“Listening” by Steve Dalton

Preface:

Of late, I’ve had precious little time to write, but I have been doing a lot of thinking… often with pain in my heart over the divisions in our broken world.

I’m re-posting this essay (below) for two reasons: 1.) because it’s important to me, and I feel that it speaks to the pain I’ve been experiencing of late; and, 2.) Although more that 260 people subscribe to this blog, only 29 – according to the WordPress stats – have actually read it.

I hope you’ll take the time. And, I hope this blesses you in some small way.

————————-

Like you, I have a lens through which I view and interpret the world. It is a lens forged by the entirety of my life — my religious formation, for sure, but also my upbringing, my relationships, my education, my opportunities, my inclinations, my struggles and losses, and my many mistakes. I make no claim that mine is a perfect lens. In fact, when I go to prayer each morning, I do so with the stark awareness of my need to see more clearly.

My vocation, at least in part, is to consent to the gradual sharpening of my vision by God’s own hand, which will happen as I do a disciple’s work, namely, as I listen with an open heart to the countless words of God spoken – sometimes as a whisper – into my life each day.

On a continuum, be it religious or political, my lens (or worldview) falls somewhere between far left and far right. From my vantage point, when I look in either direction, I see friends whom I love and value, who are themselves words of God infused with profound meaning and deserving of my utmost consideration.

If I speak from my worldview, my place along the continuum, and express a perspective at odds with yours, I hope you will be patient with me. And, I hope you will recognize that I have arrived at my position after careful soul-searching… and often with an anguish born of love.

Most individuals, I believe, follow a similarly thoughtful path of discernment on important issues. In our politically-volatile culture, however, even good, sensitive people seem prone to lose sight of this.

The world may indeed have its share of small-minded people, spouting bigotries and reacting in knee-jerk fashion to the issues of the day. Nonetheless, to presume such a disposition in another, especially on the sole basis of a conflicting worldview, seems a grave offense against that person’s dignity. Further, presuming such a disposition of an entire group or community of people (e.g., “traditionalist” or “progressive” Catholics; or, members of the “Tea Party” or the “Occupy Movement”) represents, in my opinion, a genuine flirtation with evil.

We are quick these days to demonize. It is so much easier, after all, to brand and dismiss someone than it is to listen thoughtfully to the circumstances that have shaped that person’s perspective. Such is the carelessness of our age; and, we collectively suffer as a result. The chasms between us are sometimes shockingly wide and deep. But love and respect are a marvelous bridge and a reason for hope.

I am pro-life. I say that with no intent to confront or accuse, though some may hear it as such. I say it though painfully aware of the exploitative, abusive, and terribly irresponsible behavior so often manifest in those of my gender. I say it with shame for the ways in which such behavior has been manifest in me. I am truly sorry! And, I am pro-life!

Perhaps it will help if I explain that I see all life as proceeding from the mind of a loving God. When I see you, regardless of your worldview, I see one who has been intended for all eternity, who has been “spoken” into existence purposefully, and who has a worth well beyond my comprehension. God does not waste words!

For us, however, language is often a big problem. Civil discourse has all but evaporated because of, what I call, a “contraceptive mentality” (i.e., an automatic tendency to close our minds and dig in our heels the moment certain buzz words or phrases are uttered, such as “pro-life,” “pro-choice,” “gay marriage,” “traditional marriage,” etc.). Such barriers – or shields, to borrow an image from Star Trek – prevent the life-generating sharing of our human stories and prohibit discovery of what we hold in common, including our shared beliefs and frailties.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Mt 18:20)

Do we believe this in practice? What if, for example, one of two is a so-called “American Catholic” and the other an unapologetic “Papist?” Before considering the possible tenor of their conversation, perhaps we should wonder if they ever would “gather” in the first place… in the name of the Lord they both profess.

It seems nearly irresistible to mock the “left-wing loon” or the “right-wing bigot,” as though the entirety of that person’s life, the complex circumstances that have forged her/his worldview, has no validity. How can we miss this injustice in ourselves?

It hurts terribly to be branded! And, make no mistake; we are diminished profoundly by branding others!

So, we remain a polarized people, living in fear and anger, suspicious of each other, and yet craving to be understood and accepted.

We are wary of the absolutists, who seem to be all around us (sometimes, I’ve discovered, even hiding in my mirror); still, we thirst for the Absolute!

There is a creed that I profess. In faith, I embrace the elements of that creed as “objectively true” in the fullest sense of that phrase. My understanding of these truths, however, remains a work-in-progress, especially regarding their practical and pastoral application. I am reminded here of the traditional definition of theology as “faith seeking understanding.” As a person of faith, my life’s work is to strive for a deeper understanding of all of God’s wonderful words — the ones printed on pages in holy books that I treasure… and, the ones who will pass by me, some on my left and some on my right, as I live this day.

The gift that is this day!

15 thoughts on ““Listening” by Steve Dalton

  1. larry f

    Reminds me of the saying,
    God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.
    It also reminds me of Matty Stepanek’s poem written on 9/11.

    For Our World

    We need to stop.
    Just stop.
    Stop for a moment.
    Before anybody
    Says or does anything
    That may hurt anyone else.
    We need to be silent.
    Just silent.
    Silent for a moment.
    Before we forever lose
    The blessing of songs
    That grow in our hearts.
    We need to notice.
    Just notice.
    Notice for a moment.
    Before the future slips away
    Into ashes and dust of humility.
    Stop, be silent, and notice.
    In so many ways, we are the same.
    Our differences are unique treasures.
    We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts
    To nurture, to offer, to accept.
    We need to be.
    Just be.
    Be for a moment.
    Kind and gentle, innocent and trusting,
    Like children and lambs,
    Never judging or vengeful
    Like the judging and vengeful.
    And now, let us pray,
    Differently, yet together,
    Before there is no earth, no life,
    No chance for peace.

    September 11, 2001

    © Matthew Joseph Thaddeus Stepanek 1990 -2004

    Reply
  2. Dianne Gustowski

    Spot on Steve! God loves us equally and unconditionally. And God meets us where we’re at, regardless of what “side” we are on. I had a profound and heartbreaking talk with a woman on how she became pro-life. God certainly met her in her brokenness, her choices, her pain and sorrow, and brought her to a place where she can experience love and forgiveness. Thanks for reposting this!

    Reply
  3. Francis M. Gaffney

    Thanks for your essay, Steve. It is so nice to read that others think along the same lines as I do. Please note that, although I may not comment on your postings on “Musings Amid The Thorns”, I do read them. I’m sure that others do the same.

    Frank

    Reply
  4. Maxine Sitts

    Steve: Always read your postings. You remain one of the most caring and sensitive people in my memory, although it’s been years since we have met in person. I continue to value your insights, and agree totally with this particular message. Our faith community holds “awkward conversations” to help improve communication and common understandings. With faith, all things are possible! We are enriched and enlightened by others, seeking God’s grace in all peoples. What we share is so much more important than what we may disagree with. (ending with preposition!)

    Your longtime colleague and admirer
    Max

    Reply
    1. sdalton43 Post author

      Max: Thank you so much for your kind words; however, I do have one correction to offer. You should have signed off as “Your longtime colleague and dear friend.”

      Wishing you God’s own joy and peace,

      Steve

      Reply
  5. dnapier3@aol.com

    Hi Steve: I always read your “musings”….what I do is print them off and then show Bill. This message was a little convoluted for both Bill and I but if I can guess what you are saying is truly the message of Jesus: love me with your whole heart, whole soul, whole mind and whole strength and love your neighbor as yourself. I always hold onto this message because I think it is the most important message that Jesus gave. There is no other like it. Be well and love to Marianne. Love, Doris

    Reply
    1. sdalton43 Post author

      Your note made me smile, Doris. Thank you for your interest and for your feedback. You and Bill have surely internalized Jesus’ message. I hope that, whatever I write, my essays will always convey Kingdom messages. Love from the Daltons!

      Reply
  6. Nancy Loderick

    Steve,

    Thanks for such an insightful and thought-provoking post. If we all took the time to stop and listen and stop judging, this world would be a much better place.

    Blessings to you my friend.

    Nancy

    Reply
    1. sdalton43 Post author

      Nancy:

      Thanks so much for your kind comment! It honestly breaks my heart that we’ve become so polarized these days; still, I believe that good and caring “listeners” can make an enormous difference.

      Wishing you God’s own peace,

      Steve

      Reply

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