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Are We Listening to the Best Voices? by Joe Lehman

Two weeks ago, in an email, I received an article concerning the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9-11.  It was sent by an organization whose purpose is to foster and improve ecumenical (inter-church) and inter-religious relationships.   With emotions running high because of plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero (and differing, strong reactions to that plan) and because of another plan that one commemoration of that tragic day in our nation’s history would include the burning of Q’rans, it was felt that pastors might need some guidance in how best to commemorate September 11.

In the article, the authors wrote: “We believe that times of national tragedy call out the both the best and worst in people.  America’s greatest successes as a nation have come when we have listened to the best voices and ignored the worst.”   This statement got me thinking.

As we know well, the voices “speaking” and competing for our attention these days are many and contradictory.  Some of these voices are loud, shrill, and angry; they often drown out the more reasoned ones.  Many, too, are the vehicles / media used by these voices to get their messages across.  It’s hard not to listen to them.

Those who read columns like this one believe our best voices speak to us from our sacred scriptures.  From prophets, psalmists, poets, historians, storytellers,   (and for Christians, evangelists and apostles, too) and from God who inspired their words we get a very different approach and message.

These voices tell and retell us that God, who is our origin and our final goal, is also Love: slow to anger, faithful, merciful, and abounding in kindness.   We cannot say “we love God and hate our neighbor.” They remind us that the best way to achieve reconciliation and grow in mutual understanding and respect is by a face-to-face dialogue which includes active and careful listening and gently responding 1 Peter 3: 15).  These same voices also call us to repent of any words and attitudes caused by pride, hatred, or by our fears.   “Let the past be the past” is their mantra.

In the mentioned article, the authors also named two proven ways to hear better the best voices out there.

One way is to gather for prayer with others- specifically, to pray for healing and peace. You might remember that on Thursday night after the Tuesday attack nine years ago, the Roanoke community gathered at Victory Stadium. We listened to the scriptures that night.  We sought to hear- in our fears- the voice of God who says in every generation and in every situation “DO NOT BE AFRAID.  I AM WITH YOU TO DELIVER YOU”.   [FYI: This Sunday (September 19), in anticipation of the International Day of Prayer for Peace two days later, a service of scriptures and prayers is scheduled at Oak Grove Church of the Brethren at 3:00pm.  This is yet another opportunity for our valley to hear some of the better voices calling us to action, that is, to seek justice and peace.]

The other way is to admit that we have listened to voices that have not been so good for us.  And for that we need to repent and personally ask for forgiveness – both of God and of our neighbors (like our Jewish neighbors do this Saturday). We need to ask God to purify our memories and to free us from our “prejudices and scapegoating.” We need to ask God to speak anew to our hearts and spirits…”for this time your servant is (really) listening”.

Joe Lehman is the Senior Pastor at Our Lady of Nazareth Catholic Church. Visit them at www.oln-parish.org

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