Move podcast where he focused on the chapter of James talking about how the tongue can get you into trouble.

I had the opportunity to teach hundreds of young people about being a soccer referee over a 25+ year career. I wondered, when did I say a secret word that helped someone grow or when did I say a secret word that hurt someone?

My wife had an experience where she was talking with a former student from more than 20 years ago. It was amazing what that student remembered from her class.

Once again I felt convicted of anything I may have said that would have hurt someone and sent them the wrong way. Or, as I often tell teachers, you may not know for 20 years or you may never know how you’ve positively affected someone’s life.

Remember this wise advice from the Apostle James, a brother of Jesus–be quick to listen and slow to speak. And be careful what you say.

Ancient Promotion of Women

March 12, 2021

I guess I have sinned in the eyes of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have learned from a woman. I don’t mean my primary school teachers–I guess that’s OK. But as an adult. I have learned from Teresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich, Therese of Lisieux, Beth Moore, and many others. Oops, I guess that some (men) within the SBC took offense that Moore had men in her audience (as I have been told). I see she has taken a public stance about the leaders of her denomination.

I never forsake an opportunity to learn something, no matter who is teaching or leading. I don’t like to tell people what to do, but I think I’d make this a command–learn from whomever.

It wasn’t this news that brought this to mind as much as it was reading Pope Benedict XVI’s description of Saint Jerome. “Moreover, an aspect rather disregarded in ancient times but held vital by our author [Jerome] is the promotion of the woman, to whom he recognizes the right to a complete formation: human, scholastic, religious, professional.”

Something else Jerome wrote that I think is appropriate at all times (but seems brought out by much news of (male) religious leaders over the past few years, “May your actions never be unworthy of your words, may it not happen that, when you preach in church, someone might say to himself: ‘Why does he therefore not act like this?’ How can a teacher, on a full stomach, discuss fasting; even a thief can blame avarice; but in the priest of Christ the mind and words must harmonize.”

1,600 years later, we’d extrapolate that “priest” part to include everyone who proclaims Christ. If only they (we) would all let our actions and words align.

This blog has surpassed 2,400 posts this week. That’s a lot of discipline. That’s a lot of opportunity for those few who know me to say–he isn’t really like that. But I hope not.

Hearing Others, Not Fixing Them

March 9, 2021

I once worked with a guy for about six years. He was always in trouble with his wife. She would talk to him about a problem at work. He’d offer suggestions about how to fix the situation. She ignored the advice and would be not happy with him. “Brian,” I’d say, “she doesn’t want a solution. She’s smart. She’ll figure it out. She just wants you to listen.” He was an engineer. I don’t know if it was an engineer thing, or a man thing, or just a thing thing.

If we want to support each other’s inner lives, we must remember a simple truth: the human soul does not want to be fixed, it wants simply to be seen and heard. If we want to see and hear a person’s soul, there is another truth we must remember: the soul is like a wild animal – tough, resilient, and yet shy. When we go crashing through the woods shouting for it to come out so we can help it, the soul will stay in hiding. But if we are willing to sit quietly and wait for a while, the soul may show itself.

Parker J. Palmer

I think this sit quietly and wait and listen that Parker Palmer talks about is the real key. Some try to order others around. They’ll fix you if you just do as they order. Perhaps more like a dog or cat is “fixed”, than finding a solution. Or helping some soul in need.

Some competent engineers in Texas could fix the power grid problem, if empowered.

Competent engineering, the trained problem-solvers among us, fail to help the human soul. Somewhat perversely, that takes more inaction than action. Sitting quietly and waiting on God is perhaps the hardest spiritual formation task of all.


February 8, 2021

I watched last night’s broadcast of the Super Bowl–the highlight of American football. It was hyped as the ultimate matchup of the last generation of great quarterbacks (the key person who leads the offense) and the heir apparent to that throne.

The trouble with that hype is that ignores the other 10 men on the offense squad. And they are important. What happened in reality is that the “offensive line”–the big guys who protect the quarterback–of the Kansas City side had sustained injuries. The line, which must work as a unit much like the defenders in football (soccer), found itself with replacements and players playing positions where they had not played all year.

The result was that the young quarterback, who really is quite good, had inadequate protection. And they lost.

And so, I thought, there must be a spiritual metaphor in that situation.

I searched “protection” in both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures. The results were meager.

What I gained from my search was that often we humans seek protection from the wrong source. And often protection from the wrong opposing force.

Following Jesus into life in the spirit, in the kingdom of God, may not provide protection from every physical threat. It will provide the solid foundation to protect our spiritual life in the end from all the doubts and questions and threats of emotional vicissitude. He protects us from bad decisions, if we but listen. He provides guidance when we need it, if we but listen.

Good News of God’s Story

December 15, 2020


From the Anglo-Saxon meaning “God’s Story.” A translation before that from the Greek meaning “Good News.”

The first generation of Jesus-followers, eventually called Christian by others, spread the Good News

  • By the way they lived–individually and in community
  • Through their teaching, usually after attracting people
  • Through showing love to others–even those who were not part of their community

The stories handed down were about people who exhibited deep peace, joy, and love despite at times being treated harshly by the governments and others.

A question I hear often in various guises is, “If Christians have a message of Good News, why do they not show it?”

Even one Christian community to another Christian community. Especially to those whose beliefs differ, even if only a slight amount.

Except during December leading up to Christmas celebrations. There may be talk of peace, joy, good news, love.

But…psychologists who study things such as this talk about the stresses and family squabbles and depressions (sometimes even clinical).

It’s tough this year for everyone in the world. I hear stories daily of people I know struggling with Covid on the one hand and acting as if it doesn’t exist on the other (until they, too, get it).

We need a personal visit from the angels who told the shepherds as reported by Luke, “We bring you good news of great joy.” May we be listening when the message comes. And then maybe show it.

When God Speaks and We Don’t Hear

November 19, 2020

She was in rural West Virginia negotiating to buy a farm. She assured the sellers that she was not going to develop the land. She was going to farm it to grow pumpkins. Sarah Frey had purchased her family’s family farm in southern Illinois before she was 20. She grew pumpkins and watermelons. She had not yet been anointed America’s Pumpkin Queen.

Back in West Virginia, she was thinking about how some people get a sign from God about what they are doing. How do they get a sign? How do they know God is talking to them? She was asking God for a sign sitting alone at dinner in a cafe/tavern. It was some kind of theme night, and people were dancing.

Suddenly it happened. A big guy on the dance floor dropped his pants. Staring her right in the face were two large orange tattooed pumpkin Jack o’Lanterns–one on each cheek. Had to be a sign from God! She asked one of the girls with him to take a picture.

Sometimes God speaks and we aren’t listening. Like the times we pray for big things like maybe becoming the senior pastor of a megachurch. And we have ignored the opportunities God put before us to serve someone in the grocery store parking lot struggling with bags of groceries and two small children.

Then sometimes there are two pumpkin tattoos on some guy’s butt and you become America’s Pumpkin Queen.

It’s best to keep our eyes open and awareness tuned. Don’t ignore the little things or the absurd. God has a sense of humor. And sometimes we are surprised by his message.

To Listen Is To Lean In Softly

November 13, 2020

To listen is to continually give up all expectation and to give our attention completely and freshly to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in, softly, with a willingness to be changed by what we hear.

However, when I am giving myself to listening, I have expectations of the speaker.

I can rejoice with the joyful, mourn with the hurting, provide encourage the discouraged, provide an ear for those with burdens to unload.

Where I have trouble, and I perceive it’s not only me, is to listen to those who with belligerent attitude try to force lies, innuendo, deliberate twisting of facts upon me.

How do I keep my defenses and my BS detector and my wish to push back under control.

Perhaps those people feel like they are not heard, so they need to talk louder. Sort of like when you are talking with someone who does not speak your language and you talk louder thinking that then they will understand.

I am convincing myself that even then, it’s important to lean in softly. Maybe I learn something—maybe not from their words, but from their hurt.

Nobody Listens To Me

August 23, 2018

The president of the small company sits at his desk. He is holding his head in his hands as he leans over the desk. I enter. He looks up in an obviously morose mood. “Gary, nobody listens to me.”

But we have all been there. Nobody listens to us–at times.

Today’s news included an item about Apple’s Air Pods. You have them hanging from your ear. People around you assume you are listening to music, a podcast, or a phone conversation. You can listen to conversations around you surreptitiously.

Real listening is a “full-contact” sport.

First, we stop talking.

We stop thinking about what to say next.

We focus our eyes and attention on the other person.

We hear with our ears and watch posture and eyes of the other person.

We take in context.

We embody this simple little maxim–Speak only when it improves upon silence.

Back to the president of the company. I needed to break the mood. “Huh?” I asked. “No one listens to me,” he replied. “Huh?” I repeated. It took three times for him to break out of the self-pity.

Sometimes we have to get their attention before we can listen.

Your Biggest Challenge

February 14, 2018

Today is the confluence (or coincidence) of Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day. Probably a better happenstance than the coincidence of Easter and April Fools Day coming up in six weeks. (No Easter eggs for you…April Fool.)

Henri Nouwen wrote a little book on prayer called “With Open Hands.” I see it on my bookshelf occasionally when I’m looking for some book in my library. He talks about approaching God in prayer.

What is our biggest challenge in living with-God?

One of the disciplines, such as study, worship, prayer, service?

Perhaps it is the same challenge as in relationships–like your Valentine (if you are fortunate enough to have one)?

Perhaps it is listening.

We pray–but we consider talking to God as praying. But, it does not end there. Just like talking to (or at?) your spouse won’t cut it with them.

Nouwen shares a story about an elderly woman transported from home to the hospital by the emergency squad. One hand was tightly clenched into a fist. When the medical staff was finally able to open her hand, they found she was clutching a quarter. It was as if she were clutching on to her last tangible belonging.

Opening our hands in prayer is a physical act that relaxes us, opening us up to the Spirit, a posture of listening.

We cannot listen while tightly clinging to our own cares and opinions and thoughts.

We must open ourselves to the Other. Focusing all our senses. Mentally alert in anticipation of hearing something important.

We are entering the season of Lent. Perhaps this can be a time of learning to listen to God with open hands.

What We Have Is a Failure to Communicate

October 31, 2017

I was assignor / director of referees for a soccer tournament over the weekend. There were 27 referees assigned. Six didn’t show for the 8 am game on Saturday. A few others left early. I was frazzled most of the day. Not to mention that I had to referee three games myself.

She was scheduled only for the morning because she had league games elsewhere that afternoon. But those games changed. She could stay. I saw her and asked her specifically to stay on the same field. 

I meant all day. She thought I meant for the 12:30 game. At 1:30 I’m rushing to fill in for a game and she’s leaving. “Where are you going?” “I have a game in Piqua, but I’ll come back. I thought you only meant for that one game.”

She’s back in a half-hour. There was no one at the Piqua game. (That game was Sunday, not Saturday.) 

Lots of failures to communicate.

I thought about this while pondering a conversation I had yesterday morning at the Y. It was about the NFL. Mind you, when I’m at the Y, I see no people with skins darker than mine. Well, maybe a couple of times a month. That is not policy; it’s merely a reflection of the demographics of the town.

So, the (mostly) black NFL players think that they are communicting the injustice of the way black men are treated. 

What do most white men hear? Disrespect to the country. They don’t understand the injustice.

More failures to communicate.
Worse, failures to attempt to achieve mutual understanding.

Like that 60s protest song, “Battle lines being drawn. Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.”

But even Jesus, (Matt. 16:11) said once, “How could you fail to perceive that I was not speaking of the bread?”

Listening, they did not hear.

Happens to us all.

(Oh, the tournament? 53 teams of young players. It was cold, but they all seemed to have fun and enjoy being out playing. The other referees stepped up and helped fill the openings. Good things do happen. There are many, many good people in the world. We just keep overlooking them.)