Loving Often Looks a Lot Like Listening

I spent the summer of 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky, sharing a one-bedroom apartment with four other guys. We were there as interns with Love Thy Neighborhood, a non-profit that is doing some incredible things in that city. One of their key principles for living in community, especially the three-bunk-beds-in-one-small-room sort of community, was this:

If it’s a problem for a teammate, it’s a problem, period.

These words have been ringing in my ears the past couple of days. I told my sister yesterday that I feel like I’ve lived five lifetimes in the past two weeks with all the intense mental and emotional energy I’ve expended in wrestling with the state of our nation and the state of my own heart. It almost seems like every third day I’ll look back at what I was thinking and saying three days earlier, and I’m not so sure if I agree anymore. But as I feel myself coming down from the peak of emotion, some of my thoughts are finally crystallizing more or less into convictions.

Perhaps it is because this past year has been the first time I have lived and worked primarily in the African American community, but my eyes are being opened more and more to the pain that so many in that community are feeling right now. I had read some books and taken some classes and been to some panels and listened to some podcasts before, but now the people who are expressing anger and sadness are a part of my community, and I know them personally.

White people, I bristle too when a sentence starts that way. I want to let you know that I have felt many of the things you may have felt during these past two weeks:

  • “I’m not going to say anything because I don’t know what to say.”
  • “What can I do to fix this?”
  • “Is protesting in a pandemic wise or responsible?”
  • “I’ve got to do something! I’m going to a protest.”
  • “Looting isn’t OK no matter what that police officer did.”
  • “What does this have to do with me personally? I’m just as much against racism as anyone else.”
  • “Hey, don’t call me a racist just because I’m not blaring my horn on social media!”
  • “We can change the laws and policies, but ultimately this is a heart issue.”
  • General defensiveness and guilt

These are just a few of the thoughts that have run through my mind during the days since George Floyd died. I bring them up to hopefully establish some common ground and to say that I am on a journey, one that I invite you to as well.

Here’s the thing: I am more aware now than ever of the pain that so many of my African American brothers and sisters are feeling. And I’m reminded that “if it’s a problem for a teammate, it’s a problem, period.” The other day, a wise friend told me something to the effect that all of society, including the white population, is hurt when one part of society suffers. So the difficulties facing the Black community are not in some way serving to help the white community get ahead; rather, those challenges have an adverse effect on everyone. The apostle Paul puts it this way: “If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NET). My pastor, George Hopkins, said it this way in a sermon delivered via a Facebook Live last Sunday:

“I know what we need today, as we address all these other things in our world, as we address economics, and housing, and the law, and all these other things. I wonder if it could start with the Church, if we could be honest and tear away the facade and confess the mess of our own work, that if we could cross those cultural boundaries and see the Spirit work in our lives in new ways, if we could establish a solidarity that declares this: My soul can’t have peace while your soul is in anguish. My soul can’t have peace while your soul is in anguish. Could we, across cultural boundaries make such solidarity or such covenants with one another that says ‘my well-being is tied to your well-being’?”

My friends, you may not agree with many of the viewpoints shared by the majority of the Black community right now. Perhaps you question the validity of the idea of systemic racism in modern America. Perhaps you think talking about race is needlessly divisive and that we should focus only on proclaiming the gospel. Perhaps you question the legitimacy of the news reports you are hearing from the media. Whatever the case may be, I lovingly ask you to consider this:

A large segment of the population of our country clearly believes that there is a problem. A lot of people are clearly angry, sad, frustrated, and hurt. You may be wondering what the problem is, or if it is really this big a deal, and you may not agree with much or any of what they are saying. But if it’s a problem for a teammate, it’s a problem, period. The very least we can do is listen and seek to understand. To dismiss the very real emotions of our African American neighbors is unloving and ultimately self-defeating. Disagreeing is understandable; dismissing is unacceptable.

In the last several days I have been on three separate Zoom calls representing three different seasons of my life. In each of these calls, African Americans have shared openly about their pain, a pain that I have been blind to for so much of my life. Just yesterday, I was on a call where many African American and international students shared how difficult their experience had been at my beloved alma mater Taylor University, a predominantly white Christian university. I was completely caught off guard. I loved my four years at that school, and though I had rubbed shoulders with many of the people on that call while I was there, I had been blind to the struggles they faced.

Now zoom out (pun intended) and think about society as a whole. If I went to classes and ate meals with these people, and yet had no idea of the pain they were carrying, how am I going to understand the pain of an African American community I have little deep interaction with? Right now is a perfect chance to begin the process of listening and engaging with that pain, especially as it is being shared publicly.

So let me reiterate: I am on a journey. I personally have so much to learn and so many ways I need to grow. I don’t write this post to pile guilt on white people. I write it to ask those who are quick to dismiss narratives of racism in present-day America to pause and take time to listen. If you are not a Christian, I don’t really have too much ground for asking this outside of your own self-interest, because your well-being is tied up in the well-being of everyone in this country. But if you are walking with me as we follow Jesus, I appeal to you to love your neighbor as yourself. And loving often looks a lot like listening.

“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.”

David Augsberger

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