Talking When Times Are Tough
by The Rev. Dr. Bob Hansel
want to speak to you about TALK--the activity of
people talking to and with one another. These days, I realize,
more typical to use language like “dialogue” or “encounter” but
want to stick with the simpler concept--just plain talk.
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,
addiction, and racial hostility. Our churches and communities
divided on a whole range of issues about human sexuality.
may be, the writer suggested, that the churches are the only
places where there is any chance that our society can meet
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. ...”
wonder how many of us would agree that this is, indeed,
special time of crisis--a period in history with an unusually
claim on our conversational topics. And, even if we agreed
we’re in an especially difficult and confusing time,
how many of
us would agree that the best chance of dealing with it is
of us to be personally intentional about raising these issues
every possible conversation!
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;
need to be tested; minds need to be changed; thoughts need
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.
a time to stay together and to talk--and this, I contend,
precisely that time.
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
the pulpit if they expect to stay employed. The temptation
very real these days--to nod wisely and say nothing even
face of the most hair-raising stupidity rather than risk
into an argument.
hold on a minute. Are these the only alternatives available
to us--either abject silence or angry dispute? Neither of
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
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
no regard for the views of the other person, actually seeking
hurt and harm or belittle the intelligence of the other.
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
be more than a total waste of time and breath.
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
instruct people how to talk better, how many such training
opportunities are there for listeners? There are probably
than one for every hundred speech training events. Still,
to listen is a skill that’s gaining a growing
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
only one tongue but two ears.
The second dimension of two-way talk that I want to remind
you about is that, unless we’re honestly
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
other person and his views. Think about your own conversations.
How often are you really seeking information and insight,
to be changed? Do you more often find yourself simply getting
ready to fire your next salvo? Do you truly listen or are
busy framing your own response?
The last thing I want to say about talk is equally obvious,
but nevertheless crucial: talk
thinking is what we desperately need. Now I’m
aware that some folks seem to have no connection between
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
times of crisis are the best times to talk--because times
of crisis require actions and decisions based on the best
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.
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
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.
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!
Calvary Episcopal Church.
The above essay was taken from a sermon delivered at
Calvary Episcopal Church on
June 15, 2003.