Sunday, April 29, 2007

Listening in ministry

I've been thinking about the dialog of preaching and of ministry.

I was reflecting, as my time at my field education site draws to a close, that ministry, at its best, might be described as a series of dialogs, and outside of field ed, we don't get much instruction or guidance in ways of opening up those dialogs—with God, with colleagues, with congregation members, with ourselves. In field ed, there has been attentive listening and conversation in reflection and supervision sessions, and with the teaching parish committee there has been feedback, listening and conversation built into the structure.

But we don't appreciate enough the gift of listening, I think, either in the giving or the receiving. I looked to my bookshelf and found two books on listening that I bought and never fully read, that I think I'll peruse over the summer: The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music by W. A. Mathieu (Boston: Shambala, 1991). The cover says it is "about rediscovering the power of listening as an instrument of self-discovery and personal and personal transformation." We've got two ears and one mouth, the old saying goes, so that we should listen twice as much as we talk.

The second book is The Third Ear: On Listening to the World by Joachim-Ernst Berendt (New York: Henry Holt, 1986). Berendt, according to the back cover, is the author of the international best seller The Jazz Book and has done a lot of work in organizing jazz music festivals. "He uncovers startling evidence that suggests dominance of the ear is directly linked to compassion and peacefulness, while reliance on the eye produces divisiveness and aggression. At the core of almost every spiritual tradition—from the West, East, Middle East, Africa Pacific Islands, and the Arctic—lies the knowledge that the world is made of sound and that the way to wisdom lies through the ear."

What the ear of the jazz musician knows or learns is how to hear the way through. If the listening goes awry, then jazz gets derailed, and it's obvious—sort of what happens to the rest of us in life a lot of the time, but we don't get that it's because we weren't listening enough and paying attention. It is so rare that I feel really listened to, rather than that a person is just planning their response while I'm talking. We need to give the gift of time in our listening as well, and not expect immediate response, or perhaps train ourselves to give time to listen in our dialog before we respond.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


Originally posted at

Hard to Count
Every day as I drive my daughter to school I pass by a lawn sign about half way there. Today it said 3253. According to tonight's news, they will need to change the sign, and I'll see if it is different tomorrow, because the count of American military deaths in Iraq is now three higher. When I drive by I often think that perhaps they need more signs, because counting only the American deaths does not tell the whole story of what is happening. The counts of wounded Americans can also be found on those sites, and the number of Iraqis who have lost their lives, is a much larger number.

Of course, this is not the only place in the world with deaths and tragedies to count--Darfur is another. These are hard numbers to count.

Easier to Count
In our adult ed class at church yesterday we were finishing our series of lessons on our Music of Faith and Songs of the Soul with a selection of songs on blessings, and I included an adaptation of the chorus of the hymn "Count Your Blessings" that I wrote as a children's counting song when my daughter was small. The visiting four-year old sitting on his daddy's lap particularly enjoyed the song. So for all of you with young friends who are learning to count, I offer this way of counting:

Count Your Blessings
Count your blessings, name them one by one.
Count your blessings, see what God has done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one.
Count your many blessings, see what God has done.

Count your blessings, name them two by two.
Count your blessings, hear what God can do. …

Count your blessings, name them three by three.
Count your blessings, for earth and sky and sea. …

Count your blessings, name them four by four.
Count your blessings from God that we adore. …

Count your blessings, name them five by five.
Count your blessings, be glad that you're alive. …

Count your blessings, name them six by six.
Count your blessings, you are part of God's good mix. …

Count your blessings, name them seven by seven.
Count your blessings, you are on your way to heaven. …

Count your blessings, name them eight by eight.
Count your blessings, God is never late. …

Count your blessings, name them nine by nine.
Count your blessings, God is with us all the time. …

Count your blessings, name them ten by ten.
Count your blessings, and then sing them all again.
Count your blessings, name them ten by ten.
Count your many blessings, and then sing them all again.

Blessings are easier to count, and I encourage you to do so often. I do it as a daily morning practice. I write down five things that I am grateful for to set the tone for my day. It always makes the day a little easier.

Easiest to Count
This week at First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain we will have a Maundy Thursday service at 7 p.m. and we will be focusing on the new commandment that Jesus gave the disciples. Maundy is from the Latin mandatum (like mandate), meaning commandment. The new commandment is found in John 13:34-35: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Thinking of love and counting reminded me, of course, of the famous poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, that starts, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…" When it comes to the ways we are loved by God, and the ways Jesus showed his love for us, perhaps these are the easiest of all the things we might count.

Somehow, though, it seems to me that we cannot count the ways God loves us, or our blessings, unless we also count each death, and unless each death or wound also counts. Surely, when we come to this week, of all weeks, where we remember the wounds in Jesus' hands and side, and his death, we must count all wounds and deaths, and begin to count the ways that we love one another, and more importantly, the ways that we show that love. Love counts.