Tag Archives: listen

Listen & Respond

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We sang a cute little song in church when I was a child about rains coming down, floods coming up, and houses that went splat. The splat was easily the most fun part of the song, but when I experienced that reality as an adult it was far less entertaining. Victims of Hurricane Harvey are facing that same reality today.

My hurricane experience came at the same time of year as Harvey, and it was Labor Day weekend when the first large group of heroes arrived to give us hope. I suspect that has been the same experience for many in Texas. 

We only had a few negative encounters in the aftermath of the storm. Like a group bringing a personal photographer to document their own kindness. And like another insisting that we needed their massive clothing donation immediately even though we had no homes, much less closets. Oh, and every encounter with every level of government and insurance company was its own disaster.

But the biggest flood of all was the beautiful flood of kindness from individuals and churches from all over the world. It was overwhelming in the very best way, and it was our salvation. 

So I have two pieces of advice to share from personal experience:

First, although “news” is ever-changing by definition, remember that the needs will not go away quickly. Join in for the long haul. I love the first responders so much. And I have a unique respect for those who still came months later.

Second, give freely. Find an organization or individual that you trust, and then trust them. The victims know what they need. Listen first. Respond second. 

Losing everything in a hurricane is in retrospect, but only in retrospect, a strangely wonderful time in the history of our family due to the love that we witnessed and received. I pray that many in Texas will be able to look back with similar fondness someday.

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A Personal Spiritual Retreat

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I’m the sort of person who doesn’t mind going to a movie alone.  That’s weird I know, but then again so am I.  All of the voices inside my head get along pretty well most of the time so the occasional time alone is positive more often than not.

My new preaching gig graciously allows me to attend some sort of conference each year, but since nothing particularly appealing fit into my calendar and since I never really had a chance to reflect prior to jumping from one job into another, I opted for a personal spiritual retreat this year—retreating today and returning on Friday.  I suspect that I will talk to a person or two along the way at a restaurant or convenience store, but the plan is to spend time alone in silence.  Listening to the sound of stillness.  Meandering on a couple of scenic runs.  Praying and meditating.  Reflecting and planning. Dreaming.  Preparing my mind, heart, and soul for a new year (as our church family marks time) that is rapidly approaching.

Utah is my chosen destination, partly because I have never been, partly because it is far enough away and yet not so far either, and partly because of a landmark there that may or may not have something to tell me about the sermon series I intend to deliver in the fall.  We’ll find out soon enough.

We are all different.  For some, such a week ahead may sound like torture, but I am almost giddy with excitement.  Who knows what might emerge when I get away from routines and responsibilities, meetings and appointments, emails and notifications long enough and far enough to take a deep breath and truly listen?

The Secrets of a Sacred Space

Stauffer“Let the site tell you its secrets.” — Christopher Alexander

I joke that my propensity to arrive early for absolutely everything is a sickness, but in reality it is a treasured quality since it reminds me of mom and dad.  Being early is my heritage.  With age, it seems that I am less impressed with my unique qualities and particularly value those characteristics that connect me to a larger story.

I arrive very early for work on Sunday mornings to prepare for our church’s collective time together, a couple of hours early in fact—and love it.  We decided to meet in stunning Stauffer Chapel this summer thanks to a brilliant suggestion from my friend, Sara, and the setting has made the early morning solitude particularly delightful.

I like the strange sensation of opening the door to discover that no one else is there and being the first to step inside.  I like turning on the lights and straightening the hymnals and removing the leftover trash from the pew racks.  I like arranging the podium and communion table just right and reviewing the sermon, imagining the congregation at breakfast preparing to join with me and with others.  I like propping open the doors and hearing the gurgling fountain outside and then returning to the deafening quiet inside and the intense feeling of anticipation. I like to notice the sun pierce through the massive stained glass spraying psychedelic graffiti all over the quiet sanctuary.

Famed architect, Christopher Alexander, argued that users of a space know more about their needs than the architect and wrote, “Let the site tell you its secrets.”  In my sacred Sunday solitude, I don’t seem to be able to articulate my needs, but it sure seems that the space has secrets to tell.  I listen each week and can almost hear them.  Maybe if I listen long enough?

In reality, I’m not sure that sacred spaces have actual secrets to tell.  But maybe the wonder that is found in showing up early to listen is secret enough.

See. Respect. Listen. Love.

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When Hurricane Katrina flooded our one-story house in 2005, it claimed treasured and irreplaceable items such as our wedding album and family videos while graciously sparing the crap in the attic that was there because we didn’t want it in the first place.  Gee, thanks.  My revenge came from unwittingly sparing a few boxes of personal mementos in my apparently waterproof office simply because we didn’t have room in the house.  I do my best work by accident.

Included in those mementos, believe it or not, was a college research paper that is now a quarter-century old, presented to Dr. Willard Gatewood at the University of Arkansas in 1991 and titled, “Arkansas Democrats in the Presidential Election of 1928.”  That paper was painstakingly typed on an actual typewriter (yes, boys and girls, a typewriter) and placed in a transparent plastic sleeve with a white binder with my social security number (ID number at the time!) emblazoned under my name on the cover page.  I kept the paper because I was proud of it and have a tiny problem throwing things away.

I remembered that paper last week and had to go for a trip down memory lane.

I don’t think I’m to blame for watching CNN last Thursday when I saw Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump laugh at each other’s jokes the day after trading verbal sucker punches and refusing to shake hands in their final debate.  Curiosity got the best of me.  It turned out that our nation’s top presidential candidates were at the Al Smith Dinner, an annual event hosted by the Archbishop of New York to raise money for needy children, and traditionally the last time presidential candidates share a stage prior to the election every four years.

It was the reference to Al Smith that led me to turn a closet upside down to find that old research paper.

Governor Al Smith of New York was the first Catholic to lead a major party ticket in a presidential election when nominated by the Democratic Party in 1928.  Smith chose Senator Joe T. Robinson of Arkansas as his running mate, the first southerner for a major party in that role since the Civil War, and Arkansas faced a dilemma: The heavily Democratic state had one of its own on the ticket, but Smith’s Catholicism was wildly unpopular across the state.  As a result, Protestant ministers in particular led anti-Smith campaigns that allowed the small contingent of Arkansas Republicans to pull up an easy chair while the Democrats worked both sides of the campaign.

In the end, the Smith-Robinson ticket still carried Arkansas and a handful of other states in the Solid South, but Herbert Hoover won the election in a landslide.  And then the stock market crashed, followed by a great depression and second world war and so on and so forth until I wrote a research paper that I can’t seem to throw away.

Today, it is hard to imagine passionate opposition to a presidential candidate simply because s/he is Catholic.  But it happened.  I wonder what research papers will be written by twenty-year-old students about the Election of 2016 decades down the road?

As Hillary Clinton closed her speech at the Al Smith Dinner, she reflected:

And when I think about what Al Smith went through it’s important to just reflect how groundbreaking it was for him, a Catholic, to be my party’s nominee for president.  Don’t forget – school boards sent home letters with children saying that if Al Smith is elected president you will not be allowed to have or read a Bible.  Voters were told that he would annul Protestant marriages.  And I saw a story recently that said people even claimed the Holland Tunnel was a secret passageway to connect Rome and America, to help the Pope rule our country. Those appeals, appeals to fear and division, can cause us to treat each other as the Other.  Rhetoric like that makes it harder for us to see each other, to respect each other, to listen to each other. And certainly a lot harder to love our neighbor as ourselves.