In 1967, my family moved to Atlanta. I loved Braves baseball games, swim practices each morning, and Little League baseball (I was terrible). Living the life for an 11-year-old.
My neighborhood, my high school, my city? I never gave them a thought.
The following year, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Given that I lived in his hometown (he lived on Auburn Avenue), and the magnitude of the event, you would think I would have some sort of memory of the event, but while millions of African Americans cried in deep anguish, I never gave it a thought.
I don’t frequent Greensboro regularly, but I’m often there with Cru, and – back in the day – for soccer matches, robotics tournaments, and the like. Greensboro is the site of the famous Woolsworth lunch counter “sit in,” where African Americans from NC A&T refused to leave after being denied service in 1960. This was a huge moment in the civil rights struggle of the ‘60s and ‘70s. But I could go in and out of Greensboro, and never give it a thought.
A few years ago, as racial tensions grew in our country, and God began to work on me in this area, I began to realize that my disposition of “I never gave it a thought” was actually a pretty big problem. While this disposition seemed so benign, it nevertheless was deceptively hurtful. Here’s why:
One of God’s two greatest commandments calls us to love our neighbor. If you love someone, you will take time to learn his or her story. Sonya and I have been married for 33 years, and with more than 12,000 days of marriage behind us I can assure you that “I don’t care enough about you to even listen to your story” sends a pointed, and painful, message. If I do not care enough about Sonya to hear her story, I am not benignly innocent; I have actually said a lot.
Also, when I refuse to listen to the stories of those different from me, I say volumes about me: I’m the sort of person who never matured to the point to listen and appreciate the stories of those who are not just like me. That’s pitiful.
One could counter: Isn’t each culture group more likely to be absorbed with their own story? And, isn’t each human understandably self-focused? What’s the big deal?
The answer is this: If we are honest, is this the world we want to live in? I’m in that world now, and I do not like it. As God makes me new, in His image, is this what He wants for me, and for us? I do not think so. I want to be valued enough to be heard, and I do not think I’m alone in this. I want you to care enough about me to hear my story. I do NOT want to experience you via the sentiment: “Oh. I never gave you a thought.”
If someone might be prone to push back, for example, on race disparity in police statistics, or the thought of institutional racism, can we at least begin to incline an ear to hear the pain behind the statistics? Other image bearers of God are hurting. The slogan “black lives matter” is largely the cry of the Black community “Hello! Do you hear our story?! Will you care?! Will you help?! 400 years.”
To only care about my story is a blight upon me, and poisons those around me. It is profoundly disconnected from God’s plan for flourishing, rooted in “love your neighbor as yourself.”
So, my encouragement to myself, and to you, is simple: You see that person over there? THOSE people? (all sorts of wonderful people, from all different groups, unlike yourself): Well, show them the honor of hearing their story. Love your neighbor. Start by being willing to hear, and cherish, a story other than your own.
Bespoken: Stop & Listen (Part 4) – Never Gave It a Thought
In this Bespoken episode, Pastors Jay and Ryan interview Rick Hove – Executive Director of Faculty Commons at Cru and an elder at CHBC – as he opens up about his emotional and spiritual journey on racial inequality.
As an older white male, Rick’s position has evolved from someone who never gave racism a thought to a person who is now empathetic to and passionately against racial inequality around him and his African American friends and colleagues. No matter what side you find yourself on around this debate, we are inviting you to STOP & LISTEN.