When Will We All Stop Shouting And Start Listening?

SocialMedia Rage

The early days of social media were fun. Connecting with old friends we hadn’t been in contact with for years, seeing what had become of people since they had left school – who they had married, what they were doing for a living, etc. It was fun. Those early days were also a time when social media was a way to be and stay connected. All of a sudden I could keep up with that my old friend was doing in Sydney, Australia without having to make an expensive phone call or write a letter or email. It was just there. My eyes could be in the worlds of my friends just a little, just enough to stay in touch and to be mindful and thankful for the fabulous network of friends and family I have in my life

It was fun.
It was simple.
It was reasonably wholesome.

But it’s just not any more.

As I scrolled through one of my social media feeds recently, I stumbled upon a thread of chatter that had been started when one friend shared a piece of news and opined against it. The concept of the post itself was fair enough – a simple case of my friend having learned of an action being taken, being in disagreement with the action, and expressing it on social media. What followed was a long thread of comments, some in support of my friend’s position and some not. Most were polite as you might hope for, but one was just downright nasty and condescending. This individual had taken the polar opposite view of the piece of news, and then proceeded to speak down as if the original poster was brand new to the world with no measure of understanding as to how things ought to be, and no ability to think critically for themselves.

Social media used to be fun.
Social media used to be simple.
Social media used to be reasonably wholesome.

More recently I see it being nothing more than a hub for virtue signaling from both sides of almost any debate in which those who offer comment do so with almost no sense of care or respect for the relationship by which they are connected to the one they are debating with in the first place.

It’s exhausting.

And it is profoundly problematic because pointing the finger in a few sentences of verbiage on social media does little or nothing to ever change the mind or heart of another, which I assume is the bottom line mission of any keyboard warrior regardless of the cause they are championing.

I have been guilty of this myself. Make no mistake. I love nothing more than a good debate over a social issue. I have opinions on many matters and if I find an issue that I don’t have an opinion on, I will be very quick to rustle one up for you. Over the years I have entered into these social media interactions with aplomb only to find that they usually don’t result in any change and ultimately serve only to strengthen the personal positions of those I engaged in debate with. Why might this be? Probably because such conversations are more about our over-eagerness to speak/shout/roar at the other so to be heard and understood rather than to listen to the other so as to understand.

Social media invites us to speak as much and as loudly as we want, but it really doesn’t invite us to listen much at all.

None of this is to say that social media is singularly a great menace. No. The reason I keep my social media accounts is because the fun, simplicity, and wholesomeness of those early days is still there. I live 4000 miles from home – being connected to friends and family there is so very important to me. Social media is not a menace in and of itself, but it becomes so when we, the users, fail to take a listening posture with one another. If we continue to fail to do this then the relationships that form the very basis of our social media networks are placed at risk as we each encamp ourselves on one side or another of a matter and refuse to budge. Doing this only makes an enemy of the other and it results in zero progress.

Respectfully listening with view to learning and understanding how another individual experiences and sees the world is the most important skill we can recover in these days. It is this kind of listening that opens the door to our empathy, and it is our empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of the other, that may very well make us willing to seek change for the common good of one another – even if that change may bring with it some difficulty and struggle (what change doesn’t?) It starts with listening, and sadly I don’t think we can recover good and effective listening by communicating primarily on our social media timelines and threads. The only way we can recover the art of listening is by doing the hard work of making time and sitting with our friends, our family, and others in conversations in which we both have covenanted to listen to one another, to validate the experience of the other as genuine and to be learned from, and to find our way forward together.

Whether it is a social issue…
a religious or theological matter…
a family situation…
or…
dare I say it – a political one…

…until we can recover the art of humble listening, I fear we are doomed to continue duping ourselves by living into the notion that our shouting loudly at others from our keyboards will change them and/or the world around us. And yes, I am aware that by writing this piece and posting it on the internet and sharing it on my social media feeds I am indeed engaging in a little bit of shouting loudly from my keyboard…oh the irony!

The individual who spoke without listening in the example I cited above probably closed the door to ever being listened to or understood on this matter by the original poster. The door, most likely, has probably been firmly closed and the relationship likely diminished as a result – all because shouting loudly was valued over listening humbly.

If this is who we have become or are becoming, then God help us.

A Personal Tribute to a Wonderful Friend and Mentor.

I wanted to take a moment to tell you about my friend, Glenn, who tragically passed away yesterday.

We met just over twenty years ago when I got my first full time job.  We had both been hired at the same time – me as youth development worker and Glenn as Mission Director for East Belfast Mission (EBM).  Back then the EBM building was a dark, minimalist space that had been built in the 1950’s having previously been destroyed in the Belfast Blitz.  As dark as the space was, I can still remember the brightness of Glenn’s demeanor that first time we met.  Sometimes you meet a person and you get the impression that you want to know him or her more.  I had that impression with Glenn.

We started our jobs within a week of each other, a fact I was so thankful for as the years of our friendship wore on.  Having that common beginning gave us a bond from the get go.

Glenn was an outstanding mission director at EBM.  He was driven and focused in terms of the administrative and visionary tasks of his work.  He was also extremely pastoral, not only knowing his quite large staff team by name, but also caring for them all and showing interest in their stories.  He was sharp and intelligent – well-read and thought through on anything I ever had to ask him about. And he was fun in an environment and atmosphere that absolutely needed fun.

During my three years at EBM there was not one single time when I knocked on the door that Glenn told me he didn’t have time for me.  It never mattered what he was working on, if one of his team needed a moment to talk something through, or if they needed help thinking something through, Glenn was there.  The laptop would be closed, he would ask if I wanted tea or coffee and the conversation would start. I am pretty sure I left every one of those conversations feeling better or thinking more clearly.  Glenn had that effect as a leader and boss.

“If I am too busy to take time for you, Charlie, then I am too busy.”

I can remember him saying those exact words to me. They have stuck with me and have been central in shaping the kind of leader/manager I am with my staff team today.  

I was still in my early twenties back then.  I thought I had arrived when I landed my first full time youth director post at a church in the city.  I thought I must have known it all and then I learned rapidly that I didn’t.  One thing that became clear to me at the time was that I needed a mentor in my life and work. Someone who would guide me in the faith and in learning the community work/ministry world I was now a part of.  I shared this need with another friend. I also shared that I did not know who I could invite to be a mentor in my life.  

“Charlie, you work with Glenn Jordan every day.  Duhhhh!”

He was right (Thank’s, Phil!)

The next week I made some time with Glenn and simply asked him if he would become a mentor for me in Christian life and in my ministry.  He agreed readily and since that moment, I don’t think there has been a time in our relationship when he has not spoken to me both as friend and co-worker, but also as someone who agreed to mentor me – he has coached, counseled and comforted me at various points along the way, and always as one who I invited specifically to do so at both the best of times and at the worst of times too.  

The time came for me to leave EBM as Margaret and I made our first move to the United States.  Glenn and I stayed in touch by email there was no social media at that time.  He ribbed me about the fact that I moved here and started to drive a Mercedes (I should add that it was a Mercedes that was made the year before I was born and had been given to Margaret and myself in Port St. Lucie.) 

“You’ve sold out to American capitalism already, Charlie!” he joked.

After we moved that time in 2003, direct face to face contact with Glenn was less and less, of course, but when we returned to Northern Ireland in 2006 Glenn and I were able to pick up our face to face contact and friendship again.  We’d meet for coffee on the Belmont Road in East Belfast, or for a beer in the city centre after work on a Friday evening.  He was still working at EBM and they were moving towards an exciting new building vision for their entire site.  Glenn would let me know about their plans and as the work started on site, he walk me through and let me see the progress being made.  

It had been when I was still working there at EBM that the project was being envisioned.  I can still remember when Glenn and others in charge landed on the name for the redevelopment project: Skainos.  In my mind’s eye right now I can see the word scribbled on the wee whiteboard in his office and I can hear him telling me about the meaning of the Greek word and why it perfectly described what was going to take place on that site over the coming years.  

Finally, when all the building work was done, he was as proud as punch of the design and architecture of it all.  He would show me around and give me the stories of the thinking behind every little detail.  Glenn was a storyteller, and a gifted one at that. 

When I was commissioned for ministry and sent to Shankill Methodist Church in July 2010, I asked Glenn to come and preach at my welcoming service.  When I heard him preach or teach from the Bible, he always caught my attention.  I will never forget him preaching on the Parable of the Good Samaritan and making me and all the other listeners read from the perspective of the Inn Keeper in the story.  I’ll also never forget the night Glenn led the EBM Bible Study with a session on Psalm 32.  To this day, when I encounter that particular text my mind flashes back to the things Glenn taught us that night.  He was a brilliant mind when it came to Bible teaching – always creative, and always courageous to think outside the box.

His time at EBM/Skainos came to a close just after Margaret and I moved back to the United States in 2013.  By now, technology had advanced and we had social media accounts by which we could follow what was going on in each others’ lives.  I would see the pictures of his beloved dogs taken on their regular walks along the crooked shore of the County Down coast line.  I would see pictures of his kids – he was such a proud dad.  I would see the pictures he would take of the various table set ups he had as visual aids for teaching the young people of his Bible class each week.  I would see images of Bruce Springsteen concerts, so many images of Bruce Springsteen concerts.  Glenn loved The Boss and followed him fanatically any time he would be playing shows in the UK and Ireland. I would see images of pictures taken of the pages of poetry books.  Glenn loved poetry and literature and always had something quite inspiring to share with the world from what he was reading.

We would also banter each other back and forth, particularly about rugby.  We both loved rugby.  Glenn even came to watch me play in the 2009 final of the Forster Cup at Ravenhill in Belfast.  He had no reason to come watch other than his love for the game, and our friendship.  I appreciated his attendance so much

Concerning rugby, Glenn lived under the illusion that backs (shirt numbers 9-15) were the team members who captured best all of the class, beauty, and energy of the game.  I, on the other hand, knew the truth.  I knew that it is the forwards in the game of rugby (numbers 1-8) who not only captured all the class, beauty, and energy of the game, but who also worked 100 times as hard as the backs and gave them the platform they needed to look so good.  Glenn never let up in speaking up for the backs.  I would like to say that deep down he knew the truth, but I would be wrong.  I and many others were never able to convince him at all of the primary importance of forwards in the game of rugby. 

What impressed me so much about Glenn?  What made me always want to take time with him and drink in the details of our conversations?

Glenn Jordan was the real deal.  What I saw in him, I believe, was what the whole world saw, and it was what seemingly everyone found infectious about his personality.  He was himself and felt no need to perform for people.

I was also always impressed by Glenn’s work.  I saw it up close and personal as a colleague for three years, and I paid close attention as I observed it from distance after that. Glenn was a community worker/activist/leader/theologian who was right there with the people of the communities he served.  He took time to get to know people, he connected with them, he listened and heard, he pulled them together and engaged them in conversations that at times were hard.  Glenn Jordan was a community leader, theologian, and peace-builder that Northern Ireland is going to miss immensely.  

As you can tell, I have many vivid memories of a great friendship with a quite fantastic man. One of them stands out more than others though. As I have alluded to above, we both loved the game of rugby. I have not mentioned that Glenn was born in the south of Ireland in Dublin. His local provincial team in Dublin was Leinster. He was a Leinster fan. But he was also an adopted son of Ulster and a fan of our local provincial team too. So when Leinster were playing Ulster in the 2012 Heineken Cup Final to determine who the champions of Europe would be that season, Glenn was rightly torn as to who he would support when he attended the game. In the most Glenn Jordan type solution possible, he had a friend take both his Ulster rugby jersey and his Leinster rugby jersey, cut them both in half, and sew a new shirt together that would represent both teams, and cover Glenn’s own divided loyalties for the day. It was brilliant. (The shirt is pictured below)

As I write this now, I can’t quite believe he is gone, and my heart breaks for Adrienne, Philippa, and Christopher, who are now left without the most wonderful husband and dad.  

I have written plenty as to the best of times with Glenn.  And I could write plenty more from some incredibly low times too in which he was a tower of strength and resolve for many.  But I know that he wouldn’t really want me to go into any of that. “Don’t let it take up space in your head, Charlie” he would say. 

To me and to many, Glenn Jordan was an incredible human, a loyal friend, a devoted mentor, wonderfully creative, truly down to earth, and committed to Godly peace and justice in the world. I will miss him and his voice in my life immensely.

Until we meet again, my friend.

Finding Holiness in the Chaos.

Below is the content of a text I wrote this morning in reply to some friends back home who have been in touch having watched UK/Ireland new reports on the chaos that is playing out in the United States.

It has been slightly edited for the purpose of publishing here

This is shared with permission of the friends I mention by name.


I’ll not lie to you lads, I am hurting deeply today.

I am a little afraid, too, with everything that is going on here, and I don’t think it is completely outside the realms of possibility that this shit could get out of hand very quickly.

I held a vigil of lament, solidarity, and hope on our church steps on Sunday night. It was a good time. And it was good for the predominantly white, middle class people of my church (which very much includes me) to be a part of. It felt righteous and appropriate, but, honestly, aside of creating a space for people to be together I am not sure that it will have made much of a difference at all.

I could be wrong. Prayer works in ways I can’t fathom. I get that and believe it.

Last night I went with my daughter to an ad hoc demonstration/protest that had been arranged on snapchat among her High School peers. To be honest, we did not want her to go along. We did not know who was organizing it, or what the aim or objective was. But as I thought about who I want her to be and how i want her to have a voice in the world, I understood that I should let her speak in this way. So Marge and I said she could go but that we would be there too. I put on my clerical collar and my #loveshowsup church t-shirt and we accompanied her.

The whole things was terribly organized. We got to where we thought we were supposed to be and there were only about four other people standing around. Then we realized that we all had got the meeting point wrong, so we walked to find the others. When we found them there were about 15-20 more who had gathered already. Then about 20 more arrived about 20 minutes later. Very late.

Typical kids. But I digress…

I stood back a little from them with Chef Mike. Mike runs the local High School Culinary program that caters our Wednesday Night Community dinners at church. His daughter and mine are class mates. Together, we were keeping an eye on things, looking out for the safety of our girls, and we chatted as the other kids gathered. We actually didn’t know if they would ever move from their meeting point and begin their march.

But then they did.

About 50-60 young people with placards in hand walked all the way along the main thoroughfare in our wee town chanting things like “Black Lives Matter”, “Silence is Violence”, “Say His Name: GEORGE FLOYD!” or “Say her name: BREONA TAYLOR!”, “I Can’t Breathe”, and “Hands up! Don’t shoot!”

They chanted together at the tops of their voices every step of the way along the five mile walk they completed.

I walked alongside them more or less every step of the way.

Listening.
Critiquing.
Grumbling.
Catching myself on.
Wising up.
Beaming with pride that my daughter wanted and needed to be part of this.

It was holy.

And then this morning Chef Mike called me out of the blue.

“Can I come see you?” He asked.

“Of course!” I replied.

He did.

He walked into my office with tears in his eyes and he opened his arms and hugged me…hugged me tight. For the next thirty minutes we talked about our experience of the night before, and how powerful and moving it had been. It literally emptied Mike in a way he had not expected – emotionally, physically, mentally. He just needed to talk. So did I.

That was holy too.

The holiness is in the chaos.

All this stuff is so very raw. It is making me dig deep and recognize the ugliness that continues to reside in me in the form of my privilege in this world.

The inner work of it all is hard.

But it is holy.

I think we need to look out for the holy in all this.


Afterword: One thing I failed to mention to my friends in the original message was to give credit and high praise to our local Police Department for the way they handled 60 young people marching down the main road of our town. They were excellent and I am grateful for the way they carry out their work in our local community.

A Vigil of Lament, Solidarity, and Hope

Tonight, I was proud and blessed to stand with several clergy from our community on the steps of the church I serve and a Vigil of Lament, Solidarity, and Hope.  It was a last minute idea in response to the events of the week in the United States, but it came together well.

Below is the text of the prayer I wrote for the occasion.  It was read by five local clergy brothers and sisters.  Before the prayer was prayed, we read Psalm 77.  Afterwards, we observed a minute of silence before closing with one more short prayer and a blessing.

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In your mercy, God, heal our land!

Gracious and Almighty God, in whom we live and move and have our being. You are the creator of all things.  You made humans in your image, humans of all shapes and sizes, of all colors and creeds.  You made us with an immense capacity for love, kindness and compassion.  But Lord, we do not always embody those qualities.

We gather here in this place, during a moment of deep struggle in our nation.  We gather with heavy hearts, hearts that are burdened with grief, with anger, with pain, and with immense frustration.

We grieve at the senseless loss of George Floyd’s life.

We are angered that in our society the odds are stacked against some because of the color of their skin.

We are in pain as we are faced once more with the reality of our own brokenness; of our own complicity in the perpetuation of how things are.

And we are frustrated because events like this happen again and again and again.

We bring you our lament at the reality we are seeing

We gather to say that enough is enough!

In your mercy, God, heal our land!

 

George Floyd’s murder is another in a list of unjust deaths that is far too long.  We bring our confessions and we seek your forgiveness.

Forgive us for failing to listen to voices that have been crying out for centuries.

Forgive us for turning a blind eye to the evil of racism.

Forgive us for the prejudice that we each hold in our own hearts, and our failure to stand up against racism when we see it.

Forgive us our own ignorance and failure to understand how we all participate in systems that have not applied justice equally or fairly for all.

Forgive us for being too eager to speak over the other and for being unwilling to listen to the experiences of those who look different than we do.

Forgive us as we gather here tonight to say that enough is enough!

In your mercy, God, heal our land!

 

As we watch on, the scenes being broadcast from multiple cities in our nation are harrowing to watch.  Peaceful demonstrations of protest spilling over and becoming violent because of the actions of the few.

We see the frustration.

We see the years of being unheard boiling over.

We hear those cries for change.

We stand tonight in solidarity with the communities suffering most.

We stand with George Floyd’s family – uphold and sustain them in their loss and grief.

We stand with our brothers and sisters in the African American community as they continue to cry “How Long!”

And we stand with all communities and groups whose life experience makes them feel like they are always swimming upstream.

We pray for all who are gathered and present in troubled cities throughout the USA, praying for those who are there to protest, and for those who are there to protect too.  Grant peace in places of protest tonight.

And for those who go to these places to stir up trouble, Lord change their hearts and take them home.

Lord, enough is enough.

In your mercy, God, heal our land!

 

Lord Jesus, on this Pentecost Sunday we remember that moment when your followers were gathered together in one place and experienced the coming of your Spirit in a powerful way that empowered them and commissioned them to be bearers of healing and good news in their world.

Your work among a gathered group of ordinary people was a work that would change the world and bring healing, restoration, and reconciliation in the power of the Spirit.  By your indwelling, your servants are given the power to change and live transformed and renewed lives.

This is your work, Gracious God, and so we pray: do it again.

As we open our hearts to you, as we seek your transforming power in our lives, please do your work again.

We need another Pentecost!

Open our eyes to the realities and sufferings of those around us, and move us to seek changes to the root causes that bring them about.

Because enough is enough.

In your mercy, God, heal our land!

 

God, we have gathered to lament our current reality and seek forgiveness for our part in it.

We have gathered to express our solidarity with those who are suffering most.

We are also gathered in great hope.

You are the God who is with us in all things.

You are the God who does not run away from the chaos brought about by human sin.

You are the God whose love has been made known in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ.

You are the God of Christ’s resurrection by which we know that hope is imperishable and that death has no victory.

Help us to remember this.

Help us to remember that although the arc of human history is long, it bends towards justice.

Help us to remember that even though history’s wrenching pain cannot be unlived, when faced with courage it need not be lived again.

Grant us courage.

Grant us humility.

Grant us wisdom.

Grant us love.

In you we have great hope.  Enliven our hearts to that reality and give us strength to press forward so that the dream that Dr. King spoke of will edge closer to becoming our reality.

Enough is enough.

In your mercy, God, heal our land!