Listening, while the winds blow as they may

Jun 8, 2015 by

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“Forbearance” is buzzing around in our Mennonite Church USA conversations. The dictionary defines it as “patient self-control; restraint and tolerance.”

Yoder-Short

Yoder-Short

Will forbearance become more than jargon? How would it look to start practicing forbearance, to start gracing each other with a little more slack?

I’ve been watching for everyday forbearance. When the person handing me my coffee says, “Here you go, miss,” I pause but say nothing. Is he being condescending, sexist or just busy? There isn’t time for a conversation on proper ways to address women. I cut the barista some slack. I let it pass without a snide comeback. Do I get forbearance points?

Forbearance is more than letting things pass. It’s more than just keeping the peace by remaining quiet. Forbearance is trying to understand without letting one’s agenda color the conversation.

Forbearance isn’t some easy fix for our differences. Talking with those whose slant on life clashes with our own can be hard work.

The story of Nicodemus and Jesus shows us how conversing across different factions can lead to communication difficulties. Nicodemus and Jesus come from very different groups. Nicodemus is a leader in the elite Jerusalem establishment, while Jesus is a mere Galilean. There is unrest. People are divided on what to think about Jesus. Jesus is pushing boundaries, saying, “You have heard it said, but . . .” Jesus turns over temple tables that have been in place for years. One night Nicodemus goes looking for answers. Does he hope to hold everyone together?

Nicodemus doesn’t begin the conversation by condemning Jesus, as is popular with his cohorts. He cuts Jesus some slack and acknowledges him as a teacher who has come from God.

If Nicodemus is looking for an easy resolution to the divisions of his time, he doesn’t get one. Jesus tells him how hard it is to change. It’s like being born all over again. Joining up with God’s kingdom is like getting a new family, where familiar power structures give way to an odd, love-based community.

Jesus and Nicodemus seem to talk different languages. The new-birth jargon is too much for Nic­o­­demus. It doesn’t fit his neat package. Jesus goes on to tell him that the wind blows where it chooses. You hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with those born of the Spirit (John 3:8).

Winds blowing make some of us nervous and fearful. Perhaps Nicodemus is the kind of person who likes things nailed down. Forbearance asks those of us who want neat packages to listen to those who feel the wind blowing. Forbearance asks those of us excited about being blown new directions to extend some slack and understanding to others who long for clarity.

Can forbearance be the super power that saves us? Miracles do happen. Let’s not get stalled like Nicodemus into thinking logistically why new birth can’t happen. Change can begin as we listen with forbearance, patience and grace to those who see things differently. God’s spirit blows. Who knows where or how?

Moving forbearance from buzzword to practice means cutting each other some slack. It means assuming we are all Jesus cohorts, that we all love the Bible. Forbearance may mean listening both to those bolting down our tables and to those overturning them. Forbearance may mean living in some middle space where tidy answers aren’t always obvious.

Now, was the barista being kind or condescending? I don’t know. Maybe I’ll ask him the next time he sweetens my coffee with his habitual “miss.” Meanwhile, let’s all try collecting forbearance points and expecting the wind to blow.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.


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