Where is Indiana Jones when you really need him? He located the Ark of the Covenant in 1981, the Holy Grail in 1989, and most recently (and, unfortunately for most fans) an ancient alien spaceship in 2008. So, if anyone can find something that has been lost to the sands of time, it has to be this whip-cracking archeologist. However, I am not sure that even the resourceful Dr. Jones could locate this particular, irreplaceable treasure that has been lost for quite a while now.
I am not even sure when we lost it. Maybe the news anchors or talk-show hosts let it slip through their fingers. And, I don’t think that we will ever find it again in the midst of the wasteland of garbled syllables that they create when they insist on talking over one another. Or, perhaps it got up and left town. Maybe, it got sick of sitting in the corner while we were busy eating our family dinner while binge watching our favorite sitcom. Whatever the cause, the art of listening seems to have found a cozy home next to the Lost Ark, Holy Grail and an ill-fated spaceship.
However, no long ago, I caught a glimpse of it scurrying around the corner during my last trip to Johnson City, Tennessee for a doctoral class. I simply wanted to decompress after a full day of lectures. So, I headed into town to visit a local CrossFit affiliate, since I am part of this strange, community-building fitness movement. I met these folks during my last visit to Tennessee. They were incredibly hospitable, but I had not spoken to any of them in months. I expected to arrive, exchange the typical “how’s life” pleasantries, and then get to work with barbell.
But, that is not at all what happened. Instead, the gym owner pulled me aside and asked if we could workout together. Typically, CrossFit is performed as a group, so this request was a bit unusual. As we were warming up, he asked in a quiet, pensive voice, “Can I ask you a quick question that has really been upsetting me?” He had a look of real concern etched across his face. So, I put my barbell down, not knowing what his next words would be.
“I read the Bible like a good Southern Baptist. I have a childlike faith. But I don’t know what to do with the dinosaurs. Do you know how to explain dinosaurs?”
Well, that is a pretty big question for a 15 minute warmup, so I suggested that we grab a cup of coffee afterward. Plus, over the years I have learned that the “theological questions” are rarely the real questions that folks want to talk about. That is not to say that the question of dinosaurs is an irrelevant question. Not at all! But, typically, when it comes to questions like this, there is something else, something bigger and more relevant buried beneath the surface, not unlike a dinosaur.
After we finished lifting and most of the members had left, he started cleaning and closing the gym for the day. I decided to help out, which would also give us some time to continue our conversation. That is when he spilled the beans… “So, ummm… My girlfriend of two years and I are breaking up. And, I am just lost…” He never mentioned the dinosaurs again.
These dinosaur-type questions are often an opening to see if anyone is still listening. People may believe that God listens, but they still need to know that we are listening as well. Far too often, our listening skills devolve into getting just enough information from a person so that we can give our opinion, counter their previous point or tell them a far more important story. I believe our friends, neighbors, and even relative strangers, are desperate to know that there are people in their world who are willing to actively listen to their real questions.
Instead of shouting through a louder megaphone, screaming at the world until our voice is lost, or posting our opinions anonymously on social media, maybe we need to stop and just listen to them. Perhaps, simply by our willingness to listen, really listen, we can remind them that the God who made the dinosaurs is listening, and always has been.