Tuesday, March 1, 2016

I listen to you and then I believe you.

“I listen to you and then I believe you.”

KB Frazier drums and leads chants as part of the
protest at St. Louis City Police Headquarters
last night.
Last night, I and a couple other CCC members stood in the middle of Olive Street in front of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Headquarters with around 70 other people protesting an incident that happened the night before.

The family of one of our black activist leaders, KB Frazier (also a worship leader and board member at Central Reform Congregation as well as an awesome drummer) was pulled over by the police without evident cause and their car was approached by two officers with guns drawn. Among those in the car was two year old Ethan, who stood up in the back seat, began to cry out of terror and was told to “sit down and shut up” by one of the officers.

I joined KB and others in the street last night because I took baptismal vows to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself and to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being – and the actions of those officers and the system of policing that supports them is neither just, dignified nor honoring of the image of God that is on every human being.

I joined KB and others in the street last night because Jesus calls me to stand with those most on the margins, because that’s where Jesus is.

I joined KB and others in the street last night because the behavior of those officers is not only dangerous, traumatizing and potentially deadly, it is not worthy of this City of St. Louis that I love.

Throughout today, I have been asked repeatedly:

“But how do you know that it actually happened?”

“Where is the evidence?”

“You know you can’t really prove it, right?”

And that leads me to the last reason I joined KB and others in the street last night.

Because I listened to KB, and I believed him.

When Bishop Gene Robinson was here at Christ Church Cathedral last spring, he told a story of a conversation he had with a student at Colby College in Maine about “what white guys can do to ‘get it’ about the experience of black people in America.” (if you click on the link, the story comes at about the 1:35:00 mark).

“Here’s what he told me was the first thing I can do,” Gene said.

“I listen to you and then I believe you.”

“We listen to someone who is different from us, and then we believe it’s their truth. It may not be my truth or anything out of my experience but it’s true for you. And then we have a chance to talk.”

Gene went on to say: “There are a lot of white people in America with not a clue as to why Ferguson happened they way it did. That’s just not their experience. OK, fine. Can you listen to someone for whom that is their experience and believe that it is their experienced truth?”

“And then we can start to talk.”

I’m not saying my belief in KB by itself should have the power of judge and jury. No one person’s should. Our legal system is rightly based on rules of evidence. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. I’m not asking for officers to be convicted purely because KB or I say they should.

I am talking about listening and believing to a truth that is different from my own … and maybe different from your own as well.

We are talking about the lived experience of policing of people who have grown up black and brown in this country. And it is very different from my own. And in the face of that difference, my job -- particularly but certainly not exclusively when the speaker is someone I have come to know as a person of deep integrity and courage – is clear.

I listen to him and I believe him.

And one more thing.

I stand with him.

I stand with KB because we can’t start to talk, we can’t start to have the conversations that will lead to true reconciliation, that will lead to change, that will lead to us becoming the Beloved Community until we as a community truly listen to the voices that are coming off the streets. Until we listen to them and believe them … believe that they are telling their truth. And that it is a truth that needs to be honored and respected and believed.

I am grateful for the young black women, men and gender nonconforming persons in our community who refuse to “sit down and shut up” – even when guns are pointed at them. Who amplify Ethan’s cries and demand they be heard, that his name be known and that the trauma be believed.

I am grateful because I am so aware of how many times I have failed and still continue to fail to listen and believe.

I am grateful because I know the only way we will ever become the city God dreams for us to be is if their voices keep shouting.

If other voices like mine join and amplify them.

If all of us learn to listen and believe.


Lou Hamiltoo said...

Mike, your mission is to heal, not to judge. You are supposed to be a shepard of God, seeking justice and uniting the community for positive change. Your actions in condemning the St. Louis Police for an allegation which has been shown to be false by irrefutable evidence sis more than troubling, I am not deeply religous, but I am a Christian and a catholic. The Ninth Commandment says that one shall not bear false witness against ones neighbor. -- it is designed to prevent slander and perversion of justice.

As God told Moses and the Israelites: “You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. …how about some justice for the truth?

Mike said...

Thank you for taking the time to comment. I mean that. This is an important conversation and I love and respect you.

In terms of the facts of this incident, I’ll let KB speak for his family and only add that I agree that the video that was released falls far short of absolute refutation of the family’s account of what happened.

But that truly is beside the point. For me the point is following Jesus.

In choosing to be born as the child of an unwed, internally displaced mother who was part of a people under occupation and oppression, God was making a statement about where God stands. The life and ministry of Jesus is consistently of him standing with those who are most oppressed, targeted and traumatized – be it bringing Bartimaeus in his blindness into the center of the community and asking “what would you have me do for you” or laying his body in the dirt to shield a woman about to be stoned, or being executed by the state on Calvary.

Time after time, Jesus asked people who were most on the margins to speak the truth of their lives. He listened and he believed. And he put their concerns and healing before any other. There are no Gospel stories about taking the Pharisees’ and tax collectors’ sins on a case by case basis and evaluating exactly what happened in each instance before Jesus decided who to stand with.

When a people that has been targeted and traumatized so repeatedly that it has become a part of everyday life tells a story of being targeted and traumatized, our job is to listen and to believe.

Lou, you said my job is to heal, not to judge. Jesus is about healing. And the only road to healing is first to listen and believe.

As one of the women of Magdalene writes in Find Your Way Home about forgiveness. Forgiveness “didn't come until after crossing a desert of hurt and then fording a river of confusion and confrontation and finally climbing the hill of acceptance.” My job is to be a companion on that journey as Christ was – and is.

That means when a woman comes to me saying she is being abused by her husband, my job isn’t to make her prove it before I stand with her – my job is to listen and believe. Because whether the exact instance she is telling me happened exactly the way she is saying (and trauma – particularly repeated trauma does things to memory and recall), there is a truth there. And healing absolutely cannot happen until those who have been targeted and traumatized know that there is a safe place for healing to happen – and safe places happen when targeted and traumatized persons are stood with and guarded. Until we who have not been targeted and traumatized do as Jesus did and interpose our bodies to protect those who have.

And so that means when my friend and family member KB comes to me saying his family has been targeted and traumatized by the police – a story that was far from “preposterous sounding” and in fact was very much like stories I have heard over and over again – my job is to walk that journey with him and others like him as well.