by Kenneth Justice
~ “It seems as though people love to hear themselves talk”
That’s what a young man shared to me recently as three of us were sitting at the café recently enjoying our coffee. The young man was sharing his observation as we were people watching the other patrons hanging out at the café, “Just look at how half of these people keep interrupting each other…everyone seems so obsessed with whatever is going on in their own lives that they never bother to listen to anyone else” he said.
Of course the young man is probably guilty of exaggerating just a bit in his observation….but there is definitely a level of truth in what he was getting at as I’ve written in the past about the lost art of listening.
After I left the café and was heading home I began to think more deeply about the young man’s comments and I remembered my own childhood. Growing up in a hardcore fundamentalist Christian culture it was drilled into my head that “we have the only true answers to save the world“….the ministers who preached at me each Sunday taught us to believe that it was our responsibility to preach at the world in order to save them from eternal hell fire and damnation…..
And to be honest with you….I can’t remember ever hearing one sermon growing up that taught us to learn how to listen to others; how to listen to what people are really saying, about how to learn what their needs truly are……There was practically no emphasis whatsoever in the churches I was raised in on reaching out to people who were in need; the jobless, unemployed, the single mothers, the sick, fill-in-the-blank…….
The only ‘listening’ that the ministers in my churches taught us was to listen to them; to make sure we listened to their sermons and homilies every week in order for us to know how God wanted us to live……it all seems so strange to me now. All the emphasis in church was drilling into our heads the idea that we must preach at people in order to save them. Its pretty strange as I look back on it……
In the past month I’ve received a dozen or so emails on this topic alone from various Christians. They’ve accused me of being ‘soft’ in my Christianity, “Kenneth, you need to talk about hell! If you love people you will tell them they are going to hell unless they turn to God!” is what they’ve said to me.
I always feel weird getting emails like that from Christians because it makes me feel as though they are part of some other religion than the one I know…as though they are part of the religion of my youth; a religion I’m now very disconnected from……its weird to me that they spend so much time emphasizing preaching at other people…..and so little time emphasizing caring for others, helping others, and listening to others.
I try to be careful on my blog not to get bogged down by bible verses because I am not a theologian….there are plenty of other good blogs for those who want to debate the intricacies of the bible and debate it till the wee hours of the morning. I’d rather let professors of theology argue the finer points of the bible.
Have I read the bible; of course I have, I’ve read it cover-to-cover more than a few hundred times and my personal library of theological books and commentaries is in the multiple thousands…..but its simply not my prerogative anymore to argue the bible with people…..I look back at all the hours I spent studying and wonder how much different my life would be if I spent even half of that time reaching out to those who are in need.
Studying the books of our religion is all fine and good…..but in a world where there are so many people in need, who are struggling financially, broken homes, children without parents, widows, fill-in-the-blank…….what I’m trying to say is that in a world with so much need I feel like I might have wasted a little bit too much time in the past reading and studying….and should have spent a tad bit more time reaching out to others.
When I was younger I loved to hear myself talk. I loved talking at people and telling them what I believed was wrong with their belief systems; I debated, I argued, I spent endless hours arguing religion……..because that is the way the churches I attended taught me to act.
But now as I get a little bit older….as I got into my thirties, I simply don’t care to talk at people anymore….I would rather talk with them. I’d rather have positive conversations that build people up rather than tear them down. I’m not out to save-the-world via my religion…..I figure if God wants people to believe something than God can convince them which book to read……
Does all that make me a heretic? Because I don’t want to ramrod the bible down people’s throats does that make me a bad Christian? Well, that is what some Christians tell me…..its what they say when they email me…..but when I look at these ‘Christian’s’ lives, when I listen to them talk about themselves…..I’m not very impressed.
All that is to say…..lately I would rather listen to others than tell them what I have to say…..perhaps that’s why I enjoy reading comments from readers. I enjoy hearing people’s stories and I enjoy hearing from others about what they think about life….because to be quite honest; I already know what I think….so I don’t need to hear myself talk anymore.
I would like to say I could really go for another coffee right now,