That is Valid
A Modern History of Hong Kong was an excellent read on the issues and complexities that have contributed to making Hong Kong what it is today. Obviously there is an overwhelming amount of content to digest in this book but I kept noticing throughout Hong Kong’s history a thread of oppression and superiority by outsiders. From the colonialism of the British to the brutal reign of the Japanese in the 1940s, the Chinese in Hong Kong have been under someone’s thumb more than not.
It would be easy to point fingers at England’s expansionist strategy but as soon as I sensed the criticism rise within me I was brought back to a recent conversation and my personal struggle to not contribute to systems that perpetuate oppression. I have to continually be reminded that people make systems and people make them work. It is personal.
The conversation I listened in on a few weeks ago was life-changing.
I listened as black, white and Hispanic senior pastors of large churches in our denomination shared their perspective and pain on race relations in our country and in their own backyard. They shared their personal experience of being treated differently and poorly. It was honest. It was hard and heart-breaking. It was also holy.
One pastor shared that the best response a white person could give a black person after listening to their story was these simple words: ‘that is valid.’ I have thought on it often the last several weeks. ‘That is valid’ does not mean we agree on everything. It does not mean we do things the same way or even vote the same way. What it means is ‘you are a human’. It means that whatever your experience is or was, matters to me. And just because my experience may be different than yours does not mean yours isn’t valid.
I do not know all the ways to help our current situation but I know what will not help is to dismiss one another’s reality and experience. And I also know God will use people to make it better. It’s personal.
My favorite parts of this book were reading about various leaders throughout Hong Kong’s history that moved toward rights and freedoms for Chinese. They made it personal. Clementi during the labor strike in the early 1900s listened to the Chinese more than previous leaders; Churchill from London in 1922 outlawed slavery; many others made reforms especially during the 1960s to 1980s. And no, these leaders did not change the social order overnight but each made progress. It is because social order is a human institution (and not God’s) it is therefore possible to change those structures. ‘A responsible social ethic accepts that social ordering is always a human construct and that as such human beings can change it. God wants the oppressed liberated.’
I have no conclusion to this topic. In many ways it feels like I am in the infancy stages with my awareness of race relations in my own country. I cannot wrap this topic up neatly and tie a bow on it. What I can do is continue to open myself up to others. I can assume less that I know what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. I can listen better. And when I am done listening to someone’s story I can simply say, ‘that is valid’. I hope to get many chances to do that in Hong Kong.
 Giles, Kevin. The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God & the Contemporary Gender Debate. IVP Academic; 2002. 211.
8 responses to “That is Valid”
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Andrea I appreciate your implied invitation to own the problem of racism by listening to others. Listening in order to understand better is such a powerful gift. I also appreciate the response “that is valid”. I’m always looking for new responses to have on hand when listening to people’s experience instead of fumbling for words. One of the others I have ready is “I’m sorry”. I’ve come to actually look for ways to identify with the oppressors in people’s stories, specifically so I can contribute to someone else’s healing. I suppose I stumbled on this while listening to people talk about their painful experiences with church. I realised that sometimes a big step in healing is just to have an apology. Obviously this won’t always be appropriate, but it’s one more to have ready to use at the Spirit’s prompting.
Thank you, Jenn. I appreciate your response and your model of being prepared to respond to others for their healing. I have come to see listening as ministry. I think most of my 20s I wouldn’t have. I had only seen ministry as teaching, leading, exhorting. You get the picture. God can use empathetic listening and when appropriate, an apology to continue His healing work in another’s heart. I know He has used that in my own life.
Have you read Stephen Covey’s material on empathetic listening? Or Brene Brown on empathy?
I love Brene Brown’s work! I think she has done some vital work on shame, empathy and resiliency and have found her approach accessible enough to include in preaching series on many occasions. I’ll have to keep and eye out for Covey. Thanks for the tip!
Thank you Andrea for bringing up this topic of racism and the need for healing for the victims of racism. I identify with those that have been wronged and have taken time to investigate the impact of racism in our country in just a small way. While it is easy to accuse the imperial powers that colonised and partitioned Africa for their selfish interests, I have also realised that we inherited the same systems of governance that favours the elitist society in power who perpetuate discrimination against the ruled in order to maintain their elite status. Man by himself is implicitly selfish and given opportunity to rule, will potentially pursue selfish interests and will likely discriminate his fellow man to protect their privileged position. As believers in Christ we have an obligation to pray for a just society and be different when we have opportunity to hold such positions of leadership. As Christians we stand out as the light of the world and the salt of the earth.
Andrea, I have been having a similar conversation and was with eighty leaders this week listening to their stories of what it feels like to live in America today. It is personal. The tension must be held between personal pain and systemic issues, between individuals and the collective soul. I have been made keenly aware that any organization or group of people, though we often dehumanize our view and language once organized, is still just a collection of humanity and that perspective is critical to finding real solutions.
Great post, Andrea! I feel like I am consistently listening in to this story too. As a white woman in higher education, I find myself wanting to hear the voices of the marginalized more and more because they are incredibly prophetic in our context. I believe that people of color have a significant perspective that we are missing in so much of our culture, but is so needed, especially in higher education.
Andrea, I think the lack of a conclusion to this post is actually very appropriate. The story of the relationship between oppressors and the oppressed is, unfortunately, without ending in our world and as such any sort of tidy bow we put on it would be merely window dressing.
I struggle with the issues of race relations in the United States as well. Growing up in a town that was 99% white I had no idea of the struggles of our brothers and sisters of other races until recently. Now having three kids who are black the stories of other races have become so much more important for me to help my kids. It’s hard to know that their story will likely be different from mine not only because they’re 30 years younger than me, but largely because they have a different shade of skin color.
Thank you for this, Andrea. I love this response. It is one that acknowledges the pain of the matter, even when there is no conclusion. I also admit that I know far too little of this struggle. This week, I have been spending time with staff and students who lost a black friend who was shot by a police officer in a very controversial situation in Dallas. It is terribly personal. My prayer is simply, “Spirit come.” I join you in your hope for an opportunity to validate the feelings and experience of others in Hong Kong, as well as in my own community.