Through the Rose Window: Show Up

Galatians 6:2:  Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

The Church is good at showing up when there are needs. We know to mobilize when someone dies, when a storm hits, when a diagnosis is revealed. We come armed with casseroles, “thinking of you” cards, words of encouragement, and lots and lots of prayers. We ask sincerely “what can we do?”  “Anything—you name it.” And we mean all of these things.

We also show up for needs that are not sudden. We serve in soup kitchens. We volunteer at the clothing bank. We show up on a Saturday morning to work on a Habitat House.

We see the needs. We meet the needs. We are the church.

And yet...

Sometimes, we can’t see the needs. Sometimes we need someone else to tell us where the needs are so that we can get involved. We need the local school to call and say there are children without lunch money. We need a church member to tell us there is a family they know who won’t have Christmas this year. We need the local news to report on Boy Scout troops losing their space to meet, so we can offer our building in hospitality.

Right now, white Americans are struggling to hear our brothers and sisters of color as they share uncomfortable truths with us. We are hearing (particularly from the African American community) that they face routine injustices, suspicion, and heartache white-America doesn’t see. Rather than listen with empathy as these stories are shared, we have covered our ears and shouted in response, “All lives matter!” “Black-on-black crime!” “Quit playing the race card!” “He had a rap sheet!”

What if we viewed these stories of mistreatment and these calls for justice like that phone call from the school to alert us to a need we didn’t previously know about? What if, instead of quickly responding with “yeah, but. . .”, we simply responded with, “I had no idea what life is like for you.  Your life does matter to me, so can you please tell me more of your story?” What if we allowed ourselves to be students and allowed people of color to teach us about their experience of life in America? 

I remember in seminary, I was so taken aback by my classmates’ claims of discrimination, because I was sure I had learned in school that the Civil Rights movement had ended all that! As I listened to them share, I had to resist the urge to defend myself as “not a racist.” It took a while, but eventually, I began to see the racism they spoke of at play in the world around me. Even more importantly, I realized that it didn’t matter that I could see it. It mattered that it existed and that it was part of their experience. They didn’t need a white person’s testimony to validate their own.
 
It is easy to bring a casserole or send money or pray to meet the needs around us. It is harder to press pause on our own inner “defense mechanisms.” It is harder to tell our knee-jerk rebuttals to “stand down” so that we can consider—really consider—that there are experiences in this country outside of our own. It is harder to think that our understanding of the way the world works may actually only be the way the world works for us and for people like us.  It is harder to consider that we might actually be privileged in ways that hurt other people.
 
Let us consider this: if Jesus calls us to serve the least of these—those who are silenced, mistreated, and misunderstood—how will we know who they are if we aren’t willing to even listen for their stories? James 1:19 tells us, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Maybe we ought to stop trying to explain away the claims we hear from communities of color and instead, sit at their feet (with our mouths shut!) and listen. And believe. And then, get up, thank them for alerting us to a need previously unknown, and do something.

 

Rev. Emily Slade
Minister of Children and Visitation