Free Listening

Change minds. Change hearts. Change actions.

During a week when many people are snapping their annual first day of school photos, another photo is seared into my heart’s eye. The headline? “Shooting of Jacob Blake reenergizes nationwide protests over police brutality.”

I want to know how to end white supremacy and stop the violence.

One conclusion I’ve reached is this. We–and in particular we white people–need to listen in a way we have never listened before. We need to listen to ourselves–to the biases and assumptions we carry into our everyday lives and to the voices of grace, love, peace, and justice within ourselves that we have neglected or ignored. More than that, we need to listen to the voices of those marginalized by white supremacy, muted by oppressive power dynamics, ignored by economic realities, and silenced by gunshots.

Seeing God’s glory

Jacob Blake was shot multiple times in the back. When I heard this story, I thought about the Exodus story where Moses asks to see God’s glory. God responds:

21And the Lord continued, ‘See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.’

Exodus 33

God only reveals God’s self to Moses by allowing Moses to see God’s back.

I hear in this story God’s prophetic call across the years to us today. God’s presence comes to us in ways we fail to hear, see, or imagine–even in another’s back–and face and hands, feet, and arms. If our first thought in encountering another person were that their bodies hold God’s glory, then perhaps…

Perhaps the pause that thought causes would be pause enough for us to change our minds, change our hearts, change our actions. And perhaps in the pause, we would listen and hear each other and the Spirit of God.

A few years ago at a protest in Charlotte, a clergy person on the frontlines of the protest was photographed carrying a sign. It said, “Free Listening.” We need to hear and see and care for each other and in particular for our communities’ most at risk others.

Free Listening

We can keep our distance
perhaps even be moved.
But if we want to be changed
stop the violence
of “shots fired” one more time?

You can’t know what story
the shell longs to tell of the sea
without holding it your ear.
And what of pulses that slow
as life flows out into uncaring streets
or hearts bruised and broken
that still flutter for justice?
Some truths whisper,
quiet as breath.
To hear them,
we must lean in close
and listen.
For free.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Professing Black Lives Matter

Our responsibility as white Christians is to profess–declare, announce, proclaim–that black lives matter. That black and brown bodies are beloved.

I grew up in a Lutheran church. We professed our faith by saying confessions and creeds. I am a Presbyterian now. We profess our faith through confessions and creeds too.

I am also a professor. What do I profess as one who teaches in higher education?

to profess

The word “profess” comes from the Latin professus and means to declare openly or make a public statement. It means to speak, say, or tell.

In these days of protests and proclamations, what do I as a white Christian profess? What do those of us in “professing” traditions profess about racism and God’s justice and mercy?

What do I–what do those of us in “professing” vocations–profess about educational systems and practices and racial justice? What do we declare openly?

Some years ago, I visited my mother’s predominantly white Lutheran church. We sat that Sunday in a pew behind two young girls. One was four and the other 6 years old. I knew right away they were going to annoy me. They had Barbie dolls with them that they kept bouncing across their pew–loudly. And the pencils their mamas gave them? I’ve never heard such enthusiastic scratching on paper.

“Well,” I thought, “those children won’t get a thing out of worship today. And I won’t either. They aren’t paying one bit of attention.”

from memory

The service began in a familiar way for me–with the “Order of Confession and Forgiveness.” After a call and response portion, the gathered community confesses together with these words:

Most merciful God, we confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart: we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen

The two girls in front of me kept playing with their dolls.

AND they both spoke the communal confession word for word.

The same thing happened when the time came for us to speak together The Apostles’ Creed. The girls spoke every word. From memory.

I don’t know why I was surprised. I spoke the words that day from memory too. Confessing and professing words became a familiar part of my churchly DNA when I was a child and repeated them each Sunday in worship. The words settled down inside of me at an early age and became a part of the dust from which I am formed.

by heart

Those two young girls came to my mind yesterday as I read the morning news headlines.

I didn’t know those girls when I worshiped with them. I don’t know them today. I don’t even know their names. They are young adults now. I wonder where they are. I wonder what professions they are making and living. I wonder what they are professing today.

As a divinity school professor, I profess in classrooms. As a Christian, I profess my faith in worship.

Do I profess faith–do I profess Gospel wisdom and truths–in my bones? At the grocery store and in restaurants? At dinner tables and in coffee shops? Do the beliefs that I declare openly in worship dwell in the deep places of my soul and cause me to speak the Gospel through my daily actions?

Those two young girls learned to profess their faith from memory. Did they also learn it by heart? Did they learn how to carry Gospel truths in their bones?

These questions matter to me because what we are teaching our children in worship matters to me. Are we teaching our children (and our adult selves) to profess the truth that black lives matter? Will they and we carry a radical Gospel Word in our bones? I hope so. I pray so.

lives are at stake

Our black and brown sisters and brothers carry too many wounding words and actions in their bodies and bones. Our black and brown sisters and brothers also carry beauty and courage, grace and wisdom, in their bodies and bones.

Can we profess this truth–all of it? Declare it publicly?

Our responsibility as white Christians is to profess–declare, announce, proclaim–that black lives matter. That black and brown bodies are beloved.

But as we profess, we should beware.

One of the meanings of “to profess” is “to pretend.” What does that mean for those of us who professing black lives matter in these days?

And the most urgent responsibility we have is to profess that belief–the belief that black lives matter–in our bones. In our actions. In our everyday lives.