When Must We Peel the Tape Off?

Last week’s post A Talker Learns to Listen brought a greater than usual response. I discovered that many, surprisingly many, of my blog readers confessed to struggling with the same tendency to talk first, listen later, and sometimes, to not listen at all.

All this focus on keeping our mouths shut and listening seemed to call for a companion piece—focusing on occasions we should speak but often don’t. Here is an attempt at bringing balance.

The first occasion that popped into my mind is mentioned in James 5:16. “Confess your sins to each other. . .” We are not very good at confessing our sins, are we? Yes, we confess them to God in prayer, but what about confessing them to our spouse, a family member or a friend?

Tape offObviously if we have sinned against someone—like lying to them—we need to confess to that person and ask for forgiveness. But what if our sin was hidden? Like covetous, greedy thoughts, wanting what someone else has.

Even though internal and hidden, it is sin, and we need to confess, first to God, and then to someone we are close to, someone we can trust. Think of a time you confessed your sin to someone. Was it easy? Probably not. Staying silent would have been much easier. Yet when we have something to confess, is exactly the time to rip the tape off our mouths and talk. It is God’s command.

James goes on to say, “. . . pray for each other . . .” Another occasion to remove the tape.

Proverbs 31:28 tells of the virtuous wife and mother whose children and husband rip the tape off their mouths to call her blessed and praise her. Yes. We are already used to praising God and thanking Him for all He is and does for us, but we also need express our gratitude in words of praise and thanks to the people in our life for who they are and what they do for us.

And, speaking of praising God, the Psalms are full of encouragement to take off the tape and tell others what God has done for us. Ps. 73:28, “I will tell of all Your deeds.” Ps. 107:2, “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” I call these God-stories and do workshops helping people to recognize, remember, repeat and record them.

One of my correspondents warned me not to blithely come to her and launch into a God-story of what He had done for me without finding out if, perhaps, she had a story about herself that she needed to tell. Excellent advice! We need to become aware of the personal needs of the potential listener, as well as the time, the situation, and the environment.

According to Job 16:5, and 1 Thess. 5:11 we need to rip off the tape and use our mouths to encourage one another, comfort others, and build each other up.

Then there is admonishing. It seems a lot of people have no problem admonishing others, but are rather resistant to receiving reprimands. It makes me chuckle to read the instructions in Colossians 3:16, “. . .  admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit . . .” It sounds like our rebukes are to be sung, not spoken. We have all had well-meaning people wag their finger in our face to reprimand us. Next time, maybe we could suggest they sing their rebuke—it’s biblical!

Writers like me invite knowledgeable people to read our stories and critique them. Authors even pay editors to go through their books and tell us all that is wrong, and give instructions on how to fix the problems. The Bible is packed with examples of people instructing others. We need to open our mouths to instruct, but only if the person we are coaching is open to learn from us.

Note that nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to tell stories about ourselves that make us look good. Yet, those come the most easily to mind, don’t they? When we are the heroes of our stories, the tape needs to be applied. “Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth,”Proverbs 27:2.

Which of these verbs in the paragraph headings do you find the most difficult to activate in your life?


A Talker Learns to Listen, Finally, at Last!

I think I am getting a little better at listening. It’s about time, now that I am in my very late seventies. My lifelong, natural tendency has been to talk when I should have been listening. Some of my outspoken friends back in the Brazil years used to call me Yakking Jack. I admit, I did yak a lot—mostly stories, but also opinions, ideas and feelings. Being honest, open and transparent with others was not a problem. I was the opposite of the Silent Sam whom no one knew or understood.

The problem was, of course, that my natural tendency to talk didn’t give other people a chance to express their feelings, ideas and opinions, or tell their stories. I struggled with my impatient tendency to rush conversations when I figured I knew what the other person was trying to say. And lots of times I was mentally preparing my response while the other person was still talking.

Fortunately, God surrounded me with people who helped me to see my problem. Not just those who called me Yakking Jack, but more loving people like my wife who used various ways to help me tone down and practice silence at appropriate times. I owe a lot to her, so do those who wanted speak instead of listen to me.

Listening JackAnd at times God spoke to me directly, usually from some lines from His Word, like “Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.” Proverbs 18:13. or “You must all be quick to listen, and slow to speak.” James 1:19. And, down deep, my inner Voice said, “Carefully listening to what other people have to say shows them sincere respect, not listening shows disrespect.”

It was not that I could not listen. No, I listened very carefully when someone expressed an idea that was new to me. Even now I remember startling ideas I heard, but not the names and faces of those who told me.

When, after more than twenty years of working in Brazil we returned to live in Canada, I had developed some good listening skills. Although listening still didn’t come automatically, I did know how to decide to listen deliberately. In the first few months after I was appointed as what is now called President of Wycliffe Canada, I grabbed myself by the scruff of the neck and set myself down to listen intensively.

I had twenty-minute-long individual interviews with every Wycliffe office staff person and Wycliffe member who came through the office. I picked their brains for ideas and recommendations on what changes or improvements should be made in their own assignment, in their department, in Wycliffe Canada, and in Wycliffe worldwide. Jo kept meticulous details of every idea. The first sixty changes that our new administration made in that first term of office were gleaned from those notes.

Now, as a writer, I have plenty of opportunity to tell my stories and share my ideas. I can afford to be quiet in conversations and listen to the ebb and flow of ideas and stories all around me.

Maybe it’s advancing age, maybe it’s belated wisdom, maybe it’s self-delusion, but I do think I’m listening more and not talking nearly as much as I used to. I’ll ask my wife what she thinks about this. Another opportunity to listen.

Hmm, I just did. It’s probably option three. She was joking. I hope.

The Kurious Kase of the Kombative Koreas

A Provocative Question
What does the democratically elected government of Alberta have in common with the totalitarian dictatorship of North Korea? I got the answer from helping my wife in her garden this summer. To get healthy plants that produce beautiful flowers or tasty fruit, they need to be planted in fertile soil. Here’s how it works in government.

Towards a Surprising Answer
A Chinese student in Harvard was asked if he had learned anything surprising from his years of living in North America. “Yes,” the young doctor said, “I was surprised at how much democracy depends on Judeo-Christian religion.”

He went on to explain that he never realized that democracy only works well when most of the people are honest and respect just laws, not because of fear of being caught and punished if they disobey, but because they believe respecting laws that protect people is the right thing to do.

Freedom and prosperity are the flowers and fruit of democracy whose roots are fed by the fertile soil of Judeo-Christian principles. Western democracy is based on the Judeo-Christian principles embodied in these commandments.

The Creator’s Operating Manual
The Ten Commandments are the Creator’s Operating Manual for Human Beings. They can be summarized as follows: Respect and love God, recognizing our ultimate accountability to Him. Respect truth. Respect and love yourself and other fellow human beings. Respect  parents. Respect your own, and other people’s bodies, lives, family and property.

When a country turns its back on these Christian principles, it is like ignoring the operating manual for a luxury vehicle. It will not last long without oil in the engine or air in the tires.

The Two Koreas
My son-in-law, Keith Penner, wrote up a position paper to present to his church board that illustrates this in the following paragraphs:

Top Left: China Bottom Right: Japan Lower Center: South Korea Upper Center: North Korea

Night Photo: Top Left: China. Bottom Right: Japan
Lower Center: South Korea.  Dark Upper Center: North Korea

“Korea is an example that is almost biblical in its illustrative value. Prior to the end of the Korean war (in 1953), the country shared a common culture, language, beliefs, resources base, and history. Then a line was drawn across the country and the north came exclusively under the influence of a godless government philosophy. The south was governed under the direction and values of western democratic governments.

“The contrast today is horrifying. After 63 years, North Korea cannot feed its own population, produces nothing for export, has alienated itself from the international community, and is rife with oppression and human rights abuse. South Korea is prosperous, well educated, free, and has a thriving Christian community. The impact of these two worldviews should not be dismissed.”

What Korea and Alberta Have in Common
North Korea, ironically calls itself The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. When it listens to its people it hears only praise of its actions—all citizens that spoke in favour of Judeo-Christian principles of conduct have been killed or jailed.

Similarly, in Alberta, although the current provincial government has Democratic in its name, it refuses to listen to citizens that uphold Judeo-Christian principles. Instead, the government, in the name of political correctness and so as not to offend other religions, disrespects God, turning its back on Alberta’s historic Christian heritage. It passes laws accumulating power to the government and taking away choice from the citizens. Christian independent schools, and home-schoolers are being attacked, the premier saying she wants to centralize all education in the public system where a new morality-free curriculum will be implemented.

Any Faith but Christianity
It appears other religions are acceptable to the government, just not Christianity. In September, the premier skipped the observance of the fifteenth anniversary of the 9/11 massacre in New York where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives to Muslim terrorists acting in the name of Allah, but the very next day she donned a hijab and sent her video taped blessing to Muslims celebrating the holiday of Eid al-Adha.

The lesson of the Koreas is clear; freedom and prosperity are the fruit of democracy whose roots are fed in the soil of Judeo-Christian principles. North Korea sterilized the soil, the tree died and the people are starving. The Alberta government is well on the way to “cleanse” the cultural soil of Christian influence. When the soil is sterile, the tree of democracy will die, and the people will suffer.

What’s a Christian to Do?
One, live out our Christian faith, not just as individuals in church on Sunday, but as a church during the week, loving people, and meeting whatever needs they have, wherever they are.
Two, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Just Out for a Jog . . . Well, Not Quite

“Uncle Prejaka! Where are you going?”

I turned to the twelve-year-old Canela boy running after me and shouted, “For my sun-going-down jog. I sit so much, I’m getting fat.”

His bare feet kicking up the hot, loose sand, my young nephew caught up to me, saying, “I’ll run with you.”

“Okay,” I said, thinking, This kid will quickly get bored with me lumbering along behind him. I was wrong.

We jogged along the narrow sandy path, brushing by tall grasses and bushes of every kind lining the sides. Then it began.

“Uncle!” he called back, over his shoulder.
“See that plant over there?” he asked, running backward and looking at a non-descript little bush.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Do you know what it’s called?
“It’s a cwajap ho.”
“Do you know what it’s good for?”
“For a stomach ache. It makes it go away.”
“Do you know how to prepare it?”
“Well, you take some of the leaves, put them in a bit of water, and boil them with some salt. Then you let it stand and cool off, and then you drink it all at once. You only have to do it once and your stomach ache goes away.”
“Oh,” I puffed.

A minute later he indicated another bush and the whole routine started again — he, asking the questions and I, admitting I didn’t know the answers. This time it was a twyncahi par bush. You soak the inner bark in water, then drink it to stop vomiting.

y nephew and grassThe next one was a plant root that was good for pains in the chest. Then some more plants with leaves that were good for diarrhea. Next a type of grass that, he told me with a grin, was good for building stamina in running. I took careful note of that one!

I had slowed down to a walk and was jotting down the information in my ever-present dog-eared notebook. Then it struck me. My young Canela nephew had never been to school a day in his life and could neither read nor write. Yet, during the half hour we had been in the bush together, he had taught his college-educated, multi-lingual, well-traveled, foreign uncle the names, medicinal values and method of preparation of dozens of trees, bushes, and plants.

That night Jo and I sat at our little study table and I turned up the wick to adjust the flame in the kerosene lamp.  I laid my books and papers in the little circle of light. Then, as I told Jo about my jog, I copied the information into our dictionary and cultural files.

Later, before falling asleep under our bed mosquito net, I thought, I came to the Brazilian jungle thinking I would teach the Canelas. Turns out even the kids know more than I do about the things that matter to them!

This was not the first time the Canela culture surprised me. I was amazed at how well the Canela culture equips people to come to grips with the issues in their lives in the jungle.

The Canela year, for instance, divides into set seasons for field work and for festivals. There is, therefore, a balance between a season to work in small, family groups in scattered and isolated fields, and a season to relax together with everyone in the village. They spend months working to provide food for the physical needs of their growing families. They follow this by months of merriment and culturally relevant festivals that pass on the values of the culture, and meet their social and psychological needs.

Sometimes people are astonished at how complicated and beautifully intricate the Canela language is. I have been asked, “How can illiterate jungle people, barely out of the stone age, develop such an intricate language?”

The answer, of course, is, “They didn’t invent their language. It was given to them by their Creator.”

What’s more, just as God invented the Canela language, He also guided the development of the many positive aspects of their culture.