Listening for Things We Don’t Want to Hear

The foundations and first year experience faculty, staff, and administration spend considerable time and effort to invite freshmen and incoming transfers into a space that is hospitable. Over the years I’ve found that using a Trinity buzzword like “hospitality” could earn me an eye roll and may occasionally be used in jest because of the frequency with which it is used on campus, but there is a depth and a seriousness about it that I’m not sure I understood until I had opportunity to apply it off campus. As a part of the Chicago Semester program I participate in weekly arts events in the city in various forms and with a variety of purposes. A few weeks ago the group attended a play written and produced by an artist who had been sent to Middle Eastern countries in order to interview Iraqi refugees. She performed the resulting theatrical work solo, accompanied only by a musician to provide sound effects and background music. After the show they had a time for questions with the performers and two representatives from humanitarian workers who interact with Iraqi refugees on a regular basis. In that conversation the four speakers mentioned their frustration with how the media is portraying the conflict in the Middle East and the people involved. They were especially upset with the message of the movie American Sniper.

I spent some time that night and in the following days thinking about and talking with others about why the performance had made us so uncomfortable. One person I spoke with was turned off to the play because of the inconsistency in tone and the speaker’s negative views on a movie he enjoyed and whose message he appreciated. After explaining the production to someone else they replied, “There are some people who are going to be against anything that had to do with Bush.” I realized that I wanted to see the movie in order to understand story that had people up in arms on both sides. When I told people in advance what I was doing or thinking of doing I continued to get mixed responses. One person told me not to go. “It’s racist.” Another said it was good. When it came up in another conversation a friend told me they would not be seeing it because it glorified the things the U.S. does overseas, and he did not approve. To an extent, these fueled my desire to make my own decision.

My own conclusion after seeing the movie, though, is that I cannot give it a review. Like the play about the Iraqi refugees it was an artistic representation of one family’s experience with war. Their pain was real and showed war through one man’s eyes. What has become more obvious to me through this experience is the importance of allowing ourselves to listen well, even, and especially, when what we hear may not be easy, fun, or familiar.

In FYF we talk about hospitality as creating a space where people could come and be who they are without pressure to be changed. At first, my very opinionated 18 year-old self chafed at this. “If people are going to be in my space then the rules of right and wrong are going to apply to them too.” I thought. I was and am confident that there is absolute truth in the Word of God. Where I fell short was in understanding that there was more to that truth than my fairly narrow experience of it. In my very conservative “Jesus is a republican” upbringing I had never thought about how much God cares about the pain of the Iraqi refugees in the Middle East. I had assumed for the most part that war stayed where it was and that I didn’t have to worry about the soldiers who made it home. I became very good at not talking to strangers in order to avoid the need I saw on the street and assuming that all my friends at the private Christian college and Chicago Semester programs would think, for the most part, like me. But that wasn’t the whole truth.

The truth is that God is close to the brokenhearted and in order to be where He is we have to allow our hearts to become a place that welcomes these stories, allows them to be told, and responds with the love of God spoken through the Gospel message.  We must become hospitable, and often, uncomfortable.

Learning too, Kathryn Woodside


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