In the book Listening Hearts, Suzanne Farnham says,
We tend to turn off the people we most need to hear. The people to whom we are least attracted often have the most to teach us. If we identify those to whom we are least drawn, we can make a special effort to listen to them attentively…. Answers can shut down growth; good questions encourage growth. Answers sometimes terminate our listening; questions stimulate further listening.
This plea for conversation among people who are different reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday with a friend about the importance of diversity in a church – all kinds of diversity: introverts and extroverts; octogenarians and 15-year-olds; Hispanics, Asians, African Americans, Caucasians; Dutch and Polish and Irish and Kenyans and Cambodians; intellectuals, nature lovers, musicians, dancers, planners, artists, leaders, helpers. We lamented the fact that so many Christians have decided that they only need people just like them (an attitude about which Jesus spoke rather heatedly) and how much richer our spiritual journeys would be if we risked being open to people who are very different from us. He said sadly, “Without diversity the church will die!”
He and I are examples of the value of diversity: he is 40, I am 70; He is a young man with large family, I am a “senior saint” with grandchildren; he is still searching for the path God wants him on vocationally, I am settled into my last career (I think!). And yet we have this in common: We love Jesus. We have a passion for spiritual formation. Our goal is to be transformed and to bring transformation into our worlds in the name of Jesus – including into the church. We probably would never had met or chosen each other for friends except for our passion for the Apprentice of Jesus program. But now we have embarked on a journey of “mutual mentoring” which is rich and delightful.
In the Beatitudes Jesus acknowledged the worth and value of the marginalized and those cast aside. He invited them into the hospitality and challenge of the Kingdom of God. Colossians 3 reminds us that there no longer is
Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian and Scythian, slave and free, but Christ is all and in all (v.11-12).
Apprentices of Jesus, students of the Master’s way of life, must be people who see the value in each “other” and live in welcoming, open anticipation that each “other” has something important to bring into our lives, including the joy of listening and learning.