Marsh Hudson-Knapp | Speaking of Religion: Discoveries in mural painting

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Bennington listens!

Two weeks ago I found myself right in the middle of conflicting points of view during the community mural painting project. Some people were seated near me blocking the painting. Others opposing the project stood behind and around me. Another friend who had come to enjoy the community mural project was nearby. At first I had a conversation with my friend.

Then I got curious. I've been studying Difficult Conversations for years and the practice urges us to get curious about the stories of people who oppose our point of view. I've also been listening to Jesus tell me to love my enemies. So I introduced myself to the man standing immediately behind me, holding a flag and speaking against the mural making. I asked him about his interests and learned that he is an old car enthusiast. He told me about some of his accomplishments, and I felt enthused about his interests.

Something was happening to me. A bridge was forming in my heart between me and the person who I saw as my opponent. That came in handy later.

Over time other people who opposed the mural began to speak and I practiced curiosity. Now let me tell you it takes a lot of self-discipline and energy to listen to people who strongly oppose something you value deeply. You already know that. Right?

Listening makes me hear things that suggest I might be wrong! And if I get convicted I might have to give up something or change. Yikes! But curiosity was starting to stir in me.

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"I am not against Black people," one person explained. "But I am against the violence that I see in BLM protests." 

"I don't support violence either, " I responded. "Neither I nor the folks who created this community celebration are advocating violence. What we want is for our Black neighbors to know that they matter to us."

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Another person spoke. "I'm not so angry at you as I am at the Select Board." The conversations were on their way.

What I often saw happening were learning conversations. We were learning about and hearing one another's concerns and sharing our stories instead of fighting to show the other they are wrong or stupid.

Not every interaction went so well. But we are humans, learning to live in community, and trying to find balance within ourselves and to listen and speak what matters most to us.

I read something a few months ago that rings very true to me. Most people cannot listen to you UNTIL you actually hear them and they KNOW you heard them. Arguments, which often escalate, often involve people desperate to be heard and understood. Actually hearing a person who disagrees with me is very hard and absolutely essential. If we want to be heard, we probably need to listen first and check out what we hear. "Did I hear you right? I think you said " Putting their thought in your own words can start to build a bridge instead of a wall.

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AFTER we listen and paraphrase what they long to have us hear, the other person is often more able to hear us tell our story, which is very important too!

I had a new experience at the mural painting. I always thought you needed to be calm and speak quietly to have a learning conversation. Well, at the mural painting I witnessed several very LOUD conversations. Waving arms and hands were gesturing pretty loudly too. And I felt concerned that things could go badly. When I listened closely, however, I discovered people yelling agreement and understanding AND then expressing their different ideas. Many people were working to manage their strong feelings AND listen and speak.

Congratulations Bennington, for the courage to show the world through our beautiful mural that in our community Black Lives Matter. To the people who were able to enter into learning conversations who had different ideas as well as similar ones, to the police who strove to be an impartial and peaceful presence, to all the people who shared art, music of many styles, RAP messages, food, and dancing; to all the people of a range of ages and races who refused to let threats stop them from being community, thank you!

In our families and in our community may we work to embody the heart of our many faith paths: listen, seek to understand, and speak your own story. This is how the Life Force weaves us into a community.

Marsh Hudson-Knapp is a member of the Interfaith Council and Second Congregational Church where he coordinates the Sunday Night Suppers. Contact him at MRHudsonknapp@gmail.com


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