Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ears to Hear: Learning to Listen in a Divided World

Week 5 -- What have we heard?

Sunday, April 2, 5 p.m. Compline, 5:30 p.m. Soup Supper & Discussion

As we gather on this fifth and final Sunday, we will take time to reflect together our Lenten experiences of listening. What did we learn? 

As a final listening "practicum" participants are encouraged to attend one of several opportunities in the Westford area to meet and listen to our Muslim neighbors. 

Meet Your Muslim Neighbors Program- Movie Screening of "Prince Among Slaves": Tuesday, March 28 at 7:00 p.m. at the JV Fletcher Library in Westford. Please join us for a viewing of the film "Prince Among Slaves' and a post film discussion with your Muslim neighbors. We will learn about early American Muslims, challenge stereotypes, and examine different facets of Muslim identity. "Prince Among Slaves" recounts the true story of an African Muslim prince who was captured and sold into slavery in the American South. After 40 years of enslavement, he finally regained his freedom, became a national celebrity, and dined in the White House. This is an incredible story about an incredible man who endured the humiliation of slavery without ever losing his dignity or his hope for freedom." Free. Drop in.

Open Mosque Day, Islamic Society of Greater Lowell, Sunday April 2, 3- 6 p.m. at 131 Stedman St., Unit 9 & 10, Chelmsford, MA 01824, www.lsgl.org, 978-978-5552, walk-ins welcome. The afternoon includes presentations on "Islam 101" on 3:30 and 4:30 p.m., an introduction to prayer at 5:15 p.m., and an invitation to observe prayer at 5:30 p.m. There will also be mosque tours, an educational exhibit, "Try a Hijab," henna, face painting, and refreshments.

St. Mark's has also received an invitation for members of our congregation to attend a program on Transforming Angst to Action: Working for Sustainable Change, on Saturday April 1, 2017 , 10am at the Pike School 34 Sunset Rock Rd, Andover, MA 01810 from our Muslim neighbors to join them for a discussion regarding the current state of affairs and how us, Americans, can help to ameliorate the status quo. Furthermore, learn about an impressive, passionate, women-led organization, Muslim Advocates https://www.muslimadvocates.org/. Muslim Advocates are a National legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the front lines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths. RSVP at http://evite.me/5kPSnh2qrt.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Ears to Hear: Learning to Listen in a Divided World

Week 4 - Stopped Ears and Hardened Hearts: Stumbling Blocks to Listening

What keeps us from listening?  Being too rushed. Entering a conversation already sure we know the answer. Focusing on our response instead of what the other person is saying. Judging another's choices. 

This blog also suggests another: our own need to be right. Lead Like Jesus: When Being Right is Wrong

And this Sunday's Gospel reading offers us a story of a group of religious authorities who did not hear -- or see -- because they were so busy trying to fit a miraculous healing into their pre-conceived ideas. 

This week's Lenten discussion group will be a pizza and movie night -- we'll order pizza and watch the Netflix original "13th" in St. Mark's library. "13th" is an Academy Award nominated documentary from African American filmmaker Ava DuVernay that traces the roots of racial inequality in America's prison system to slavery. In a country where African-Americans make up 13 percent of the population but 40 percent of those imprisoned, the movie tells a story that provokes strong reactions. We will watch together and discuss what we are hearing, and what makes it hard for us to hear the viewpoint being offered.  

John 9:1-41
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Questions for reflection: 
Why do you think the Pharisees keep asking the blind man to repeat his story?
Why do they have a hard time believing what he tells them?
What do his parents do? Why do they answer the way they do?
What happens when his story does not fit with what they decide about it?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ears to Hear: Learning to Listen in a Divided World

Week 3 - Listening to Other Voices

Last week, we began identifying conversational norms that make good listening possible. These include:

Don't Start with a Solution. True listening can only take place when we come with a mind open enough to genuinely hear. When we come into a situation with the answers already in our minds, we seek to fit everything said into our pre-existing solution. True listening requires us to be open to new responses and new possibilities. 

Share the Stage. If we are talking, we are not listening. A willingness to listen requires us to let others stand at center stage, and to let go of any need to draw the spotlight back to ourselves. 

Ask questions, don't just make statements.  Asking questions puts us in a  posture of seeking to learn more. Statements suggest we are just waiting for our turn to speak! Seek to ask clarifying questions, which ask the speaker to offer more information, rather than defining questions, which seek to narrow the conversation. 

Appreciate the people who are listening. When it's our turn to speak, cultivate an attitude of gratitude for those who are listening carefully. Reinforcing good listening skills helps everyone in a group listen more intently! 

Practice Empathy. How is this person feeling? 

Don't Judge Other People's Choices. Not easy, but essential if we are to truly hear!

Reflect Back. Reflect back what you think you have heard, and wait for clarification or correction. 

Slow down. Don't interrupt, and don't rush to answer. If this is an emotional conversation, make space for everyone to process the emotion. 

This week we begin putting our listening skills into practice, welcoming a friend of Rev. Suzanne's, who will share her story as a transgender woman, and her spouse. Our focus is on listening and learning from someone whose experience is different from our own, and practicing asking respectful questions that deepen our understanding. We will use these conversational norms as a means of practicing listening to learn. 

In preparation, please read and reflect on the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Questions for Reflection:
  • What initially prevents Jesus from listening to the Syrophoenician woman?
  • Why do you think Jesus stops to listen?
  • What changes because Jesus listens?
  • Have you had an experience like this, as either hearer or heard? What did you learn from it? 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Lenten Series 

Ears to Hear: Learning to Listen in a Divided World

Week 2 - Listening Like Jesus

This week, we will reflect on how Jesus modeled listening, and develop some conversational norms that will help us practice our listening skills. 

Our Bible reading for the week is John 4:5-42
Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Reading and Questions for Reflection 

Lenten Series Week 1March 5: Called to Hear

Excerpt from The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, by Adam S. McHugh. InterVarsity Press, 2015. 

Listening is often presented as a balm for making our relationships go more smoothly and peacefully, for making us more aware of the needs of people around us. The interpersonal reasons are valuable and essential, but I think there are also deep intrapersonal reasons for learning how to listen. When listening has been hard, these personal motivations are what have kept me going. I have devoted and redevoted myself to listening because it is making me into the kind of person I wish to be. The beginning of discipleship is listening. At the sound of Jesus’ voice, his first followers dropped their nets and followed him.

Of course, discipleship must involve more than one episode of listening; it is an ongoing journey of listening. Disciples are walking listeners. If we think that discipleship is lacking in today’s church, then perhaps we should place an emphasis on people learning how to listen. Listening is important enough to Jesus that he devotes his first parable to it (Mark 4: 1-20). In Mark’s Gospel Jesus frames the parable of the sower with the opening word “Listen!” and the closing exclamation “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Overtly about a farmer indiscriminately scattering seed on different types of soil, the story is actually about different types of hearers. There are the path hearers—those who don’t really hear at all, deflecting and dismissing Jesus’ words. There are the rocky listeners, who let the word penetrate a little but then reject it because of adverse voices of struggle and persecution. Third are the thorny listeners, who listen a while longer but slowly allow the subtle power of seductive voices—the accumulation of wealth and the sparkle of material things—to suffocate the word. Finally are the true and fruitful listeners, those who receive the word deep into themselves, where it does its proper work of flowering and bearing fruit. This last group would seem to be the ones who, in Jesus’ words, have “ears to hear,” by which he seems to link listening and comprehension, treating ears as organs of understanding. 

Those with hearing ears have a level of attunement to the deeper meanings embedded in Jesus’ teaching. Later in Mark’s Gospel Jesus cautions his followers to be careful about how they listen, because how they listen will determine how much they understand. What seems to separate the different types of listeners is the amount of effort that they put into listening. What we lack in understanding we can make up for in asking questions. The true listeners are those who stay, who crowd around Jesus and ask him the interpretation of the parable. This is the kind of listener God desires: those who pursue and seek and relentlessly question. They sit with Jesus’ words like an old friend that you know yet really don’t know, chewing and digesting, continuing to seek greater clarity and depth of understanding. They don’t just ask the first question; they also ask the second and third questions. They exhaust others with their questions. As has been noted by many biblical scholars, the parable of the sower not only describes different types of hearers, but it leads to the very divisions it describes. Jesus’ parables sift out those who are hard of hearing, who merely want to be entertained and see the new rabbinic celebrity. Those hearers scatter after Jesus finishes teaching while the true listeners stay.

I taught this parable to college students for years, and I marveled at how our classroom setting would inevitably mirror the original setting of the parable. After the class was over, most students would head back to the dorms, but there would be one or two students who stayed and asked question after question or wrote on their manuscripts, laboring to understand what Jesus was saying and the implications it had for their lives. I always wondered whether these were the students with ears to hear. 

Listening makes us into disciples—those who learn, who follow and who submit to the Lord. And listening also makes us into servants. What is a servant if not an obedient listener? We could rephrase Jesus’ famous words about servanthood like this and keep his same meaning: “You know that the Gentile rulers tell people what to do, and their great ones expect to be heard. It is not so among you; whoever wishes to be great must listen, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be listener to all” (see Mark 10: 42-43). In Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, the tables are turned. Those in the position to tell people what to do must become listeners. In the Gentile world, listening flows from the bottom up, but in Jesus’ kingdom, listening is top-down. Too often we try to gain control with our words. Listening, done well, gives power away. A commitment to listening is one of the best antidotes for power and privilege. A servant listener does not dominate the conversation. Servants take the attention off themselves and focus their attention on the needs and interests of others. The call to servanthood is at the heart of the gospel; it is the call to humble ourselves, to empty ourselves of our own agendas and egos and submit ourselves to the Lord and to others. Servant listening is a practice of presence, in which we set aside what might distract us and what we think should happen in a moment or conversation. It is an act of humility, in which we acknowledge that no matter who we are listening to, we come to learn. Servant listening is an act of surrender, in which we lay down our verbal weapons, our preconceived notions, our quick advice and our desire to steer the conversation toward ourselves. We release our grasp on the terms and direction of the conversation. 

We love to talk about listening. It’s easier than actually listening. There is much lip service paid to listening, but listening is a service of the ear, the mind and the heart. Listening is an act of servanthood, and serving is hard. There are no accolades in serving. When a servant is doing his job, no one notices. If we wish to imitate Jesus and become servants, we must learn how to listen.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Read Mark 1:16-20. What do you think the disciples heard in Jesus’s call that made them leave their nets and follow? 
  2. Read Mark 4:1-20. What kind of hearing do you think you usually fit into?
  3. Can you remember a time when someone ministered to you by listening?
  4. The author says, “Listening, done well, gives power away.” Do you agree? Why or why not? 
  5. Where do you think you are being called to listen? 
Ears to Hear: Learning to Listen in a Divided World

St. Mark’s Lenten Discussions
75 Cold Spring Road, Westford, MA
Compline, 5 p.m. 
Soup & Bread Supper and Discussion,  5:30 p.m. 

March 5:  Called to Listen

March 12: Listening Like Jesus: Developing our Listening Skills

March 19: Listening to “Other” Voices

March 25: Stopped Ears and Hardened Hearts: Stumbling Blocks to Listening

April 2: Listening in Love: What Have we Heard? 

Each week will include reflection on a Bible passage and a reading, video, or other resource. These resources will be posted each week on St. Mark’s blog at stmarkwestford.blogspot.com for reflection before each week’s discussion. 

Optional Reading Resources: 
  • “Fear of the Other: No Fear in Love” by William H.  Williamon
  • “The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction”by Adam S. McHugh
  • “Living Nonviolent Communications: Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skillfully in Every Situation” by Marshall Rosenberg
Opportunities to Open our Ears this Lent:

“Meet Your Muslim Neighbor” presentation at the JV Fletcher Library on March 28, 7-9 p.m.
The evening will include screening of the film “Prince of Slaves,” followed by a discussion afterwards with local Muslims. Sponsored by the Islamic Center of Boston- Wayland, the local organizer writes, “Our hope is to help build a better understanding of our faith and alleviate fears which we find are usually founded in misinformation.” 

The mosque also welcomes congregations to visit and observe congregational prayers on Sundays 12:30- 1:30 p.m. If you would be interested in organizing a St. Mark’s visit, please see Rev. Suzanne for more information. 

Matters of Race in the United States, at Reuben Hoar Library, Littleton, MA, Wednesdays 3/22, 3/29, 4/5, 4/12, 4/19, register by March 1, ezsalzman@gmail.com, 978-952-0131. This five-week conversation will explore questions of race in the United States, including “Why are we still talking about race in 2017?”, “Is there a relationship between 1776 and 2017?” “Will we still be talking about race in 2025?” and “What questions do you have about this complex topic?”  Discussion facilitators are Edythe Saltzman of Groton and Roland Gibson of Littleton. 

Merrimack Valley Project: Know Your Rights Workshop for Immigrants - Tuesday, March 28,  8 p.m. at Ebenezer Christian Church, 319 Haverhill St., Lawrence. An opportunity to reflect on public policy on immigration from the perspective of the immigrant community in the Merrimack Valley. 

Diocesan Anti-Racism Training led by the diocesan Anti-racism Ministry Team, offering participants opportunities to share experiences, reflect on current issues and develop tools for change, will next be offered at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul (138 Tremont Street) in Boston on: Friday, March 10, 5-8:45 p.m., and Saturday, March 11, 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Register online at http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?oeidk=a07edqy976oe5b48a9e&llr=s4blzzbab

"Fear and Resiliance: Five Lenten Stories":  At a time when fears threaten to isolate and divide, come together at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston on Thursdays during Lent for its annual lunchtime preaching series.  Guest preachers will offer their perspectives during a simple noon worship service, followed by a brown-bag lunch and conversation from 12:30-1:30 p.m.  All are welcome.    

Weekly preachers and their topics will be:
* March 9:  Sharley Paul and The Rev. Gay Cox, Deacon--Vulnerable Women
* March 16:  The Rev. Paul Minor and The Rev. James Hairston--The Military
* March 23:  The Rev. Dr. Lisa Fortuna--Children of Immigrants
* March 30:  Sheila Dillon--Housing in Boston
  • April 6:  The Rev. Dr. Karen Coleman and The Rev. Judith Stuart--Students on Campus

“Our Stories Speak of God” Diocese of Massachusetts Spring Learning Event, Saturday, March 4, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul (138 Tremont Street) in Boston. Keynote speaker the Rev. Hershey Mallette Stephens will lead an interactive workshop in two parts: The  first will help those gathered to learn about story, narrative and myth and how they function in faith and to consider what our stories say about who we are and how we understand God and the church. During part two, participants will engage their spiritual imaginations and learn how storytelling can redefine evangelism.
Find more information and register online by March 2 here. FOR INFORMATION: Amy Cook, Congregational Resources and Training (617-482-4826, ext. 645 or acook@diomass.org).

Engaging Our Global Church: Palestinian Christians in Today’s World.  Join Bishop Gayle E. Harris and a network of others in the diocese engaged with ministry in Jerusalem and the Middle East for a special event, “Engaging Our Global Church: Palestinian Christians in Today’s World," to be held on Saturday, March 25, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at the Church of Our Saviour (25 Monmouth Street) in Brookline. Special guests will be Wadie Far and Halim Shukair, both seminarians at Virginia Theological Seminary, who will share their experiences and perspectives.  It will also be an occasion to learn more about the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and ministries underway in the diocese. Questions may be directed to Marsha Searle at msearle@diomass.org or 617-482-4826, ext. 445.