I was reading my daily email from Richard Rohr today, when a phrase jumped out at me I’d never heard expressed before. “We need relationships of accountability – spaces where we listen” (Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, 2018). Immediately something inside me stirred. This is what we are missing. This is what we need.
Of course this is coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement and the need for space for people of colour to be really heard. Not just listened to, and then their comments packed away and filed under ‘Box ticked, continue as normal’. But really truly heard with an open mind and heart, and endeavouring for understanding and a commitment to change.
But it is also so much wider than that. We need to make space to hear people of colour. We need to make space to hear people with disabilities. We need to make space to hear people who are not cishet. We need to make space to hear anyone for whom the status quo is not working. For they may well have the missing piece we need to make things work better for everyone.
This is even more important in a church context. Matthew 22:36-40 records the following conversation with Jesus:
36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (NRSV)
Our neighbour may be like us. They may also be different in their skin colour, gender, sexual orientation, taste in music, political opinion or belief in Jesus. None of that matters. They are made in the image of God, therefore we are directed to love God, and love our neighbour, as a twofold call to love. It is that important. Yes there are recorded caveats to this littered throughout the Bible, but note in v.40 these two commandments to love are held as the hook on which all else hangs. If we read something in the Bible that appears to call us to a stance which does not hold loving at the forefront of the situation, it needs to be reflected on further. With this approach, any need to judge, condemn or protect ourselves from difference melts away.
When we make space for black musicians to bring their unique influences into our worship, the whole room will be blessed. When we make our buildings more physically accessible for the few, it will make them easier to use for all. When we bless all individuals no matter who or how they love, we give welcome a whole new meaning. This isn’t just good for those directly affected, it is good for everyone.
We all have a responsibility to hear, to learn, to acknowledge where we fall short as individuals and systemically, and to respond. Whether that’s to Black Lives Matter, Me Too, Faithfully LGBT, Disability and Jesus, to any and all of the incredible voices straining to be heard. Those of us with inherent privilege given to us not because of anything we have done but because of how we are born need to use that privilege, to get round the table and make spaces for those who can’t get there on their own. To make spaces of accountability, where we can share hurt, acknowledge and apologise, tear down the systems which cause pain and build better ones, using the pieces we didn’t have before we listened.
Peace be with you.
Wilson-Hartgrove, J (2018) Interview quoted in Rohr, R. (2020) Unlearning Racism. Daily Meditation email, 10th June 2020. Albuquerque; Centre for Action and Contemplation.