Recently, a Buddhist monk returned from a 75-day silent retreat in northern Vermont. One of the first things he asked was what he’d missed. Our world has changed dramatically in a short amount of time. There has been the upsurge in COVID-19, the dramatic response, and the continued fall out. There was the death of George Floyd and the ensuing demands for change.
An area that’s been discouraging for me has been the tone of the disagreement on these divisive issues. Not that we are always going to agree, even with those who are brothers and sisters in Christ, on the definition of problems and the changes that are needed in response. A long-time concern of mine is how we disagree with each other. The old saying is that people can disagree without being disagreeable. Opposing sides have long been disagreeable in our nation.
Many of us are asking what we can do to be part of positive change. I hope that we continue to ask ourselves this question, and discern holy responses to it, for as long as is needed. I think of God calling Moses to deliver the Israelites from captivity in Egypt because God heard the cries of his people for deliverance. God continues to hear the cries of the oppressed and calls his people to action as part of His response.
The apostle James encourages us to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Over my life I’ve been reminded in different settings that because God gave me two ears and one mouth so that I should listen twice as much as I speak. I don’t believe this means that injustice should never evoke an angry feeling within us. It’s been said that we should be angry about the things that anger God. We are to experience righteous indignation but not to sin, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).
A good starting point is for us to be intentional in listening to, and understanding, the beliefs, feelings, and experiences of others. We can do this in our personal relationships, in particular, with those with whom we disagree. We can read well-reasoned positions that we disagree with. Not with the intent to refute them, but with an attitude of are there things here that God wants me to hear? Even if I’m in disagreement with most of the argument, is there anything within it that God wants for me to hear.
We can be intentional in listening to one another at Pilgrim Covenant Church in all of our interactions. The Deacons and the Church Board have been speaking and listening to one another. If the Pastoral Search Committee is to have wisdom and discernment in calling our settled pastor, they need to be a group where people speak and listen to each other. Our Rethink Roundtables have the purpose of speaking and listening to others. Speaking and listening is an important component of Bible study and our fellowship with each other whether one-on-one or in a small group. Let us individually and collectively listen to God who speaks to us through His word, His Spirit, and through people who provide us with Godly counsel.
I can be opinionated. I can judge my beliefs to be superior to that of others. I can feel contempt for those with whom I disagree. I try not to act on these feelings, but I continue to struggle with them. I strive to grow in humility, to not think too highly of myself, and to seek to put others first.
My prayer is that God’s Spirit is at work within and among people bringing discernment, unity, and justice. We worship, serve, and follow a God who promises to work for the good through those who love Him and who are called according to His purposes. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We can trust in, look for and participate with God’s ongoing redemptive work of bringing good out of evil.