A Time to Listen – White Men Can Love Their Black Brothers Better

Not just on a day like today, but on, oh, so many days in the past tumultuous year, we speak our mind.

We have a comment and opinion on every news item that crosses our feed. Everything is shaded in hues of left and right. Everything is spun and spat with webs of liberal or conservative fears and prophesies. We speak so much we stop saying anything of any true substance at all.

And often times, we speak out of turn. We speak our defenses when the court is lending its ear to the prosecution. We speak our minors in the presence of things truly major.

We speak. And speak. And speak.

And we miss the sign written all around us. “This is a time to listen.”

Proverbs 18:13 says, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”

If Facebook and Twitter are any indication, we have a lot of folly and shame to deal with. And when I say “we” here, I am really talking about my white brothers and sisters. Every one of us on this planet can take heed from Solomon on this one, but in many regards, it is the white tribe to which I belong that should weigh the King’s words in this tumultuous season.

A lot of issues that we wrestle with, events that we click, share, post, and comment on in blinding speed, are more complex than people on both sides would care to admit. Complexity demands good listening – not the quick-fire, defensive back-and-forths that define so much of our social media conversations.

As national events like we have seen in Ferguson and New York have transpired, I have watched African-American brothers in Christ honestly struggle in the open as the details emerge. To say I absolutely, fundamentally understand the struggle would be to diminish their unique personhood and the creativity of a God who wove their unique stories. But I do know they struggled.

The most loving thing one could do at that moment, especially as a white brother in Christ, would be to listen. Really, truly, actually, actively listen.

Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even dare to be silent with you.
– Henry Nouwen

But this form of loving one another is so antithetical to the attitude we embrace when we share and comment on social media in particular.

This has been grossly evident in the comment sections of some of the raw, gut-wrenching posts from my African-American brothers in Christ. In moments of pure turmoil when they deal with the ugliness and the worldly brokenness of dead bodies, blood on the streets, and true injustice, the ugliness gets uglier when their white brothers in Christ do not act like their Savior, who according to Philippians 2 thought of others as more important than himself. We do not love with the 1 Corinthians 13 love that hopes all things and believes all things as we do not give one another the benefit of the doubt. We do not remain slow to speak or anger and quick to listen, as we, within seconds, hit “Enter” to post a comment that destroys the humanity of the original poster.

The loving thing to do would be to allow our brother to air his struggle. That is the essence of Christian fellowship: vulnerability and freedom to handle the ugliness of the world out in the open in light of the hope and grace found in the cross and resurrection.

The loving thing to do would be to read our brother’s comment with ears intent to hear the man’s heart – not to assume his agenda.

And often the loving thing to do would be to close our mouths or, in the cyber realm, get our fingers away from the keyboard.

Pastors and leaders have rightly argued in recent days that in light of current events it is “A Time to Speak”.

But if it is a time for some to speak, then that must mean that for others it must be a time to listen.

Are we listening?

It is a time to listen in more ways than one.

Today, in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., here are some of the things I am listening to: