This will probably be my New Years Resolution for every single year of my life! Listening is really hard for people like me who feel like they will explode if they can’t share with the world whatever they are thinking (hey, maybe that’s why I write a blog! It’s the exact opposite of listening!) But here is a specific aspect of listening I want to work on this year when I disagree with the position that someone else holds:
Let them tell you what they mean.
Don’t assume, self, that you know what someone means because they’ve said a certain phrase, or hold to a specific ideology, or follow a certain person on twitter.
Let me give you an example to explain how you can go so wrong when you don’t do this:
Some crazy journalist decides to read the Bible and reads Joshua. There is an article that comes out in the newspaper in which the journalist repeatedly says, “Christians believe…” and then a crazy statement like…”that they should go slay all their enemies.” As a Christian, this feels unfair to me. My response to this situation would be,
And if I used words it would be, “Don’t interpret the Bible yourself Ms Journalist! Please leave the Biblical interpretation to people who have been studying this for years, and if you took a poll of actual Christians about 0% would agree wi what you think the Bible means, and just because it’s in the Bible doesn’t mean we literally are supposed to copy these people. It’s a dynamic story, a history, not a rule book.” I don’t think I’m illogical or hypocritical for not following Joshua’s literal example. I just think I understand the Bible, and the purpose of the Bible better than a random journalist. As a community of Christians, we have a nuanced understanding of what the Bible is and how to interpret it that an outsider doesn’t have.
However, here are some statements I have heard in the past few weeks:
“Atheists are just atheists so they can justify their immoral behavior.”
“Catholics worship Mary and believe that hard work gets you into heaven.”
“Black people assume everything is about race when it’s not.”
“Rob Bell’s books are all heresy.”
All of these statements might be true. But my questions are:
– Are those statements based on your interpretation (or a bunch of other people’s interpretations) or are they based on what the people who are mentioned actually believe? If you only read Protestant websites explaining Catholicism, you might think that Catholics believe that you should worship Mary and you get into heaven by being a good person. But what if you spoke to (gasp!) actual Catholics and tried to understand how it is that they see their faith? What if you read Rob Bell’s books, not just irate reviews of them? What if you made friends with someone who was black and actually listened to their experiences with racism?
It’s so much easier to make statements like this when you are dealing with abstract ideologies. But no one actually subscribes point for point to such ideologies. People are dynamic and contradictory. Especially if you want to win someone over to your point of view, you have to engage with what they actually believe, not just with what you think they believe. Let them tell you what they mean.
Statements like, “Rob Bells books are all heresy” are not really aimed at anyone who likes Rob Bell. It’s not a call to bring wayward sheep back from the uncharted terrains of heresy. It is a statement made to other people who agree with my position already. If we really care about having conversations with people who hold different views than us, we have to learn how to listen, and how to hear what the other people are actually saying, not just what we think they’re saying. We don’t have to agree. We just have to listen before we disagree.
Also. I have yet to learn how to apply this in my life, especially towards all those people who always make blanket statements everything, (which I never do). 🙂