Thursday, April 8, 2010

Warning, in Danger of Extinction: American Listening

     Everyone has a story. 


     Did you hear it shatter?  Did the pinging of the last threads ripping apart register in your inner ear?  Did you halt and take notice when the hands of self-righteousness increased their stranglehold around the neck of diversity, who's fists went slack after the gasping terminated?  Did you feel anything?  Did you mourn?  Did you keep walking? 

     Somewhere, in the distant and/or not so distant past, Americans forgot how to listen without prejudice to their neighbors' stories.  Maybe we never did, but wasn't listening the primary value upon which this this country was founded, the coming together of a diverse group of individuals to create a land where all were free of religious, monarchical, and economic tyranny, in a spirit of cooperation, that has, thankfully, expanded over the years to embrace multi-chromatic natives and immigrants from around the world and to reject slavery and racial discrimination and sexism and even homophobia?  

     In 2010, we find ourselves living in a nation divided, where people are planning armed revolt because they don't want the poor to have healthcare, governors proclaim the "sanctity" of Confederate history glossing over slaverychildren are still being killed because they are gay, racism and sexism are as alive and tolerated as ever, and churches are trying to impose their version of god's will upon the entire diversity that has made our nation a refuge for persons regardless of religious affiliation.

     Why?

     Americans have forgotten what it's like to listen.  The compassion of Christians in this nation, the ability to consider what life is like for another very different person than one's self, has atrophied under the downpours of fear and sandstorms of suspicion whipped up by politicians and clergy.  As a result of this pummeling, American compassion is at risk of extinction.

     One website is combating this.  im from driftwood has been founded in hopes of giving LGBT people around the world a chance to share their stories.  Hopefully, others will listen, and the erosion of American compassion for LGBT persons will be reversed.  

     There are so many stories to be told and heard, from the diverse tapestry of American life.  Listening is an American virtue that our nation cannot afford to lose. 

     Preached in the name of fear, judgment, and condemnation of anyone different from one's limited version of god, The Gospel according to Hate is diametrically opposed to the virtue of listening and must be stopped.  One of the ways to combat this fear baiting is for people to keep telling their stories.  And, people must start to listen again.  No election, no political posturing, no personal religious bias, and no amount of lobbyists' cash is worth the price of Americans listening to one another, especially to those whose lives are completely different, but no less American.

     Since I once served as a priest in Dubuque, Iowa, where my own silence in the face of discrimination and abuse added to the erosion of American equality, I found the following story shared from the perspective of a lesbian, middle school teacher living in the most Catholic part of Iowa haunting.  This is the America in which many LGBT persons live.  Listen.

     There’s something you should know about me: I’m a liar.
     Don’t judge me. Because if the first thing you should know about me is that I’m a liar, the second is that I’m a teacher, and the third that I’m a lesbian.
     I teach at a middle school, and most of the girls are in their boy crazy stage. “Chris Brown is so cute!” they say, and I lie and say sure he is. And when a student comes to me in tears over the death of a sibling in a gang fight, he asks me if life is going to get better, and I lie and say, yes it definitely is. Students ask if going to college will guarantee them a good job and a better life, and I lie and say, of course it will. “When are you getting married?” they ask me, and instead of saying, “when it’s legal” I lie and laugh and say I’m too busy caring about them. “I saw you at the movies with your friend, Ms. A” they say, and I lie and don’t correct them.
     “Where do you go to church?” the other teachers ask me, and I lie and say I’m looking for one. “Was that your boyfriend at the concert?” they prod, and I lie by not telling them that “he” is a “she.” “I’m so glad we don’t have any of them homos in this school. They’re gonna ruin this country” they say over lunch in the teachers lounge, and in fear for my job I lie by staying silent and walking out of the room.

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