The Good Old Days

I handed my cheque to the hardware store clerk. He wrote out a receipt and taped it to the stock of the 12-gauge, pump action shotgun I had just bought. As I walked out of the store, gun in hand, the thought popped into my teenage mind. I hope I have enough in my bank account to cover that cheque.

No problem, my bank was just across the street, so I crossed Gaetz Avenue, walked into the bank, and shotgun in the crook of my arm, waited in line behind the other customers. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the teller’s window, laid the shotgun on the counter, pulled my passbook from my pocket, and asked the clerk to update it. He did so, and I noted happily that there was enough to cover the cheque. Picking up my shotgun, I ambled out of the bank and walked for half an hour through town to my home on Michener hill.

It was the mid-1950’s and no one raised an eyebrow in Red Deer, Alberta. Rifles and shotguns were a common sight. Most farm pickup trucks had gun racks across the back window holding a shotgun or a rifle, or both.

Those were the “good old days.” No mass shootings in schools or churches. No elbows or cell phones at the table. No oranges or bananas except at Christmas time. No pineapples except in pieces in a tin can. No pizza, pasta, kebabs, or chicken fingers. All drinking water came out of a tap, not from bottles. Prunes were for medicinal use only. Sugar was used everywhere, as was lard for baking and cooking. Muesli was plentiful, it was called cattle feed.

Seat belts were installed only in airplanes. Nearly every man and many women smoked cigarettes constantly. At recess, every Monday morning, us high school guys would tell funny stories of our dads, uncles or neighbours driving drunk over the weekend. Comics on the Saturday night radio shows always had some drunk-driving jokes.

A visit to the principal’s office to “get the strap” was a serious matter for troublemakers like those who chewed gum in class. That heavy leather strap caused a good deal of pain on the open hand. The “Three R’s” song about “Reading and ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick,” was all too true. That hickory stick was not just for pointing out things on a map!

In the 1950s, and before, evangelical Christians in Western Canada did not smoke, drink alcohol, enter beer parlours, attend dances, play billiards, or go to movies. Hollywood was typified as Sin City where actors were forced to passionately kiss persons they were not married to. And it was general knowledge that any young woman wanting to succeed as a movie actress would need to “give herself” to the men who could advance her career.

A good deal has changed since those “good old days”. What was “par for the course” back then gradually became no longer acceptable.

Fortunately, police cannot retroactively ticket every 1950s driver who was not wearing a seat belt. People suffering heart attacks do not sue their mothers for using lard to make those fabulous pie crusts. Red Deer police will not be charged with negligence for letting a teenager walk into a bank carrying a shotgun.

Cultures tend to change from one decade to the next. In the late 1960’s seatbelt use became law. In the 1980s Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) changed the culture about driving drunk from a joke to a criminal offense. In the 1990s laws were passed to keep all firearms out of sight and locked securely when not in use. Smoking is generally seen as an unhealthy habit and non-smokers feel sorry for those still addicted to tobacco.

Lately we have noticed some changes even in the entertainment and business communities. Now movie actresses and women in business, insist they should not need to “give themselves” to the men who have the power to advance their careers.
There are not yet any laws against this practice, but it does seem as if a little bit of Christian morality is finally seeping into the entertainment and business culture.

As a Christian I’m happy to see this.

Why Do We Listen to Others?

We all know the admonition, “Everyone should be quick to listen.” (James 1:19 NIV) But we need more than just this bald statement. Here’s why:

Three Self-Centred Reasons for Listening.

1. Listening to Top the Speaker’s Story.
As a teenager I worked in a pick-and-shovel crew with three older men who were recent immigrants from several countries in Eastern Europe. We often shared experiences and I noticed that every time one of us was talking the rest all listened intently.

But when the speaker stopped talking, one or the other two would say, “In my country this happened to me and . . .” He would then tell of his own experience which was more dangerous, more thrilling, or ended in worse trouble than the story of the previous speaker.

The other two appeared to be listening carefully: they were not. They were focused on their story they were about to tell to top the current speaker’s story. Each speaker acted as if his status in the group depended on his story’s Wow factor.

2. Listening for a Break and Jump in with an Off-Topic Story.
I was greeting people in the church vestibule after I had preached on the need for God’s people to get personally involved in some form of ministry outreach. Three couples were grouped around me.

“We have been financial partners of a missionary family in Africa” one woman said, and her husband mentioned they had spent a month’s vacation on the field, to help build a medical clinic, living and eating together with the African staff. The other two couples were listening intently. I was hoping to hear similar ministry-experience stories from them.

The moment the story teller paused for a breath, the wife of one of the other couples jumped in with a vacation-in-Mexico story and how Mexican food had made her sick. It totally derailed the personal-ministry-in-missions conversation and deteriorated into sharing bad foreign food experiences. She had been listening closely but only to jump in quickly at the first break and speak herself, even though it was off-topic.

3. Listening to get Ammunition Against the Opinion of the Speaker
We have all witnessed people talking with each other about debatable subjects such as sports teams, politics, religion, or economics. The listener is intent on what the speaker is saying, but only so that he can use something the speaker said as a weapon against him. All the listeners want to do is pounce on something the speaker is saying and use it to win the argument.

One Biblical, Other-Centred Reason for Listening
The apostle Paul expands on what James wrote about being quick to listen and slow to speak.
“Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.” (Philippians 2:3-4 TLB)

The motivation for listening biblically is to focus on the person speaking, to meet their needs—to understand the other person; to learn what they value, what they think or feel about a situation, event or person.

We listen biblically when we want to meet a need in the other person—to mourn with those who mourn; to rejoice with those who rejoice; to encourage the downcast; to build up the ones we listen to.

Biblical listening is other-centred listening—the kind of listeners we all like to have when we speak—the kind of listeners we need to be when others speak.