Listen (again)

I thought I would be relieved when the coronavirus headlines were replaced with anything else. I was wrong. For days now, my news has been filled with updates of what has happened in Minneapolis. On Monday, George Floyd, a black man, was killed with the knee of a white police officer on his neck. Then protests. Then clouds of tear gas. Then graffiti. Then broken windows. Then buildings on fire.

There is a Lutheran church a block away from the police precinct where the protests began. The pastor and other leaders were contacted by organizers of the protest, asking if the church would be willing to provide storage space for bottled water and first aid supplies, should they become necessary. The pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran, Ingrid Rasmussen, wrote yesterday that when the organizers approached her, she wanted time to think, to weigh her options, to analyze the risk and benefit. Instead, she listened to the organizers telling her that drinking water and first aid kits could save lives.

I wonder if you have heard or read this quotation from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?

But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. (“The Other America,” 1967)

Dear people of God, there is no easy, fast way forward. A centuries-old problem will not be resolved overnight. And here, at a distance, it is tempting to pass judgment without truly listening to the experiences of those who are suffering. This, by the way, is true for all of us, in any situation, any time we think we can understand our neighbors without listening to them.

And yet, when you were baptized or affirmed your faith, you were asked: “Do you intend… to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?”

The first step toward justice and peace is listening to victims of injustice and unrest. It is not easy. It sometimes makes me uncomfortable to listen and understand just how deep the pain goes. And yet, as a Christian, I am convinced that following Jesus and loving my neighbor requires me to listen to my neighbors.

Will you join me in listening?

If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you start with Dear Church by Rev. Lenny Duncan. Dear Church is written for Lutherans, and it’s a short but powerful read about how our churches can resist racism. Other book recommendations can be found on this list, or I’ll give you my ideas.

We can’t do this on our own. And yet, we are not on our own. The Spirit of grace and truth is with us, revealing brokenness and bringing healing.

God, give me ears to listen to you and to my suffering neighbors, your dear children. Let my listening bring transformation so that my life and community reflect your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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