The Opposite of Talking

I was at the dentist’s long enough this past Monday to finish reading a new novel called “Weather” by Jenny Offill. In the novel, the narrator describes someone she knows as a good listener and says something like: She could listen to your story without responding with a story of her own.

 

It stuck with me because I catch myself doing that all the time, responding to someone’s story with the nearest version of the same thing I have in my repertoire. The intention, usually, is to build a bond, to share a common experience. But, of course, it can also turn the conversation 180 degrees. The writer Fran Lebowitz famously said, “The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting,” as in, waiting for my turn to talk.

 

One of the most challenging aspects of racial reconciliation—or, better, racial justice—is for people who are used to talking to listen truly and deeply and extensively to people who are used to being talked over. How hard it is for some of us who are in the habit of asserting our viewpoints in conversation and who are energized by a strenuous back-and-forth to, instead, keep our mouths shut and listen with patience and humility.

 

Many times, people in small groups have told me that they’re still formulating their thoughts while the more confident talkers have had their say and the conversation has moved on. Their frustration grows and the group doesn’t get the benefit of their input. It takes intentionality and an attentive facilitator to even out this dynamic, so everyone gets heard.

 

In our country now, the need goes beyond that. What has always been the case is becoming blazingly evident. And white people like me have a responsibility that goes beyond making sure other voices are heard along with ours. We have a moral—and, for believers, a Christian—responsibility to listen, listen, listen, without interjections of self-justification or complaints that our intention, personally, was never to cause harm. Listen without responding with our own stories, unless asked, because, in many cases, we don’t really have corresponding stories.

 

If you don’t have opportunity at the moment to listen in person, there are plenty of books and other resources you can read. A few resources are listed on our denomination’s website (https://www.elca.org/Resources/Racial-Justice).

Here are a few more suggestions:
  • A book by Lutheran pastor Lenny Duncan titled Dear Church is subtitled “A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US”
  • More broadly read are new classics “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehesi Coates and “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo.
  • Also, “Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race” by Benjamin Watson
  • And for churches, “Roadmap to Reconciliation” by Brenda Salter McNeil and “Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church” by Soong-Chan Rah.
I encourage those of you who are on Facebook to share the resources you’ve found most enlightening and challenging to the Non-News Esperanza group.

 

This feels like a pivotal moment in the history of our country. Listening and reading are not the full extent of what we can do to be part of the change. But understanding provides fuel, and listening is the only way to get it.

 

Peace and good health to you,
Pastor Carol

Another New Team

Esperanza now has a Stewardship Team, a group focused on helping us think about our money, in the context of faith, and how we may grow in generosity. Thanks to Michael Paradise, Craig Peck, and Michelle Tinsley for getting this team underway.
Our new working teams are focusing on particular areas of our church and will ensure that things get done. But an additional benefit is that they are available to listen to your ideas and suggestions and to coordinate short-term volunteers and efforts. So, as a reminder, here is a list of current teams and their leaders:
Fellowship Team: Peggy Wagner
Finance Team: Mark Entsminger
Inviting & Welcoming Team: Paul Gerrish
Property Team: Randy Wright and Denzil Klein
Worship Team (8:30 service): Brad SomeroJim NelsonSpencer Fallgatter
Worship Team (10:30 service): Steve Newell
Stewardship Team: Michael Paradise

Caught in the Whirlwind, We Pray

A young friend of mine posted this on Facebook: “What is our nation coming to that a Black man is killed this way by police?”

I understand her indignation; our country is supposed to be different. But, with a moment’s more thought she would have realized that America has been in this painful place all along. From its founding, our country has combined high aspirations for human equality with ongoing gross inequality—some overt, some covert.

Perhaps we are reaping the whirlwind that rises from the seeds of turmoil we have planted: racial inequality, income inequality, hyper-individualism rather than caring for each other, glorification of physical power and violence rather than the quiet strength of integrity and wisdom.

Bible-readers know that sin will persist until Jesus returns to establish God’s kingdom in its fullness. We do not believe that God promises to protect us from all the consequences of our sins. We do believe and we teach that God will resurrect us, even from the death we bring on ourselves.

Sin will persist, but that does not excuse our persisting in sin. We who pray “Your will be done on earth as in heaven” must not neglect to do our best to live and act in alignment with God’s will. Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ’You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt. 22:36-39) We abide by those commandments when we model ourselves on a Savior who gave his life for the sake of all, including those who did not love him back.

So here I am, just one person, grounded in my home because of COVID-19, asking God to show me what I should be doing. And into my mind comes an account from Mark’s gospel (Mark 9:14-29). A father has brought his son to Jesus for healing, but Jesus is away, and so it is up to the disciples to attempt to heal him. The son is plagued by a demon, his father says, that mutes his speech and convulses his body, endangering his life. Jesus arrives on the scene and finds the disciples at a loss. They are failing and frustrated.

Mark continues: “When Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, ‘You spirit that keeps this boy from speaking and hearing, I command you, come out of him, and never enter him again!’ After crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, ‘He is dead.’ But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he was able to stand. When he had entered the house, his disciples asked Jesus privately, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘This kind can come out only through prayer.’”

Ah … prayer. I can pray. You can pray. In the face of an overwhelming morass of guilt and pain, in the midst of social division and upheaval, in the face of the intractable, we can pray. And not just to make ourselves feel better, but because, as this gospel account shows, God uses prayer to make things happen. We may not see the way forward, but God does.

Tell God what’s on your heart, tell God what you want. Cry out to God out of your anger (if you’re angry), helplessness (if you feel helpless), frustration (if you’re frustrated), or fear (if you’re afraid). God’s compassion is infinite, and he will hear you and care about you, even amidst the world’s massive needs. But also leave time to be quiet and listen. God may well have something to say to you. God may show you a step you can take, a way you can be part of the work of healing our broken nation.

Sitting at home alone? You can pray. We can pray. Stuck in the house with your family? You can pray together. Getting together with fellow Esperanzans or other Christian friends for a driveway dinner, you can pray together out loud. Let the neighbors hear!

And listen, too. God may have guidance for you: an action to take, a way you can be a force for justice and one who spreads love.

Remember, Esperanza Lutheran Church, our name is Hope!

Praying for you for health of body and strength of faith,

Pastor Carol

 

Trusting God to Care for Us

Businesses are reopening with new safety measures in place, so the question naturally arises: When will we go back to in-person worship at Esperanza?

The simple answer is that we could begin gathering in small groups for outdoor worship services, keeping our distance from one another and avoiding singing. But at this time of year we would have to meet between midnight and 7 a.m. to avoid losing worshipers to heat stroke! And even then, the most vulnerable people in our congregation would, very appropriately, stay away. That’s the very best we could do face-to-face: a very limited worship service at an awkward time of day, with only a subset of the congregation able to consider participating. For now, I think it is better to put our efforts into gathering online (see below for information on finding online worship and Zoom communion and coffee hour) and staying in touch by online chat or phone.

What about those fellowship occasions outside of Sunday morning that have so enriched our lives? Our Inviting & Welcoming and Fellowship Teams are cooking up some plans for fresh new fellowship opportunities when we can get together physically again. Right now, however, you might consider a baby step toward that longed-for normalcy. Some of us are meeting for dinner with one other Esperanza family, dining in the driveway at a good distance from one another. If you think this is safe for you, please consider it. If you need contact information for an Esperanza friend, please call Joni at the office or email her.

Here’s something that’s always possible: Praising God through our acts of love and service—for one another and for our neighbors in need. Feeding ministries, collecting supplies for the Navajo Nation, donating food and other needed items for local neighbors: all this gives glory to God just as surely as we give glory to God when we sing a hymn together on Sunday.

We trust God to care for us. We know that the ravages of this virus are not God’s will for any of us. But God sends help for us in everyday ways, far more often than the miraculous, right? God uses the Centers for Disease Control, the state and county health departments and your primary care physician to care for us. We are wise, I think, to heed what they say.

For anyone who is interested, you can read the thoughts of our Grand Canyon Synod Bishop, Hutterer, in a recent letter here.

Grace, peace, and health to you all, in Jesus’ name.

Pastor Carol

Transitions Within Transitions

It’s with regret that I write to let everyone at Esperanza know that I will be leaving you earlier than anticipated, most likely in mid-July. But it’s with relief that I tell you that the synod staff (specifically, Bishop Deborah Hutterer and Pastor Mark Holman) have identified good options for pastoral leadership for Esperanza between my departure and the arrival of your next regularly called pastor.

All will be well at Esperanza, but I do regret that you have to go through yet another transition.

Bishop Hutterer has asked me to take a longer-term interim assignment with a congregation in Tucson. As many of you know, Tucson is my home, so a chance to serve in my own city is optimal. I begin at the new church on August 1, sharing a full-time position with my husband, Fred–him one-quarter-time and me three-quarter time.

I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy my time at Esperanza, even this time when I can’t physically be there. It’s been encouraging to see how smoothly you-all went through the first steps of the call process and good to know that the call committee is ready to begin its work. I look forward to the rest of my time with you and hope to make the most of it!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Carol

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