Ah, that fresh feeling that Spring is near. For the first time, in our new house, I’m experiencing what it is to be slightly warm. We bake cookies tonight, and my ears have felt a little hot ever since. I’m in shorts. I’m not having to keep my feet covered and insulated. I think I remember this feeling. Yes, it was long ago. It’s hazy, but I seem to remember being happy.
Today, as part of my Lent routine, I took a vow of silence during the daylight hours and avoided artificial sounds as much as possible. This is a very interesting practice. It teaches you things about yourself that you didn’t know. I did not realize how tied I am to listening to something throughout the day. Many times, I wanted to turn my ipod on or pop in a movie today, and I had to catch myself. This was a great day to be quiet, because, due to the weather, I was able to open the windows, and the birds were out in droves. There’s something relaxing about having 10 or so different bird songs in the distance as background noise. It gives me a very peaceful feeling. I feel like I should be laying in the grass.
I caught myself many times today almost talking to myself or the animals. I talk to myself as much or more than I talk to other people, so it’s almost the bigger temptation to talk alone than when there are actually people to talk to. I’ve learned from these exercises that I am not as good a listener as I would have thought. When I first begin each day, it’s hard to relax and just hear what someone’s saying. I try to communicate in other ways–charades, my note pad. This is a lot of work, though, so I learn pretty quickly to decide what’s important and what isn’t worth the time. When I’m resigned to the fact that I’m not going to contribute much to the conversation, I begin paying more attention. I stop worrying so much about my opinion or how I should react. My reaction is generally pretty similar–a smile and a nod so the person knows I’m attentive. Since I know I’m not saying anything, I just listen. I think more about what this person is really feeling than how I should answer them. I become more helpful and more supportive. I still have my opinions, but I’m not so concerned about expressing every last one. Until this, I didn’t realize how much I felt the need to insert my opinions.
I met Allyson today for lunch, and we ate outside in front of the Applied Sciences Building, facing the Pedestrian Mall. We let Digby off his leash for a few minutes, and he went around brightening a few people’s walk to class and peeing on anything vertical. While we were eating a guy stood up in the middle of the mall to talk to people about Jesus. If you’ve gone to college just about anywhere, I’m sure you’ve encountered the sidewalk preacher. I remember at UT, there were regulars who would say some pretty cruel things to students as they walked by. They condemned just about every type of person, and fraternities and sororities got particularly worked over. The sidewalk preacher today was much less specifically insulting than the ones I remember. Either they’ve mellowed out a bit since my time, or the Murray State sidewalk preachers have a less abrasive approach. This guy was basically just trying to disprove the validity of Islam, Jehovah’s Witness, and the Mormans. I’m not sure why he singled those three out, but there it is.
I, probably like many others, immediately began finding issues with this guy’s arguments. They were some pretty weak proofs–I hope the essays he’s writing for class are more compelling. I felt the need to talk with this guy and maybe suggest a change in approach. I was curious what he really wanted to accomplish. Was his goal in life really to discredit all other faith traditions? Wouldn’t it be easier just to make his own look good? Does anyone on the entire Earth actually listen to what these people have to say with sympathetic ears? I wanted to offer compassionate, constructive criticism. I wanted to explain to him what I’ve figured out over the years–you can’t prove these wrong, they got just as much clout as you. You have to show people why your team is the one they want to play for. And, very few self respecting people warm up very easily to hearing people loudly proclaiming how wrong they are. In the end, I don’t really care who’s wrong and who’s right. They could all be right for all I know. I know that following Christ seems to work for me, though, and I’m happier for it.
These are the things I wanted to tell this dude and to say I thought what he was doing was brave. But, there was that pesky vow of silence. I thought about just going and sitting across from him as he talked, then seeing if he’d approach me. Then I could show my card that explains why I’m not talking. I thought about just writing down how Christ fed the hungry and healed the sick far more than he talked about other faiths being wrong. In the end, though, Digby was tugging on the leash in the direction of home, so I just left him during his second impassioned argument discrediting the Mormon Jesus.
It’s interesting to me how sidewalk preachers pull such a reaction from people, generally pretty strong ones. There’s a spectrum of emotions, but people generally want to do something. But, we normally end up putting our heads down, avoiding eye contact, and walking by–which is not too different from how we handle a lot of our life. We might stop if a crowd forms, but it would take a lot to talk to these people. We almost never agree, and we don’t hold out a lot of hope for anything meaningful coming from this. Because, for both of us, we think it’s about changing minds with our arguments. What we forget is that arguments generally are pretty bad at changing minds. Actions do the job much more effectively.
Now back to talking, I still think about what I’d like to do the next time I pass a street preacher. Maybe I’m thinking too much about it–there are plenty of other productive things I can find to do. Something is compelling, though, like I’m sure it is for everyone else. It’s not so much the words–it’s the willingness to stand up that interests me. I wish that energy could be channeled into something that might bring more respect to the faith we both somehow claim, rather than eye rolls and mumbles to the person next to you. It all goes back to knowing when to talk and when to listen, though. And, I’m still working on that.