Wisdom & Humility: Actively Listening to our BIPOC Friends

“Listening is humility when it relinquishes dominance.” - Amy Lawton

On Sunday, July 26, 2020 I gave a short, 7 minute reflection on Humility to my faith community, Nexus Church KW. In particular, I focused on the humility required of white people to listen to their BIPOC friends on anti-racism initiatives, and then to follow through with action. Words without deeds are worthless; being anti-racist without active listening is an oxymoron.

The YT video is cued up to my part, but if you’re looking for it later, it starts at 9:23 in the video. Please have a listen to the accompanying talks by Erica Toffelmire and Brad Watson. While they may not be thematically linked, we found there was a lot of overlap for motivating discussions.

The text of my talk follows below.

The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale. Before a downfall the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.
Proverbs 18:11-13

Everyone around us wants our attention, and they want it now. Our society, our culture and our community moves at the speed of light, never stopping to catch up with the challenges left in its wake –there are always challenges when something moves at that speed; even light is subject to relativity.

There is no better time to watch the waves try to catch up to the light than during this global pandemic. Many of us have been seriously inconvenienced, forced to stay home with the kids who are suddenly out of school, trying to hold it together long enough to make it to the make-shift corner office in the half-finished bathroom downstairs. With pillow forts made in the living room, we tuck ourselves away in the back, hoping the children don’t injure themselves on the overturned couch, the toilet seat making for a very uncomfortable office chair. With no sense of when a vaccine will develop for this wretched virus, we’re forced to plug through, trying to hold it all together.

If we’re one of the lucky ones, we’ll have an office to return to. Others of us have had the unfortunate experience of being laid-off over Zoom, which sounds like my worst nightmare. Still others of us have become sick, worried about when we’ll be able to see our loved ones again. When the test comes back positive, you’re not surprised – you’ve been wheezing for days and your sense of taste is all but gone. Again, if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to weather the virus at home. If not, it’s a visit to the ICU and a ventilator, something that I can tell you from personal experience is a terrible way to pass the days.

Whoever we are, the pandemic has brought the speed of the world into focus for many of us.

In the book of Proverbs, Lady Wisdom, as she was known to the pagans, says,

The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it a wall too high to scale. Before a downfall, the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor. To answer before listening— that is both stupid and rude.

I don’t know if anyone else thinks this way, but I think the Anglo-Saxon, Straight, White Middle-Aged Western Christian Male might fit the description of the rich in their fortified cities, a demographic not unlike much of our own faith community. Centuries of dogma have been woven together with careful scripts, words of opium coated in honey to make them go down easier. Cloaked in the name of Eternal Salvation, theology like the Doctrine of Discovery (.pdf) became codified in law. With the view that God had given them, Terra Nullius, empty land, many of these men tried to forcibly convert Turtle Island’s original inhabitants. When that didn’t work the way they wanted, they declared a genocide, the immortal words “Kill the Indian” dripping off the red-stained tongue of John A MacDonald and onto the founding documents of a country called Canada.

153 years later, our hearts haughty with white supremacy, the walls to our fortified cities are beginning to fall.

White Rich Christian Men, as masters of (hold up fingers and count) culture, sport, society, law, politics, sex and education for more than a millennia, have become so used to pointing out the speck in the eyes of the Other, that they have failed to see the log of Pride in their own eye.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Again, Lady Wisdom comes to us with but a few simple words as remedy:

Humility comes before honour;

Failing to listen is stupid and foolish. (Prov 18:13, MSG)

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, I have been taken by the word ‘listen.’ It’s one of the things that Black, Indigenous and People of Colour have been asking white people to do for some time now. As a verb, it is an action word, something that requires engagement and participation. It’s not something that sits back on the couch, waiting for us to finish combing our long COVID hair.

Simultaneously, I watch as white people everywhere get their knickers in a knot about structural, systemic racism, each one of us afraid that if we admit Black people are right about police brutality, if Indigenous people are right about the Residential Schools System, we will have blood on our hands.

Moreover, so many of us fear the work that comes from admitting that everything we were taught in Sunday School and Civics class was wrong. So, we come up with reasons to avoid confronting the truth, knowing that if we admit they are right that we will have to DO something.

The wall of white supremacy is so dominant, so high we can’t imagine it any other way.

We are scared that we will have to act, that we will have to change it.

And make no mistake, we will change it.

But first, my fellow white people, comes the action of LISTENING.

Before we are given the honour of joining in the revolution – because that’s what it is, an honour – we must be humbled, brought low.

Amy Lawton, a graduate of Iliff School of Theology in Chicago writes in a blog post I happened upon not too long ago:

“Listening is humility when it relinquishes dominance.”

Listening isn’t asking your BIPOC friends to explain racism to you for the hundredth time. It’s going to the library, doing your own research and calling out your own implicit bias, recognizing the hard work of activists literally fighting for their lives.

Listening isn’t suggesting that we add a token Black person to the Police Services Board, as our Regional Chair Karen Redman did, just a few weeks ago.

Listening isn’t telling our Black friends that they should protest peacefully – Colin Kaepernick did that and he was blackballed from the NFL.

What if Black people are right when they tell us that Police have it out for them based on the colour of their skin? We need merely to look at the data which shows them correct again and again?

What if Indigenous people are right when they say that the land on which we’re currently worshiping has been stolen from underneath them, that white people like you and I are occupiers, here by force of religion at the blade of a knife and the end of a gun?

Right now, I hear my BIPOC friends asking their white friends for one simple action:

Listen to us, they beg.

Let the cities of the rich fall – what if the people of Waterloo Region ‘gave back’ land stolen in the name of Jesus, returned it to the Anishnaabe without strings, remaining unwanted guests squatting on their land?

Let the wall of white supremacy crumble, and may it never return.

Let he who has ears to listen, let them hear.