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Talking When Times Are Tough
by The Rev. Dr. Bob Hansel

I want to speak to you about TALK--the activity of people talking to and with one another. These days, I realize, it’s more typical to use language like “dialogue” or “encounter” but I want to stick with the simpler concept--just plain talk.

Recently I was reading a church newspaper article about terrorism. The writer was commenting that we find ourselves these days in a period of genuine crisis. We are confronted with international violence, national economic shortfall, continuing problems of poor educational systems, drug
addiction, and racial hostility. Our churches and communities are divided on a whole range of issues about human sexuality. It may be, the writer suggested, that the churches are the only places where there is any chance that our society can meet and begin to resolve all these challenges to mankind. The article concluded with this sentence that has stuck in my mind ever since: “There can be nothing more sinful these days than a dinner party without any mention of these matters. ...”

I wonder how many of us would agree that this is, indeed, a special time of crisis--a period in history with an unusually valid claim on our conversational topics. And, even if we agreed that we’re in an especially difficult and confusing time, how many of us would agree that the best chance of dealing with it is for all of us to be personally intentional about raising these issues in
every possible conversation!

Ecclesiastes says there is a time for every purpose under heaven. There’s a time to talk--and I believe that this is it. This is clearly a time of decision, of crisis.... Such moments, I believe, can be times of opportunity as well as threat. In times of crisis things need to be talked about; ideas need to be tested; minds need to be changed; thoughts need to be ventilated; assumptions need to be challenged; decisions need to be made. In these days we need to talk. What we don’t need is to shout, slam the door, and walk out. Those who engage in such pullouts are short-circuiting the process. There is a time to stay together and to talk--and this, I contend, is precisely that time.

Most of us, of course, instinctively, avoid arguments. The temptation is to “go along,” to keep silent or agree, without causing a scene. Preachers learn early not to talk of politics from the pulpit if they expect to stay employed. The temptation is very real these days--to nod wisely and say nothing even in the face of the most hair-raising stupidity rather than risk getting into an argument.

But, hold on a minute. Are these the only alternatives available to us--either abject silence or angry dispute? Neither of those two options really get us anywhere. Sure, we can choose uncritical agreement. We can excuse ourselves by citing the naïve truism that there’s always likely to be some truth on both sides of anything. Or we could convince ourselves that it’s
better to just pretend to accept ideas that we actually believe to be false and even dangerous. To say you agree when you don’t--or, worse still, to keep silent--is blatant hypocrisy. That kind of verbal surrender isn’t actually talk; just noise. ... But that doesn’t mean that we have to accept the opposite--hurling our prejudices and presumptions around with no regard for the views of the other person, actually seeking to hurt and harm or belittle the intelligence of the other. Talk must be two-way--there must be genuine give and take--or there isn’t any point to it. I think there are several things to be said here about the nature of verbal communication, things we need to keep in mind if our talk is to be more than a total waste of time and breath.

ONE: Listening is a skill that no one has completely mastered. There is no human being who couldn’t listen more attentively and effectively. Listening is hard work, much tougher than talking, yet although there are thousands of courses being offered to instruct people how to talk better, how many such training opportunities are there for listeners? There are probably less than one for every hundred speech training events. Still, learning to listen is a skill that’s gaining a growing interest these days. There are people who are paying more attentive to what we now call “feedback.” So, which is more important talking or listening? As someone has pointed out, apparently God has a preference, since God gave each of us only one tongue but two ears.

TWO: The second dimension of two-way talk that I want to remind you about is that, unless we’re honestly prepared to exchange ideas--even to the point of having our mind changed--then engaging in conversation with someone else is arrogant discourtesy and outright deception. Without an openness to hearing something new and coming to a different understanding than we originally held, all we really want to do is demolish the other person and his views. Think about your own conversations. How often are you really seeking information and insight, ready to be changed? Do you more often find yourself simply getting ready to fire your next salvo? Do you truly listen or are you too busy framing your own response?

THREE: The last thing I want to say about talk is equally obvious, but nevertheless crucial: talk requires thought--and thinking is what we desperately need. Now I’m aware that some folks seem to have no connection between their brain and their tongue. They’re not interested in considering any other facts or perceptions. Their mind is made up, so they don’t have to think at all---they just parrot the same old lines over and over. Real talk, by way of contrast, requires real thinking, real learning, real mind changing, real idea testing--even some research and homework. This is why times of crisis are the best times to talk--because times of crisis require actions and decisions based on the best thinking available.

Genuine, authentic talk, then, has its time; talk must be two-way; talk must proceed from original thinking; talk must shape and inform decisions that can make a positive difference.

This is why the Bible is so concerned with and full of a concept called “The WORD.” God’s Spirit comes to us as a living, active, renewing word of life. The Bible tells us, “There is a time for everything under heaven.” “A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” “Come let us reason together says the Lord.” All those verses (and hundreds more like them that I might have cited) convince me that God is committed to staying around and openly talking when times are tough.

These are the Scriptural insights that lead me to believe that these are times in which the Word of God is challenging each and every one of us to speak up and speak out….talking with one another in every setting and at every opportunity.

Every one of us has a calling right now to learn about the issues, to reflect on what needs to be said and done, and then to engage in an open forum of shared discussion... If we do that, this time of crisis and challenge will most certainly turn out to be a moment of truth and light. So I say, bring it on!

Copyright ©2003 Calvary Episcopal Church.
The above essay was taken from a sermon delivered at Calvary Episcopal Church on
June 15, 2003.


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