Listening

Yesterday I was reading a woman’s account of her experience in a primarily Anglo Christian ministry in college. She is Mexican-American, and I appreciated her tender honesty concerning how she was made to feel by what I imagine were the very sincere attempts made by one group of people at loving and embracing another. Reading her account caused me to go deeper in considering my own failures in this area that I am certain occur regularly, and I wondered: do I have a friend like this who will speak to me honestly about how I make them feel? Does our church?

It made me think about the ways that we want to be judged by our intentions and not by the actual effects of what we do. I have learned that lesson in marriage, and it is one I at first resisted: even if my intentions were never to hurt Doug, but for whatever reason my actions DID cause him pain, it is my role to apologize for that and to own the hurt that I caused. In some way I am reminded of the many times I have heard Jesus’ commands spiritualized to mean only “what is in my heart”, my “intentions” so to speak, with little to no relationship to any actual expression or outworking of deeds. So as long as “in my heart” I feel all the right things (believe all the right things, etc.), it really doesn’t matter what I actually do, be it with my money, my time, or my possessions.

Reading this woman describe how her Christian group would do certain things in the name of “racial reconciliation” reminded me of some of the ways Doug has struggled with people’s expectations for how he leads worship here at Church of the Redeemer. Doug quite simply refuses to “be Black” for a Sunday or a month or whatever; he instead works with his team (including the three African-Americans who participate with him) on learning new music and bringing to our congregation songs that are meaningful from our different traditions. Doug refuses to “put on” an experience that is not authentic. Does he lead us in singing gospel music? All the time. Does he write gospel music for us to sing? He has written two beautiful pieces this past year. Does he lead songs in Spanish? Absolutely. But he chafes under having a “quota” of how many Spanish songs (or any “type” of song) to include each week.

My friend ended her reflection with a poem she wrote which I quote in part:

“Racial Reconciliation” – a poem
Strategy –
It is all about their strategy…

How do we get them to come to our worship,
- our bible study,
–our god?
We need to sing different songs
We need to have food at events
We need to have more training
We need to have a black only,
- latino only,
- etc. only bible study
We need to reach them on their turf

You just need to be a friend – I say.
You don’t need none of that stuff
You’re being fake
–– people always know a fake
——Why don’t you try to just be real
And…Why is it that you have “white only” friends?

But they just kept on with their trying
Cause no one really wants different friends
—That’s just too much to ask –

Her words haunt me, in a good way: Do we (the majority or those in power) really want different friends? Do we really want different leaders? …power structures? …perspectives? Are we really willing to let go of being the “we” and become the “they”?

3 thoughts on “Listening”

  1. Erica,

    This is powerful. Is the rest off her account available online? Would love to read more.

    Thanks.

  2. Impact vs. Intention – that is the fine line, and I think you definitely hit it on the head Erika…it at least does require listening (as you titled your post) and having an actual openness to the experience of others.

  3. Erika–I am grateful for what you shared here. I think the examples of a “black service” or a quota of spanish songs play into notions of tokenism–that if we have one (service, week, month etc) that we have fulfilled our *obligation* and now we can consider ourselves inclusive. I definitely think the true test, as the woman seemed to indicate, of our inclusiveness is the true embrace of the “other” that we offer–is *their* music, style, prayers etc accepted and even celebrated on any occassion or only on special ones? is *their* presence noted? does it exist? and are we always pointing *them* out or are we an *us* (and not in the imperialistic they’ve assimilated sense of us either)?

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