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?