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The Art of Listening

Over the past number of months I feel like God has been speaking to me a lot about the theme of reconciliation. I have been burdened in my spirit deeply by the debates surrounding Canada 150 and the Indigenous response to it - I've been brought low by the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and humbled by the calls to action that speak not only to me as a middle-class white Canadian - but call to action #48 which specifically speaks to the Canadian Church about our responsibility in reconciliation.

(You can read more about the C&MA's response to the TRC here. There are also some excellent resources for praying through the document that I would highly recommend)

At the same time, I've been reading a book along with the Elders by church planter and academic David Fitch on developing a ministry of "presence." And wouldn't you know that one of the key pillars of his approach is a high value on a ministry of reconciliation. (I have recently added a copy of this book to the church library - so you can ask about it there, or conversely check it out on Amazon here)

And if that weren't enough, I attended a neighbourhood VBS this summer with my family where reconciliation was one of the themes being discussed, I’ve been asked to give guidance to friends going through a process of seeking reconciliation, and I have even been thrust into situations where I have needed to initiate seeking reconciliation myself - all in a very compressed period of time.

Okay God - I get it. This is important.

But the truth of the matter is that I don't really get it. At least not yet. I'm still struggling with what it means to let go of my power and authority so that I can be reconciled. it's not a fun thing to do. Because the exercise of power and authority over another is antithetical to the act of reconciliation - and I like being in control. Because in my position, culturally, religiously, vocationally, economically - I have a lot of power - I enjoy a lot of privilege. But reconciliation means laying that privilege and that authority down for the sake of submitting to another.

Fitch makes this argument well in his book where he claims that reconciliation begins with the act of listening. And that listening must not be a perfunctory waiting around until the other party says their piece - but really listening, and submitting to the idea that you cannot understand their reality and experience better than they do. And that when one person's reality comes into conflict with another, the Christian approach is not to paternalistically tell them that they are wrong - but instead to submit to their understanding and ask them to help you understand their position. It is the act of putting aside power (whether legitimate or illegitimate) and taking the posture of a servant. Does this sound like anyone you know?

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”

Philippians 2:3-8

Jesus humbled himself, putting aside all the authority and power that was rightfully his so that in his sacrificial death on our behalf, we might be reconciled to God. And then he went and told us that if we are to be his disciples that we must act the same way.

“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Matthew 20:24-28

To serve another toward the goal of reconciliation means putting aside power, privilege, and presumption and listening to the other party as one intent on understanding their lament. But listening is hard. And we’re much better at arguing than listening. We’re much better at defending our interests, or our position, or our narrative than listening to someone else who might see, understand, or experience things differently. And so we fight to win, rather than submit to be reconciled.

At least I do.

I am lousy at laying aside my power. I am lousy and giving up my position. I am lousy at listening. But God has called me to be more. God has called us to be more.

So, this summer I’m trying to listen. I’m making an effort (perhaps a woefully inadequate one, but an effort nonetheless) to talk less, and listen more. To seek out voices beyond the echo chamber of people like me, and to learn how much I don’t know. It’s humbling. It’s painful at times. It’s depressing. But it’s the first step toward real reconciliation.

Because if I want to truly call myself a disciple of Jesus, what other choice do I have?

Who are you listening to?


#Reconciliation #TRC #FaithfulPresence

The Bridge Church

of the Christian and Missionary Alliance

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