It is mid-summer in Nashville, TN. It is hot and humid and has been since the beginning of May. There have only been a handful of days since then with a high temperature below 90 degrees. I remember another hot summer when I was almost 20 years old, living for 3 months with a group of 5 other college students in Chicago, Illinois and how the experiences of that summer transformed my thinking and my life.
I thought about that today after finding an article I wrote after that summer of 1966 that was published in my hometown church newsletter. In the article to the people in that Lutheran Church in Stoughton, Wisconsin where I grew up, I tried to express the impact of that astounding experience in my life. What is most striking to me as I read it is how it speaks to our realities in 2018 far more than I would have expected. 52 years later and the issues are sadly similar, even if the specifics have changed somewhat. Here is what I wrote (I have not changed the language – this was considered proper usage in 1966):
FROM OUR YOUTH
Listening, really listening to other people, is hard work. Because of the multitude of sounds constantly pounding against our ear drums, we have all but lost the ability to really hear and understand what people are trying to tell us. This includes us in the church who have, especially in the urban areas, failed to listen to the needs, wants, loves, and fears which people are crying out to us.
In an attempt to correct this, the Youth Department of the ALC (American Lutheran Church) sends Listening Witness teams of between four and six ALC college students into various congregations for the summer to learn to listen and begin to teach members of the host congregation to make listening a way of life so that they can be part of a true servant church.
This past summer I and five other Luther College students were in a congregation on the southwest side of Chicago. We were an integrated team situated in an all-white, lower-middle class neighborhood and congregation, one block from the Negro neighborhood.
Although we often found it easier to see things that were taken for granted by the congregation, we also had to guard against fast misjudgments and rejecting people and ideas because they were different from our own before we understood the reasons behind them.
We encountered much blind prejudice, within and outside of the church. We were told that ‘nice’ girls would not be part of such an integrated team and it wasn’t ‘proper’ for us to walk down the street with Negro boys. We had to change residences because the Negro member of the team walked us to the house, and the residents feared their daughter’s reputation would be ruined. Several boys refused to take part in a communion service after our Negro team member did, although they treated him as a buddy otherwise.
As a result of the summer, I have a much clearer picture of what the Church of Christ is and what it can and should be today. If we learn to listen and serve and love all as the Lord of the Church did, that Church can create a brotherhood which glories in human diversity. If we remain self-centered, cling blindly to tradition, build barriers between people, and ignore individual humans by stereotyping groups, we will aid and encourage hate, discrimination, fear and everything contrary to the Gospel of love we claim to believe in.
This applies here in Stoughton as well as in Chicago or any large city – being a Listening Witness must be a Christian’s way of life. We must listen to what is said, not what we want to hear or think should be said, and then witness to the situation in Christian love, not self-righteous judgment.
— Carol Brusegar ( From The Ambassador newsletter of Christ Lutheran Church, Stoughton, Wisconsin, December 1966)
What have the milestone experiences been in your life? You may find some treasure in them!
In 1966, a number of significant things occurred in the civil rights movement. A chapter of this book is specifically about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “going north” and specifically the events in Chicago that year.
The King Years: Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement