7/12/2022 0 Comments
McHugh, Adam. The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction.
Ken Curtis started out in SECC in 1979 as the youth pastor at the Westminister Church, he is currently at the Calimesa where he has served for the last 35 years. He is married to Lael and has two grown children, Brianne and Jordan. Over the course of his Calimesa years he has done a little contract teaching for Andrews, Loma Linda and La Sierra Universities, currently helps with editing for the Growing Together Sabbath School materials and helps direct the Journey in SECC.
“Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim . . .”
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations . . .”
“Therefore go . . . teaching them to obey everything I have command you.”
There certainly does seem to be a lot of talking going on in those passages! Proclaiming, preaching, teaching, and a sense of mission are coded deeply in our Adventist DNA. What higher sense of calling is there than to get to proclaim, preach and teach the good news? Our sense of calling, however, arises out of a context, and context matters.
Context, of course, includes a lot. Certainly, there are lots of dimensions to the context (historical, cultural, religious, political, etc.) which helped to shape our church in the early 19th century, and all the proclaiming, preaching, and that teaching that we’ve been doing ever since! But as significant as those bits of context are (and they are), what I am more and more impressed with lately is another kind of context out of which our mission to proclaim, preach and teach might, or might not, be arising, which Adam McHugh invites us to think about in his book, The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction.
He starts in the introduction with this three-word sentence, “LISTENING COMES FIRST.” He then goes on in the remainder of the book to unpack the significance of that short but profound three-word sentence. Here are a few excerpts from the introduction that give us some glimpses of what is to follow. Beginning with the experience of a newborn baby, he writes:
After her birth, she will spend the next months hearing the words [her parents] speak, whisper, and sing to her, until one day she will start echoing those words, one imperfect syllable at a time . . . [the primeval universe] has an ear, because its first action is to listen to the Voice that pierces the darkness. God commands light and the cosmos hears and obeys . . . The centerpiece of Israel’s prayer life, the Shema, begins with the word hear: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV). . . You become a disciple by hearing. Listening is the first act of discipleship . . . The apostle James famously counsels his hearers to be quick to listen, slow to speak (James 1:19) . . . This is the pattern that life commands.”
This got me to wondering about what would it be like if, this being the natural order of things, we thought about what primarily defines us, as being less about our ability to proclaim well, and more about our ability to listen well? He then goes on to say this:
But somewhere along the way, we start to violate the natural order of things. Speaking our minds and asserting ourselves take priority over listening. We interrupt someone else because we are convinced we already know what he or she is going to say. . . We consider ourselves experts on topics without anything more to learn. . . We participate by speaking and sharing, and we assert our identities by taking verbal stands. . . We view others as projects rather than people with unique stories to be heard. We consider our great Christian task to be preaching, rather than assuming the listening posture of a servant. We speak in volumes, but we listen in snippets. 
There is much more to reflect on here. In the pages that follow, he does a masterful job of offering some glimpses of what it might look like, personally and as a community if we were to take seriously the primacy of listening. He begins by describing the overall contours of a listening life, particularly in contrast to a way of being that uses words to acquire power, rather than assuming a stance that seeks to serve by being attentive. He then follows by describing how this is lived out in the picture of God that is revealed to us in scripture, and most clearly in the life of Jesus - that of a God who listens. How we live in response to that God by assuming the stance of a listener when engaging in prayer, reading scripture, and being attentive to the created world and those others we share it with, are what you find in the next several chapters. What it means to genuinely listen to those in pain, and how we can listen well to ourselves and perhaps better discern the work that God is doing in us, is where he turns his focus as he moves toward the end of the book. Then, in the last chapter, he invites us to reflect on what a community that takes all this seriously might be like. Finally, in the Epilogue, he reminds us that “Listening is the first thing we do in life, and it is the last thing we do in death. We don’t have a choice then, but we do have a choice for all the points in between.”
One might say that one of the characteristics of a good book, is not only the way it makes us wonder how this author was able to get inside our heads and say things that we hadn’t quite been able to find the words for yet, but also in the way it can provide a vision of how things can be different if we are willing to embrace what it says. This is one of those books. It is a book that left me with questions to ponder.
What might it be like to be part of a community that found its primary sense of identity and calling, less in its ability to speak well, and more in its ability to hear well?
What we have to say matters, but what if it is only really heard well, in ways that are genuinely transformative rather than merely informative, when it comes out of a context that takes listening first seriously?
What if the first things that came to people’s minds when they thought about us, was not how passionately we spoke, but how amazingly well we listened and responded to what we heard?
What if we were less concerned about finding ourselves at a loss for words, and more about placing ourselves in a posture where others felt they could be heard?
What if who we are when we are with people spoke as loudly as what we say to people?
Could this be some of what Jesus was getting at when He said, “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,”?
What if the amazing message we have to proclaim, preach and teach always arose out of a context of careful and genuine listening?
I wonder why Jesus so often says, “Whoever has ears, let them hear”
Revelation 14:6 (NIV)
Matthew 24:14 (NIV)
Matt 28:19-20 (NIV)
Adam McHugh, The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction. (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2015) [Kindle Edition] Locations 28-46.
Ibid., Location 2847
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Author - Jon Ciccarelli
January 28, 2021