14 October 2013

On Silence and Learning

Last week I had two experiences of silence.  Both were extraordinary moments for me.

On Sunday morning, I woke up with the weirdest sore throat I'd ever experienced.  It felt as though it had a roaring case of tonsilitis:  back of my throat swollen, painful swallowing, the works.  At first I started preparing my sermon manuscript for someone to read during worship, because I assumed I'd be in the emergency room figuring out just what the hell was going on with my throat.  But as I worked, the pain started receding, and after a nice long steamy shower and a mug or two of coffee, I could feel the swelling starting to go away.  So I gave it a shot:  went to the church, had Beloved serve as worship leader in my place and did only the sermon and our blessing of the Bibles we'd planned to do.  By 3:00 that afternoon I was completely fine, and I still have no idea what that was all about.

What made the morning extraordinary was the listening.  Normally, I'm one of the louder voices in worship, and not just due to being the only one with a lapel mic.  But last week I listened where I would normally be singing or speaking.  What I discovered is that for me, if I can't sing I can't worship.  I know there are folks out there who feel uncomfortable singing, particularly in church:  apparently, I don't feel comfortable if I can't sing.  I wish I knew better how to encourage more of our people to join in the singing - not because I want the church to sound nice, but because I truly believe we worship best when we do it singing.  "Sing praises" is one of the most common commandments in scripture.  Perhaps the most agonizing psalm is Psalm 137, where the exiled Israelites are asked to sing the worship songs of their land while enslaved in Babylon.  For these people, singing was tied to a land and a God who were no longer with them; how could they sing without that God?  I worshiped without singing last Sunday, and it was agony.

Then, on Wednesday, there was an experiment among a group of ELCA leaders on Facebook.  Those of us who are white, male, straight and above the age of 30 (read: the most common form of pastor even after 40 years of ordaining women) were asked to consider being silent for a 24 hour period so that others might have the space and privilege to speak within the group.  Holy Hannah, I did not expect what followed.  First, some of us in the dominant group got very offended.  I guess that part I expected.  Ain't nobody can get offended like us privileged white liberals being reminded of that privilege.  But then some of the group started sharing, people who'd not posted often.  They talked about being insulted, being marginalized.  Women talked about male colleagues who patted them on the head and patronised their work.  Two rape survivors shared their experiences, one of which took place in a church office when no one else was around.  People who were the "first" shared their experiences as trailblazers (first female pastor, first pastor in your family, first gay pastor in your synod/conference, etc).

It was incredible.  I had long been considering leaving the group, wondering if the time I wasted being sucked into the same arguments over and over was worth the few moments of help and wisdom I was receiving.  I'm still considering it, to be honest, but only because the day of listening showed me two things.  First, I need to listen more and better.  I don't necessarily have to post less, but my contributions to the group will be better if I do my best to listen well first (I know, DUH, right?).  Second, when we do things like this, the discomfort it causes is educational in and of itself.  Members of the group are still talking about it 10 days after the fact.  Some are still complaining, which amazes me, frankly - I can't believe it's that offensive to be asked to shut your piehole for a while.  Some left the group entirely - again, amazing, but there are people who like storming off in a huff in every profession.  But others may have found their voice and been encouraged to speak, and that in itself is encouraging to me.  I have never found that listening to a voice from a different perspective was a bad thing.  Sometimes it's the best thing.  At all times, I'd say it's the Christian thing, even if that perspective isn't one you come to share.

Silence.  Learning.  Worth the pursuit.  Do yourself a favor:  shut your piehole and listen once in a while.  It'll do you some good.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Scott, for sharing your thoughts on all this. I appreciate the reminder to listen, too.