In recruiting to build a new listening team Ruth Nelson, John Montieth, and I encountered an old enemy: fear. There were our own fears: Can I do this? Are our plans too ambitious? Do we have enough time? What if people say “no”? And there were others’ fears: What—me listen? I’m not the kind of person who does something like that.
I’m not the most skilled or gracious in responding to other people’s fears. If I don’t win you over with enthusiasm for the effort, I probably won’t win you over at all.
But I learned a new word: “counterphobic.” That’s me. To others, I may appear fearless, while I’m truly as afraid as anyone else. Maybe more so. I’m afraid of doing the thing, whatever it is. But I’m also more afraid of not doing it. That second “counterphobia” steamrolls the original fear, demanding I do the very things I’m afraid of doing. I have a reputation of fearlessness to uphold, don’t I? Others are relying on me to lead, to succeed, to win! says the counterphobic voice.
Befriending that voice, I’ve become so much more understanding of others’ fears. Funny how being more aware of my own fears does that. When I set out to listen, I’m often afraid. Thankfully, beside the counterphobia are many memories of joy in experiencing a powerful human connection in listening. The joy of the Lord is our strength
Building community and mobilizing St. Paul and our neighbors to act together based on what it hears is the listening team’s agenda.
Between August 25 and October 13, you can expect to be invited to a one-on-one visit. The goal of the person who will listen to you is to build a relationship with you. They will also consider what you care about, what you hope and fear for St. Paul, your family, and this community—you and everyone else the team listens to.
Then, the team will invite you and everyone else to a celebration: you’ll hear what the team heard, and we’ll organize ourselves into teams and start working together.
This may sound familiar. It’s what happened during and after the first listening campaign. The only difference is, the “Hope in Action” team is the core of this new listening team. It hopes the campaign will surface a new community problem to solve, now that the park bathroom project is nearing completion. So the team will listen both to St. Paul people (roughly 120) and to neighbors (another 60 or so). St. Paul is fishing for people again, now casting a wider net.
“Do not be afraid, little flock,” Jesus said. “Sell your possessions and give alms.”
With these words, Jesus interpreted his parable from last week about the rich fool, whose land produced abundantly. Jesus invites those of us who have more than enough to downsize and give to people who don’t have enough.
But what is “enough”? Are we reliable judges? Who can offer a trustworthy second opinion?
What fear infects our relationship to money and possessions, esteem and image, power and control, safety and security? Let Jesus into this conversation.
Jesus invited his disciples to recommit themselves to God’s work. Don’t be distracted by life’s inherent risk and uncertainty. Don’t give into apathy or cynicism: God is neither absent, irrelevant, nor unreliable. Truly Christ will come to serve us. The gift and the call go together.
On a sunny October day in 2016, 10 St. Paul people went to Davenport for a three-hour training on listening. It was practical, interactive, and full of newsprint. How to listen one-on-one to another human in a natural but uncommon way, to get beneath the surface, build a relationship with the person and understand who they really are, what they really care about. When the three-hour training was done, the St. Paul people echoed the consensus of other learners (church people from other congregations and a handful of nuns): “We wish it was four hours!”
At lunch at my house, those 10 bubbled with energy to go listen to other St. Paul people. For a couple months, they did, under the radar, not part of any publicized “campaign.” With a little extra training, they recruited others, doubling the size of the team. The next spring, that team of 20 invited 185 St. Paul people and listened one-on-one to 123.
That first “listening campaign” set priorities for the “Listen, God is Calling” capital campaign, developed the leadership of those listeners, and identified dozens of others with an interest to work together: one group formed “Hope in Action,” John Montieth and others started a new book study group, and another team sought to grow the church.
Now a new 20ish person listening team prepares to launch another listening campaign on August 25. Get ready!
“I will pull down my barns and build bigger ones,” said the rich man.
Some of us can’t see the forest for the trees. This poor man couldn’t see the harvest for the barns. His problem was about trust capacity, not storage capacity.
We all need “containers” for our lives: significance, security, companionship. Building such “barns”--and ones that look good to us and to others--is the necessary and preoccupying work of the first half of life.
And, there is more to life than this. What are your “barns” meant to hold? To give to others? What a tragedy to waste our lives battling for the biggest and best barn, when Christ was born into the meanest of mangers.
Let your prayer simply be holding the purely loving gaze of God.
“Because everyone who asks receives,” Jesus promised.
It takes a leap of faith to do as Jesus said. To ask, to search, to knock requires surrendering control, letting go of false identities, risking loss. Many--maybe most--are not able or willing to do it.
Maybe that’s because human love is always limited, and what came naturally in early youth we soon learned led too often to humiliation and even suffering. But risky as it may be, to stop asking, searching, knocking kills the soul.
In Jesus, a crucified God breathes new life into us and woos us back to our true selves, to a daring relationship with God. What will it take for you to lean into the loss, the risk, the rejection, trusting that on the other side you will find the very bread of life? Ask God for this.