A Time to Listen
The death of George Floyd in Minneapolis both sickens and saddens me. As a white straight male, who benefits from my whiteness I don't know the experience of those who face the prospect that when approached by police, they might fear for their lives. I struggled with what kind of image to post here. In the end, I post this picture of the monument to the Underground Railroad as a reminder that what we're seeing right now is not new, but is part of the American fabric.
Not only do I approach this conversation as a white male, but I also serve as a volunteer chaplain for the local police department here in Troy, Michigan. I took this position because I respected the leadership of the local department and because I believed that the department would not tolerate the kind of behavior exhibited by the officers in Minneapolis and elsewhere across the country.
The author of Ecclesiastes writes: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . . a time to keep silence, and a time to speak" (Ecc. 3:1, 7b). It does exactly say " a time to listen," but this is close enough to what I want to share in the aftermath of the latest death in police custody, protests, and riots, that I share it.
I've remained relatively quiet on social media, in part because white liberals/progressives have a tendency to speak before we listen. In part that may be due to a desire to show that we are allies, but too often, especially in the church, we turn our sermons over to "addressing" the issue at hand and go home feeling good, but nothing seems to change. I did address it to a degree in my sermon yesterday, mainly in a preface to the sermon, which I shared contemporaneously. It seems that every couple of months preachers are told to scrap their sermons and take up the concern of the moment. But does that make a difference? I need to hear from my African American friends and colleagues. I need to know what they need from me.
We have a lot of work to do in the coming months and years. It is clear that we have a President who is incapable of providing leadership or comfort to the nation. He lacks the capacity for empathy. That is a problem. Because he governs through tweets, he tends to make things worse. We have an election in five months. It is imperative that we change leaders at that time. The opposing candidate might not be your first choice, but change is required. But an election is not sufficient. It will take much more than that.
Perhaps a starting point is for we who are white to start educating ourselves as to the realities faced by our nonwhite neighbors. We need to listen to their stories, especially stories about the fears that go with them. We can read books and engage in studies. I'm going to list a couple of books that I've reviewed that offer important insights. These are not the only ones, but these are resources that I think we who are white can benefit from, so we can listen more carefully.
I'm going to start with two books by Carolyn Helsel, one is for clergy and one is for congregations. It is written by a white woman for white congregations to get us talking about racism. They were awarded by the Academy of Parish Clergy together as the 2019 Book of the Year. The first of the two books is for preachers. It is titled PREACHING ABOUT RACISM: A Guide for Faith Leaders. By Carolyn B. Helsel. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2018. 132 pages). You can find my review here: http://www.bobcornwall.com/2019/01/preaching-about-racism-carolyn-helsel.html. The second book, written for congregations is titled ANXIOUS TO TALK ABOUT IT: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully about Racism. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2018. 127 pages. You can find the review here: http://www.bobcornwall.com/2019/01/anxious-to-talk-about-it-carolyn-helsel.html.
As you continue the conversation, I highly recommend Chanequa Walker-Barnes' powerful book, which was recently honored as a Top Ten book by the Academy of Parish Clergy. That book is I BRING THE VOICES OF MY PEOPLE: A Womanist Vision for Racial Reconciliation. Foreword by Lisa Sharon Harper. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2019. Xxii + 258 pages. You can find my review at
Finally, I would recommend Grace Ji-Sun Kim's book EMBRACING THE OTHER: The Transformative Spirit of Love (Prophetic Christianity). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015. X + 182 pages. You can find the review here:
All of these books, along with others I could name, have helped me learn to listen to the voices of others, and embracing those whose experiences in life are different from my own. The three authors I've recommended are all women. One is European-American; one is African American; one is Korean-American. I recommend reading the reviews so you might see why I am recommending them.