Though many of us (including me) have grown up and spent much of our lives around others that look and behave very much like we do, in our ever-diverse world, the tapestry of human experiences is intricate and varied in ways we sometimes can't even imagine. As Christians, we are called to navigate this tapestry with love, grace, and a willingness to listen. Indeed, the act of listening is at the heart of true understanding, especially when we are confronted with stories and realities that are different from our own.
The Bible emphasizes the importance of listening time and time again. James 1:19 reminds us, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance.” The importance of these verses lies not just in the act of listening but in the transformative power it holds. Author Steven Covey said "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," and this requires us to listen.
There are many situations in which we are called to listen and must seek first to understand.
The current dialogues on racial justice demand our attention and our ears. While the narratives of racial disparity and systemic injustice may be uncomfortable, they are essential for fostering change that brings equality to all God's people. We must remember the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), a story that emphasizes the love for one's neighbor, regardless of racial or cultural differences. By listening to the experiences of our Black, Asian, Indigenous, and Latino brothers and sisters, we get closer to fulfilling Christ's call to love unconditionally.
Genesis 1:27 tells us, “God created humankind in God's own image.” This means that both men and women reflect God's image. Our society is rife with gender biases, often causing hurt and misunderstanding. To bridge the gap, it becomes imperative to listen to the experiences of the other gender, acknowledging their pains, struggles, and victories, thus appreciating the full spectrum of God’s creation and helping us to grow into wholeness and community.
Heteronormativity, the belief that heterosexuality and everything that is associated with it is the norm, is another area where listening is crucial. Jesus, in Matthew 19:12, speaks of eunuchs who have been so from birth, by men, and by choice, urging us to accept those for whom marriage, in the traditional sense, isn’t for them. The experiences and the lives of LGBTQ+ people are often very different from other people - often in ways that aren't immediately visible. By listening to LGBTQ+ stories, we begin to see the breadth and depth of God's creation and the different forms that love and family can take in the world.
The road to understanding is not always comfortable. There will be moments when the stories we hear will shake us, make us confront difficult personal material, or challenge our worldviews. But it is in these moments of discomfort that growth occurs. Christ, too, often found himself in uncomfortable situations, whether dining with tax collectors or speaking with Samaritan women. His example reminds us that transformation often begins at the edge of our comfort zones.
As members of the United Church of Christ, we have chosen to be a people that provide an extravagant welcome to all, as Christ did. In Romans 15:7, Paul urges, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” This acceptance starts with listening.
It is through the act of truly listening that we pave the way for understanding, empathy, and love. Let us commit ourselves to listen actively and then really HEAR what the other person is saying and let it impact our hearts, even when it challenges us. For it is through these challenges that we inch closer to a world that embodies Christ's vision: a world filled with love, justice, acceptance, and unity: God's beloved community.