listen very carefully…

Yes, I know you’ve all been desperate for another bloggage from yours truly, well I hope this is worth its wait on hold.

My Dad asked me for some information about a new bicycle seat I had bought, which was lovely and comfy for those of us who would rather not sit on the edge of a razor blade (aka a racing saddle). I sent him a text message with the link, but for some reason it didn’t show up on his phone. So he sent me a message asking for the information again. The text arrived while I was driving around Plymouth on empty roads at a gentle pace so I asked my hands free system to read it out for me. After I had listened the system asked me if I would like to dictate a response. As the roads were still clear I decided to do so. This is what it sent:

“Sorry about that. I can see a reference to it in my message to you. But perhaps your phone can’t cope with that message. I will send you an email with the details. Lots of love boobs.”

Now I ought to explain that one of my childhood nicknames was ‘Dougal’ because I liked the Magic Roundabout on TV and used to crawl around fast in circles like Dougal the dog on that show. Later that got shortened to ‘Doogz’. But the phone dictation system didn’t know ‘Doogz’ so it sent the nearest equivalent!

I wonder how often we fail to listen properly to other people, or to God, and then approximate an understanding of what we think was said? It’s a bit more nuanced that my phone…

When we ask someone how they are and they say, “Fine,” do we listen to their tone of voice, watch their body language and look into their eyes to see if they mean it or are just giving a knee-jerk response, or do we take it at face value and move on without asking how they really are?

A while ago I failed to read the body language and tone of voice and didn’t realise that when someone was telling me they were going on holiday what they really wanted was for me to show some interest and ask about their plans. Instead I replied with what I thought was a fair answer and said that I hoped they would have a lovely time. I had closed down the conversation rather than opening it up further.

And yesterday, when I was with my Spiritual Director, he asked me about my prayer life. I thought it was going quite well and I explained about the apps I use to help me (eg Lectio 365) and how I try to have a conversation with God throughout the day, especially when my thoughts are prompted about someone or something. My SD then asked me whether I spend any time just sitting in God’s presence in silence… ah… well… no. Not really. So I am resolved to try and do that more often. It may not be a long time at first, but I can build that time in, and give him chance to tell me what’s on his heart rather than listening to me all the time.

Be blessed, be surgical dressing a blessing.

champion

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I was at a Church Meeting last night (and was immensely blessed by the experience). As a frequent ‘outside observer’ of Church Meetings I have a few ‘hunches’ (not caused by uncomfortable seating):

The way a room is set out may have a correlation with the mood of the meeting. If those leading the meeting are sat behind tables at the front it may suggest that there is likely to be confrontation. If everyone is in rows facing the front it may inhibit discussion. If the room is set out with people in a circle (or a version of a circle depending on numbers and space) it might encourage people to listen to one another more because they are facing each other.

Church Meetings that describe themselves as ‘Church Business Meetings’ have a different atmosphere to those that don’t. If it’s a formal business-style meeting then the approach (with proposers and seconders and lots of voting) may lend itself to more business-style topics. I have not done any research on this but my hunch is that those that are described as ‘Church Business Meetings’ may lead with things like finance and the running of the church rather than what church is really there for. And those meetings can feel more like democratic meetings where strident majority views carry the day rather than discernment meetings where we listen to the small uncertain voice as well as the loud.

Another hunch is that where a Church Meeting is explicitly a discernment process, seeking to listen for what God is saying to the church through one another, the focus of the meeting is likely to be more about mission and serving the community. Those meetings are often characterised by the number of times the meeting prays together about issues and different ways of listening to the gathered community other than just be plenary discussion. And everyone’s comments are listened to and respected because they could be the one God is speaking through.

Last night’s meeting included an epiphany for me. Quite often in the meeting there was a request for people to ‘pray about this’. That’s brilliant. That’s how churches should operate. And we did pray during the meeting. However I wonder how many of those ‘pray about this’ issues remained with people at the end of the meeting, and how many still remember them this morning?

I was given the opportunity at the end of the meeting to feed back to the church what I had experienced (this is something I often do – with permisssion – as a visitor). I remarked on how often we had been encouraged to ‘pray about this’ and wondered whether it might be worth having someone in the meeting designated to record the points for prayer. At the end of the meeting they could remind the meeting about these things (things to thank God for as well as requests) so that the meeting could do what it had been asked to do, and then perhaps those prayer items could be circulated to the church membership for them to continue to be in prayer about them. Of the cuff I suggested that they could perhaps be the ‘Prayer Champion’ and I am not convinced about the name, but I am warming up to the concept.

If you’re in a church that holds meetings, what are they like?

Be blessed, be a blessing

I don’t think Facebook really cares about me

typewriter - permission for blog

Early Facebook?

 

When I log on to Facebook now I often get reminded of a post I made a few years ago on the same date with the heading, “Your memories on Facebook”. I quite like that, it reminds me of things that I had forgotten had happened and people with whom I was in touch at that time.

The text under that heading reads: “Nick, we care about you and the memories you share here. We thought that you’d like to look back on this post from x years ago.”

Now I seriously doubt that Facebook care about me. There are over 1.5 billion users of Facebook and I don’t think that Facebook actually cares about each one of us as an individual even though the message is personalised.

Equally I don’t think they care about the memories I share on Facebook. They care whether or not I keep on being active on Facebook and want me to keep posting on Facebook in order that they continue to gain advertising revenue and sustain the business model under which they operate.

And I am pretty sure that they didn’t think about me and whether I would like to look back on a particular post. I suspect (cynical? me?) that there is a program running at Facebook HQ that picks out posts from previous years and lobs them onto my page for me to consider. No human thought was involved in selecting that memory for me.

I like the reminders of the memories, but I don’t like what feels like an attempt by a Faceless Corporation to try to personalise my experience and make me think that I am a valued customer. I know that it’s exactly the same experience as all of the other 1.5 billion users. They don’t care about me. They don’t think about me.

And sometimes I wonder whether that is how people experience God through Christians: almost as if we have a stock computer-generated response that may look on the surface as if it is personal but actually is more of a platitude: “Jesus loves you.”

How do people know that Jesus loves them? Not just because some random stranger tells them. Please note: I am not discounting random encounters but most people find faith in God through a long process of engagement with friends and family who are followers of Jesus. They know it because they experience it as true in the lives and words of those they know and trust. They know it because people they know and trust have taken the time to listen to them, to understand them and to love them unconditionally.

And that’s a challenge to me. Do I care about my friends and family? Do I care about the memories and experiences that have helped shape them and am I willing to listen to them? Have I thought about what they would like? How good a free sample of Jesus am I? Is it clear that I share my faith because I care about those people?

Be blessed, be a blessing