July 30, 2015

Lessons from Families: Listening and Love

This past weekend I was in Arizona visiting family. I live in New York City; most of my Arizona family live in small mining towns in the southeast part of the state, so I don’t see them often. It’s very hot there, but it’s also beautiful. The highways cut through hills covered in cacti and scrub brush. There are low mountains on the horizon and lots of bright blue sky. 

Much of my family on my dad’s side has lived their entire lives in Arizona. Many of them work for the nearby copper mine. They also love to talk and tell stories, so I when I’m there I spend a lot of time listening. 

It’s easy in New York or in the Episcopal Church to spend most of my time with people just like me. Most of my Facebook friends are liberal college graduates and so are most of the people I regularly interact with at work. Leaving New York and listening to my family’s stories exposes me to a different life and a slightly different way of seeing the world. Many of their lives have had a very different trajectory than mine. Around kitchen tables my aunt talked about her faith and my grandmother recounted memories of her life in a small town. She turned 80 this past weekend, and so she has many stories to tell, some happy and some not. 

Sometimes, I confess, I got tired of listening (they really do like to talk), but I was glad to see them. They welcomed me and my wife with open arms and made us feel at home, even though it had been years since I’d visited. They reminded me of where I come from and helped me understand my own life a little better. Each time I see them and listen to their stories they expand my understanding of the world just a bit. 

At their best, our church communities, like family, can do the same thing for us. Sometimes we may have to go out of our way to do so, but they can connect us with people who lead different lives than us. They can expose us to the wisdom of people we might not otherwise encounter in our jobs or homes. 

These encounters aren’t always easy, of course. It takes work to listen, especially to people with whom you don’t always see eye to eye. Yet listening to each other is a way of expressing our love for each other. Listening, like love, opens our hearts a little more and expands our view beyond the highway in front of us to the mountains on the horizon. 

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