PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — Active Listening

“What then shall we say about these things?” — (Romans 8:31)

The Apostle Paul echoes what I feel this morning, faced with the task of writing a devotions as the pain, hurt and brokenness of our nation spills out the form of both peaceful protests and violence and looting.

When then shall I say about these things?

On my personal Facebook feed, after the first night of violence in the Twin Cities, I wrote in part, “I prayed about what to say in response to unfolding events in the Twin Cities. And I have my answer. Nothing. I have nothing to add that can’t be better said by someone who doesn’t experience the white privilege I have. So I am going to use my forum here to elevate voices to which I am listening. And after I have listened, I pledge to not be silent in the face of racism and to follow the lead of those who feel the fear I do not.”

Since that post, I have made a deliberate effort to share posts and stories from people of color who know and understand things I can never understand because I am white.

I don’t know what it’s like to live in fear that people who see my sons will recoil. Both of them are big guys, one tall, the other broad. But people often stop and ask them directions rather than furtively checking them out and clutching their purses closer.

I don’t know what it means to have “the talk” or feel concern when my sons go out jogging that they may not return because they end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I don’t know what it means to be pulled over in a largely white suburb because of a light out on my car and then have the police officer not find my name in the system, pull me out of my car, cuff me and arrest me for criminal impersonation and resisting arrest, only to have the charges dropped when they “discover” that the arresting officer made a mistake.

I did witness my son accosted and threatened to have his head bashed in on the streets of Fargo when he was confronted with his girlfriend at the time and her mother, both Africans, but he wasn’t the least bit afraid to call the police about it.

There is so much I don’t know and I don’t understand that putting my voice in the mix is at once both arrogant and not helpful, because I can’t further the conversation.

So right now, what I am doing is listening. And reading. And learning. And praying.

Two of my favorite Bible passages are, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10”) and “Be quick to listen, and slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)

That may be ironic because I am a speaker and a writer. And also because I usually have an opinion and I’m not slow to share it. But I believe they may resonate with me because God knows that I need to hold them close to my heart, that God is giving me good advice.

Responding with either reactivity or with any sense of authority, judgment or understanding right now is not a good look for me or for many people who haven’t walked the walk of being a person of color. So we need to listen.

But listening does not mean passivity or acceptance. I believe God calls us to active listening. I think that means both engaging with others as we hear their stories and responding with a commitment to act on the injustice about which we learn, doing what is within our power to dismantle racism, not according to our agenda but according to God’s.

Jesus was a man who was anything but passive. His actions at the temple, where he upended the tables and took out the moneychangers, is a case in point. He did not stand idly by and accept injustice. It got him in trouble. It took him to the Cross.

And so as I listen, I also cling to the Way of the Cross, which shows us that sometimes we may suffer when we follow Jesus. But that is the only way to Resurrection, which  is the one place we can find hope in his broken and hurting world.

What then shall we say about these things? In the end, I guess I will stand with Paul, who concluded that question from Romans 8 by writing, “”Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution or famine, or makedeness, or peril or sword. As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered,’ No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who love us.”

May we listen to others and for God’s still small voice to guide us in the midst of the chaos, to a way of peace and love to which God alone can lead the way.

Prayer of St Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen.

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