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.