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Learning the vital skill of listening

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POSTED: March 25, 2013 9:30 p.m.

Sunday begins what is often called “Holy Week.”  
Full disclosure here: My tradition does celebrate Holy Week as carefully as other Christian denominations. I have participated in Maundy Thursday observances. I have preached at the occasional Good Friday service. But for the most part, we Baptists place most of our emphasis on Easter Sunday and the resurrection. And that makes sense. After all, Easter is what the Christian faith is all about.  
Still, something happened when I was in New Orleans that caused me some consternation when I first saw it on the school calendar. It was the fall of 1981, my first semester in seminary. I was looking to see what days we had off from school (typical student, no matter your age).  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that we had classes on Good Friday, but a few weeks earlier school would not be in session on Fat Tuesday. That’s Mardi Gras for the uninitiated.  
To say that I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. I was outraged. And so I made it a point to take my wise, 22-year-old self to the president’s office and demand an answer for this travesty.  I was respectful but firm as I stood before this veteran preacher, professor and president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Dr. Leavell smiled at me, sighed, and then explained the situation.
“Brad, you haven’t lived in New Orleans during Mardi Gras have you?”  
“No, sir,” I replied.  
“Well,” he continued, “Fifty percent of our students live off campus. On Fat Tuesday, roads are closed and traffic is insane. Our students can’t get here that day. And because they are so close together, the staff does not believe that we can afford to take Good Friday, too.”
So there it was. There was a perfectly reasonable explanation for the situation.  The next year when I moved off campus I was grateful for the policy.  It made perfect sense.  My problem was that I did not have all of the facts.
Even at that, I thought I had the answers.  I thought that someone had made a terrible decision, and I was there to solve the problem. As Ralph Kramden liked to say, “Me and my big mouth.”
The Bible speaks to this issue more than once, but James 1:19 is very clear on it:  “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” What marvelous advice that is.  Listen to others. Be careful what you say. Don’t fly off the handle. And don’t think you know all of the answers when you don’t even know the questions yet. I wish I followed that advice better than I do.  
But I am learning; I hope you are, too. As my fourth-grade teacher often reminded us, “There is a reason God gave you one mouth and two ears. Try to use your ears twice as often.”  
That’s good advice. Will you try it?

 

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