Becoming Quick to Listen

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A few years ago, someone asked me, “Who are you reading?” The question wasn't really about which book I had open on my coffee table. It was a deeper question, one that invited me to take an inventory of whose voices I was listening to.

As I’ve continued to reflect on that question, I must confess that too much of my reading has been dominated by people who are pretty much like me—well-educated, middle/upper class, heterosexual, white men, frequently involved in leading some sort of Christian ministry. I’ve come to realize that this reading pattern often served to reaffirm what I already believed to be true.

Hear me clearly: I'm not saying that all white men think the same or that people like me have nothing important to say. God certainly has formed me through the writings and teachings of those who share similar backgrounds and experiences with me.

Rather, I’m realizing that there is a danger in maintaining such a steady, familiar diet of reading. It becomes far too tempting to think I’ve got it all figured out. Whether it’s about social justice, economics, sexuality, politics, immigration, education, or some other aspect of our communal life, life seems easier when I can group people into two camps: those who agree with me and those who are wrong. What scares me is how small a step it is from there to concluding that those who are different than me are dangerous and, therefore, an enemy to my faith, family, and way of life.

I'm not saying this is causal—as in, my limited reading habits caused me to judge those who are different from me. Rather, by reading mostly those who reinforce my perspective on the world, I encourage the conditions that make it easier for me to avoid and even condemn those who are different than me.  

So for the past few years, as part of my ongoing formation as a follower of Jesus Christ, I've been working to adjust my reading habits to focus on authors, poets, essayists, and reporters from wider backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives than my own.
I’ve heard God’s heart for justice from Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. I’ve wrestled with the white evangelical church’s complicity in racism through Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise. I’m learning to be quiet and listen more in response to reading Austin Channing Brown’s I’m Still Here. Soong-Chan Rah’s Prophetic Lament has slowed down my tendency to look for quick fixes and helped me recognize the need for crying out to God when facing systemic layers of injustice. Ann Voskamp’s writings have shown me what lived gratitude can look like. Mako Fujimora’s persistent emphasis on care-filled culture making has invited me to become more attentive to beauty. Through Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary, I’ve grown to see how mundane moments in my day are overflowing with invitations to recognize and experience God’s presence. 

And there have been others. In listening to their voices, I have wept and confessed, grown in my desire to live faithfully—and with hope!—and experienced a whole lot more of “how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18).

Expanding my reading practices has become one practical way that I am becoming “quick to listen” (James 1:19-20). In this day and age, when we are culturally so quick to become angry and terribly slow to listen to each other, perhaps one of the important sets of questions each of us can ask ourselves is “Who am I reading? Whose voices am I listening to?”

About the Author

Chris Schoon serves as the Director of Faith Formation Ministries for the Christian Reformed Church and is the author of Cultivating an Evangelistic Character (Wipf & Stock, 2018). 

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