A while ago I wrote on the Missionary Virtue of Talking Over People. In that prior post, I argued that:

Missionaries need to talk over people. Regularly. Frequently. With godly vigour and fervour. I’ve been through some soul-searching over this one, people, but the kingdom of God requires rudeness beyond measure, inconsideration like we have never dreamed of. Yes, we need to start interrupting monologues with witty comments and jokes. Brothers and sisters, divert the flow of verbal sewerage into the decontamination plant of conversational purity with well-placed questions. Ah yes, even questions that have nothing to do with the conversation whatsoever. Place a gag in those overworked gums of that child of God, fill that space where they drew breath with a barrage of your own trivial stories…

Well, maybe I got a bit sweaty about that one, a little extreme. So, in the interests of paradoxical truth, let me know speak of the opposite. Keeping my trap shut is a lovely phrase, which I’ve never thought about until now. ‘Trap’ being my mouth….now that’s an intriguing metaphor. What does my mouth entrap exactly? Most of the time, myself. Little wonder that short passage in James has become so famous.

Yet, I feel strangely unmotivated writing about shutting up and letting someone else talk. ‘Being a good listener’ has become such a part of “good” Christian identity that I am loathe to add to the mass, or morass, of verbosity about why we should listen and how we should listen and that listening to people’s stories will change the world. It’s all so…polite, which is probably why I vented my spleen previously.

But, I will manfully try to justify why keeping your trap shut is a missionary virtue:

  • I don’t often have anything useful to say: in mission, you will often befriend people who are in pain. They may be isolated, unemployed, ill, mentally unwell, oppressed, abused, dirt poor; often simultaneously.  I haven’t experienced this kind of enduring multiplicity of pain, my daily experience of hardship being lack of chocolate. Talking much in the face of this pain is harmful; the best we can do is make sure they know we’re listening
  • When I do have something useful to say, it doesn’t need many words: in graced moments, the right thing worms it way through thickets of useless platitudes. Our words and the situation of the person happily congeal. When this happens, stop. Keep your trap shut. Say your bit and don’t wreck it by (my personal downfall) repeating the same truth in 3 other ways.

Well, that’s about all I can think of at the moment.