As the Seattle City Council races heat up, we are hearing rhetoric from some candidates about how city government should spend more time listening to “all sides.” This is coded language. Candidates who want to hear from “all” are usually found making the point of the business community — which is simply organized corporate economic interests, and rarely a “community” in any sense of the word. These candidates indicate that the bleeding hearts who run city government are failing to care for the needs and desires of business.
I am a huge fan of listening. The primary value among the three core values that my church is based on is: “Deep Listening.” But deep listening is not neutral listening. Deep listening is about listening to the quiet voices, the marginalized voices, the muffled and boarded-up and stomped-down voices. Deep listening is not value neutral. It is not about this idea that everyone has an equally valid opinion on every subject, and we should just listen to all sides and find a nice middle answer.
Whether we want to or not, we are all forced to listen all day, every day to the powerful voices. The history books, the dictionaries, the airwaves, radiowaves and the billboards all shout out the voices of the powerful. We do not need to practice deep listening in order to hear what the powerful think. But we do need to do practice deep listening in order to hear what those who are more oppressed think.
We do not need to practice deep listening in order to hear what the powerful think. But we do need to do practice deep listening in order to hear what those who are more oppressed think.
This is spiritual work. In the book of Exodus, God begins the work of liberation by “hearing the cries of the oppressed.” The text does not say: “I have listened to the cry of the enslaved … AND I listened to the PSAs from Pharaoh. You both have good points, so let’s all just sit down and find common ground here.” This God of Exodus says: I listened to the cry of the oppressed, and I KNOW their suffering, and I am sending you to confront Pharaoh and organize the people to revolt. The Gods of Empire always bless the monarchs and slave masters. The God of Liberation, the God of Moses and certainly of Jesus, is the one who throws the rulers off their thrones, and marches in solidarity with the oppressed.
Deep listening does not lead to easy answers. It leads to disruptive questions. Deep listening is not about information; it is about transformation. The African American traditional folksong says: “Got one mind for white folks to see/Got another one I know is me.” This is not the situation faced by “all sides.” This is the reality for those with less institutional power. Until our political leaders pay more attention to the muffled voices than to the amplified ones, justice and peace will never come.
Rev. John Helmiere is the Convener of Valley & Mountain, Hillman City.
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