listen up, y’all

Sunday morning at church was a pivotal moment in the kick-off to my YAV year. I have been searching for a story to tell, for a profound thought to share. I realized this morning that this world has no shortage of profound one-liners from inspirational people. What we are missing, instead, is the ability to listen to others to hear (not to respond). I don’t always need to speak; I always need to hear.

Sunday morning, I was hearing. I was listening to Antwan Phillips as he read a brief passage from Joshua that gives form to some thoughts I have been having.

Joshua 1: 12-15

But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’ Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

Antwan was a guest speaker at a Sunday school series that focuses on public education and the Little Rock School District or LRSD. The historic claim to fame by LRSD is the story of the Little Rock Nine at Central High School that frames the start of intentional desegregation. Decades later it seems the entire city is experiencing a modern-day pattern of economic re-segregation in the midst of a takeover of the school board by the state.

It is interesting to come into this conversation as someone who has never been part of LRSD. On Sunday someone asked how we, members of the community with no children in LRSD, can be helpful. Another listener asked Antwan what the biggest problem in LRSD is and he responded with, “The biggest problem is that everyone keeps telling us we have a big problem.” He admits that there are issues, as with any school district or multi-faceted entity. There is no doubt that funding is scarce and test scores are lower than desired.

These inquiring individuals stood out to me as people listening to hear while others where listening to respond. A few were more specifically listening to respond with their own opinions and suggestions. Lost in all of these voices, no students spoke up.

Scroll up and read the quoted passage from Joshua again. Hear the words.

You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest

Joshua is made to realize that his own liberation, happiness, and freedom is inseparable from the liberation, happiness, and freedom of his brothers and sisters in Christ across the river. He cannot enjoy his own life while people are still suffering in theirs. Understanding and accepting this is imperative for all of us.

You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest

Are you hearing this?!?

Consider this quote from Lilla Watson that I will come back to again and again this year:

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest

because your liberation is bound up with mine

Lilla Watson is a leading activist for the rights of women and indigenous peoples. Today is a national holiday named for Christopher Columbus. He symbolizes the genocide and theft that indigenous populations have battled since Europeans learned of their existence. His “New World” belonged to hundreds of peoples who have been forgotten and downtrodden. Recently, there is growing support in favor of changing the federal holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day. It is astounding to me that this is only a recent change.

You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest because your liberation is bound up with mine. 

Listen to hear the cries of those across the river from yourself. Listen to hear. Listen to hear because you are to help them until the Lord gives them rest because your liberation is bound up with mine.

You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest because your liberation is bound up with mine. 

Let us work together.

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