“It is a sin to belittle one’s neighbor; blessed are those who help the poor.” Proverbs 14:21 NLT
“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy
Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high…”
I love listening to the late Ella Fitzgerald. She’s my favorite sing along in the car music. Yeah… not the normal driving tunage for most, but I like it. Her soulful sounding voice, within my singing range, added to lyrics I understand and the jazzy rhythm I love so much keeps me belting out the songs as I drive around town.
I’m a little old fashioned when it comes to music. I love jazz of almost any style, a bit of 80’s rock from my youth and Celtic music. Random, I know. I also love hymns in church. They are scripture and poetry set to tunes that seem to stick in my head. Hymns challenge me to think about my faith, as well as, bring comfort. In fact, during crisis times in life, hymns are what I have meditated on to calm my spirit and bring momentary strength. I’m so thankful to know as many as I do.
Yesterday, my husband and I attended a funeral. A friend’s husband died in a car accident. He was thirty-seven years old. I’ve had friends pass away, but attending a funeral for a father of two under the age of six was heartbreaking. At the end of the service, a soulful singer performed an incredible rendition of the hymn, Amazing Grace. Oh the tears that fell in that sanctuary. Oh the comfort experienced.
Amazing Grace was one of the first hymns I learned on the piano. I remember my seventh grade crush telling me it was a sad song. His reasoning, “Amazing Grace is always sung at funerals.” Case and point yesterday, for sure. Yesterday it was a sad song yet it was a comfort. So beautiful and poignant a song.
“Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see”
I was thinking about the “Was blind but now I see” just now. About how often I am blinded from the truth, not only of God’s grace, but also of life in general. How in my blindness, I make assumptions which further aggravates understanding in relationships around me. Relationships where I truly desire to extend love.
My husband always repeats the quote, “When you assume, it makes an ass out of you and me.” So true. Assuming things about people implies I have knowledge of something I really don’t. I’ve really made a judgment based on what I think is ahead filtered through my own perception. The truth is, other’s experiences are often so different than my own. In other words, I haven’t taken the time to listen to their story and I arrogantly act like I have.
Funny thing about this process. It is relatively easy to stop. It just requires listening and finding out the truth without assuming anything. Listening and sharing stories helps build loving relationships. Relationships that can form world changing actions.
Yesterday, before the funeral, my husband and I hosted an extraordinary young woman to lunch. She works with my husband but is quitting her job to go work for a church in South Africa. Her desire is to bring Jesus into the picture where Nelson Mandela left off. Mandela desired a united country between all his people. Jesus desires that too. This young woman is giving up her comfort here, to go share her faith there in hopes of breaking prejudice and hurtful barriers. She is going to be doing a lot of listening to learn people’s stories in order to create moments for healing.
I teared up listening to her story.
There are hardships, prejudices and injustices in every country in our big beautiful world. I see it in my own area. Not necessarily black and white where I live, but prejudices between the different cultures within our community definitely exist. I live in a huge chicken farming Tyson territory mixed with the established retail regime of Walmart. Companies that bring in people from many different cultures. Then on top of that, add in the largest community of Marshallese families in the nation. Each culture is different. Each culture, including mine makes assumptions and judgements about their neighbors that builds walls instead of relationships.
Every now and then, though something amazing happens. Someone stops to listen and a story is shared. A truth trumps an assumption. Sometimes it’s a teacher who takes time with a student just to hear their story and encourage. Other times, it is happenstance conversations while waiting in line at the supermarket or when people drop their guard and offer dinner to a neighbor or coworker opening the opportunity to get to know someone different from themselves. Whatever it is, something amazing happens. Prejudice stops and friendship begins.
Amazing Grace, a song that brought so much comfort to many African American slaves was actually written by ex-slave trader, John Newton. Only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus really cares enough to create lyrics that transcend pain so the truth of His grace can provide comfort to both a slave and a slave trader. Like our friend who desires to break down walls of prejudice in South Africa, Jesus wants you and me to break down walls right where we are. It will take bravery and the truth of God’s love to learn to listen so loving relationships can be established. It will take risks in leaving our hearts out for someone to potentially break, too. However, imagine the freedom that will come from relinquished fear of prejudices broken. All from listening and then sharing a story.