I’m staring at the computer screen knowing I need to write something, but not knowing what to say or do. My heart is hurting deep and wide, and not just for the level I feel personally but for the anguish felt by many.

How can I speak up and listen all at the same time?

I make no pretense to be a voice for my friends whose skin tones are darker than mine. As if I even could. But, then I often wonder if I should. Speak at all.

I wonder if my attempts to say something will come across insensitive, or if my heart will be misunderstood. I wonder if I’ll trip up over my own words.

But, I listen to the shakiness in my friend’s voice and tears just well up so high. My heart simply grieves alongside her, knowing her pain is felt in ways I can’t fully comprehend.

I can no longer let fear stop me from moving forward in some way. If I fail, help me back up OK?

In the aftermath of more shootings, more senselessness, and more incomprehensible aggression, all I know to do is to cry too. And pray. And seek God’s guidance as words pour out, “Lord, what can I do?”

What can we do? Do we speak up? Do we remain silent and listen? How can we build bridges together?

I feel a bit helpless, but not hopeless. Perhaps you do too.

Learning to Listen and the Courage to Speak Up

As I sit here in the quiet safety of my suburban home, it’s easy to pass by more painful news reports and just let time carry them off into oblivion. Again. But, I can’t keep doing it. Not when so many I know are hurting exponentially. Not when I belong to a multi-cultural church which actively seeks to engage in conversation because every step towards reconciliation is a step forward and a step of healing.

Not when loved ones are experiencing grief in ways I can’t fully fathom.

I remember sitting across the table from one of the many lovely darker faces I’ve grown to love. She began to open up, just a little at first. And then a little more. I remember sharing my hesitations to speak of anything related to race and prejudices. I expressed a sincere desire to listen and learn. I watched her face relax a little as mine did too.

I remember how those short moments became powerful snapshots of what it could be like to keep the conversation going. I don’t want to forget how each of us can take brave steps forward to bring about healing bridges. It’s a slow thing, but I believe it’s powerful and necessary. I also wholly believe it’s possible.

To be honest, in the listening I hear messages to me as a white person which say, “Speak up. Let us know you see us and you care.” Then I also hear messages which say, “Step back. Listen and let black voices lead.”

If you’d allow me the chance to say this, I hear you. I want to do both and this is my awkward attempt to simply share my heart and open up room to hear yours.

Perhaps I can begin by expressing how my perspective has shifted over the last couple of years.

In my ignorance I watched the tag #blacklivesmatter and wondered with the same thoughts I know others have had too. Why this tag? Why not all lives matter?

My motivation came from a place of honestly desiring all of mankind to see human life as valuable because of what I’ve known. Because I’ve seen the lack of value attributed to babies aborted and thrown in trash cans. I’ve watched the lives of those who don’t have adequate social skills become seen as something less than worthy of anyone’s time. I’ve gotten involved in the lives of foster children and heard story after story of both children and parents who were treated as less-than. Add to these personal experiences the very real evils of ISIS, sex trafficking, and more. Because of all this my heart does indeed cry out for human kind to find value in each other.

Rather than making a statement either way, I kept watching and listening. Learning.

Over time, I came to realize that to say #blacklivesmatter is to acknowledge injustice and a kind of hurt which is very real, and sadly still all too prevalent. It is to recognize the elephant in the room which means to validate the pain of another.

To say #alllivesmatter in retort, is to deny the existence of something very real, very wrong, and very painful.

To say black lives matter doesn’t negate the lives of any else, or the value of any other lives. What it does do is make space for our black friends and communities to feel a little more OK with being who they are and feeling what they feel. May we give room for humanity to grieve and to grow.

When we are honest about the evil which hides in the darkness among us, we bring light and open doors to new ways of living.

What I haven’t known has kept me from finding my place in building bridges with those who feel this injustice often. When another life is shot down, there is a collective groan which should not be ignored. 

Dear Spirit, speak for us in our groanings. Dear Lord, let us hear from you today. Forgive me for not responding to you when you have spoken.

I haven’t known how to respond or what to say, and still don’t. Not really. Perhaps I haven’t known the power of saying something while leaving room for silence and caring presence. Regardless, it’s no longer OK to just wait for tensions to pass and to tread on as if it never happened.

Here I am, sore in heart with simple words asking all of us today to recognize the hurt we see in those around us. Our black friends are hurting, and we can hurt with them and learn to love them better.

Here I am, learning to speak up and creating space to listen.

Thank you for your grace.