One Simple Skill Forgotten

I was listening to a podcast on my way home from work last month about the NFL protest and how it started as a simple act to draw awareness to racism in America, specifically police brutality. The podcast played a clip of President Trump's reaction. I got sick to my stomach as I listened to him call the athletes names as the crowd cheered and suggest they be fired and punished.

After the clip the host claimed that most American white people think the protest stands for something totally different than what it was originally intended for. Sure, there may be some players kneeling for different reasons, but the fact that our President has changed the narrative to belittle black NFL athletes for disrespecting the flag and our country is concerning. What's even more concerning to me is that most of (white) America believes him. 

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This is one example of how the white voice has taken over the American narrative. If you think about it, many prominent voices in our media and culture today are majority members. Maybe this doesn't mean to much to you, but when the white voices stop listening to the minority voices, things get ugly. 

I'm not here to talk politics, nor am I hear to point fingers. I don't think either of those things are very productive, to be honest. But I am here to humbly suggest that we have a listening problem. 

In one of my classes at Fuller Seminary, we are discussing spiritual practices, one of which is the act of listening. When the lecture began, I was tempted to check out, thinking I already knew what I needed to know about listening. I mean, how hard can it be? But I leaned in as some of my fellow classmates offered stories of being dismissed, unheard, not listened to. I looked a little closer and noticed every single person that shared this kind of experience as a minority member. 

Toward the end of our class discussion, one of my classmates suggested that listening is not the same thing as silence. It's active and patient. It doesn't lead with an agenda, nor does it speak over the voice that's talking. 

I was so convicted sitting there in the back of the classroom, wondering how many times I've started a conversation with my own agenda in mind or only half-listened to take advantage of a break in conversation to share my own point of view. That isn't listening, friends. 

I may be so bold to suggest that our culture's future hinges on this one skill. As a white American, it's easy to expect others to listen to me, which is not something I'm proud of. I was raised to believe that I am worthy of being listened to. But do I believe that about my minority friends, too? 

Listening isn't rocket science. It's a simple concept, really. But it takes practice, awareness, and intentionality. It takes participating in a conversation simply to be present. It takes letting down walls, choosing not to respond defensively, and taking the time to truly understand what the person in front of us is saying. 

Don't let the media tell you what to think. Get to know people. Listen to their stories and ask good questions. This is the skill that's missing for many white Americans, including myself.

Love Your Neighbor Where You Are

Like many of you, I've been discouraged, frustrated, saddened, and heartbroken over the executive order released by the Trump administration and the ever-increasing racial and cultural divide that seems to be growing in our country by the minute. However, unlike some of the posts I've been reading, I'm not writing to defend a position or to complain. Instead, allow me to offer my small voice in the midst of a very loud, disruptive, and chaotic moment in our nation's history. 

I believe we will look back on this time as very defining for our nation and those who will come after us. That being said, it's paramount we learn to rise above the chaos, speak the truth in love, and take action rather than staying on the sidelines. This is not a time to be silent; it's a time to engage. 

To be clear, I'm not talking about writing passionate or fiery social media posts or engaging in a political debate via Facebook. I'm talking about real life, face-to-face interaction with real people. If what we're really after is lasting social change, I suggest we put down our phones, stop talking, and start doing instead. 

Two years ago I started meeting with international students on the college campus in my town, and through conversations with students from Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, and the Middle East, my sweet little conservative Christian American worldview was challenged to say the least. I've traveled overseas many times, but there was something different about engaging people different than me in my own city - it broke something. 

Whenever we choose to cross cultural barriers and step over the line (visible or not), people notice. It may have seemed strange and even abrupt at first, but the friendships I've developed with students from different races, backgrounds, and nations have shaped and challenged me in ways few others have. I decided I didn't want to contribute to the social norms and cultural barriers; I wanted to be a part of the solution to the brokenness and disunity in our nation and world. 

Let us learn to funnel the frustration and heartbreak over the actions of our new President and his administration into action rather than more words. Let us learn to cross the line, challenge social norms, and in turn, challenge ourselves. 

There are so many ways to engage those hurting around us. It starts with me in Waco, TX and with you in your city. It starts by listening and learning, by extending a hand to those in need, by opening our eyes to see our neighbors in our workplace, classroom, or daily route. It starts by loving our neighbors as ourselves wherever we are now. 

I don't pretend to have answers or a solution to the recent executive order, the ramifications for my Muslim brothers and sisters, or for the racial divide in our nation. Yet rather than standing still on the sidelines racking my brain for a solution or debating about ways to change, I can do something small today. I can choose to love my neighbor at the gym this morning or on the campus I'll visit later today. I can choose to look around and inconvenience myself for the sake of someone else. I can choose to listen, even if that means disagreeing or not understanding, and most of all, I can choose to engage. 

What the American Consumer and the American Voter Have in Common

In the last 24 hours I’ve seen half a dozen Facebook statuses asking why people are voting for Donald Trump. If you’ve made the effort to stay even the least bit informed, then you’re aware Trump continues to rise in the polls, despite the warnings of other conservatives and liberals alike.

Let me start by saying this is not a post endorsing one candidate or bashing another. I, too, have been baffled by Trump’s success and have asked the same question I’ve seen roaming around Facebook and in the news. I started reading some of the responses and content Trump supporters are producing and discovered a common theme.

Most of the responses I’ve read sound something like this: “I’m voting for Trump because I feel I know what I’m getting. He puts it all out there and isn’t making empty promises or using political jargon to win others over.”

It seems to me like America is tired of politics and all that comes with it. And in a desperate effort to cling to authenticity, voters seem willing to abandon some of their values and ideals.

That may sound harsh, but what the polls tell me is that people are looking for someone to tell the truth and start being themselves. To many voters, Trump is just that – they feel as though they won’t be surprised or disappointed by voting for him. Instead, they know exactly who he is and what he offers.

As this thought dawned on me, I remembered researching consumer trends for an article I wrote a few months back. One of the most interesting things I studied was the American consumer’s search for brand authenticity.

Stay with me for a moment and allow me to share a practical example. Several years ago one of the top classic American brands, J. Crew, bought Madewell, a similar clothing company produced in the U.S. In an effort to streamline their production process, J. Crew started manufacturing Madewell clothing overseas. This created some push back from Madewell supporters, who argued the authenticity of the brand had been compromised.

Dan Nosowitz, the grandson of Madewell’s founder, was quoted in an article published by Buzzfeed saying “How many corporations are out there rifling through the defunct brands of America’s past like a bin of used records, looking for something, anything, that will give them that soft Edison-bulb glow of authenticity?” (Source: New York Times)

The presidential campaign and clothing companies may not have much in common, but the search for the “soft Edison-bulb glow of authenticity” remains present in both. The American consumer is looking for brands and products that are authentic, true and real. In the same way, Americans are looking for leaders who will display similar qualities.

I’m not saying Trump is the answer to this plea for and market shift toward authenticity (in fact, I plan not to vote for him), but I do believe there’s something we can learn from Donald Trump and a majority of American voters – more people are attracted to raw honestly than a showy display of words and grand promises, so we might as well learn to put it all on the table no matter the risk. 

Regardless of where your political allegiance lies, take note and maybe even choose to take steps toward authenticity in your own life. Are you brave enough to put it all on the table?