Im listening. I’m learning.
I’m learning that the heroes of my American Christianity held out the gospel with one hand and the chains of their slaves with the other. I’m learning that the history I’ve been taught has left out a lot. As a result, I have believed a whitewashed narrative that made the wickedness my country’s greatness was built on look like noble American Christian bravery.
I’m learning at the least, the American church has turned a deaf ear to racism and at worst has preached and practiced it as Biblical. I’m learning that there are structures and practices in American government and in the church that have marginalized the lives and worth of black people.
I’m learning that my black friends are tired. Tired of trying to explain why. Tired of my passivity and ignorance. I’m learning that I don’t know what I don’t know.
I’m learning that I resist listening to people I can’t help, don’t understand, disagree with or feel uncomfortable around, and that in refusing to listen, a part of my heart has grown cold. My refusal to listen has increased my comfort and decreased my compassion. My refusal to listen has let the lies that have propped up my white sons’ insecurities go unchallenged. And because I haven’t listened I haven’t learned. And because I haven’t learned my neighbors have not experienced the hands and feet of Jesus that come with the hope of his gospel.
I began by listening to my Eritrean American friend, and fellow nurse. She told me in an aisle at the grocery store about her thankfulness for what she sees as God’s protection on her life and her family these 20 past years in America. I listened as she asked how my police officer husband was doing and told me she was praying for him. I listened as she told me she is afraid for her black sons.
And then I listened to my white teenage sons spout off support of President Trump. I asked questions and challenged them to explain what they supported about Trump. As a mother and a Trump detractor, my skin crawls thinking that in their teenage insecurity, my white sons might be drawn to and impressed by the machismo of the Trump presidency. I want to take Trump down in their minds with a lot of bad words, but instead I listened, trying to understand why they are where they are in their thought process. Then I told my sons we were going to listen to the Color of Compromise together. We sat, listened and began a dialogue.
I listened as the administrators of the Be the Bridge group I joined asked me to be quiet for three months on their social media group and do the work they provided me to learn. It’s an act of repentance of my ignorance to do the work of hearing from my black neighbor’s perspective.
I listened as a white, mentally-ill homeless woman told me how she got where she’s at and why she feels so stuck. I listened as she told a story of a lifetime of abuse, rejection and poverty.
Then I turned off the social media and listened to Moses and Job and Isaiah and David and Daniel and Jesus. I listened as the Spirit of God began stirring a fire in me. The cold places of my passive heart began to warm with compassion and conviction. The notes section of my iPhone are filled with quotes from scripture all telling me, “I am the God who saved you out of slavery to the sin of cowardliness. I am the God who lowered himself taking the form of a servant to lift you up and make you a child of God. Turn from your ignorance, your passivity, your cowardliness, your silence. Learn to listen. Learn to speak. Speak the truth in love. Love your neighbor and your enemy.”
I listened to God tell Cain, “Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground” and Job’s friends tell him all the reasons he was wrong about why he was suffering. I listened to Job tell me to stop being a miserable comforter to my black friends.
I listened as God called Moses to go to the government structure enslaving his people and insist that they let them go. I listened to Isaiah and the prophets pleading with me to learn to do good, love mercy and work justice. I listened to David declare the heart of God for the widow, the oppressed and poor. I listened to Daniel confess and repent of his sins and the sins of his fathers.
I listened to Jesus declare that I must love others, including my enemies and those who see me as an enemy, just like he has loved me. I listened as he and his apostle’s declared that love born from his Spirit in me will not only declare the gospel but extend a healing hand and care for the physical needs of the people around me.
And I listened to my pastor call for me to examine myself to see, am I a Jesus person? Do I believe Jesus makes me righteous and do I love my neighbor by speaking the truth in love and, “disadvantaging myself to advantage someone else”?
I know, like any work of the Spirit of God in me, this must be an enduring work. Listening must become a practice. A rhythm. Speaking the truth in love must become a discipline. Working justice for the oppressed must become part of a gospel-driven, “long obedience in the same direction.” Saying and believing black lives matter and living a life that repents of the racist thoughts and beliefs that have become an ingrained part of the narrative that has kept me quiet and ignorant for so long, must become as daily as breathing. Something my black neighbors have been fighting to do for generations in this country and in the church.
Lord help me. Help me to be a listener. A learner. A repenter. A servant. A lover of my neighbor and my enemy. Help me to boldly declare the scandalous gospel that saved me and boldly decry the injustice that your gospel and your kingdom are driving out. Please call my sons to be men who chose the sufferings of Christ over the riches of this world and lay down their lives for others.