We Need to Listen
Two days ago I wanted to find a way to hide comments and articles about Hillary Clinton from my feed. I am tired of more of the same. The folks who like her defend anything and everything, the folks who hate her… well hate her. The folks in the middle mostly struggle to find a voice because there is so much vitriol on the subject.
Then yesterday stories broke about the shooting of two young black males. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. By the police. And the world is rightly in an uproar again… still. Black lives matter. They do. All lives matter too. But Black lives are required to play by a different play book and that is what we need to talk about. Black lives are perceived as a threat. And I don’t care what stats you throw at me – that just isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.
I do not know the full stories here, none of us do. We will have to wait to hear, and mostly we will never know. But what cannot be denied is that our black neighbors live in a fear that I just do not have. I have written about that before. The onus is on them to not appear a danger. They are constantly perceived as a threat which gives legal license to shoot (for both law enforcement and the general public). And I just don’t live with that danger. I get a very different playbook. And it isn’t just.
So whatever the stories of these particular cases the reality from where I stand is that we have a problem, we have been talking about the problem, but we aren’t finding common ground for solutions. And in the aftermath, like with mass shootings and political scandals, we will go to our well-rehearsed responses. The responses that have not yet changed anything but that we are dogmatically unwilling to change no matter what we see and hear. We need to start listening. Not debating. Not convincing. Listening. And when I say listen I mean put aside your right answers, walking into the world of the other person, and simply take in their perspective as if it should be your own. We need to listen deeply to each other before we ever start talking.
I don’t usually know how to respond in these all too often occasions. I have several good friends in law enforcement. People I trust with my life, and who I am completely trust with ALL lives. Who I believe live that Black Lives Matter. But I also see them tense up in such moments. Get defensive. I see them wanting us to understand another side of the story. Just how hard it is to be in the cross-hairs all the time. Just how many shades of grey their job has. They play by a different playbook too. And I wish to honor that their playbook is often untenable, impossible. And when they make a judgement call lives are lost… daily. That is a lot of handle. So I don’t speak on this subject. But I need to, I cannot stay silent in my safety. But I want to speak in a way that listens to both sides and I want to acknowledge that far too few lives seem to matter including the lives of many of our law enforcement officers and support staff. There are good and bad all around us. And I know some good ones, actually – great ones.
We need you. We need you to help us into a productive conversation. We need you to help us understand and we need to relax our anger enough to listen. But! We also need to see you listen and working on solutions within your profession as well.
I’m an accountability junky. I love that I’m held accountability to multiple layers of church governance. Why? Because I’ve seen the effects of a pastor who abuses power. I have seen the effects of a church that abuses power. And the Church has a lot of work to do on valuing all lives, particularly Black Lives. And it hurts me. It hurts my authority, it tarnishes my ordination and the very name of Christian. But it also hurts me to see that happen. It hurts the church when its sanctuary becomes abuse, when its “freedom in Christ” becomes veiled oppression. So I call again and again for better accountability to make sure we limit such abuse. I want you to have your eye on me.
Every time a Muslim terrorist, mostly these days ISIS, kills and destroys I hear an outcry demanding the Muslim community to denounce those actions. Muslims have to play by a different play book too, constantly trying to prove they want peace. Constantly having to disavow themselves from the violent manifestations and political forces that coopt their religion for their own purposes. Muslim Lives Matter. And we struggle to acknowledge that as well. Because we still treat our Muslim neighbors as “them.” And that is what “Matters” means, I think. I’m presuming here. It means not required to play by a different playbook than the protected class. (And that class is me.)
I believe at its heart what the world needs to hear is that we all have each other’s backs. That for every bad seed there are far more working for peace and justice. I believe what the world needs to do to achieve that is to let go our defensiveness, to acknowledge what isn’t working, to acknowledge systemic problems, and to acknowledge sin that we may not commit but we haven’t combated either. What the world needs is to seek these solutions without doubling down on anger, hatred, and divisiveness. And that is so very hard – because we need to be heard and no-one is listening.
I feel torn today. My heart is heavy… again. And I wrote those words not too long ago. And a part of me knows that I will always have to keep writing those words because the world isn’t ultimately a safe place. But we don’t have to try to make it less safe. And we can try to make it safer. And maybe I just feel today that I haven’t done what I could, what I should…
So I’m asking my friends to help have productive conversations across our differences. I’m asking us to acknowledge that Black Lives need to matter more. Muslim lives need to matter more. Gay lives need to matter more. And yes Law Enforcement and Military lives need to matter more. Because we have treated these groups like disposable parts of our world. And I’m sitting in relative safety tired that this space I inhabit isn’t large enough for us all.
I think it could be, I think it should be.
There is enough care for all that all lives can matter equally. But until that is true… we need to talk, but even more: we need to listen.