Elements of Reconciliation – Listening

Read a tweet this morning from @mattgallion, “The humility built into community is the recognition of incompleteness, not of partial incorrectness. – @pagitt

In trying to develop a series on the Elements of Reconciliation (The first one in no particular order, is memory), I’ve been reading more about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, and been very convicted by the fact that listening is a key component to healing.

The basic concept of the Truth and Reconciliation is that amnesty is granted when perpetrators and victims confess their crimes and losses before the other and they must listen to one another fully. The perpetrators disclose fully their acts of violence, even to the gory details. The victims and survivors listen. Then the victims talk about their grief and pain, the perpetrators listen. Then after the hearings, amnesty is granted by the commission.

One of the reasons why reconciliation doesn’t happen in Christian America is that we listen to caricatures and we speak as caricatures. People who have been victims and are victims don’t have the space/freedom/choice to speak and those who carry these crimes out don’t speak either. Or worse, we speak into these huge amplification systems of media and fear mongering (sometimes even the church participates in this one) that keep us from really listening to what is happening.

Case in point, do you know any “illegal” (the preferred term is undocumented, btw) immigrants? Have you ever asked them if they pay anything for their hospital visit? Have you ever asked them how long it takes to get citizenship? Have you ever heard their story? Did you listen, really listen?

Or do you know the stories of the people struggling with their sexual identity and sexuality? Have you heard their stories and how painful their journey has been? How they would have given anything to be “normal”? How many of them have trouble reconciling with their faith in God because of the tempest of emotions, morals, and ethics they wrestle with on a daily, if not hourly, minutely basis? Have you listened?

Don’t get me wrong…I know that ultimately it is important to align our lives to God’s answers and God’s story. Yeah, I get that. I’m just saying you can’t just say that and not listen. Christians don’t have a very good reputation when it comes to listening. Christians are more likely to roll their eyes at words like racial reconciliation and oppression. We are so tired of taking the blame, I suppose. It can feel like there are all kinds of things that we as American Christians can be faulted for on issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, that we just begin to get tired and defensive. But I think as followers of Christ we don’t have a choice. How can we expect people to really hear the gospel of Jesus Christ if we aren’t willing to listen to their story? If we don’t ourselves cultivate our own stories?

Our “hearing” is directly related to our obedience; the Hebrew word for “hear” is synonymous with the word, “obey”. I think in the work of reconciliation, to “listen” is also closely related to “hearing.” If we’re not hearing the stories of our brothers and sisters who live at the margins, who are disenfranchised, who are suffering and feel slighted, does it not also bring up questions of our ability to obey? I don’t know, maybe that’s a stretch, but I am convinced that listening is more important in the work of reconciliation than speaking, even. What do you think?

About David Park

Christian 2nd-generation Korean American; Atlanta Georgia; more details to come. View all posts by David Park

4 responses to “Elements of Reconciliation – Listening

  • Donna

    I agree listening is key…and it is part of the steps to building trust and a relationship to embrace what will be heard. One of the great challenges is being able to unconditionally love first in situations where every ounce of who you are as a Christian is affronted. Instinct can be to flee rather than face….or listen.

    • David Park

      right on, donna. i think listening requires a patience that we don’t really cultivate in our church cultures, which is odd because we can only imagine how offended Jesus would/should/could have been with everyone he came into contact. just ironic that we are such poor imitations of the one we worship.

  • zandaltwist

    You know, this post reminds me of training that college students were given as a part of their preparation for serving on a summer missions trip out of country through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I participated in a project during college, and we had STIM training as part of that preparation.

    That training focused on the fact that we were going into another’s culture, so instead of using a truly American point of view about going and teaching/helping etc, it focused upon us going as servants and learners. We were taught that listening earned us the right to speak later on, and helped avoid the inevitable conflict and miscommunication that would happen when people from one culture went into another.

    How odd it is that those tenets and philosophies are so often forgotten (or never learned at all) when dealing with people here in the USA. We take it for granted that we’re all one country, and assume through our behaviours and attitudes that we all have similar backgrounds and points of view. Obviously that isn’t the case.

    Reconciliation cannot happen when there isn’t mutuality in the relationship. Reconciliation doesn’t happen unless your issues and my issues become our issues. We cannot serve each other unless we understand what is both necessary and right. That can only happen when we listen.

    I thank you for putting such concepts so succinctly in a forum where we can wrestle with them and be transformed by the truth in them.

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