Leadership and Listening

In the first book of Kings in the Old Testament there is a story I love when the Lord speaks to Elijah who is in crisis, and tells him to stand outside a cave where he will be passing by. The Lord is not in wind rending the mountains and crushing the rocks, it was not in the earthquake, or next a great fire that pass Elijah by. The Lord was in a whisper that Elijah had to be still to hear. I love that story, because it goes to the heart of the matter of God’s influence. When we shut down the chatter and move away from the noxious drama and all the noise…we will be in a better position to hear God, that is if we really want to hear what God has to say. Listening, while not as flashy as some of the other qualities of a great leader, is, for me anyway, the most essential quality. How can you lead anyone if you can’t hear their pain, their fears, their concerns, their hopes, their passions about the journey ahead? The role of a leader, contrary to many of those who presently act in leadership positions, is not to forge ahead with their own agenda, with everyone else be damned. It is to do what is in the best interest of those who are following you. That being said, the listening only comes after your commitment to what it is you stand for and proclaim, because I guarantee, in the listening process that follows, there will be those who will try to convince you to sway from those ideals to pursue an agenda that will not benefit the whole.

I know I’ve used this before, but in the the first book of Corinthians in the New Testament, Paul creates an apt analogy of the Church being the Body of Christ, with all the many members having different functions to sustain the body, and those differences should be celebrated, because it is their interdependence that allows the Body to fully function. Knowing that in any hierarchy there is a tendency to give greater power to those members that seem more honorable like a foot or hand, and less power to those more unseemly parts, Paul would have none of that and he states logically, if all parts were the same where would the body be? He declares if one part suffers, all parts should suffer, if one part is honored, all parts should share it’s joy. What a beautiful image, right? Sadly it is one where we have failed miserably…and perhaps it is because no one has taken time to listen to the parts of the body that suffer, or to listen to God in the whispers to tell us what to do.

I seem to be in tears a lot these days…a reflection of a developed sense of empathy and artistry, I hope. I hear the pain of those parts of the body of our country, and the scramble of those who try to convince us the pain isn’t real, or those who would damage the rest of the body just so they will listen. So lets all be better at listening, for a start, before we write off a part of this body that isn’t like “our part”. None of us can function if can’t work together and see the value of each gift an individual brings that will keep this body functioning. It need not start from the top down, it just needs to be a reflection of who we are and what we stand for.

Listen

When there are no words, I am called to listen. This week I listened to stories of love and loss, hardship and unexpected graciousness, and I felt sadness but also hope. I also listened to stories of anger, bias, ill informed and ignorant claims about “what really happened,” questions about character and worth and I felt despair but also deep anger. I heard people speak of those participants in the horrors of Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Dallas with deep love about those who were lost. I listened to my pastor speak about a phrase from Romans 8:31: If God is for us, who can be against us, and that nothing can separate us from the love of God. I listened to my son, impressed by Jane Elliot’s ground breaking, “blue eyed, brown eyed” experiment in the 1960’s, speak with laser accuracy about racism. I listened to social media friends talk about white privilege and black lives matter and knew that I could never understand with any depth what people of color go through in this country. I listened to friends in law enforcement and blue lives matter and the fear that follows them each and every day, and yet work with deep honor and pride as well. I listened to a mother with a biracial child speak about the subtle and not so subtle ways racism affects her daughter. I listened to a story about a woman who was able to comfort a frightened Muslim grandmother who was afraid at an airport in the most beautiful and simplest way. I listened to people effortlessly bash our president with unmitigated hatred after, what I thought was one of the most beautiful memorial speeches ever, he spoke in Dallas. I listened with even more sadness when I heard the news of another attack in France.

It is a disturbing point of tension, caught in the middle unable to say anything that would begin to change another’s mind or heart. To hear so many perspectives that seemed to speak over each other, cancel each other out or in anonymous condemnation made me want to stop listening. So I sat in silence and remembered the words of Isaiah when he heard God in a whisper. And in the quiet of those moments I could feel God present in my struggle, and could hear God in a whisper, and he asked me to magnify my struggle as much as I could and think of how much bigger my struggle could be…and he told me even then I am there. He is present in every place where there is crisis, even in my small and seemingly insignificant one. I listened to God and realized that we haven’t really been listening to him when he said that nothing could separate us from his love. When we listen, we can hear God through each other. I told God that I wanted to be the seed that was planted deep and not on shallow, rocky, or thorny ground. And then I listened to the words of Christ who said that I need only love the Lord my God with my heart, mind and soul, and my neighbor as my self. And the way to do that was to see Christ in them, understand them by walking a mile in their shoes, and work with them to become the Body of Christ. I am a holder of his Grace, I have no need to fear, and yet I do. I fear the lies that are being spread, because we don’t want to listen to painful truths. I fear that the Devil is craftier than I ever knew in eliciting strife and discord, and people are buying it hook, line and sinker, under the guise of faith, patriotism and righteousness.

So before you plant your feet too firmly, take a walk to the other side, and listen. You may see things differently.