Listening for Lent

Lent has come again (quite early this year!), and we should use it to start developing some of our atrophied spiritual muscles, like practicing solidarity. At its best, Lent is an opportunity to take up a spiritual practice, as opposed to superficially avoiding sweets. Learning how to listen for the sake of building solidarity is an essential practice for progressive Christians. Doing so is necessary if we are to break out of the mold we so often find ourselves caught in when it comes to relating to the suffering of others.

Most often, we fall into one of two ditches. On one side is anesthetized numbness. Either because of unfamiliarity or unease, we remain separate from the suffering within our wider communities. We may avert our eyes because we don't want to see, satisfying ourselves by staying in a bubble. Some will be confronted with the reality of injustice but shrug their shoulders. In this ditch, we feel nothing, making the pain of another's injury bearable. Whether by refusing to see or willfully shutting down our natural empathy, the result is akin to the hardening of Pharaoh's heart.

On the other side is the ditch of benevolent rescue. We see oppression and our hearts are rightly moved. Who could blame another for the instinctual desire to help? But we err when we act as if we are saviors for the downtrodden, that they are merely waiting for us to rescue them. This is the legacy of colonialism and paternalism, which feels sorry for others but ignores the potential power and resolve that those facing oppression contain within them.

So if we are called neither to cut ourselves off nor to act as divine rescuers, where does that leave us? The middle path, the narrow way, is one of solidarity. This means that we support the work of those directly affected by oppression, but as partners we take our guidance from those closest to the situation.

This is a humbling position, one that many of us are unaccustomed to. Such a stance takes practice; it requires a daily spiritual discipline. Lent is far too brief a season to become proficient at this, but it is enough to start the process. Progressive Christians Uniting believes that faith-rooted solidarity with oppressed communities is the single-most important practice to living out Jesus' way of compassion and justice today.

I invite you to make use of this Lenten time to grow in listening and learning from communities in your region that are experiencing mistreatment and injustice. What are they asking for? How can you and/or your faith community support the work they are already doing? Listen to them.

As Executive Director of Progressive Christians Uniting, I would love for you to send us your insights and stories. Let us know how we can help support, strengthen, or train you for the work of building a faith-rooted movement for solidarity!