Tuesday, May 29, 2007


A topic brought up by the anti-debator at the God For People Who Hate Church conference was listening. Specifically, how christians historically are lousy listeners.

I have thought of this for years, but never had the vocabulary to discuss it. My wife and I discovered through the old izzy group ministry, that the poor just want a listening ear. Period. Regardless of whatever intelligent banter or schitzophrenic ramble comes out of their mouths, people want to be listened to, not preached at within every moment of silence.

The anti-debator's angle on this topic was: christians have always wanted to direct every conversation with non-christians. If christians cannot direct and dominate the discussion, then they want nothing to do with it. They feel threatened if they cannot get their beliefs in and lay down an anchor of direction.

I say, the same goes for christians talking to anybody. Even other christians. Christians want to spout off their belief and angle first, thus dominating the conversation. Few have the gift of listening.

I think I have the gift of listening by default. That is, I suck at speaking. But I find myself in that temptation to dominate a conversation often.

Last week, I discussed this "listening" topic with two separate pairs of fellow believers. And both times I was interrupted with the other's take on the subject.

Thanks for demonstrating my point.

I'm a big fan of the 58th chapter of Isaiah. The word "fast" is used throughout the text in reference to serving the CEO by ministering to the poor. I'm told by a hebrew scholar friend that in this text, the word for "fast" is "tsum" or something. And tsum means literally "to cover one's mouth so that you can hear the other". In other words, to fast from yacking your yap. To shut the hell up and listen for once.

Can anyone, jesus follower or not, find this true about christians, or am I nuts? Any suggestions besides just learning to shut up?


miller said...

i was probably one of the ones who interrupted you...

and yeah, i'm trying to learn to listen as well, but i'm not doing a very good job of it. i've got a few years of training to somehow overcome.

good points.

mike said...

well i didn't read the whole post cause i wanted to respond.

you are wrong.

Matthew said...

Talking too much doesn't seem to be a uniquely Christian flaw.

carl said...

When talking about faith (I suck at speaking too by the way) there is a balance needed. Some christians do not want to deal at all with talking about spiritual matters while others cannot stop talking about it. There's an issue with either extreme.

Christians do need to learn how listen better. True listening reminds us that we're all human, all on the same level. A mark of true humility. I also agree with Mike that "Talking too much doesn't seem to be a uniquely Christian flaw."

Agent B said...

Yeah, well...I had hoped I didn't make this report sound like christians had the market cornered on psycho babble. Because you're all correct: they don't. Good point.

and Mike: we'll make great friends, since they all basically say what you just did.

mike said...

who says sarcasm isn't a spiritual gift.

RCM- Steve said...

Hey bro,

Well, James said something about us being slow to speak and quick to listen, so, we get it direct from the Owner's Manual. Haven't heard too many sermons on this verse; then again, a sermon, by definition, is a type of monologue, and I know lots of preachers who'd rather do the talking than have others say anything. So I guess I probably won't hear much commentary from them on the subject matter. :)

Really, if pressed, I have to admit I probably talk more than I listen, at least I want to talk a lot. I think I recognize I want to be heard as much as the next guy. But my profession as compelled me to learn to listen, and to do so first as an act of love.

But if you really want my ideal opinion on the matter (well maybe you don't but I'm going to state it anyway, ha) is that the best interaction is a conversation, a two-way street of communication. To me it's one of the highest forms of love, because we're on equal footing. I'm not the "counselor" with superior "knowledge", divine patience, or condescending silent superiority. But two-way talks take skill & art, and I usually try to meet people where they're at, even if it means, at least in the beginning, that they get to do the talking.

And finally, if I'm suuuper honest, I think the times I talk too much usually has to do with feeling insecure or a little afraid, or somesuch. When I'm at peace, talking/listening seems to go pretty naturally.

Matt said...

Great stuff. I think you hit on a good point with the directing the conversation part. I think the root of this desire to direct the conversation comes from 'right mindedness' or feeling that their opinion must trump whatever else is being said. I think this is a real area for 'scope creep' wherein a christian may go from feeling right about everything in the context of religion, and carry it over to other things like politics, herbal remedies and car maintenance philosophies.

Isn't the whole point of being religious anyway to let everyone else now how wrong they are with their own beliefs? Why listen to other people when you already know what you need to know? Your talking is a bushel to my light thank you very much.

Jenelle said...

A friend of mine does these crazy "silence fasts" where she doesn't speak for days in order to listen better to people and God. I guess sometimes desperate times calls for desperate measures.

I've been called a good listener type by many, but I think that my listening skills comes in part from a deep insecurity that people are interested in listening to me.

Agent B said...

Thanks everyone for this discussion.

Matt (and I assume you're not the Matt that expects to be called Matthew): good definitions. I see a LOT of that right mindedness/scope creep around the fair mother city.