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Christians as Dual Citizens part 4: Learning to Listen

You cannot listen to the word another is speaking if you are preoccupied with your appearance or with impressing the other, or are trying to decide what you are going to say when the other stops talking, or are debating about whether or not what is being said is true or relevant or agreeable. Such matters have their place, but only after listening to the word as the word is being uttered.  –William Stringfellow

I am sometimes frustrated by political discourse which seems to resemble a shouting match more than a thoughtful discussion. We face many real and complicated problems. How are we going to supply the energy we need and scale back our energy demands to fit what we can sustainably produce? What work is meaningful and necessary, and how can we make it easier for people to engage in and support themselves through this work? How are we to respond to violence abroad and at home? I don’t think either party has discovered and articulated a fully adequate response to any of these questions. Perhaps if they stopped shouting at each other and exaggerating their positions so as to create clear contrasts they could actually figure out and implement a saner basis for our national life.

It’s easy for me to see what I think they should do. It’s harder for me to do the same thing in my own life. When people come out with strong political opinions that don’t coincide with mine I often start to argue instead of really listening. I try to fall back on what I learned to do when people questioned my personal unusual choices, like homeschooling and homesteading. Now, I try to let go of my defensiveness, listen carefully to them and then ask questions. What was school like for you? What was the best part? The worst? What, if anything, do you wish you could change? How else did you learn?

The change was amazing. People who had begun by being hostile slowed down, relaxed, told stories and began to ask me more open-ended questions. Often we learned something from each other.

I need to listen better to my neighbors. I also need to listen better to God; to stop hammering at God with my worries and ideas and listen to the word God has for me.

Perhaps if more of us private citizens learned to listen to each other and to God our candidates and elected officials would eventually follow suit.

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