When I think of radical acts, I tend to think of using our voices (defined broadly) to make ourselves heard or our bodies to take up valuable real estate. Protesting, harassing – er, communicating with – our members of Congress, and creating art that reveals stark truths all fall into this category. Lord knows we need to leverage these types of advocacy in this cultural and political moment. They raise the profile of people under threat and put pressure on communities and leaders to act justly.
We have another tool to keep close at hand: deep listening – a kind of showing up in which we’re not just waiting for our turn to talk but being fully present to the speaker. It seems absurd that simply listening could be radical. But so few people feel known and valued, and when we feel disregarded, we tend to withdraw or act out. On the other hand, when we are heard and seen and accepted for who we are, we are able to operate out of gratitude and courage rather than shame. Just as importantly, listening without interruption or judgment confronts speakers with their freedom. This posture says, “You have the floor. Now, how are you going to use it?”
To be clear, people who are being treated unjustly are under no obligation to sit and listen. They have had to listen to those with power without being heard themselves for too long. But among people with like privilege, listening deeply can be a pathway not only for the hearer’s change but also the speaker’s. If you let me talk until I know I am are cared about – and until I can hear myself clearly – I will begin to understand what I need to do differently in order to live in hope.
Whom do you need to confront with their belovedness and freedom through your willingness to listen?
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.
Just before Ash Wednesday, I posted what I was giving up – or at least attempting to – for Lent: shame, inaction, defensiveness, withdrawal, and despair. All of these weighty realities were negatively affecting my relationship with God and my interactions with others, and my denial had been so thoroughly obliterated by the political and cultural battles of the last election cycle that it was high time to wrestle with each of these monsters.
Every one of the monsters, I realized, was the result of self-absorption. I didn’t want to hurt, didn’t want to be challenged, didn’t want to give up my sense of security. There are so many people who don’t have the luxury of avoiding hurt, challenge, and insecurity, and so my Lent was an exercise in growing my ability to center their concerns. I wrote a piece about what I learned and how I responded to these gleanings for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Patheos blog.
But if my Lenten discipline was just an experiment, a temporary shift in focus, then I was not truly willing to be formed, I was not actually interested in growing toward others and God. And if I go back to the way I operated before Ash Wednesday, then I can no longer claim to be a faithful minister or a follower of the gospel. I cannot forget what I have read and heard about the plights of others over these 40 days. I cannot pretend that I didn’t discover parts of myself that need redemption. I cannot ignore that if I believe God is self-giving love, then I must do my human best to embody that same love, comfort be damned.
So hold me accountable, will you? Call me out when needed. Tell me how I can help. I promise I will keep listening, expanding my heart, and trying to do better.
Creative Commons image “Walking the Labyrinth” by GPS is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.