Listening To vs Learning From


kathy escobar -listening to versus learning from-3

These days we hear a lot about the importance of listening to voices from the margins. For so long, the dominant voices have been held by mostly male, mostly white leaders—not only in the church and ministry, but also in high levels of countless systems.

Slowly but surely things are shifting in small and healing ways and people are recognizing how much we’ve missed along the way. While our white outrage about racial injustice has picked up steam in the past few years, the reality is that our friends of color have been experiencing it all along.

Many of us just never took time to listen.

Privilege can do that to us.

I am not pointing the finger here; as a highly educated, white, progressive Christian, married, straight, insured woman who lives in the suburbs, I have an incredible amount of privilege bestowed upon me. Even though I’ve worked in the margins for many years and have heard countless stories of “what it’s like,” I am constantly struck by what’s available to me that’s not available to others.

In February my faith community, The Refuge, had the privilege of hosting Mark Charles, a Navajo American and an incredibly powerful and prophetic voice from Washington D.C. for a learning party at our Dinner Church. He shared about the Doctrine of Discovery and the roots of our terrible church history, American history, and how deep the grooves on racism remain. Our souls were rocked, and it was tough not to slip into despair and hopelessness—that there was no way out of the mess we created.

However, I always draw back on Psalm 9:6—The hope of the afflicted will never perish.

Hope is not going to come through quick results, immediate mind-changing, heart-softening, and the crumbling of hierarchical oppressive systems. Oh, how I wish it could be!

Instead, hope will come not just by listening to the voices of those in the margins, but by being truly taught by them. That is how we will be transformed.

Listening isn’t enough.

No question, listening is a start and better than nothing. But in and of itself it will be just another “Let’s get a woman’s voice, a black voice, a native voice, an LGBT+ voice” that will assuage the pain of all-white lineup of leaders, speakers, panels, and power.

The shift that I made at the Mark Charles event is remembering how desperate we are for new teachers.

We need new teachers!

Let’s face it, most all our teachers came from our own strain of belief, demographic, and more. We were taught by teachers who looked like us, spoke like us, believed like us.

It’s not a terrible thing; I have learned some amazing things from white, educated, privileged males.

However, it’s time for new teachers like never before.

Black, brown, women, LGBT+, youth, poor, and more—we’ve got an incredible amount of new teachers who we can not only listen to, but also learn from.

Teachers challenge.

Teachers expand our world.

Teachers make us angry.

Teachers inspire us.

Teachers stir the pot and help us think of what we haven’t thought of before.

While “listening to” voices from the margins requires a degree of humility, “learning from” and “being taught by” voices from the margins require a whole other level of humility.

Being taught requires submission.

It requires realizing they know more than we do.

It requires time and space and intention.

My hope, my heart, my challenge to myself and to all of us is to use this upcoming year to gather more teachers to learn from.

I want to not only listen to new voices, but also consider them as teachers and me as a student. There are countless number of men and women of all shapes and sizes and experiences who have a great gift to give us, if are willing to learn, not just listen.

Who are some of your teachers?

What are some of the gaps you’ve got in who you listen to?

Here’s to not just listening, but to being taught.

One thing I’m definitely certain of now more than ever—there’s a lot to learn.

Kathy Escobar
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver. A trained spiritual director, speaker, and advocate, she also blogs regularly about life and faith at and is the author of Faith Shift and Down We Go—Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus. A mom of 5 young adults and teens, she is married to Jose and lives in Arvada, Colorado.
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  1. Samantha Klassen says:

    Thanks for this, it is a really helpful article. It seems to me that the move from listening to learning, which, as you say, requires a whole new level of humility, also removes the last traces of condescension that sometimes linger when we profess that we are “listening to marginalized groups.”

    I do think it bears saying that privileged people need to be careful not to assume that every black, brown, LGBT+, youth, or poor person they meet is obligated to educate them about their experience. I have heard many people express frustration about this assumption being made of them. Teaching is work that can be exhausting, so while privileged people do need make them/ourselves receptive to the teaching that is being offered, they/we also need to be careful not to demand or expect it from people just because they belong to a marginalized group.

    Really appreciate this article.

  2. Women, Black, and Queer Christians have really expanded my perspective. You know who I am really is missing is the poor. I need to hear from the poor directly.

  3. Nichole Bilcowski Forbes says:


  4. WORD. 🔥

  5. Robyn Rapske says:

    That was an excellent read! Thank you for this.

  6. Monica says:

    Kathy, I think what you have written is true, but I believe it needs to go a bit further. Yes, we all need to be taught, but we also must make the decision as to whether or not we will embrace the truth, live out what is right and good, and change what is unjust. Awareness and knowledge are great, but action must follow for change.

  7. O, Kathy. As a “brown” person who is sometimes invited to “share”—a word that feels more comfortable than “teach”(LOL)—I needed to hear these words. The scale of the Imposter Syndrome that minorities face when speaking in spaces filled with the dominant narrative culture can be daunting. The fear I have to confront before I speak (uncomfortable) truth to mostly white rooms, and the vulnerability hangover in the aftermath is…overwhelming.

    “Teachers make us angry.”<– I needed this reminder today. As a recovering people-pleaser, I want happy responses. I want to see smiles. I want bear hugs. It breaks my heart to see tear-stained, exhausted and despairing faces.

    I don't like being the trigger for someone's grief or anger.

    But over the last couple of years, I have realized that the truth sometimes hurts before it convicts.

    I've have to sit with hard truths (in my marriage, or parenting, or whatever) for a while before the humility eventually washes over me and orients me towards change. This realization gives me the courage to speak. It's my teeny contribution to the giant ocean of conversations that need to happen for us to find our way back home to each other.

    Love you. Your words have always been so timely for me.

    Thanks friend. *bear hug*

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