Active listening is a communication technique often used by counselors, trainers, and/or specialists in conflict resolution. It is a practice that requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, repeat back what was heard, and then remember what is being said.
It’s a skill that we all possess and can be utilized in any number of situations to bring down the temperature in a heated room.
It is a skill that I have mastered in writing up responses to emails or texts, but can be very difficult to unpack and employ when dealing with verbal conversations that deeply impact my family, my community, or the country I have served patriotically for more than 20 years.
I’m not a service member. Never wore the stars and stripes as a part of my uniform unless it was on a basketball jersey. I've never much had the stomach to pick up a gun and go to war, but I had a heart to serve this country unabashedly. I’ve been a patriot in a different way. A patriot is a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion. I, like many Americans in this country, have devoted my life to serving my community so that our citizens could enjoy a better way of life and work toward their own American Dream.
Whether it was working for the state to save children from abusive homes or working to help victims of hurricane Katrina find homes, jobs, and education for their children, I like so many other dedicated patriots, do what I do because I love, support, and defend my country’s interests with devotion.
Communication in this particular season of life, for followers of Jesus and patriots alike, can be especially difficult as it pertains to race. The role media plays in our lives, working as a consistent bullhorn telling us what to think, how to feel, and who the winners and losers are, tends to have a huge impact on discussing one of our nation’s most consistent stumbling blocks.
For more than a year, a young Christian man has taken a brave stance (regardless of if we collectively agree with his stance or not) by taking a knee in front of millions and millions of people in an effort to bring awareness to police brutality and inequality in this country.
The move has drawn a mountain of criticism from many sides of the issue, while causing a man to lose his job, receive death threats, and have his patriotism called into question on multiple occasions.
The question I pose to any followers of Jesus Christ, who are engaged in discussions (or refusing to engage in a discussion about the topic), is what have you done personally to look further into this subject? I ask because I want to offer up an alternate scenario.
During the 2016 NFL season Colin Kaepernick steps forward to speak into a microphone for the first time and says, “I am taking a knee in peaceful protest of the way our country treats its veterans. These men and women serve and protect our country fearlessly, yet return home to poor healthcare. They return home to feeble mental health services that scarcely address their PTSD. They return home to abysmal job opportunities. And by kneeling I want to let the world know that I mean no disrespect to those soldiers who have fallen and made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Before doing this, I took the time to speak with Nate Boyer - an army veteran - to gain advice on how to present the most respectful protest possible during our anthem. ” If that was his cause would he be unpatriotic? Would he be a spoiled athlete who knew nothing of suffering?
Does your viewpoint change if Colin Kaepernick instead speaks into the microphone and says, “I am taking a knee in peaceful protest of the way that our country handles abortion. Every year over 600,000 children are aborted. Lives are lost that could have discovered the cure to cancer or been the next Martin Luther King Jr. With so many options available like adoption we have to find a better way. And by kneeling I want to let the world know that I mean no disrespect to our brave men and women who serve and protect our country, nor those soldiers who have fallen and made the ultimate sacrifice. Before doing this, I took the time to speak with Nate Boyer - an army veteran - to gain advice on how to present the most respectful protest during our anthem.” If that was his cause would he still be unpatriotic? Would he still be a spoiled athlete who knew nothing of suffering?
In both alternative cases I could certainly see sparked conversations and possibly even legislation brought forth as a result. I would also predict sentiments echoing that the national anthem is not the place to do it, yet an understanding that it was a platform where the most eyes would be on him. Surely great debates would ignite between the sides, as there always are on subjects like abortion or how our vets are treated, but would Colin Kaepernick still be seen as unpatriotic for peacefully kneeling? Would he still be seen as a spoiled athlete who knew nothing of suffering?
I’m not so sure that he would.
It goes back to that subject of race that causes such a visceral response by so many in this country. But why?
Our media has done a masterful job at keeping us divided on this subject while throwing around terms like racism (when it does not fit), Race Card, White Privilege, Black on Black, Far Left, and Far Right that cause an eruption of emotional responses in an almost Pavlovian way. And the American press have honed this skill for decades. This powerful information is often not presented on its own merit without commentary, snark or self-righteousness that further cause the audience to throw up their personal defense walls and settle for pointing fingers at the other side.
Our media has done this so well that many of us are simply not willing to even entertain a conversation regarding race with their fellow American citizen. Attributing the personal experiences of those who cry out regarding police brutality or racism to a fluke, poor timing, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, simply not complying with the officer's requests, or asserting that it is simply a “fallen world” without taking any significant action to look further into the situation or advocating for their fellow American’s cause. And unfortunately, our nation's history has shown that it is this very same apathy offered in response to a person of color's vulnerability that has led to greater attention seeking actions, like public protests.
I’ve polled a number of Christians from coast to coast over the last year since the protest of police brutality and inequality began. When having learned of a friend or co-worker’s experience with racism or police brutality every person interviewed replied that they had been supportive to that individual by calling, texting, praying, posting about it on social media, or rushing to be by their side. However, not one took their actions a step further. Not one called their senator, appeared at city or county council meetings, organized a rally, ran a 5k for an end to racism or police brutality, or studied the data on the subject of racism and police brutality, beyond what the news reported, as a result of learning of their friends pain.
Not one believed that police brutality was a systemic issue, but more the work of a few "bad apples." And I can understand why, to some extent. It is a scary proposition. To lose faith in a system that is supposed to protect you would cause an individual to question all things in their society. It is easier to blame the citizen/victim, the individual officer, or the situation. It’s just an easier pill to swallow.
The problem with this way of thinking is that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to do more than provide apathetic support, click “like,” or offer a one time hug or prayer. We are called to action that supersedes political belief or patriotic allegiance.
We, as followers of Christ, should be the first to look into the hundreds of reports provided over the last several years by the Department of Justice which show countrywide consistent police brutality, excessive force, misconduct, harassment, and targeting of the African American population.
We, as followers of Jesus, should be the first to speak out against the years of excessive force in Cleveland.
We should be outraged at the consistent violence exercised against the citizens in Baltimore by its police department.
We should be outraged and engaged in meaningful actions over the mistreatment of countless minorities in Seattle.
As followers of Christ we should be incensed over racial discrimination and excessive force used by police departments in New Mexico.
We should be desperate to understand why so many minority lives are considered "less than" and beaten in Boston.
We should lose our collective minds at an officer who tells motorists that they only kill "Black people."
We should run to our pastors and demand instruction on how to handle consistent truths about police brutality and racism when a group of New York's finest bravely come forward and share the corrupt practices of targeting minorities for ticket and arrest.
Los Angeles, Miami, South Carolina, Texas, and on and on and on...
There comes a time when a single instance becomes a pattern. And a pattern consistently documented all over our great country by our Department of Justice coupled with empirical data gathered by independent studies, video of police officers behaving inappropriately with frequency, further strengthened by personal accounts from people you love and trust should help soften even the most stubborn heart and open the most reluctant eyes.
A fact is something that is postulated to have occurred or to be correct. The usual test for a statement of fact is verifiability—that is, whether it can be demonstrated to correspond to experience. To an objective mind, the information you have been presented with today meets the requirements to determine historical fact, but I encourage any and everyone to engage further.
As people who proclaim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior we should be the first ones on the line, after gathering all of the information it takes to confirm what the African American community has been crying out over and over again. Demands placed before our local leaders and federal representatives to put a stop to these many injustices should be one of the many things you do after reading this today.
Personal conversations and emails have let me know that it’s much easier to point at the many disproved myths of the African American father not being home for their children, or Black on Black crime (which is quite similar to, and in some cases surpassed by “White on White Crime” by percentage and volume), or any other number of buzz words, taglines, or catch phrases the media has taught us to use as a shield when it comes to the plight of the African American community.
It is easier to overlook hiring practices that keep African Americans with ethnic sounding names from getting into better paying jobs.
It is easier to not go through all of the data surrounding the practice of mass incarceration whereby our country has only 5% of the world’s population, but occupies 20% of world’s incarcerated citizens.
It is just simply easier to overlook the effects of food desserts on health, gerrymandering practices on African American political influence, or poorly funded schools in providing effective education for African American youth.
But the road for the follower of Jesus Christ was not meant to be easy. Information was not meant to be handed to you. As commanded by our Lord and Savior, you should actively seek it out when your brothers and sisters cry out for your help.
You, like I, are living your life. It could be a very hard life or it could be an exceedingly easy life with anything you desire at your fingertips. But I beg of you to consider the following. Would living your life, being a good father or mother, paying your bills, getting your kids to school, dealing with sickness and job loss, or any other of life’s challenges become that much more difficult when you are forced to live through racism and police brutality?
For the Caucasian community in this country, I pray that you have the courage to take a demonstrative step forward.
I pray that you take the time needed to understand what your African American brothers and sisters are truly dealing with.
I pray that you take the time to place your faith above your understanding of patriotism and take action.
I pray that we see just as many fundraising events, community meetings, 5k's and peaceful rallies for a problem that has every bit the destructive power of a debilitating disease in our country.
For the African American and minority communities, I pray that you are brave in your vulnerability when sharing your story.
I pray that you are patient with those who come forward to learn and engage in these tough conversations.
I pray that you understand how the sharing of this information might turn their worlds upside down while exposing a new, less in your face, form of racism that is very different than we saw from the 50s and 60s. The conversation will not change overnight, but I believe that it is worth building this bridge in order for us to move forward together.
And finally, I pray that we all see the bigger picture. A picture that unites us together for the cause of humanity and the true equality that our Bill of Rights and Constitution should have provided for each of us from the very beginning.