"Listen and See" - Written by Rev. Dr. John Regan

Matthew 19:14  "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

A few weeks ago I attended an event sponsored by the Ralph Ellison Foundation. Approximately 60 people gathered in the refurbished Paramount Building west of downtown Oklahoma City for a night of conversation with three guests sharing their perspectives on three questions:

1) What are the issues in your community and America that worry you the most--what keeps you up at night?  

2) How does your background affect your view of these issues?

3) Can you remember a conversation in your life that caused you to see the world differently?  

It was inspiring to be in a room of people with diverse backgrounds willing to set aside their partisan and ideological preferences for a full evening of listening.  In an election cycle and culture that is often noisy and shrill, it was a relief to be in a place where no one shouted down any speaker. Conversation without debate fosters imagination, creativity, and new ideas. Listening to people share a little about their life story broadens our knowledge of the world--and ourselves.  These substantive conversations remind us of everyday threads that stitch together our common humanity.  When we only know what "we like" and "what we believe," we limit ourselves and miss the beauty and richness of community.  

I heard a teacher, now an executive of a non-profit, talk about how her church youth group had lead her to the south side of Chicago and opened her eyes and heart to a community vastly different than her affluent Chicago suburb.  Her church broadened her experience of others and her city, which profoundly shaped her adult life.  

I heard a seminary professor share a memory of being a new immigrant in the United States and being stopped at gunpoint by the police for a minor traffic infraction.  Not aware of the social norms when stopped by a police officer in America, he got out of his car and the officers drew their weapons and yelled at him.  He shared how this experience formed his understanding of how people of color in the United States experience law enforcement.

I also met a dynamic educator, the woman behind the launch of an amazing Oklahoma City school for homeless children called Positive Tomorrows.  The mantra that guides her leadership style is, "Who do I know will help us get around this obstacle?" She shared the power of imagination is rooted in the "human capital" of things people know how to do.  When she cast a vision of creating a school for homeless children, someone said, "They can't come to school. They have not been vaccinated." She asked, "Who can vaccinate them for us if they can't go to their own doctor?" Someone else responded, "I know someone in the health department and they will be happy to come on site."  She has learned you don't have to knock down barriers, but you do have to imagine new ways around them.

Jesus told his followers, "Do not hinder the children; for to such belong the kingdom of God." Our children and grandchildren help us see the world through their eyes.  They inspire us to address the daunting issues of our day in order to find ways around the present barriers of our times. Listening to others in community allows us to enter and see the Kingdom of God and the beauty that surrounds us.  

Gentle God,
Teach us the wisdom of listening to others, the joy of playing with children, and the richness of knowing our neighbor.  Amen

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