White. Heterosexual. Middle class. Male.
This is certainly not a definitive description of Adam Mearse, these characteristics are just part of who I am. I don’t apologize for them. They simply are.
And yet, it’s not so simple. It was much easier before I understood things like hegemony, systemic injustice, and the Johari window. Simpler still before I came to know and love brilliant, beautiful people who do not fit into these categories.
Obviously, I cannot fully empathize with those whose experiences are not only different, but decidedly worse in many ways because they do not happen not to be white, heterosexual, middle class, or male. But, I want you to know that I am genuinely trying. And, I’m not alone. There are thousands of us – millions I would think. I have no way to count them all, but I personally know and am in contact with a lot them. They are people of societal privilege who are deeply committed to raising up those who do not have the advantages we enjoy – even if it means giving our privileges up. I won’t name them or tag them here because I haven’t asked their permission to do so, but they are out there and they are invested in understanding the systems, prejudices, and obstacles that prohibit basic human flourishing for all our brothers and sisters.
On behalf of all of us…we are listening.
To our black brothers and sisters…we are listening. We cannot account for the horrible way many of you are treated in public and private spaces because of the color of your skin. We can’t account for it morally, theologically, or humanly. Frankly, many of us would not have believed it really happened all that much in the modern world. But, you’ve been telling your stories of pain, mistreatment, and misunderstanding, and we are listening. We are trying to figure out how best to stand beside you in our communities. We are trying to wrap out minds around the fact that my son can walk down a street in my town with no fear while my friends’ sons walk down the same street prepared to be harassed or even attacked because their skin is brown. We have come to realize that we’ve lived with the “benefit” of ignorance – of never having to worry for our emotional and physical safety. In our ignorance, we never considered that others are moving through the same spaces having to be on-edge and even afraid. We hate the discrepancy. We want the cities we live in to be better places for you and your families. We want your children to have the same security ours enjoy. Keep telling us about your experiences. We’re listening.
To our LGBTQ brothers and sisters…we are listening. It seems at times that the Christian heritage of the U.S. has become an obstacle in the path of common decency and freedom, particularly for you. We all know that there is a great deal to work out in the relationship between that Christian faith heritage and the LGBTQ community. We know there may be disagreements over biblical interpretation that we never fully resolve to anyone’s satisfaction – certainly not to everyone’s satisfaction. But, we recognize that many of you have been treated as something less than fully human, fully American, or fully Christian, and we are ashamed of that. We want the best for you. We want to be good neighbors and good friends. We want any discussions that we have about faith to be rooted in relationship, love, and mutual pursuit of loving God and our neighbor. Keep telling us about your experiences. Keep telling us what you need. We are listening.
To our lower-income brothers and sisters…we are listening. We know now, having loved some of you personally, that the economic system is a huge, tangled up mess in many ways. We know that generational poverty is a force that is not overcome by throwing a few dollars around, or buying someone canned sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. We know, for example, that many of you do not have jobs that pay enough because you do not have reliable transportation and you do not have reliable transportation because you cannot get to the jobs that pay enough. We recognize that you are often born into situations in which you cannot get the education needed to open doors to success that many of us take for granted. We realize that more support is needed to give you time and space to pursue education or better jobs so that you can raise your families and provide them the good lives you dream of. We want better systems and we want to be better neighbors and friends. Please tell us your stories. We are listening.
To our sisters…we are listening. We have inherited a culture, faith heritages, and business models built on patriarchal assumptions and patterns that we either have never thought critically about (at best) or have perpetuated because they allow men access to advantages that we are loath to give up. Our attitudes and institutions have silenced your voices (or relegated them to niche crowds), created glass ceilings in the workplace, and led to gross mistreatment and disrespect. You’ve typically met these challenges with unimaginable grace, which baffles us, by the way. We know you have gifts of leadership, of academic and theological insight, of business acumen, and infinitely more. There are men among us who long for your gifts, contributions, and potential to be the determining factors in whether you have opportunities that males have long assumed to be their birthright. Teach us. Talk to us. We are listening.
A note on “listening”.
The events of this past weekend (Trump vs. NFL personnel) and ensuing social media shouting matches lead me to believe I should be very clear about what I mean by listening. Listening is an act of hospitality – inviting someone’s voice and experience into your consciousness or awareness. There is no implication of ideological or behavioral agreement involved in listening. It should be possible, for example, for one to listen to the genuine experience and concerns of protesting NFL players – even to agree with their frustrations and sentiments over mistreatment of our black brothers and sisters in the U.S. – and still wish they did not express their frustration by sitting out the National Anthem. Invitation (“Tell me what you’re feeling and experiencing.”) is not assent (“I agree with your point of view and actions.”). I would also invite you to consider that listening is a fundamental act of human decency and Christian character (loving our neighbors). Listening well is a path toward making our world and relationships incrementally better for everyone involved.