9 Feb 2020

Black History Month: “For the Love of Christ Compels Me” … Seeking to Understand is Rooted in Love

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Black History, Christian hope, Church, Culture, Love, Reading, Salvation, Slavery, Unity
You shall love your neighbor as your self

Seeking to understand your neighbor is a work of love. We will never seek to understand our neighbor if we do not love them.

Love is Hard Work.
Love is Hard Work.
Love is Hard Work.

Love is hard work, that is why it is the path least chosen. Love is required to make an effort to listen. Listening will never happen apart from the God gift poured into our hearts, the gift of love.

The New York Life Superbowl commercial was surprisingly good and right, Love takes Action.

One of the most frequent exhortations in the Bible is some variation of “having eyes to see and ears to hear.” Have you noticed this. Yahweh said them to Isaiah (6.9ff) and Jesus quoted them (Mt 13.14-16).

Go and say to this people:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand
…” (Isaiah 6.9ff)

Hear this, O foolish and senseless people,
who have eyes, but do not see,
who have ears, but do not hear
” (Jeremiah 5.21)

When the Bible speaks of “listen” the text does not mean simply hearing words, rather it means “understanding.” Listen till we get it. This is, of course, difficult. We like to think we have heard. We already “get it.” Thus some have taken umbrage with me (and I at them).

Listening is love. Listening requires work because love takes work. This is true with fathers with daughters; mothers with sons; husbands with wives; and most of all it is true of our enemy and our neighbor. Listening is hard because love is hard.

That brings me to Black History Month.

Black History Month is an exercise in loving my neighbor. Black History Month is an exercise is attempting to listen. It is digging the wax of my experience out of my ears, so that I can hear and putting the right lenses on so I can see. This is completely biblical. But it is hard work. This is why, as a Christian, the love of Christ must compel us.

I was listening to the rock band Disturbed’s rendition of “Sounds of Silence.” Have you ever paid attention to those words? The song was released in September 1965. What in the world was going on when Paul Simon wrote those words. Look at these words,

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said,
‘The words of the prophets are written
on the subway walls
And tenement halls’
And whispered in the sounds of silence
” [end quote]

Just wow!
People do not listen.
They do not listen to each other.
Ears that do not hear.

What a powerful song. What a surprisingly biblical song. It is a modern Psalm.

The Civil Rights movement was in full, and bloody, swing in 1965. The “words of the prophets” are written on the subway walls. Wow. But we do not hear (=listen).

We need to listen to the biblical text till we “get it” (or it gets us). We need to listen to our Black and Hispanic friends (do you have any real ones) till we “get it.”

We need to do the work of love. This is, surprisingly, simply living the greatest comman: Love your neighbor as yourself. And do not tell me how much you love your wife, your husband, your daughter or your black or brown neighbor until you tell me how much you know about them. This is easy for those we want to love (wives, daughters, husbands, sons) but it is hard with others. But sometimes we do not do the work of love, the work of listening, even with our wives, husbands, sons and daughters.

Love takes action. What action will we take to enable us to listen? I want to encourage you to read (I offered a suggested reading list on Feb 1) and watch a few films (I suggested a few on Feb 1 in Black History Month Moment for that day).

Martin Luther King Jr said, from inside a Birmingham City jail,

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”

Do we have ears to hear?? Do I?? What action of love will we take to gain insight and understanding (ears to hear and eyes to see) for the sake of loving our African American brothers and sisters. Let me recommend, indeed urge, reading one or more of the following books or watching the following films (or do both!). You can simply click on a title and purchase the item from Amazon (I make no money off this) today.

Suggested Books:
Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption ($10 on Amazon!)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me ($13 on Amazon)
Candacy Taylor, Overground Railroad: The Green Book & Roots of Black Travel in America
Henry Louis Gates, Jr, The Classic Slave Narratives ($7 on Amazon)

Just Mercy (based on the book above)
Hidden Figures
Malcolm X
Eyes on the Prize (PBS documentary)
African American: Many Rivers to Cross (PBS documentary)

Black History Month is our chance to focus on doing the work of love … Listening, learning, so we have ears to hear … to understand.

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