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Theory of Change in a time of listening

A Time of Listening

Listening. The ancient expect us to listen. The seven generations who will come expect us to listen. Prayer with the Early Church emphasized the twofold path of prayer and love as a conversation.

Abba Poemen said, “Not understanding what has happened prevents us from going on to something better.” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward, S.L.G., rev. ed (London and Oxford: Mowbray, 1981), p200.

If we listen to the injuries of our neighbor, if we listen to the injuries of generations of trauma, we can begin to make change. And in this way, as I've written, we can become a church in the streets.

We come to our advocacy for immigrants informed by outrage, lament, and renewed conviction. Charged to confront structural violence, police murder of George Floyd, endemic inequity, we carry in penance as a community a great task of moral import. For months, absorbed, allowing our advocacy to pause, we took up the scriptures of the streets, spiritual communion with and for the poor. Catholic Social Teaching on Immigration, drawn as it is from ancient sources protecting human dignity, should not be read in isolation from currents for racial justice.

Where was the Church in times of violence? Where was the Church in the crucifixions of anti-blackness? With histories assisting us, the lens of equity began to take us into the dark complicity of the White church. For where was the White Church when a Georgia mob lynched Mary Turner in 1919? Historian at Tufts University, Kerri K. Greenidge writes of the gruesome scene in her book Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter (2020). In her account the scene is raised by Trotter to combat the racist ideology, a direct refutation of the myth of vigilantes protecting “white womanhood.” 

“The eight months’ pregnant Turner was hung upside down, doused in gasoline, and set on fire before one mob member used a hunting knife to cut the living baby from her stomach; when the baby fell, still alive and crying, to the ground, the mob stomped it to death. Trotter insisted that such rabid antiblack violence was not anathema to American democracy, but a fundamental feature of it. By passing Federal legislation against such violence, then, Congress had a chance to remake democracy itself, at a time when many still saw the United States as a positive force in the world. “Our country cannot exist among the civilized nations of the world if...this lynching of citizens, because of their race, is to be carried on from everlasting to everlasting,” Trotter concluded.” (319)

Of the White Church the prophet Ezekiel speaks:

“Her priests violate my law and profane what is holy to me; they do not distinguish between the sacred and the profane, nor teach the difference between the unclean and the unclean; they pay no attention to my sabbaths, so that I have been profaned in their midst. Her nobles within her are like wolves that tear prey, shedding blood and destroying lives to get unjust gain. Her prophets cover them with whitewash, pretending to visions that are false and performing lying divinations, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord God,’ although the Lord has not spoken. The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they afflict the poor and the  needy, and oppress the resident alien without justice.” (Ezekiel 22:26-29).

Pope Francis, who has called for a church in the streets, has introduced a reform in the practice of church renewal, launching a kind of lay-led investigation, termed 'Synodality', inviting participation not only from Catholics but those who may have been Catholic at one time. As individuals we are asked how our local parish, and our larger church, can listen better. In one sentence, respond how our church can listen better?


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