It has happened. The deed is done. No going back. On Thursday 11 September, by the grace of God, the leading of the Spirit and the goodwill of the Uniting Church in WA, I became the moderator. One of the questions I have been frequently asked over the past few months is what a moderator actually does.
In starting out, one of the things that I am trying most to do is to listen and I am even trying to listen deeply. Listening is often the first step in the healing process. Listening to words, listening to sighs, listening to heartbeats and heartbreaks are part of the art of listening. Listening to tone and to tenor as well as to what is said and not said. Being a disciple means to listen without judgement and prejudice. Listening attentively is one of the most powerful ways to connect with another human being. When we listen to the deepest hurts and hopes of another, we affirm his or her very personhood.
Jesus was the best listener of all. He often listened to others before doing much talking himself. We see this after his resurrection when two of his followers were walking and talking on the road to the village of Emmaus. Jesus “came up and walked along with them” (Luke 24 v 15). Luke then adds “they were kept from recognising him” (v16). Finally, Jesus joins the conversation without them recognising who he was. He listened to the two travellers, but they didn’t seem to listen to him.
As John Stott once pointed out we need ’double listening’; an ear to God and an ear to others. This kind of attentive and empathetic listening is one of the challenges of our time, when so many people wear earphones and are dominated by the sounds of their iPod or mp3.
Shane Claiborne put it well when he said, “It’s important that we come as listeners, learners and friends instead of assuming we know everyone else’s problems and pain. That’s what is most restorative and healing”.
Loving involves listening and authentic listening involves love. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his brilliant book Life Together says, “Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening is committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God”.
This issue of Revive invites us to a great challenge; to listen to the voice of the voiceless, to hear the cries of those whose voices are drowned out by the powerful and noisy. May I encourage you to listen carefully and prayerfully to those around you, to your family and friends, work mates and colleagues, those in your street and those in your congregations. I wonder if someone would say of you or of myself, “he or she is a good listener”.
It is a compliment that is worth coveting.
Rev Steve Francis
Moderator of the Uniting Church in WA