Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

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Hospitality and Listening

Tuesday August 5 2014

Hospitality and Listening

I view listening as a key skill for hospitality in all its forms. Imagine a traditional hospitality setting: you are offering a traveler a place to sleep. “What do you need right now?” you ask. “A shower? A nap? The wifi password? A cup of tea?” You listen to the response and try to meet the traveler’s need. In addition, you may need to listen to subtle cues that help you know what the traveler needs.

Meal times are another typical hospitality setting, and listening plays a key role in mealtime conversations. I have sat through many meals where one person is talking, talking, talking . . . taking up all the air time and dominating the conversation. And I have enjoyed many meals where the host or someone else draws people out and listens carefully. A world of difference!

The connections between listening and hospitality go far beyond lodging and meals, however. I have a very broad definition of hospitality (which I described in a post on the Godspace blog).  I see hospitality as an open stance toward others, a receptivity to who they are and what they have to offer. I see hospitality as a welcome to others that can happen in a short conversation or a long-standing relationship. This kind of welcome and receptivity requires good listening skills and the willingness to stop talking long enough to hear deeply from the other.

One of the obstacles to this kind of listening comes from our fears that if we listen deeply and carefully to someone we disagree with, we will be communicating tacit agreement to their perspective. Imagine I have just met someone new in my workplace, and a few random comments she makes leads me to believe she practices a religion very different from mine. If I draw her out about her religious practices, will she think I agree with them? Or perhaps she expresses a political opinion diametrically opposed to mine. If I draw her out about her political convictions, will she think I give assent to them?

The authors of a communication textbook write, “There is a difference between understanding and agreeing with a speaker. We need to develop new psychological habits that encourage us to keep an open mind and a positive attitude to the motivation behind what is communicated to us orally.”[1]

These communication scholars might recommend language like this: “Tell me about X” (when X is the thing I profoundly disagree with). “Tell me what motivated you to get involved.” We indicate our openness to understanding what lies behind the other person’s commitment. We open ourselves to the other person’s story. At some point in the conversation we are free to say, “Wow, I don’t agree with the conclusion you came to, but it’s very interesting to see where your convictions came from. Tell me more about how you got there.”

As long as we believe that listening implies agreement, our ability to be truly hospitable to the people we meet will be truncated. We won’t listen well because we will be fearful that we will hear something we disagree with and that we won’t know how to respond.  All of us can grow in believing that listening does not imply agreement, that understanding other people’s stories, motivations and thought processes will enrich us even if we disagree with them.

(If you'd like to receive email updates whenever I post something on this blog, look in the right hand column of this page for "subscribe." These ideas came from the research for my book The Power of Listening: Building Skills for Mission and Ministry. This post originally appeared in the Godspace blog.)

[1] Terry Mohan, Helen McGregor, Shirley Saunders, and Ray Archee, Communicating! Theory and Practice, 4th ed. (Sydney: Harcourt Brace, 1992), 417.

Spiritual Practices for Sitting in Front of a Screen

Thursday June 26 2014

Because I spend so much time in front of a computer, I’ve tried to develop a series of small spiritual practices that remind me of God’s guidance and presence with me as I sit in front of the screen. While my computer boots up, I try to look out the window at the trees and sky while I take a few deep breaths, reminding me of the Holy Spirit around me and in me. I use passwords that help me remember God’s work in my life. When software or websites load in slowly, I try to look out the window again and rejoice in the beauty of the trees God made. The passwords and the pauses to look out the window break up my work day and help me to take a moment to practice mindfulness, the awareness that this moment matters because God made it and Jesus is here with me.

Because I live so far away from friends and family, Facebook and email are major ways I learn about what’s happening in the lives of people I love. So I try to pray for people as I read what they’ve written online. I know there are a lot of people who think that online relationships aren’t “real,” but because I live 7,000 miles from many of the people I love, I am deeply grateful for online ways of staying connected, and I try to rejoice in those connections and in the people who have loved me and continue to support me across the miles.

Somehow it’s too easy to think that God is present in nature but not in technology. Or that God wants us to be caring and prayerful when we talk to someone face to face, but not when we communicate with them online. My small computer habits remind me that all of life, and my whole life, belong to God.

(If you like this post, you can sign up for email notices every time I post something on this blog. The place to sign up is at the bottom of the right hand column on this webpage. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

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