God is not Mr.-Fix-it

Sunday Morning Musings:   As I write these musings I find myself listening to the news (maybe too much).  It seems that everywhere I turn I find concerns.  There are concerns about the effects of tariffs; there are weather concerns (too hot, too cold, too much snow, not enough snow); should the POTUS meet with the leader of North Korea and why; pundits wonder who will win elections and movie awards and what people will be wearing.   The list of these concerns seems endless.  And as much as any or all of the above will have an effect on us personally, the list doesn’t even go into individual concerns about individual health.

Even more important, is the effect that all of these concerns have on us spiritually. (May I remind you, that I do not necessarily interchange the term spiritual with religious?)  Religiously, I have been told that there is no concern to worry about.  God is in control and that is all we need to know.  An old bumper sticker tells us:  If Jesus is in your co-pilot, you are in the wrong seat.)  I can accept this concept of God to a certain degree.  No matter what happens in the world, in my community or in my own personal life, I have no doubt that there will be a presence with me.  I may not know how or even why, but I know it, I believe it, I live it.

Of course, the question is often raised as to why an “all-present” God could or would allow terrible things to happen.  (If you haven’t read Harold Kushner’s book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, please do).  A god who controls life, and blesses and curses our behaviours is not a god worthy of our worship.

I am not saying that belief in “God” is not good.  Rather, I am suggesting that for spiritual growth to be helpful in difficult times we need a fuller understanding of our own spirituality.  I will admit that when we encounter difficult situations we first look for a cause.  We ask:  why is this happening?  Even if we don’t add the “to me” the thought is likely present.  As if we were to think that it should be happening to someone else?  Too often when we can’t find someone else to blame it must be “God” punishing us and so we rail against whatever we can, or passively accept our punishment.

When I allow myself to continue to grow spiritually, I can still have questions but they are not a frantic searching kind.  Nor is my belief a simplest one that leaves it all up to God.  True spirituality grows toward an oneness or unity with “that which is beyond understanding”.  Such an understanding does not mean I will not experience “tough times”.  It does mean that I am never left alone to face whatever comes my way.  Spirituality means that I am a part of life and no matter what life throws at me, I don’t have to face it alone.

What is God?

Sunday Morning Musings: This week there were so many things running through my mind, it was difficult even to narrow down my musings.  I was very intrigued by a question I saw recently asked nearly 20 years ago by the late Marcus Borg.  Instead of the more tradition question, Borg asked: “What is God?”

At first I wondered how I might have a personal relationship with an object (i.e. a ‘what’ and not a ‘who’).   Almost since we began telling and recording stories about God, we have personified “God”.  At the very least we have given God the traits of a person (after all, man is made in the “image of God” so why wouldn’t God be more human like than anything else in creation?)

Oh, oh, I’ve done it now. Half the popular is going to be after me – let me tell the story I once heard about God creating man and having done so looked at this creator and said “I can do better than that and so created ‘woman’.  – Hopefully that should do it, or is everyone now upset with me?  Maybe I should just stop thinking.  Where was I?

What is God?  I have to admit that the more I mused about this question, the more I began to comprehend what I think Borg was getting at.  God, for many even today, is still up there in heaven and is seen as having very masculine traits – God is an old man with a long beard in the sky surrounded by angels.  This God looks down upon creation and sees and blesses the good while cursing and causing bad things to happen – sometimes without us even knowing what we have done wrong.  Even if we have been good (like Job) we still must have “sinned and gone astray”.   We were so bad that God knew that there was only one option left (even the flood wasn’t enough).  Jesus would come and be crucified for our sins – atonement was the only way.

Now that makes me ask: What is God?

Because I do not follow the theology of atonement in the sense that I have been taught – that is to believe that the only way to be at one with creator and creation is to believe that Jesus died because I was unredeemable, I have a lot of re-learning to do.  Firstly, I had to stop taking the Bible literary and wrestle with it (like Jacob) and how to understand it.  As an example, I can refer again to Jacob and Jacob’s ladder.  To me when I read this story the ladder represents the relationship that exists, that I am not separate from God.  Again and again the Bible tells me about the on-going connection of creator and creation.  When Jesus “cleansed the temple”, I feel that we are being told that God doesn’t just dwell in the temple or our churches, but everywhere there exists any attempts to marginalize anyone – which by the way is everywhere, even in our churches and mosques and synagogues…

After yet another mass killing in a school in the USA I say a t-shirt that said something along the lines that it couldn’t be God’s fault because God isn’t allowed in schools anymore.  I agree that killing is never God’s fault, but whether we want to admit it or not, God was there.  Not as a ‘who’ but as love and compassion.  God was there, God is everywhere good needs to be.  Without love there is nothing (1 Corinthians 13).  Without love there is no God.  What is God?  God is love.

Enjoying the Mystery

Sunday Morning Musings:  I told someone this past week that my favourite theological word is “mystery”.  This word not only fits with my understanding of “God” but the relationship between creation and the one I call “Creator”.  It is also like the adage that tells me that the more I know I realize how much I don’t know.

Many who know me will not be surprised when I say that it is unfortunate that most of us don’t start to live and until we learn and accept that this physical life doesn’t last forever.  (Cheap plug:  my novella is called “Dying to Live” with a play on words).  We are all spiritual beings yet most of us pay little or no attention to this element of our lives until we reach the end-of-life stage of our physical living.  Of course, there are many reasons why we choose to avoid the topic of dying and death despite the fact that so many would encourage us to do otherwise (this writer included).  Yet, we continue to fear dying (if not death) for many reasons, some of which are rational and some not.

But back to the idea of “mystery”.

We also live in a society that has often pitted religion against science, beliefs against facts, and even The Bible against other writings. Sadly, to do so is to hinder our spiritual growth at our own peril.  We live in a society that teaches us to “prove it”.  Too often this concept is used with the re-telling of biblical stories.  Last week I preached about the story of Noah and his boat (ark).  I mentioned that there are endless humourous quips and tales about this story.  For some everything is just as the Bible tells us, even including the dimensions.  The “unbelievers” might question the idea of “two of every living creature” (Genesis 6:19); even citing the above mentioned verse in contrast with Genesis 7:2 which calls for Noah to takes seven pairs of clean animals. Can you see the mystery within the mystery?

The quest for me becomes not attempting to “solve” this or any other mystery – (I am no William Murdoch or Agatha Christie or…- you get the point). On the other hand, I am not about to simply throw up my hands in defeat and quit.  I can still learn and question.  But I should never assume that I have all of the answers either.  Far too often, one piece of learning leads to a new question and quest in my faith journey; in my spiritual journey.

Unfortunately, many people don’t want the challenge of such a quest.  Some want the answers – simple and now.  They are the ones who often don’t question any aspects of their faith, even though they may not be totally willing to accept all the precepts of their religion.  At the other extreme are those who find themselves so at odds with what they are told that they simply turn away altogether.  Interestingly, I wonder how many “new” denominations (not just in Christianity) have been created out of differences of opinion.  I remember reading one time about a group that divided over a disagreement about whether facial hair for men should or could include a moustache as well as a beard.  Now if I believed in a God who had anthropomorphic characteristics that thought would be both sad and humourous at the same time mixing laughter and tears.

There are many things that I believe about my spiritual journey and these include that I don’t know all there is to know and that is okay.  My spiritual journey will not end when my physical body can no longer support itself (with or without medical assistance).  I enjoy the mystery fulfilling for me the called from the Westminster Catechism (1648) to “enjoy God” – enjoy the mystery.

Heaven and Hell

Sunday Morning Musings:  My apologies for missing last Sunday, I was away on holidays and was just too lazy to write anything.  But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about things that might make for interesting topics.  Yet, it also proves that there is a huge difference between thinking about something and actually doing it.  In some ways I guess it proves the old adage that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.

Now as I thought about this adage I also started to reflect on “hell” and its seeming opposite,” heaven”.  In earlier times (and even for some today) heaven and hell were/are quite literal places or destinations after this life.  If I am good (and confess Jesus as my Lord and Saviour – I am Christian or am I?) then by the grace of God I will be rewarded with a home in heaven.  Should I choose to be bad and not make such a confession before death, there is no choice for God but to punish me eternally.  Quite literally then I will either spend eternity in heaven or hell.

When it was believed that the earth was flat and the universe three dimensional, heaven was above and hell was below.  Above were clouds and angels and a great place to spend the rest of time.  Below existed as a fiery dwelling place where hard work continued (shovelling coal?).  Of course, this life was lived here on earth (here in the middle of the two) until we died.  In the middle of the last century as the Soviets and the Americans raced into space one of the first cosmonauts upon entering outer space (the abode of heavenly creatures including God); he remarked how he encountered none such beings which confirmed the atheistic stance that God didn’t exist.

For me as a youngster at the time, what was confirmed was that we didn’t live in a three dimensional world, and the travel into space only confirmed that learning was far from over.  In the last seventy years we have heard about many changes in our understanding.  In the 1960’s there was a “god is dead” movement which threatened some and resulted in more stringent lines being drawn.  God was put in a box (or Book) and sadly is still there for some.  For me, and others, there was a freedom created.  I was encouraged to view God as something more that even words could truly capture the essence.  God was called “the Other”, or various titles that attempted to speak of something more than could not even fully explain God.  Earlier this century The United Church of Canada’s Song Faith cited God as “Holy Mystery and Wholly Love”.

As a result of changing views of God, my understanding of heaven and hell also required more thought from me.  I began to question even the sense of how I lived this life influencing how I might be received after death.  One of the main changes in my thinking (my theology) is I need to spend more time concerned with the life that I am living now.  That is not to say that I am not concerned with what is sometimes called the “afterlife”.  Rather, I have come to believe that how I live now is more important.  I like the idea that how we live now influences life after our death in that if we have a positive attitude and motivation toward life now, it will be amplified after death.

If I choose to live love and compassion today, I will continue to do so.  If I choose to “create hell” on earth for myself and those around me, why should I expect anything different in the time to come.  Some have said that heaven and hell are here on earth and we create them.

Spiritul But Not Religious

Sunday Morning Musings:  Earlier this week I was talking to a person about some work I am having done around my house.  As most conversations end up, because of my calling as a minster of religion, we got to talking “shop” – mine not his.  (aside: I find it truly amazing how often the “unchurched” wish to talk about the church and religion.)

One of the many aspects we discussed had to do with what this person referred to as ‘Christian’ acts performed by the ‘unchristian’ ( or as some Christians might refer to them  – “the great unwashed”).  For clarification purposes he explained to me that he knows many folks that would not call themselves “Christian” but who are still loving, caring and generous people.  The discussion went so far as to include other world religions in that many people claim to have no religious affiliation but still adhere to or live out the “golden rule” and the laws about loving “God” and one’s neighbour.

On the opposite side of this coin, the comment was made that people who claim even strong religious connections do not live them.  An example he gave me concerned those who attend church regularly but have stated that they do so for business purposes (to make connections).  He spoke about the larger scale where even wars were fought for religious reasons.  (I wanted to interject that religions don’t cause wars, rather people do, but did not, so as not to interrupt him.)

Our conversation made me think of a quote I had read offered by the mystic Matthew Fox who is reported to have said: “Religion is not necessary but spirituality is.”  I would have to agree with him but with the caveat that as a choice, good and proper understandings of religion are okay and even beneficial.

Too often we interchange the words “religious” with “spirituality”, sometimes at our own peril. I call myself a “Christian” because of a choice I made long ago. Back then it was pretty much the only religion there was in my little part of the world.  As my world has grown, I remained following The Way of Christ, this Christian way. However, I have also learned along the way that my views are not the only views and what seems right for me, doesn’t have to apply to everyone.  I say that knowing that I am in direct opposition to some in my own tradition.  Here I would be quoted John 14, verse 6:  “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’  (New Revised Standard Version).  Were I inclined to argue further I might quote John 3:16 and emphasis the words “God so loved the world”.

To take either of these verses at face value could eliminate all others from ‘coming to the Father’, but that is not what I believe following the Christ was or is all about.  It is not mine or anyone else’s task to convert anyone to Jesus.  Rather, it is our responsibility to live and love as we are loved (like Jesus did).  He didn’t die that I might “live” somewhere in the great beyond.  He lived showing me how to live here and now.  Jesus lived showing the true nature of God which is love for all of creation.

Living love is what it means to be a spiritual person.  I don’t have to belong to any religion to do that. But belonging means something else too. Everyone needs a community of loving people (like-minded people if the sameness doesn’t involve exclusion and narrow thinking which often results in various forms of abuse (which also means abusing the Bible to make our point).

God is Spirit. We are spiritual. Now we only need to learn how to live it.

More Than Experience

Sunday Morning Musings:   I suppose I could say that most weeks hold something strange or unusual for me, and write it off as a normal week.  Yet for some reason this week feels extra strange.  Usually, by this time of the week, I have been able to process the week past and come to some kind of understanding of the feelings going on in my head and/or my “gut”.  However, this has not happened for me, or maybe it is just taking longer than I had hoped.

Processing of external and internal events has become a natural part of life for me.  I was once told that “experience is the best teacher”.  As a teacher I understood what was being said about the importance of actually doing something.  If I have four apples and give two away, I am left with two apples.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.  Yet, if I spend time talking about this action, or “reflecting” on the experience, there is so much more happening.

Continuing the above example, I can do the arithmetic (or mathematics, I am never sure).  But what if I spend some time thinking about why I gave away two apples?  Hypothetically, if I was a good capitalist I should have sold the apples to make a profit.  A compassionate person might have given them all away.  If I lived in a Socialist society I might have been expected to give them to the government who would then share them with someone.  Reflection can cause me sometimes just to think I should have stayed in bed!

Now, of course, there are large issues at stake in life which often give us greater cause to spend time thinking about how and why we react in the ways we do. I have been told by some of my friends that they no longer watch the news.  Their reasons offered vary.  Some are just overloaded with the “bad news” by which they feel constantly bombarded.  Others aren’t sure what to believe or who to trust anymore.  Despite the fact that we are told that “good news” is no news, many still long to believe that life is better than we are told.  Good things continually happen around us, but rarely do they make the headlines and often get used as “feel good” stories trying to brighten up the dark news we have just heard.

Each of us is confronted daily by events in our own lives that require us to spend time asking ourselves our reasons for feeling affected.  Yet, I find myself wanting the “experts” to explain situations to me.  I want the political pundits to tell me why someone has done something – or what the actions mean?  When something involves the education system I turn to those I expect have answers to my queries. The same happens in the church.  A while ago Pope Francis commented about the wording of The Lord’s Prayer or the “Our Father”.  For some, the comment created a “tizzy”, while I am sure others were unaware of his comments and the ensuing discussions.

Naturally, daily events mean something different to each of us.  Some events will affect us differently also.  What becomes important is that we take the time to ask ourselves about our thoughts and feelings around those events.  Sometimes it becomes a matter of priorities and spending the time to sort out not only what events have happened but which and why they matter at all.

Or maybe, I can just pretend that nothing has happened at all and that it makes no difference at all.

Reading the Bible

Sunday Morning Musings:  As I read the Bible, I also find it important for me to also read about the Bible.  I like to find the context in which the reading is set.  I am very aware that the Bible is not so much a book as it is a collection of “books” or writings.  I am also cognisant that part of the Christian Bible contains the writings considered sacred by those who profess Judaism.  The Torah contains many of the same stories.  Hence, finding the context means even more than just what is happening at the time.  We encounter this, especially, since there is often a large gap between the events and the writing about those events.

Understanding the purpose of the sayings, which became writings, is also very important.  The second major portion of the Hebrew Scriptures contains the work of the Prophets.  Isaiah and Jeremiah offer longer writings that cover longer periods of time, while the so-called Minor Prophets often deal with a more specific time or event.  (The twelve minor prophets of the Old Testament are called “minor” due to their length not the importance of their message.)  In the writings of the New Testament the “gospels” are intended for different audiences and thus include references that would likely be somewhat known by their listeners (later readers?).  Matthew’s gospel seems to have been written with a Jewish audience in mind and so we hear the Old Testament often quoted.  On the other hand, Luke’s gospel would appeal more to a Gentile audience.

Regardless, of the intended audience, one of the main purposes of these stories, narratives, historical or mythical (I use that word tentatively – realizing that “truth” is even found in fiction), is to tell us about God.  However, over the centuries it has become clearer to me that our understanding of “God” has changed as we have changed and grown in our own knowledge.   At one time, it was easier to understand God as “above”, and satan as “below” and us, here in the middle, hoping to go above when we died rather than below.  The science (some would stop me right there and tell me to go no further) of life revealed that the earth is not flat and a new understanding needed to be found.  The anthropomorphizing of “God” diminished for some.  That is to say, God was no longer envisaged as “an old man in the sky”. Nor was God viewed by all to be “controlling” everything including the weather.  (There is a story told of a minister who scolded his people when they were to gather to pray for rain in the midst of a draught but didn’t bring umbrellas.)

The Bible continues to be a very important source of information.  It continues to provide the followers of the Way, with rules that make for better communal living; it continues to connect the followers of the Way with a better understanding of not just the past but the importance of our relationships moving forward.  Some people may have chosen to disregard the Bible while others continue to say they only follow the teachings of the Bible. In my case, I want to continue to read the Bible but it is not my only source of or to God.  The truth teachings of the Bible do not compete with science, or even history for that matter.

I will continue to read my Bible and encourage others to do so.  But I will not suggest that we take it as the literal word of God, nor as the only word of God.

Balance Includes Death

Sunday Morning Musings:  It is nothing new to say that change is difficult. It is also well known that one of the only constants in life is that of change.  I will use the word “evolution” to talk about some changes in life which is always evolving for us.  We may not like the changes that are occurring; we may deny them or resist them; but change is and will happen.

The changes that we experience occur at every level of our being.  What is more, is that most of the changes that happen to us may even wanted or more importantly needed/  We want to develop physically, mentally, cognitive and spiritually, but sometimes this development is thwarted, just as they are often inter-related. Nonetheless, development occurs and needs to be nurtured.

Sadly, sometimes the nurturing does not happen as it should.  The lack of a certain vitamin or other necessary nutrient can cause physical illness.  Some illnesses are even inherited for a parent or grandparent.  Some illnesses are caused by stress or other mental condition.  Though we have often separated the body, mind and spirit into individual “silos”, they are all interconnected.  That which affects the body will affect the mind and the spirit.

The key of course is balance. If one element of our life is out of whack, it can and does have far-reaching effects.  When I say far-reaching, I mean that a physical issue often results in mental and/or spiritual stress.  Sometimes, the mental or spiritual matters that get raised can even feel worse than the original physical pain.

As many of you know, I have spent at least the second half of my life, studying living and dying.  Often the response I get concerns as to why anyone would want to learn more about dying. (Trust me, I am not alone in my endeavours, nor am I the first or even leader).  King’s College at Western University in London, Ontario offers direct education.  Around the world, there are teachers who know the difficulty many have in dealing with death. (Through a friend in Australia I participated in a pilot project to deliver palliative care education by internet.)  When death is not accepted as part of life, an imbalance occurs and when confronted by life’s reality, we struggle.

Now, into this mix some cultures (Canada is one) we have begun the discussion around Medical Assisted Death. And as expected, there are numerous voices and opinions being expressed. Often the loudest voices are the ones that get the most “press”, often around slippery slopes.  As a result many experiencing the struggle directly will withdraw from the public eye to avoid “upsetting” others, in some cases even family and friends.  Once again the balance needed in all our lives is lost and undue concern even conflicts arise.

Life is about balance.  We need to try to keep in balance all aspects of life.  In general that means finding the right balance involving body, mind and spirit. This idea of balance will not be found if we as a society continue to deny or even shy away from the realities.  Life has taught us that change is inevitable.  Life has also taught us that we must change or be lost.  Change involves some long held beliefs and even so-called taboos.

Change also means that we are willing to let go of that which continues to result in the imbalance.  It also means that we don’t have to experience any of life alone.  There are people willing to make the journey with us through this thing we call life.  It also means that we must do all we can to make these connections happen.

Expressing Helpfully

Sunday Morning Musings:  Earlier this week I was asked by someone as to why many people found that speaking about death was so difficult.  In this particular incident the woman’s sister was dying and as she sat by her sister’s side she started wondering about death, death in general but her own in particular.  It was into this moment of her life that I was invited.

As I have said in previous writings, one’s primary job in such times is to listen.  I encouraged this person to talk about life and death.  Finding the process difficult at first, she was able to get past her hesitation (fears?) and talk.  In the end she was grateful for the opportunity to express views that she had kept inside for fear of being judged in one way or another.  For various reasons it is difficult for most to speak of dying and death even when we know rationally that death is part of living, part of life.

When I first began this week’s musing I wanted to write about the importance of saying the right things, or knowing when not to say what we are feeling.  When another discussion centred on death, it wasn’t problematic for me to find a connection.  (I realize this may be my own bias.)

Firstly, I will state that every one of us will be confronted with what we learn and term as “unpleasant” situations. The real concern becomes how we respond.  Over maybe the last 40 years or so, educators have tried to summarize the human experience around grief.  The heart will always be slower than the head when it comes to this type of loss.  We know death will occur, we know death has occurred but there is always part of us that will reject that knowledge (or at least try to).  We likely will also feel the anger of that loss (even hearing of an illness) and need to express what some describe as “rage”.   Many of us remember the lines from the poem by Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

We are told that we should not keep this rage bottled up inside.  This is true, but when and where we choose to express these feelings are every bit as important.  If I am going to be a helpful caregiver I need to be present, but I cannot let my needs overshadow the other person’s needs.  I remember a fellow being very angry with me.  I went to visit him and heard him tell his mother that he didn’t want to see me.  My ego was hurt – why wouldn’t he want to see me? A whole range of feelings (selfish ones) started to flood me, until the better part of me kicked into gear and I was able to remind myself that it wasn’t about me.

With the increase of “social media” it has become even more important for us to use our words wisely.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say things, but when and what and why and how and even where our feelings are expressed are even more important.  I have heard it said that if I can’t say something kind that I should not say anything. Even if my words may be truthful, I must still be concerned about the other person or persons.

I love improv (improvisational) games because one the main tenets is to make the other person look and feel good about themselves.  This is also one of life’s greatest attributes for us all.  So we always need to ask ourselves how we can best do just that.

New Years’ Balance

Sunday Morning Musings:  As an old year comes to an end and a new one begins, it seems to be a time for the making of resolutions.  Or as some of us like to think, a time for hoping and wishing that things would change in our lives and in the world.  On the other hand, many say that they no longer make New Years’ resolutions because they do not often keep them very long.  That may be very true, but is it that we find change difficult; or do we resolve to undertake too much.  As someone reminded me recently, perhaps we need to think like the person who decides not to drink for one day at a time, rather than telling himself that he can’t drink for the rest of his life.  Our goals or resolutions need to be attainable, as well as measureable, realistic (make them SMART).

I have found the same to be true about my spiritual life.  (Not that one can or should ever try to separate one’s spirituality from the rest of life.)  I have made resolutions in the past about spirituality but have often (always?) kept these goals to myself.  Most of my “secret” reasons have had to do with what I considered the idea that these are private matters.  As a result, I would resolve to pray more, be kind to everyone, exercise more, eat healthier foods – you know the drill.   Usually, because of my lack of will power, I would gradually or not so gradually revert to my old ways.  Often times even without thinking – my old patterns would return.

I had the right idea.  That is to say, my whole life is inter-connected.  I know that “balance” was the key.  Often I would find something that gives me a reason to change and so I pursue it.  Unfortunately, I often got stuck doing too much of the one thing.  Some people walk to exercise their body and use that time to meditate and converse with their God.  Some people run because running gives them a “high”, literally and figuratively.  I admire these people who find the connectedness of the physical and the mental and the spiritual.  When I served in Almonte, Ontario (birthplace of James Naismith, inventor of basketball) Naismith’s primary focus for all humans was always “body, mind and spirit”.

Though he lived over 100 years ago, he wasn’t creating something new.  This idea of balance in one’s life has been around since the beginning of time.  Too often, we even lose this idea of balance in the various thoughts and beliefs that get floated around.  Even religion went overboard.  Religion became about doctrine and dogma.  We were told that if we believed certain things that we would be “saved” or “blessed”. We were also told that if we did certain things we would find ourselves on God’s “naughty” list and bad deeds would not go unpunished by God.  Only recently has there been an increasing amount of positive discussion connecting science and religion, which is a good start.

I would like to think that I am correct all of the time – that I know the truth and that is that.  However, to let one’s prejudice override others’ thoughts becomes only a losing proposition for all.  It is okay to “preach to the choir”, that is to say those who agree or accept my views.  But it is best when I also listen to what is being told to me.  If my mind is made up before we begin then there is no use in beginning. My hope for this New Year is that we can spend more time listening.  I mean really listening even before we start to think of a response.