Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

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.)

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.)

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.)

Question and Listen

August 2, 2017

It’s a small, private dinner party. A few corporate executives, a couple of writers, and a featured guest. He had recently published a book and was a distinguished professor at a prestigious university.

I took a seat two away from the guest. I had a choice of either end of the table. I chose poorly.

I had actually read his book and came armed with a couple of questions. There were parts I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, and there were parts where I thought he had taken a wrong path.

Unfortunately I had arrived after most other people. The person between the guest and me was monopolizing conversation.

After a period of time I noticed that the guest was decidedly turned the other direction talking with the person on his other side. I spent the evening talking with the person beside me. Don’t think he even noticed that the guest had turned his back our direction.

Aside from my being too shy in some social conversations to take charge–I hate to interrupt people–I let an opportunity for learning slip away.

How often do we let our tongues get in the way of learning?

There are very few people I’ve met who couldn’t teach me something. See an interest, ask a question, sit back and listen and learn.

Are We Really Connecting?

May 25, 2017

When you say something to someone, does the message get through?

OK, we already know about kids. How about spouses?

When God says something to you, does that message connect?

I have devoted a good portion of this week learning about a new computer networking standard–a new version of Ethernet–called Time Sensitive Networking. TSN is a hot topic. Perhaps many new people will read my business blog when I write about it.

There are several important new technologies to this standard, and I’ll spare you the gory details. But there is this one–setting a “priority” so that when one device sends a “packet” of data to another, the entire network stops for a nanosecond while that priority packet gets through. It’s like traffic stopping to let an ambulance go by. You have told the network that communication between these devices is a priority and the message must get through.

So, I started contemplating then concept, of course. It’s what I do.

And I thought, when you say something to someone, does their inner dialog network shut down long enough for your message to get throug? Are you being heard?

Or, something you can control–do you intentionally shut down your inner network when someone is talking to you so that you actually receive their message? And in networking, we have what we call data and we have metadata–data about the context of the data. When you listen, do you absorb the entire context? Where they are. What they actually mean. What back story influences the conversation.

Then I thought about prayer.

For many it’s talking to God. Or maybe requesting a package from the Great Vending Machine In The Sky?

Can you shut down your inner networking for a few nanoseconds (or minutes or hours?) to listen for God’s message packet to come through?

Leaders Listen To Be Effective

February 10, 2017

Leaders are listeners.

But not just listeners–active listeners.

Some people think that leaders are talkers. It is unfortunate if the person who thinks that is also in a leadership position.

You might get the idea from reading Jack Welch’s books (former CEO of GE) that he spent his time talking to (at?) people convincing them of his message. Maybe that’s why he build an unsustainable conglomerate.

Listen to people. Which employees have great ideas, boundless energy, great passion?

Consider how they relate to the corporate mission.

Tap them for positions where they can succeed by implementing those ideas. And where their success also makes the company successful.

Encourage them. Challenge them. Support them with resources.

Everyone wins.

And where did it start?

The leader has an open mind and listening ears. Then thinks and considers. And at the right time, acts.

See, listening is not passive. It involves engaging the mind combined with deep observation. My focus is not on myself. It is actively engaged with others.

It’s a beautiful thing.