The Transformational Work of Listening
In the course of our careers as ministers in the Episcopal Church, there have been moments when we have necessarily needed to have difficult conversations about how we as an organizational body approach other persons and acknowledge their personhood.
This, as some of you will know, can be a painful process, for it asks one to enter into deep self-reflective work by listening and reflecting upon what one hears in light of one’s biases and presumptions, fears and dis-ease.
One of the conversations the Episcopal Church has wrestled with has been around how to recognize and embrace the personhood of LGBTQ persons.
This required deep listening for an organization that had for its history officially denied the personhood of these children of God. It was a difficult period in the Episcopal Church, but one of the saddest moments came when a group of leaders opposed to the inclusion of gay people was invited to sit with a group of LGBTQ members of the church and listen to their stories. The invitation was declined because, as the spokesperson for the leadership group stated, if we sat and listened to their stories of discrimination and oppression in the church we might just change our minds.
That is one of the most terribly accurate indictments on the human experience we have heard.
The fear that if we sit with those with whom we differ (in race, gender, background, ethnicity, etc.) we just might find that we see others for who they are: children of God with their own stories, and their own hurts, and their own hopes, and their own need for security and love, just like me. And we might just discover that they have Light within just like me.
What these leaders knew and that which frightened them was the power of story, of conversation, of listening in relationship, and how that relatedness has the possibility and power to change the world.
This is not the relating and conversation of BIG meetings at the UN or Congress. Rather, it is those “small” moments of relatedness and conversation that occur everywhere in life that have the potential to alter lives, provide significant transformation, and purpose a re-creation.
When we are courageous enough to remove our fear and biases, our prejudices and convictions, our skepticism and distractions, to sit with another and hear their story – and when they gift us with listening to us and hearing our story – the nation changes in ways unimagined.
For it is in that sacred space between us – where our stories intersect, where the words cross, where the images blend and contort – that we encounter the new.
As the blended words float our way, we ingest them and allow them to penetrate and begin to awaken a new sense of self. And our words have the possibility of penetrating into the life of the other and awakening a new self in them. Perhaps not immediately. Perhaps it is a seed that will grow at its own pace. But it grows and we become more of a person and the other becomes more of a person. And together we discover personhood in each other that bonds us to understand that the experience of life is truly unique to the individual and truly connected to the whole.
This is how Braid volunteers change the world every week: by taking intentional time to remove our fear and biases, prejudices and convictions, skepticism and distractions, to sit with one another and with a young person who has a story to tell.
Some days they have to listen harder than others because their youth want to tell that story in silence. Much of the time the conversation may not seem all that monumental. But we listen and we ask questions and we talk and our words meet their words in that place in-between where stories intersect, and words cross, and images blend and contort and we encounter the new.
The nation changes.
For the better because we who were strangers have become friends.
For the better because we who were suspicious have learned to trust.
For the better because in this relationship we come to experience the gift that you are and the gift that I am.