When he was just a little boy, my younger son used to ask me if I were listening. We would sit together on the couch. The television would be on (usually a ball game), and Zachary would be chattering. The topic didn’t matter to him as much as the activity of telling you about it. The kid loved to talk. Sometimes he would become concerned that Daddy was paying more attention to the game on TV than to what he was talking about. So, he had two questions and a comment I could always count on: “Are you listening?” (“Yes, son, I’m listening.”) “What did I just say?” (Sometimes that one was tougher to answer, especially if the game was exciting.) And finally, whether or not I had answered the second question correctly: “Well, you didn’t look like you were listening.”
Sometimes people don’t look like they’re listening. You know? I mean, the story (whatever that may be) is being proclaimed through word and print, but it’s as if their minds are somewhere a thousand miles away.
Churches talk so much about love and forgiveness and kindness and charity and sacrifice and generosity and inclusiveness and grace and positivity. But sometimes we folks who populate church do not give the impression that we are listening – especially if we exclude, judge, critique, gossip, ignore, ostracize, or hoard our blessings. “Are you listening?,” my son would ask me. “Well, what did I say? You didn’t look like you were listening.”
Sometimes I wish world leaders would give the impression they are listening. Most of the world’s people, whatever countries they live in, clamor for peace. That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable request – just to say to our leaders, “Would you do whatever you can to wage peace instead of war, to keep our children safe?” But a lot of the time it doesn’t seem like they’re listening. Most of the world’s people ask for food and shelter and health care and access to information. Are those irrational requests? But political leaders posture and pontificate and position themselves as adversaries. They threaten war when we ask for peace. Sometimes in some places they withhold the basic necessities from the very people they are chosen to serve. Are they listening? If so, what are the people saying to them? They don’t look like they’re listening.
One of the things that astounds me is how many heads of state or members of ruling governmental bodies around the world claim to be people of faith. They talk about the God of Abraham or Jesus or Allah, but they make decisions based on anger and greed and violence, the very sort of decisions that, in spite of hollow words about faith, make the people say: “You don’t look like you’re listening.”
What would happen if world leaders actually listened to what their various Books of Faith teach? What would happen if politicians placed patriotism above partisanship and love of their constituents above self-interest? What would happen in most churches if a simple commitment were made: “We will make every decision, whether or not it seems expedient, based upon the teachings of Jesus”? Having studied the life and principles of Christ all these years, what would happen if I made a similar decision: “Before I decide or speak or act, I will ask `What would Jesus do?’”
It’s easy to claim to be God’s partners and, thus, to be people of faith. But, whatever your faith may be (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or other), every faith teaches hard lessons and makes hard demands. Ultimately the world will know whether or not we take faith seriously based simply and solely on how we treat people. Wouldn’t it be a shame if others looked at us, thought of the faith we claim to have heard and accepted
as our own, and said, “You don’t look like you’re listening”?