Over the last few years I have had ask a lot of questions of myself. I have wrestled pretty consistently with what it means to be someone who will “…act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8b).”
Ten years ago I knew that I had all the answers to everything. I had a firm grasp of theology, sociology, anthropology, psychology, biology, and every other -ology you could come up with. If you wanted to answer to fix the world, all you had to do was ask, I had it.
Then seven years ago we moved to Ypsilanti.
All of a sudden I was intentionally being present in a neighborhood, a city, and a community that was filled with people who didn’t think like me or look like me. Even though I had previously lived in a community where there was lots of diversity, this was the first time that my real life relationships, by and large, cut across race.
I’m so thankful that our house is a “kool-aid” house, as my mom calls it, where our kids friends often hang out. I’ve been able to be a fly on a wall and listen to real, raw, honest conversations that these kids have. Parents are to be seen and not heard. I was nothing more than a piece of furniture and it has allowed me to enter into a master class of diversity.
What I quickly began to realize is that all the answers that I thought I had, were woefully inept. I had created a series of answers apart from the lived reality of folks who were different than me. Initially my instinct was to discount their stories and feelings. What I mean by that, is that I would typically respond in my mind with, “They don’t need to feel that way.” Notice two things about that short sentence. First, the othering that is taking place, “they.” I would inherently create a separation between “me and them.” This divide, when I’m honest, was about putting myself above others. Second, I thought I knew how they ought to feel. How arrogant?
As we again enter into a period of time where we as a city, county, state, and nation are facing the realities of systemic racism I have to remind myself that my first responsibility is to be quiet. For those of you that are reading this that are white my encouragement to you is to listen. Listen to the stories of your friends and neighbors who are black. If you don’t have those kinds of real relationships, which most of us don’t, then listen to the stories that are being told via social media, music, and film. Allow the stories to wash over you. Give yourself the time to sit in them and feel them. Mourn with your fellow human being.
I know we think we have the answers. We might have some answers. But, for us to really understand how to engage with wisdom we have a responsibility to unite ourselves as human beings with those are different than us. We have to figure out how walk in their shoes. We will most effectively do this my listening and not talking.
Let us just be quiet. Let us listen.