Courage to Listen
I have to be honest with y’all. It didn’t take that much courage for me to stand up in front of Judge Ken Starr and over 125 local lawyers last Thursday and provide some remarks about advocacy for the poor and marginalized and our efforts seeking love and justice with our community at Mission Waco-Mission World and our Legal Services program. At least it seemed to me that I was not having to breathe deep, pump myself up, or find some fire to stoke. I had several people suggest that I am somehow courageous because of what I did. Maybe it was. But I just didn’t feel it. And I have been wondering why not. Here are some thoughts.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
We are more than conquerors through our God who loves us!
Looking to Jesus… who for the joy set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame…
Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
I love the people I am advocating for. I love the poor and marginalized. And we do brave things for those we love, right? Sometimes these brave things are done without us even thinking about it. Our love leads the way to courage, and we don’t even know it. I know that God loves me, that God loves the poor and marginalized, and that I need to share this love with the world. Love begets courage, unknown and unknowable, and it leads us into places where we can speak love to power, seeking redemptive goodwill for all. I think this is a bit of what was going on with me last week. Our God, who is Love, is with us.
So the courage needed to do brave things isn’t necessarily a courage we conjure up ourselves. Instead, if we have the courage to listen, we will know the power of Life and Love that will be our strength. Listen not just to words but to the Spirit of Life that sets us free from the power of sin and death. Listen not just to the age-old stories but to the stories happening right before our very eyes, under our noses, in our own backyards. Listen to the stories of Grace and Mercy and Forgiveness. Listen to the stories of the poor and oppressed. Listen to the lives of the needy and those cast aside and ignored. The courage is to listen. If we listen, acting will require no new courage. The courage will be there even when we don’t even realize it. If we listen, we are present. If we are present, we find faith, hope, and love.
But we have to listen. Listening, truly listening, takes courage. Sometimes I don’t want to listen to the messy lives of my clients. It is so hard. Sometimes they don’t make it easy. Often it requires something extra from us, more time and energy, some things many of us feel depleted of far too often. Many times I see myself, my own brokenness, my own complicity in sinfulness leading to alienation and despair, my silence and selfishness as I see shattered lives and systems hell-bent on devastation. Sometimes when I don’t close myself off, I see my need for them to be more present in my life, for confession, for mercy and grace and love. All the time, I experience fear. Fear that I do not know, cannot understand, will not help, may not care, will choose self over service, comfort over compassion, death over life. I am afraid that I will be called out of my comfortable life or that I won’t be able to make a difference. It takes courage to listen. But the first step is always the hardest. After that, you may be filled with the courage necessary and not even know it.
So let’s be courageous in listening to the lives of the poor. Let’s be strong and brave in hearing the stories of the oppressed. It truly is their voices that we must hear. It is their ideas that will lead the way to transformation. It is the presence of Grace in their discarded lives that will lead us all in the ways of everlasting Life. It is God’s pure Love despite our obnoxious existence, all of us, completely unworthy of God’s love, yet free in God’s mercy and forgiveness to receive Love and live into the abundant Life.
So, courage is not standing in front of a group of lawyers in an orange prison uniform. That’s simply seeking faithfulness in a calling to love, at least for me.
Instead, courage is waking up every morning and living with Hope in spite of a debilitating stigma attached to who society says you are.
Courage is knowing you are worthy despite the self-worth stealing experience of having to check a “shame”-box every time you fill out a job or housing application.
Courage is forsaking worldly comforts so that your life may be more proximate to the poor, so you can listen to their stories.
Courage is bathing in forgiveness and mercy even when the world around you wants you to drown in vengeance and retribution.
Courage is transforming the way that we as people of faith do church, fulfill our mission, and seek love and justice, so as to open wide the doors of both our church buildings and our hearts to the poor and marginalized.
Courage is finding God’s love to be all that we need and living radically with and among those who desperately want to be loved just the same.
Courage is listening. To Grace, to Hope, to the song of the condemned, to Life and Love, to a different way of being, to the poor and needy, and joyfully letting it change us.
Courage is realizing that we need their voice, their mercy, their faith, their lives, more than they could ever need us.
Oh, that Love would fill us with the courage to listen…