Hispanic, African, and Dutch neighbors live next door to our family home and they are friends all. Northeast Anchorage is extremely blessed with a kaleidoscope of nationalities, tribes, and ethnicities. We couldn’t be more highly favored.
MCA Church is on the journey of learning to love our neighbors well and to love at that deeper level is our calling. There are a few things we are learning as we walk with God into greater neighboring.
First, every person has been gifted by God with unique voice. We believe that to be human is to have voice and one of life’s greatest sins is to silence a person’s unique expression. I am convinced there is no gift of the Spirit called “muffle the other’s voice.”
We have paid a relational price with a few folks for releasing the voiced life. I will always remember some of the things said to me over the years.
- “I’m leaving this church because you allowed “that” woman (Pastor Fay) to not only speak in church but to serve communion.
- “I think I’ll worship elsewhere. I’m not comfortable worshiping around people with special needs who sing too loudly or don’t know how to behave in God’s house.”
- “Pastor Kent, if other ethnicities go to church here, my kids may date one of them.”
- “Young man! I need to speak to you right now. Are you trying to turn this into a black church?”
Oh, Lord, have mercy. Just writing these old complaints almost gets me angry all over again. What ungodly NONSENSE! These sentences flowed from hearts filled with an anti-neighboring spirit.
Those early days have been swallowed up in God’s new work among us. All of those attitudes have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus and we are a neighborly congregation where women, men, folks who are differently abled, young, old, and of every ethnicity are welcomed to add their voice to the pre-heaven mix called MCA Church.
Second, adding meaning to the embrace of each person’s voice is the practice of suspending judgment. It is very simple. I am not listening if I am judging. Neighborly listening requires the total suspension of judgment until after the communication is complete.
A core component of suspended judgement listening is what I call embracing the dignity of pain. If one is not free to express their pain without being judged, they are truly not free at all.
It is too easy to get gagged by a group code of silence that says, “You can hurt but you can’t give voice to your pain.” It is powerful to respect the other by extending to them the dignity of their pain.
One of my friends said to me, “Pastor Kent, when I was a child I was taken from my home by the government and placed in many foster homes. In each foster home, I was sexually abused. As I grew older, I repeated the sexual abuse on my own victims. The people who abused me, repeatedly, were never even corrected, but I went to jail for a long time. God made me to follow the herds, live off the land, and to be close to his creation. I almost went crazy locked up in that jail. I said to myself, “When I am released from prison I will never sleep another night inside.”
Embracing my friends voice was life changing for me because at that moment the Spirit opened my eyes to the difference between a person who is homeless and one who is an outdoor resident.
Maybe if we had been able to listen to his pain sooner we could have helped prevent him from acting out his pain by hurting others so deeply. Without a doubt I feel extremely honored that he trusted me with hearing his voice.
Embracing each unique voice with suspended judgement is a delicate matter from time to time. Like the time I wore a hoodie on Sunday morning so that our black teenagers knew that they could safely voice their fears. At that moment my opinions of the Trayvon Martin case weren’t important. What mattered was for my church neighbors to feel safe enough to voice their fear. (Our teenagers born in Africa or born in African families prefer to be identified as African Americans. My black friends born in the USA or to families born in the USA prefer to be called black Americans.)
Equally important to suspending judgement and embracing the dignity of one’s pain is the grace to embrace the delight of one’s hope. Listen carefully and you will find traces in every voice of both hurt and hope.
Fanning the embers of hope into full flame is one of the indescribable joys of the listening neighbor. Nothing can compare to the emergence of hope from within the human soul.
“I have tested you to see if you are trustworthy with my pain and I now have confidence that you will be tender with my deepest hope.”
Suspended judgement listening not only embraces the other’s sense of safety to voice their fears but also welcomes them to a safety in which to voice their faith.
Even greater, Dr. King’s life and voice gave shape and sound to mankind’s deepest hope. Reconciliation found it’s full voice.
When hurt and hope are voiced within the safety of a Jesus type neighbor the synergy is gigantic. The Psalmist said it this way, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”