June 18 – “Listening” – Rev. Dr. Bruce Cochran

“Listening” – Rev. Dr. Bruce Cochran

During the Cold War, the scary doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was employed between the nuclear powers.  The simple definition of MAD is that everyone knows that if they push the button first, then it means not only destruction of the enemy, but annihilation of one’s own people and society.  Hence, with both parties assured of their own destruction, they were each forced to act like adults and avoid the conflict that would mean the end of their own, and all, civilization.

MAD is crazy, but it prevented nuclear holocaust because it forced the powers to come to the table and talk.  It didn’t prevent war (a la Korea and Vietnam), but it did avoid the kind of all-out war like those fought earlier in the twentieth century, because it forced leaders to communicate.

We live in a divisive time.  It seems someone has pushed the button and people are slinging verbal weaponry back and forth with little regard for the consequences.  It’s high time to act like adults and begin talking…no, it’s time to listen.  Admittedly, listening is more difficult than talking.  Have you ever caught yourself thinking about what you are going to say next instead of listening?  In doing so, how often have you realized that you missed what the person was saying?  On the other hand, have you ever said something and knew you weren’t heard?   It’s frustrating.

Frustrating, yes, but still necessary.

In preparation for the 2013 American Baptist Biennial, work was done on the matter of how to have productive dialogue.  Out of this effort, a framework for discussion called Baptist Talk was created.  Seven premises are outlined and they seem worthy of consideration; no, they are worthy of application, as we work through the divisive issues we are facing:

  1.  We are all members of one household of faith.
  2. We come from a variety of cultures and backgrounds that lead to differing ways of expressing ourselves. We need to learn to hear one another in their own language.
  3. We must love one another. It is through our love that we demonstrate our discipleship to the world.
  4. We bring a wide range of perspectives and opinions to the table.
  5. We must be committed to seeking the interests of one another. Discernment and understanding require all of our interests.
  6. Creating safe space is what allows honest communication to take place. Such space enlarges the capacity of the participants to hear one another and express deeply.
  7. There is a cost to our ABC family and our mission and ministry efforts when we do not communicate well with each other.
  8. Practicing mutual invitation is one way of ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard.[i]

We are not helpless.  Indeed, we have choices regarding how we proceed and make progress through these challenging days. If we don’t sit down, talk and listen, then it’s likely we’ll mutually destroy one another.  Jesus warned us about that.  On the evening of his arrest, one of his teammates took out a sword and started chopping ears off people.  Jesus didn’t approve.  He said if you take up the sword, you will be mutually destroyed.  As the body of Christ, we can make a difference by interrupting the cycle of malicious speech, and following the example of the ex-sword-swinging Peter, change the world with the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.


[i] The entire Baptist Talk document can be found here.