Over the past several weeks, various questions posed to me have been sifting through my head. There is one, in particular, I would like to address: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?
In light of the recent national anthem protests, I think the idea of staying in a tough conversation and actually having dialogue is more important than ever. The solution is never as simple nor as clear as we think it should be.
I am white. I am not a veteran. My worldview is shaped by my cultural experience. Therefore, I lack the perspective of both an entire population of people who have not had many of the advantages I have received and a group who have fought for life, liberty, and freedom. When issues like the protesting during the national anthem come along, I lack the ability ON MY OWN to see the complexity of how those unlike me are experiencing our country. I can easily dismiss the pain of people I refuse to listen to on the both sides of any issue. Our country is polarized once again.
The best answer, or better response, to the present tension I have come up with (so far) is called resilient communication. I spent some time recently in Mark 4 reading the parable of the sower and connected passages. One of the most difficult challenges about the passage is the seeming mixed message Jesus sends. Greg Lanier puts it this way:
In other words, Jesus speaks in parables so that some will “hear” his teaching and “see” the coming kingdom but not truly “hear and see” (and consequently, not respond with repentance and faith). One immediately uncovers the tension here: Is Jesus saying his preaching is designed for failure to produce results? Is he intentionally being obscurantist to turn people away?
As Lanier later describes, Jesus is standing in a long line of prophetic tradition. Mark cites Isaiah’s call in 6:9-10. Prophets use parables of all sorts to veil and unveil the truth, to bring hearers to the point of recognizing their own self-judgment, and to produce a response to God.
Jesus tactfully shares the word, so that listeners want to stay in the conversation even if they may never hear the words shared. Some stay in the conversation, which is why crowds follow Jesus. It is also why the Pharisees freak out. The Pharisees and scribes have rightfully perceived Jesus’s words and, in light of their own-self judgment, respond negatively. The sinners and tax collectors have also perceived and consistently gather to get to know this potential Messiah. Staying in the conversation involves both the communicator and the listener.
I would argue in today’s world we need to rediscover the art of resiliency in communicating, but primarily in the aspect of listening. When we resiliently communicate we can own our personal worldview, while also remaining humble and teachable in the conversation. First, what is resilience?
Resilience: The revelation of our innate human ability to cope, survive, and then grow.
Resilient listening: Staying in the conversation when I do not like it. Staying in the conversation when I disagree with the “facts” I hear and even the worldview communicated. Resilient listening is keeping curious even when I do not want to be. It is not merely waiting to talk, but listening to understand.
In the holistic idea of resilient communication, there are several action items. I hope to tease out each action item over the next several weeks as I attempt to listen to others. For the meantime, I will provide the list with brief definitions.
- Saturation – consistently presenting the same message (not-mixed messages).
- Care – meeting immediate physical needs.
- Fact – information with no bias.
- Demonstrate empathy – sharing another’s feelings.
- Follow-through – persevere with action in the process.
Throughout resilient communication the idea of self-judgment is key. It is our own self-judgment which prohibits us from resiliently listening. Our idols keep us from conversing with other humans. In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller says, “An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’”
Idols are the things that rattle us when they are threatened. As our model for humanity, Jesus stayed in tough conversations. He sat with people. He listened. He shared about God’s design for the world (which transcended any geopolitical entity). Those who could not handle the diversity and constant challenges to their thinking withdrew from the conversation. Eventually, these people killed Jesus.
As people measured themselves against the compassion and kindness of Jesus, they realized how utterly they fell short of the beautiful standard. Because Jesus embodies God’s rightful kingdom manifested, those in the first century are fascinated and frustrated. The many parables, teaching, and life of Jesus provided saturation, care, fact, empathy, and follow-through. Jesus saw each person as having value and worth.
As we engage in the national conversation, how does our posture align with Jesus’s model of resilient communication?
Today, we verbally assault each other without resiliently listening to each other. We heap self-judgment upon ourselves when we cannot handle the reality that we don’t know what we don’t know. We live in a world of “experts” whose Ph.D. is Google, YouTube, and social media posts. In order to move forward together, let us practice the art of resilient communication. Sit down with someone different than you. Stop shouting. Start listening. Stay in the conversation.
“My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” – James 1:19-20