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All That is Fair: Earn the Right to Be Heard


If you’ve grown up in Christian circles, no doubt the phrase “earn the right to be heard” has crossed your ears.  It is a well known mantra associated with a philosophy of ministry that is profoundly relational at its core.  Young Life is a good example of this kind of ministry.  YL was founded by a seminary student who was challenged to “view the local high school as a parish” and to labor in that parish on behalf of its parishioners.  The philosophy he applied to his mission was to foster genuine friendship with these students, being present in their lives in an honest way, in order to build trust and earn the right to be heard.  That was back in 1941 and to this day “earning the right to be heard” remains a fundamental core value on the mission/vision page of their website.  Our very own High Life ministries at Southwood is another great example.  High Life provides an environment where the gospel seeds are planted and begin to grow through the ministry of presence.  Adult volunteers embrace the idea that simply by being present (and by this I mean truly present and engaged) in a student’s life, trust is built and gospel benefit will happen.

Genuine trust is a scarce commodity.  How many of us have even half a dozen friends in our close circles that we can truly trust with EVERY detail of our lives?  It is rare to be sure.  But when it exists, the authority it breeds is deep and abiding.  In this kind of relationship, there is some serious staying power.  The bond of trust and love is just too strong to be broken, no matter what comes.  We listen to each other in these contexts.  Even if we don’t always agree,  we respect the other and try to understand where they’re coming from.  The friends we have who fall into this category have forever “won the right to be heard” because they have been so steady in their love and care for us.  In my life, the people who have earned this authority can even say hard things or abrasive things to me, and I won’t abandon them as friends.  In fact, I will spend lots of time processing what they say.  Because their words come from a heart of love, I know their intentions are not bad.  They have my best interests in mind.

So what does this say about human nature?  It says at least this: Ideas are great, but it is persons, in all their uniqueness and frailty, that have the power to speak to us.  More than that, it is the person who has ingrafted his life into yours who has the most to say to you.  You’ve watched them for years.  They have always been there, listening to you and loving you.  So you surrender and let your guard down.  It’s a beautiful thing, a taste of heaven on earth.

But this is how we are made, isn’t it?  We filter, we discriminate, we try to decide “who can we really trust?”.  From top to bottom, in all things, this is how we gauge the value of our interactions.  Primarily with other humans, but also, to a lesser degree, with books, music, art, movies, TV shows, food, cars, architecture, electronics, customer service, etc… the work of other humans. What I’m saying is that I think the desire that exists in all of us to be connected to at least one person that we can really depend on, is the same motivation that causes us to establish a hierarchy like brand loyalty, or fandom, or a taste for a particular restaurant.  Our experiences, slowly but surely, build these categories into our lives.

The thing that caused me to think about this paradigm was a conversation I had with a friend about the new Coldplay album Kaleidescope.  It’s not wildly popular by any stretch.  And there are lots of people who have been fans of their other work in the past who just don’t care for this new record all that much.  It’s a further departure from their debut album, Parachutes.  That first album was so haunting and beautiful and under produced.  It was stark and surprising. This latest work is much more upbeat and super polished.  It has lots of layered effects and electronic instrument juxtapositions, so not everyone likes it.  In this conversation I was, of course, coming to the defense of my favorite band.  But I kept asking myself why do I hold on to this silly band?  Why do I defend this stuff?  Can they not be guilty of “dropping a dud” on the world?  Apparently not to me… I trust them.

And that trust has been built over time.  Not that I am calling Chris Martin and telling him all of my deepest darkest secrets, but I do trust their sensibilities as a band.  I’ve come to love all of the nuances of their signature sound.  All of the colors they use to paint and the sort of pictures they construct have always been so pleasing to me for so long.  Even if they decide to paint a new picture that I don’t quite get, I will, nonetheless, spend focused energy trying to accurately receive every iota of it.  I want to understand what they were thinking.  After all, they’ve never led me astray before.

So as you meander through your life this month, think about how this is true for you.  Who has earned the privilege of having you as a captive audience?  And why?  It’s a good way to begin a thorough self-assessment to be sure!  Pull back the curtain on all of the voices of authority you may let in to your heart.  Re-evaluate why they are there.  Don’t abandon them necessarily, but hear them with new ears.  Hear them knowing what they have earned and how they have earned it.  And at the pinnacle of these voices, hear the voice of Jesus, who came to live and die as one of us, who has patiently borne all of our deepest darkest secrets, and who has once for all “earned the right to be heard.”