Our Clamoring Silence

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Your silence will not protect you.
Audre Lorde

As some of you may have noticed I took some time off from the blog. I continued to write and fill pages in my notebook each new day, but I had to remove myself, evaluating my words and my efforts.  I wasn’t sure what else to say. I was, and continue to be, in a constant state of reaction as I am baffled by the state of our nation and world, wondering how much we can handle before it all snaps. And in these times we have to stagger our breathing. We have to care for our souls, bodies, relationships, tending to our greater purposes.

This past year has rendered anyone who pays attention confused, concerned, overwhelmed. The cost of remaining informed is high. Those of us who want to make the world better are tired and disturbed. It’s been a long year. The threat to the goodness and well-being of creation continues unabated. The onslaught of head shaking injustice purported in the name of power, greed, wealth is incomprehensible. And the moral gymnastics contorting faith-based institutions and leaders to align with a political party is staggering.

In this season of church planting and discovering what it means to pastor I am pitched midway upon a steep learning curve, one that demands I accept who I am and what I can handle. This curve has me in its grip of vulnerability as I lean into places that invite me to show up, to speak my mind, to share my experience. Oftentimes I would prefer to stay to myself, to keep quiet, to listen, and take copious notes, but this is not that season. That season has passed. My learning now demands I speak aloud. My learning now involves risk and potential mistakes, trusting in what I know and admitting what I don’t.

My silence serves no-one in this stage. My silence is merely an excuse to shield myself.

And in this world in which we exist, our silence serves no-one. Our silence is merely an excuse to shield ourselves.

While choosing silence in the face of controversy can bring comfort in the short term, oftentimes choosing silence in our culture today equals complicity.

Today’s ever-present power differentials within America are acute, emanating from the grimy mist of Washington and Hollywood and everywhere in between. The eye opening, yet unsurprising movements of #MeToo and #ChurchToo reveal the sickness of male power and the reckoning that begs to be brought to completion, that begs to tear asunder the notion that we are beholden to men as our leaders, spiritual and otherwise. And our rampant racism that begs to call into account the fall out from our nation’s founding built on the back of slave and indigenous populations.

Peeling back the layers of injustice is painstaking and time consuming, while also rewarding and enduring. Each seed dropped, planted, watered is a contribution to the holistic betterment of our society. Our personal shifts in perspective the equivalent of recovery’s first step – admitting there’s a problem and our powerlessness as we are. The work is long and as people of faith, as people of conscience, as people of love and justice we will plow forward with better questions, believing the victims, celebrating the truth-telling, and upending the complicit structures to become a nation great for all.

When the world is tilted in the favor of a small fraction of folks, no-one wins. No-one knows equity. No-one knows equality. There is a misogynist and white supremacist power differential that must be reckoned with before we can entitle all humanity to one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. And if we choose denial and self-serving righteousness we will continue to stumble along in the murky darkness that is the American Dream.

Since we are all in this life together we are each equal beneficiaries of the American ideal along with everyone else –

not just Christians.

not just men.

not just white.

not just straight.

not just cis-gender.

not just abled.

not just housed.

not just landowners.

not just those with 401k’s and health insurance and well-paying jobs.

When my privilege is leveraged, my power is evened. My hand reaches down to pull up my brothers and sisters, the American Dream now realized. We are as good, as full, as abundant, as righteous as our society’s most vulnerable. Our generosity to one another is key – seeing one another, examining the inner workings of systems keeping certain people in power, while keeping other people down.

There is no longer room for silence. We have to speak – clear, united, shaky – honoring our knowing voices, our truth-telling voices. The time is now, voices ringing together for truth and equity, love and compassion, ferocious for justice.

Breathe On

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“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Rachel Carson

My daughter and I traveled to Chicago this past weekend for a quick visit to see my brother. We were greeted with a cold that sinks into the bones. A cold that delivers to the layers of down and wool a knowing wink as it passes straight to the marrow. Huddling and chattering around paper cups of hot cocoa, we shivered our way through the city, including the architectural boat tour. The stunning Chicago riverfront a respite from the freeze. Autumn was in full display – crunchy leaves and overcast skies lent our visit a warm hue to color our memories.

On the return flight, I learned my window seat companion was en route to Montana to meet up with buddies for a hunting trip. He, a resident of Pennsylvania, had never been west of Ohio. I tend to be one of those people on the airplane. I like to pass the flight, chatting about this and that, learning and listening to stories. Mike’s and my time together was entertaining as we perused the flight map and traced the arced line to determine our general location. I’m not much help in these situations. I guessed we were somewhere over Iowa, Kansas, or Nebraska.

Anticipating his first view of the Rockies, he inquired about each and every dirt hill across the patchwork of farmland. I answered with expertise that the mountains would be obvious.

Once the peaks came into view his excitement was uncontainable, for this was his first time in twenty-seven years to witness snow covered peaks. He asked why I didn’t tell him they were so amazing. I shrugged. Words can do no justice, I said

The wonder upon his discovery was infectious. For me, flying into Denver, the view is nice but the mountains are small and distant and everything is brown this time of year. It was nice to try on his lens for awhile, to view the landscape from his perspective.

I needed his wonder for I am finding myself desensitized. As a person who seeks information and understanding, striving to respond, I realize with our current news cycle that wonder, awe, expectation have become collateral damage. This is a tragedy.

Tuesday’s attack on Manhattan barely shocked me. I was sad and hurting for the community, but the news wasn’t surprising. Has this level of violence become commonplace? Are we supposed to now accept trucks running down pedestrians and high-powered rifles spraying crowds?

I asked my daughter for her thoughts. She shrugged and said: This is the world we live in. It’s been going on my whole life. True.This is her life. This is all of our lives.

But I’m not ready to accept this as reality. I’m not ready for this to be my normal. I’m not okay with ignorance.

Just as I want to be awed by season changes and beauty in nature and snowcapped peaks, I want to remain shocked by events such as this.

But it’s every day. And I’m tired. My body, mind, and heart are not designed to consume this much information. The news is unrelenting, but I will not claim ignorance. I cannot claim ignorance.

As a teenager and college student I participated in choir and band. One of the techniques we employed to collectively carry a long tone, longer than our lungs allowed, was staggered breathing. Through negotiation and planning, my neighboring musicians and I would consult one another to determine where we could each breathe without disrupting the larger sound. This accomplished two things. One, I didn’t faint in my attempt to support the greater good. And two, the tone remained strong and healthy, aware, uninterrupted.

We have to learn how to stagger our breath. We have to protect our souls, our minds, our relationships, our communities. We protect by working together, by employing our neighbors to be on when we need to be off. We have to protect our shock and outrage, reacting as needed to injustice, abuse, and lies. We have to protect our wonder, our hope, and our generosity toward our neighbors, supporting the larger community through our wholeness.

The fight against cynicism and nihilism and numbing is real. These days are overloaded – a new crisis, a new normal, a new baseline all clamoring for our apathy. I don’t want to settle for this. My faith and my conscience won’t let me. But the fatigue is ever-present and we are being asked as a decent and loving people to endure more than we are capable.

Who are our trusted friends? Who are our fellow travelers and breath staggerers in this resistance movement for decency and hope?

We cannot afford apathy.

We must persist for joy and goodness.

Mike, my airplane neighbor, upon witnessing the snow capped Rocky Mountain peaks for the first time was reverent and grateful. He could not contain his excitement as his infectious awe melted my accustomed heart. His wonder drew a tear to my eye, a reminder of my tremendous need to claim hope.

The goodness of the world demands our rest and our fight, our outrage and our peace. Through renewal, we can stand firm and refreshed in our convictions. Through sharing the load by staggering our breathing, we can protect wonder and awe and beauty.

Breathe on friends.