Tuesday, April 28, 2015
Compassionate and Merciful Listening
Two seemingly unrelated incidents caught my attention this past week. One is the terrible violence that is happening in Baltimore, the latest in a string of incidents involving African Americans and the police. The other is the declaration by former Olympic gold medalist, Bruce Jenner, that he is now a woman.
What the two situations have in common is that too many people are jumping to blame and judgement. In the case of the urban rioting there is no doubt in the end, somebody(ies) to blame. Bruce Jenner's situation is different, but people are still "blaming" him.
What both situations most have in common is suffering. In Baltimore and other cities the police have suffered and the African American community has suffered. Both sides have suffered not only the violent incidents that exploded forth, but have suffered misunderstanding and mistrust. As for the other situation Mr. Jenner has suffered throughout his life. (By the way his choice is to keep using masculine pronouns for the time being, so I will as well.)
Without getting into moral arguments about things like gender altering surgery I want to share with my readers that I have over the years listened to the stories of several people who have spent a lifetime struggling with the belief that their real sexual identity was other than what their physical sex was. Years ago in New York while serving at my Franciscan province's church on West 31st St. A woman came in and asked to speak with a priest. I was the one "on duty" that day. She came in and prefaced our meeting by saying, "Father, I'm not seeking moral guidance right now. I am far from any decisions. I just need someone to listen to my story. She spoke for over an hour about how she felt like a man in a woman's body and how she had suffered with that feeling since childhood. I did not say a word during that time except for briefly encouraging her to continue. When we were done she gave me a hug and told me that I was the first one who had every really listened to her story. She told me as well that she couldn't express how much that meant. This was, for me, a beautiful and humbling moment. I do not consider myself to be a naturally good listener, but she had set the agenda and that made it possible for me to do. I don't know what decisions she may have made about how to dress or possibly to have surgery. What I do know is that God granted her a deep level of healing through our meeting. That meeting has guided me in 2 other similar situations as well as others where listening was the first order of business.
I would suggest that across the land both police officers and African Americans need to have someone simply listen to their stories and understand that hurt, fear, mistrust, etc. that all have experienced. I know listening is only a first step. Decisions have to be made. Nonetheless without really listening to one another's stories we are doomed to keep spinning the same wheels.