Listening

I am listening to a lot of voices.

I saw a challenge for people who maybe have not directly experienced racism (those of us who are, if we’re honest, privileged) to hush. To give it a few days before responding. So, resisting the temptation to cry out, I have decided to listen. And read. And listen some more. In my experience, listening goes a long way toward change.

Gosh, there’s a lot of chatter and statements and continuous commentary out there.
There’s a lot to listen to.

As much as some comments have made me want to throw things and other comments have brought me to tears, my prayers for peace have led me to listen still. Not listening the way we do in the middle of an argument, where you’re putting your words together in a retort WHILE your person is talking. That’s not listening. I mean stopping your trigger finger on the response to HEAR what is really being said. From all sides. To sit with it and let the words work in you for a minute, even if you reject them with all you’ve got. Hold the words and the images and the cries and listen for what they are saying.

Even if, especially if, the voices say something that doesn’t line up with what we are just so sure we think. Listen anyway. Let’s ask ourselves:

What am I hearing? What would make them shout this out loud?
Is there a situation that would make me shout like this? Is there a situation that would evoke emotions like this for me?

Why are they focused on this one point? What makes them focus on this, and not much else? What does that say about the situation?
Who is listening to them say this? Why?
Why am I feeling this way when I listen to them? What is that about?

Which words that I’m hearing make sense to me? Which ones don’t?

If I think their words are untrue, what is that untruth about? Why are they saying it this way?

What would I hear if this person said this while sitting on my living room couch, sharing coffee with just me? Would that change the way I hear him/her?

I’m listening, to all the voices. Hoping to be better at hearing. I’m listening to this, which broke my heart. And this one, from my friend, Lucas Johnson:

“The question of whether or not officer Wilson’s response to Michael Brown was legal is not really the point. In the brutality of American history, the answer to such legal questions has almost always been the same answer that this Grand Jury provided. As news outlets all over the country comb over the evidence supporting that singular decision they will be grossly missing the point. They appear to be incapable of reporting with any clarity why people took to the streets and buildings were set on fire in response to this killing. They and much of the country will not recognize the significance of the fact that Officer Wilson’s killing of Michael Brown is ultimately, shamefully justified because the officer was afraid. In the same logic, the killing of Trayvon Martin was justified because George Zimmerman was afraid, the lynching of my great grandfather was legally justified because someone was afraid and so it goes a thousand times over. It is the persistence of racism embedded deeply in American life and fused with fear that turns young men into murderers and continues to result in the deaths of black men and women and children. It does not matter that Martin, or Brown, or the thousands of people in the streets may also be afraid of armed men and women in uniforms with tanks, tear gas, and the most advanced policing weaponry that a world power can provide at their command. Their fear in a society built against the acknowledgment of their humanity, does not matter. Michael Brown knew what Travyon Martin knew what countless others know, that whatever gains won in the battles against racism of previous decades do not matter on some streets in select neighborhoods.

People are taking to the streets in Ferguson because they/we are tired of your fear controlling our lives and deeming them worthless. It seems important to acknowledge that to protest, and yes even to destroy property seems like a far more human response to the merciless loss of life seen at the hands of our would be protectors than to do nothing but call for “peace.”  Anger is human, and were it my son shot ten times, I would want cities to burn and it is only by God’s grace that I could find the strength to choose otherwise. That grace has clearly been afforded to the parents of Michael Brown and it is worth honoring. The responsibility afforded to us is not to engage in meaningless debates about the merits of violent versus nonviolent struggle. The responsibility and the opportunity afforded to us is to put ourselves on the side of the struggle for change (and by that I mean something much more profound than reform). It is only then, within the context of struggle for a change that my or anyone’s commitment to nonviolence becomes at all relevant.  Like the young brother from Ferguson said, “I want to see a better forever.”

I even tried listening to Fox News. And NPR. And CNN. And blogging friends.

But on Sunday, I intend to listen to another Voice. It’s the first day of Advent. It’s the day we stop and pause and make space to hear the “voice crying out in the wilderness” to prepare the way. I don’t know about you, but in this wilderness of voices, I need that voice like never before.

I am praying for ears to hear that voice. But ears to hear is not beyond what we can hope for. It’s happened before. Even if we are speaking different languages, there once was a moment when the people who spoke different languages were able to hear. “How then can each of us hear . . . we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” (Acts 2)
Let us hush. Let us listen.

Admission: Even my effort at listening here has me “sharing” points of view, which falls short of what I just described as listening. Yeah, I get that. But I offer those here to point to just a few of the voices I am trying to hear.

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