I went to an “open mike” poetry reading last week about forty miles away and I was struck by the variety of concerns expressed. The small gathering was a pretty good cross-section of local humanity: black and white, old and young, male and female. I read some passages from Beyond Beowulf and others read poems about daily experiences such as the check-out line and about war and peace, the gulag and holocaust.

Years ago I came across some words of Isaac Asimov that seemed to speak to the occasion. They came from a collection of essays which he called A View from a Height because he imagined himself as a balloonist floating above a garden:

“…occasionally I see (or seem to see) an overall order or an odd arabesque in one corner – a glimmering fragment of design that perhaps I would not see from the ground.
“And when I do (or think I do), I set it down on paper, for in addition to my other peculiarities, I have a missionary complex and want others to see what I see. Fortunately, I have a way with editors, and can harry them into publishing what I set down.
“So here I have a collection of essays with little internal unity, They are glimpses, here and t here, of the orchard of science, as viewed from a height.
“And the reason for the collection is only that I do want, very much, to have you see what I see.”

All of us, I think, have some of that same missionary impulse; we want to tell others what we see, and the great value of an open microphone is that it gives us the chance to do that. But the missionary impulse is not enough: we also need desperately to listen to each other.
I have been reading several books recently for review purposes about the homosexual experience. Just now the question in the Episcopal Church is whether we will, as the 1998 Lambeth Conference asked us to do, listen to each other.
But then, isn’t that also the question in Iraq and Lebanon – as well as in our own closest relationships: will we really listen to what the other is saying and try to understand and respond in love?

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