As I've been buried in books and preoccupied with writing papers in the last while I have taken time away from regularly posting on this platform. As that time has passed I have received time to encounter, engage, and process the plethora of media coverage and consequent commentary on the devastating events taking place in our world.
You know the events I speak of, so I suppose I don't need to mention any of them directly. Suffice it to say, I'm sure you've noticed, as I have, that the words "war," "shooting," "terror," "horror," "danger," "refugee," and a good many others are appearing so frequently in our respective news feeds to the extent that nearly every time I scroll a timeline or feed I start to feel sick, helpless, and sometimes even hopeless.
What adds to the vertigo I experience when I encounter this content is the commentary from people I know that accompany the mass dissemination of these articles. It seems as if everyone has "something to say" about what is happening in our world and believes adamantly that their perspective offers the best "solutions" to the "problems" that our world is facing today.
What has shocked me in particular, however, are the voices of Christians in these conversations. Or, perhaps I should just call them what they are: prejudice hardened arguments; insinuated ideological attacks; combative judgments; indiscriminate suggestions; basic bigotry; and so forth. I can acknowledge that these are basic human responses to tragedy in a digitally reliant age, because I think in most cases they are an attempt to negotiate a range of emotions and thoughts as one is confronted by tragedy and what often appears to be imminent threat. So one lashes out at the easiest possible target in the easiest possible way, and in the process, it's seems so simple and liberating to comment or share an idea as a way of letting out the anger and fear and anger violently bubbling inside of us.
Yet, while I can acknowledge this impulse I cannot abide by it precisely because I am trying to follow Jesus and am trying as best as I can to live in a way that does not given in to such ways of speaking and living. Which is to say, I have come to the conclusion now more than ever Christians should know better when it comes to speaking on these events. Our first task in these moments is not to speak, but to listen; listen intently to the voice of God speaking to us regardless of the circumstances, good or bad, dark or light; listen to voice of the other who is equally afraid, angry, and searching for some sort of comfort and stability in our world, and then act in a way that reflects rather than denies the God that we follow. Here, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer come to mind:
“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.
So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.
Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too."
Are you listening or speaking in these moments?