Listening with Wide Open Hearts

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We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others.             -Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

Observing the political climate, both in the U.S. and around the world, I’ve been thinking a lot about fear and anger and the absence of compassion. I’ve seen these at play, usually aggressive play, in both far-off places and close to home.

In the Bible we read the oft-repeated message: “Be not afraid.” Do we trust these words? Do we heed them?

The message we receive from the media, which many of us see and hear more often than the Bible is “Be afraid. Be afraid! Be very afraid!” These words cater to our basest instincts. When should we trust them?

Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples, while judging ourselves by our best intentions.      – George W. Bush

When we fear – the “other,” terror, pain, loss, death – we judge unequally and act defensively, assuming the worst of people and situations; our fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in. Instead of seeing other beloved children of God, we see threats and we act accordingly.

I won’t deny that many scary things are happening around us; our world is broken and continues to break into pieces.

But we have a choice about how to approach broken places and broken people.

We can choose fear.

Or we can choose love.

We can choose to close ourselves off or open ourselves wider.

Ever since I heard about it, I’ve been fascinated by the Urban Confessional, a loosely connected group of people from thirteen countries whose sole purpose is to listen to other people, strangers on the street. Participants in the project go to public places and stand with signs that say “Free Listening.” When someone approaches a listener, the listener puts the sign down, focuses attention on the person who wants to be heard, and listens to whatever he or she might offer. The listener may ask questions, but gives no advice or critique. Only the gift of listening. “Only” the gift of open-hearted time.

I want to join the Urban Confessional. I plan to. I need to practice listening… a lot. I preach the importance of listening much better than I practice the skill.

A few people in my life know how to push my buttons. Though most of the time I am able to heed my better senses, sometimes I allow myself to get caught up in heated exchanges, too often in the online sphere (mistake #1). When I do it, I feel my body tense, my heartrate speed up, and my sense of self-righteousness swell. These are not moments I’m proud of. My goal in “listening” then is only to form a better argument: why I’m right and how they’re wrong.

I was telling this story to someone who responded, “If you have to be right, you’ve already lost.”

I’ve lost many times. I’m sure I’ll lose many more. But I’m trying.

“I will give you a new heart,” the Lord says, “and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). That’s what we must pray for… a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens.    – President Barack Obama

Recently a local visionary led a workshop in which he spoke about the year he spent listening to talk radio that didn’t align with his belief system. In doing so, he hoped to diminish the power of ideas and words that triggered his ire. He wanted to learn to listen in a way that always honored the common kinship of humanity and always recognized the inherent dignity of the other person, even when they saw the world through very different lenses.  He wanted to  honor relationship over ideology.

Maybe listening to strangers will help me listen better to people I know and help me to honor relationship over ideology. Maybe listening to strangers will slowly pry open my heart, so there is space for the fears and hopes and challenges of anyone I may encounter.

Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” [Abraham] said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”  Genesis 18:23-26, 31-33

We are all affected when one person treats others with compassion. The goodness, while perhaps seemingly insignificant, ripples and magnifies, bonding pieces once broken apart. Through listening, wide-open-hearted listening, we walk through fear and anger, towards compassion. Through listening we create an abundance of mercy. This abundance can sustain the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Through deep listening, love and understanding can make us forgiving and caring, just and fair. As we grow in the presence of mercy, we free ourselves as much as we empower others.

By Cory Lockhart. Article originally written on August 4, 2016 for use by JustFaith Ministries ( Copyright 2019-2020 JustFaith Ministries. Do not copy, share, or forward without permission.

I Want to Talk to You

I want to talk to you.

If we have ever disagreed and you feel I didn’t hear you, let’s get together and talk. If you simply need someone to listen to whatever is stirring in you, let’s get together and talk.

I want to talk to you.

Actually, first I want to listen, I want to try to open my mind and heart to what you have to say and what lies beneath your words, and what lies beneath what lies beneath your words. I’m sure I’ll do it imperfectly, but I want to try. Or when I don’t want to try, I will try to want to try.

I want see into the core of you and witness what beauty and brokenness reside there.  

Then I will ask you to try to hear me, too, to see me, too, to honor what I hold at my center, too.

The knowledge that I need, that we need, to seek people who see the world through a different lens, became particularly clear almost 4 years ago after my first stint with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Palestine. After being in Palestine, where I witnessed the systemic dehumanization of one group of people by another, and I noticed my own desire to demonize (it’s so much easier), I came home knowing deep in my bones I needed to seek opportunities for conversations with people who wouldn’t simply agree with me.

Throughout my life I have tried to have an open mind. Travelling has offered me the great gift of meeting people from many cultures and life experiences. Those people have given me so many opportunities to open my mind, to stretch my heart, to let it break open, and to help it heal. But one doesn't have to travel to expand. Here at home, family members and friends offer these same chances.

On social media, I see a range of perspectives. I have made a deliberate choice not to unfriend anyone because of a view they express or a bias that I find problematic (we all have our biases). Sometimes I address differences on social media; other times because of the tone of a message, or lack of time, or my own desire to respond in a way that’s not helpful, I decide that it is better to be silent. Sometimes when I choose to enter an online conversation, it becomes  unproductive, maybe ugly, and I choose to leave it. When I do so, I may invite the person(s) to continue the conversation face to face. I’ve made several such invitations recently. Unfortunately, those people have rarely, if ever, chosen to continue the discussion outside of the impersonal forum of social media.    

The invitations are genuine. They are my way of saying: I disagree with you, but I want to hear you, I want to understand you.

I want to see your face, so I can remember that you are so much more than whatever it is we’re discussing. I want you to remember that about me, too.   

I want to be in dialogue with you. If that interests you, let’s set a time to meet. 

But if you want to debate or have shouting matches or prove that you’re right and I’m wrong, I am not interested. If you want to ridicule or name-call me or anyone else, if you want to judge others without doing any self-examination, then no thank you. 

There’s too much of that going on in our country and world already. Hate-spewing. Fear-mongering. “Them”-blaming. Self-inflation and “other”-deflation.

Is that really who we want to be? 

I ask this not only of you, but of myself, too. I am not immune to sinking lower rather than rising above, not even close. I’m really good at self-righteousness.

I want to get better at humility.  If you want to do this, too, let’s talk. I want to be reminded that not only do I have a piece of the Truth, so do you. And while my truth and your truth may be different, it doesn't necessarily mean that they can't both contribute to the larger Truth that none of us will ever fully comprehend. 

Over the last several years, I have reached out to a person here or there, seeking conversation about difficult issues. When they have said yes, the conversations have been respectful, but definitely not easy. We didn’t come to neat conclusions or solutions to the complex topics we discussed – we weren’t trying to -  but we did (or at least I did) come away knowing that we had had an encounter with another expression of both humanity and divinity. Each encounter was a manifestation of the connection that already is, that always was, and always will be between us.

I want to live into that connection.

I want to look you in the eyes when we talk, so that I can see you, the you I can’t see with as much clarity in a Facebook post. I want to be in your presence, so I can read the nuances of your voice and body that can’t be communicated through written words.

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A couple of months ago I had the great honor of attending a conference in Rome with people from around the world who are committed to nonviolence – through scholarship, theological study, and practice. So many of those people, coming from their particular contexts of violence, expressed this simple and oh-so-difficult idea:

We must talk to each other.

This morning I watched an interview with a former CIA officer.  Her message: we must talk to each other. In the documentary "The Gatekeepers," made up of interviews with former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel's security agency, the same message came through loud and clear. I want to honor the wisdom of their lived experience of conflict that I'll never fully understand. 

We must talk to everyone, whether they are acting peacefully or violently. Whether we agree with them or not. They all agreed on this point. 

We must talk to each other and we must do so with love.

With love.

Mairead Maguire, 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner from Northern Ireland, made that point over and over again. So did many others from Colombia, Uganda, South Sudan, Croatia, and other places.

I want to honor the wisdom of people who have chosen love over fear, who have chosen to risk their own lives, but not to harm another, because they know to harm one is to harm us all. 

We are all connected.

Our country cannot move forward if we cannot or will not talk to each other, if we cannot or will not recognize and live into our interconnection. .

Tonight at a rehearsal for a community choir made up of locals and refugees, we sang the words, “We are one America.” Our country does not look that way right now. The longer we talk at each other or about each other, rather than to each other, the harder it will be to mend the fabric we are ripping apart.

Our country and our world will only become more polarized, more violent, more frightening, if we cannot or will not speak to each other.


I want to talk to you.

Karen Pace and Dionardo Pizaña created a beautiful and challenging document called Qualities of Authentic Relationships across Differences. Each of the qualities begins with the word “willingness.”

Willingness to be challenged. Willingness to be compassionate. Willingness to be an active listener even when I am not ready to hear. Willingness to hear anger and not take it personally. Willingness to remain in relationship.

They offer a thorough list of the many ways we can aspiring to be willing in order to cross divides. When I came across the list, I knew that practicing these many ways to be willing would occupy me for the rest of my life. It will always be practice.

I want to talk to you.

If we have ever disagreed and you feel I didn’t hear you, let’s get together and talk. If you simply need someone to hear you, let’s get together and talk.

I have made the invitation. The ball is in your court.

Are you willing to be willing?

Are you willing to invite someone else to be willing?

Let’s find ways to talk to each other.