Listening in San Francisco - October 14, 2016

Streets painted with vibrant color. Images representing the story of those have been edged out. Painted on the walls of a neighborhood that it is impossible to forget. The story of oppression and pain.

The Mission district is consistently becoming more and more gentrified. The families that have inhabited this part of San Francisco, California for decades are being put on the streets. Tent cities line the sidewalks, creativity used for survival. According to this ABC7 article, San Francisco has the second largest homeless population in the country with 795 homeless per 100,000 people in the city.

Along with the homeless population growth police accountability, in his neighborhood, is at an all time low. Young people of color have been shot and killed due to the fear of difference that has been programmed into the DNA of this country.

This is the setting where Mark Scandrette and his family have lived for almost 20 years now. Scandrette has intentionally chosen to live into the particularity of the Mission District by listening to the pain that continues to rise up in the neighborhood.

When listening to the particularity of a community you are looking for the places in which God is already at work. For the Scandrette, partnering with God looks like supporting those that are lamenting the loss of young lives in the Mission District.

Scandrette regrets the length of time it has taken him to identify his own privilege when it comes to the inequality that is so prevalent in our culture. His own privilege has held him from seeing the entire picture of the systemic injustices.

Now he stands with those that have been fighting the long fight. Learning from the experience of those who have been objectified and voiceless, Scandrette is learning to listen first and speak second. Scandrette is claiming his church with the humble few that stand in front of the police station advocating for the DA to take action on having police reform for San Francisco.

Out of tragedy the community has come together through prayer. Weekly they stand together and hold a vigil in front of the police station. This small group has become a source healing, friendship, connection, and advocacy. Their hope is for police procedures and training to change. As a result of acting in that hope, they have found family… they have found church.

The death of a young man in their community has galvanized the community together. They sit in the pain and give space for it to speak. The systems are overwhelmingly broken and for many people of privilege, the broken discomfort of the systems are easily escaped.

As Scandrette said it, “Let your compassion take you to the far edge to where you are overwhelmed.” A counter-cultural statement, yet one that allows for pain to inform how and where justice and hope are needed. So often we pursue the relief of pain before it has been given a chance to speak. We are then stunted and not fully healed.

It is imperative to press into the discomfort and hear what it reveals about the state of our country. When we lean into what the pain is saying it can shed light on the true narrative at work and can bring freedom.

Scandrette’s hope is that the church can have a bigger imagination for what life can be. Notice that church can be in a building with the steeple, as well as, outside advocating for a peace and justice.

Listening is something that has no agenda. Often times when we enter into a new place we have assumptions about what we think we should hear from a community. Our own idea of how God should be working in a community.

That preconceived agenda actually hinders our ability to hear what the community is telling us and hear where God is already at work. Usually, when we listen to a community well we are nudged by the Holy Spirit to see something that makes us uneasy or pushes us out of our comfort zone.

There is so much pain in our country today. How are we listening to that pain? What is that pain saying? What healing needs to happen? How is God asking us to partner in that pain to bring healing?

Our assumptions ofttimes are not what the community needs and will distract from the work that truly needs to be done. Scandrette’s story is an excellent example of what it means to listen well and lean into that which reveals a new lens to see the world.