I haven’t written here in a while, although I’ve thought about it a lot. I think the people who read this include mostly friends, friends of friends, former students, parents of former students–folks interested in education. A lot of them Catholic or Christian. Whenever I write, I write with those folks in mind.
The horrifying events in our country in the last few weeks have provoked a lot of thought and reflection in me, and I am still working through how to respond.
One thing I do know is that I have a lot to learn about the injustice and suffering people of color have experienced. So I have been doing a lot of listening. And reading. And praying.
But I’ve realized that saying nothing at all is problematic. I don’t want silent activities to excuse me from speaking the truth.
And yet I want to be aware, to the degree I can, of what I do not know, and to avoid pontificating on experiences I have so much to learn about. I want to learn.
So a good amount of my “social media” posting these days (I mostly just use Facebook) has been sharing helpful voices who have been teaching me a lot.
Here’s what I will say here.
I had a conversation a few years ago with a dear friend about the art of listening. About how good listening does not actually mean just remaining silent while someone else speaks, but that good listening involves responsiveness. In conversations, that good listening can look like making gentle and intentional eye-contact, nodding, and most importantly setting aside the ideas swirling around in your own head, and resisting the urge to use the time the other person is speaking to formulate an answer rather than to receive their communication with open-ness and love. After the other person has finished speaking, good listening can involve gently putting what the other person has said into your own words and submitting your interpretation to her, to see if you have really understood.
In that spirit, I’d like to share with you some voices I have been listening to, who are teaching me a lot. For now I’m not going to do any interpreting or rephrasing, but I will include excerpts. Please do take the time to go read and listen.
“Some Thoughts for those who want to listen” from a black Catholic:
There are many correct responses to our current situation, so you’ll have to pray about that. I know some of you are freaking out about whether or not to post, make art, be silent, reach out, etc. I can’t really answer that for you, but I can offer a small suggestion. One thing you can do is to make an effort not to say any of the above things in a discussion about race, and pray for the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind. If a BIPOC sister in Christ is opening up to you, she may very well feel terrified while doing so. She may be bracing herself for dismissive comments. Strive to honor her vulnerability.
2. We know you know that racism is evil. What we’re unsure about is whether you believe it really exists, exists to the degree that people say it does, can spot it in yourself and others, and are willing to actively work against it.
3. As a fairly traditional Catholic, I don’t want to have to cite rogue Jesuits or questionably Catholic sources. I cringe at them, too. But many of my admired Trad priests are silent right now. Honestly, that is heartbreaking. It makes me feel emotionally and spiritually orphaned by those I’ve made an effort to revere as Father. I’ve experienced the deep love of Christ in the Eucharist, and God my Father, and at the end of the day, their love is more than enough. At the same time, it helps to know that those who stand in Persona Christi are able to recognize the realities I face and take action. That those who are often willing to “afflict the comfortable” over other matters of morality are willing to take a stand in this one, too.
From David French: “American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far to Go”
We each like to think we’re not unduly influenced by our immediate environment and culture. That’s a phenomenon that affects other people, we believe. I’m the kind of person who has carefully considered both sides and has arrived at my positions through the force of reason and logic. Sure, I’ve got biases, but that only matters at the edges. The core of my beliefs are rooted in reason, conviction, and faith.
Maybe that describes you, but I now realize it didn’t describe me. I freely confess that to some extent where I stood on American racial issues was dictated by where I sat my entire life. I always deplored racism—those values were instilled in me from birth—but I was also someone who recoiled at words like “systemic racism.” I looked at the strides we’d made since slavery and Jim Crow and said, “Look how far we’ve come.” I was less apt to say, “and look how much farther we have to go.”
“Reflections From a Token Black Friend” by Ramesh A. Nagarayah:
The length of my journey makes me inclined to be more patient with others in this process, as it’s taken me this much time to wake up. We should all be reasonably patient with one another, but I would encourage individuals to not be patient with themselves and to treat these issues with the urgency they deserve. The anger on display over the past week should exhibit the need for change.
To start learning about Gloria Purvis and what she has experienced as a Catholic speaking out against racism on her show:
I honestly think racism is demonic. I think it’s something we’ve never bothered to contend with seriously in this country. We haven’t done it on a spiritual level. We haven’t done it in terms of our policies to really try to effect change. We’ve done things like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, which are good, but I think we still have far to go.
There is this attitude of, “Why aren’t you satisfied, Black people? It’s better than what it was.” That is an unfair question. Why should we be satisfied with anything less than being considered sons and daughters of the King and treated with that same dignity and respect that we deserve? To be satisfied with anything less than that is to be satisfied with anything less than the Gospel, and that’s not what we want.
There is a lot going around about critical race theory. Here’s a good place for Christians to start understanding and engaging: “Reflections from a Christian scholar on Social Justice, Critical Race Theory, Marxism, and Biblical Ethics“:
I’ve tried to apply the biblical principle of being “slow to speak” (James 1:19), but I’ve been convicted recently about joining a particular thread of the (inter)national conversation taking place among those who share my faith in Jesus Christ and want to support truth and justice without compromising on principles peculiar and integral to our faith—principles that they are afraid might be stealthily replaced by rhetoric from other, incompatible frameworks of thinking.
If you believe in original sin (Genesis 3, Romans 5), you have to admit that any sin originates in the human heart. Sin might be aggravated by circumstances, but circumstances don’t cause sin. However, the conclusion that the solution to racism is for people’s hearts to change is true but incomplete. If people are born in sin and people build a society, that society will be structured in ways that reinforce whatever sins dominate the hearts of those who build it. Therefore, even if many people’s hearts change a few generations later, those structures might still perpetuate the problems associated with that society’s “original sins.”
Last (for now), I have been loving Fr. Josh Johnson’s podcast. He is pastor for Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Louisiana. Here is an episode on “Police Reform, Removing Statues, and Catholic Speakers.”
Here is his episode on “Healing the Racial Divide”.
Keep listening and learning, friends.
One thought on “Listening”
It’s really nice to see that you put so much heart into these things.
There’s a lot to say about your essay but at this time it might only seem tone deaf. Have you heard of Thomas Sowell? If you haven’t, check him out on YouTube. He’s written lots of books too. To say he’s a national treasure is an understatement and I’m not just saying that.
Have you heard of Larry Elder? Another well-known guy making great content on YouTube. He just recently produced a documentary called “Uncle Tom”.