Five times in the gospels, when Jesus taught a new paradigm he would say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” In that statement (found in Matthew 11:15, 13:43; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, & 14:35) I think Jesus is calling on me to change my posture to that of a learner. He calls me to be to be someone who recognizes that I have two ears and one mouth, and maybe I should use them twice as much as I use my lips.
So because of that, I need to tell you that I’m a beginner. I’m a beginner in many areas, but particularly in matters of racial prejudice and systemic injustice. Pride should not overtake me so I act like I really know what I’m talking about. I don’t.
Yes, I could claim I am knowledgeable about matters of racial prejudice and systemic injustice on paper. I’ve read dozens of books and hundreds of articles, I’ve been coached by some talented consultants and teachers, and I’ve been to more than a dozen trainings and conferences. I’ve even written on the subject about what I’m learning from time to time.
But let me be clear: I’M NOT AN EXPERT, I’m not even an intermediate. I’M A BEGINNER. I haven’t experienced the negative effects of race and injustice myself, which means I’ll never fully and completely understand them. I’ve not truly felt what it feels like, not in a way that has threatened me in any sustained way. I have learned the most from sitting down with some elders in the faith who are people of color who were alive back in the Jim Crow era, and who were a part of non-violent trainings and protests in the Civil Rights era. They have such a deep well of experience and knowledge to learn from. They’re the experts.
Because of all this, I am a learner, and will always be a beginner, not an expert, in this area. Even when I am 73 years old in 2047 and have hearing aids I’ll still need to turn them up to listen to those that have these experiences. I’ll need to sustain primarily a listening ear for the stories that are not my stories, but need to be heard, learned from, and told.
And that last part, “and told” means I do use my mouth at times. I do tell the stories I hear. I don’t keep my mouth entirely shut about it and stay out of it as none of my business. It is my business, it’s just not my experience. Part of what I’ve learned from those with these experiences is that using my voice is necessary, and leveraging my position, even the privileges I’ve been afforded in life that I have through no merit of my own, are all needed. Often someone like me needs to say it, and often someone like me is heard where someone else will be unheard.
All that to say, in the last week five different brothers and sisters with these experiences have helped me interpersonally learn in this area because of things I’m saying or doing that could improve. I’m thankful for them, because I’m still a beginner–always will be, and I’m grateful for the grace given to me as I dedicate myself to the posture of a learner, and still make mistakes and presumptions along the way that aren’t yet on track.
Jesus: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Dave: “I’m 2/3rd ears, Jesus… what do I need to hear?”