My wife Debbi and I recently had the opportunity to visit Minneapolis to raise funds to partner with humanitarian efforts in Guatemala. Our goal was to raise money so as to empower vulnerable children and their communities to become holistically transformed, while reducing poverty, abandonment and violence.

Among other things, the evening dinner featured the pouring of some really great Pinot Noir wines from the Santa Rita hills. But more importantly it included an uplifting conversation, related to solving the problem of systemic poverty.

About 20 people were at the event. The gathering included doctors, professors from the University of Minnesota along with area Rotary Club leaders and other leaders from the community of Minneapolis.

After a successful night of fund raising we were invited by friends to join them at their lakeside cabin, which I was assured was close to Lake Wobegan.

Our friends that we stayed with at the cabin were active members of Bethlehem Lutheran church, located less than two miles from the intersection of East 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis. That’s where George Floyd’s death occurred. So, naturally the aftermath of George Floyd’s death was a big part of our conversation.

While we were sipping some awesome Zinfandel wine that I brought out, I asked the question, “What is being done to help alleviate systemic poverty among urban African Americans and also resolve racial tensions in Minneapolis?”

The quick answer was, “we are doing a lot of listening!”

I then listened to my friends share their listening experiences, as they shared stories related to how leaders in Minneapolis are dealing with the challenges of healing racial injustice.

In my experience, sipping Zinfandel together with friends, helped us to be more relaxed with each other. That in turn, freed us up to discuss the deeper issues of life. We learned from each other and came up with some creative ideas to make the world a better place.

The zen of sipping Zinfandel together with friends resulted in being in the moment. In our sipping of Zin our conversation was naturally slowed down, through the process of listening to each other and asking important questions.

The goal in active listening is to learn and to help people feel valued. Thomas Aquinas wrote:

“We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.”

“We are doing a lot of listening.” That’s what my Minnesota friends said. It’s something that a lot of us could benefit from out here in California, especially as we take the time in our hectic post-vaccine world to slow down, celebrate life and come up with ideas and plans to make the world a better place.

Jess Knauft is the Pastor of Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran in Santa Ynez.

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