The Thing About Silence

I always loved walking my kids home from school. Now that they are older and independent, I miss those sweet ten minutes of undivided attention where we would talk about their day as we walked the 3-1/2 blocks home. One day, we were walking behind another group of kids, and I couldn’t help but overhear one kid bullying another. Though this happened years ago, I remember their faces as if it were yesterday. His sweet round pudgy face, ringed with dark curls, eyes down on the road, while a younger boy with large brown eyes and similar dark curls was laughing loudly and calling him gay.

As we turned to walk down our alley, my inner conflict was roaring so loudly, I’m surprised my kids didn’t hear it. I’m a quiet person and don’t like to put myself into other people’s business. I most certainly do not like to tell someone that they are wrong.

BUT his eyes and his sweet little face!

AND my kids were watching and how did I want them to treat people?

AND I was convinced that God had created each person and loved them so deeply and that was all that mattered today.

So I turned around and marched up to the little taunter and we had a conversation loud enough for everyone around us to hear. I gently but firmly told him this was not okay. That God had made and loved each person so deeply that it doesn’t matter if this boy was gay or not. No one deserves to be treated this way.

There is a lot of hatred, bullying and racism being spoken loudly and publicly these days. Listen up big people, little people are listening more than you realize. What you say is important but don’t forget that your silence speaks volumes as well and right now, it shouts a message to those around you. Choosing to be silent when witnessing racism and bullying has the same effect as being overtly racist or a bully yourself. You communicate to your people, including your children, that your race is superior and that bullying others is okay. Silence makes you an ally of one side or the other. There is no happy medium with silence.

We choose life by choosing words that give dignity. We bring healing to a broken world when we choose words that give hope. Choose words, instead of silence, because our little ones are listening.

Photo courtesy of Adrienne Gerber Photography.

The White Moderate

Like a laboring woman who rests momentarily between contractions, the heavy sky pauses briefly outside my window. It rests from pushing out a howling wind and gasping raindrops, taking in deep breaths of cold, cold air to turn these drops into fluffy flakes. Soon, they predict, ice and snow will fall on this city and white will cover up the gray and the mud.

Isn’t that what we want – a fresh clean layer of something sparkly to cover up the muck of a thawed out January? Anything to help us forget the long hours of darkness and the ick underneath. The kids are happy to have yet another snow day, fingers curled around the remote, reports and books forgotten while parents everywhere hurry through the grocery aisles, stocking up for who knows how long, hoping to get home safely before it hits. Yet, for now, it’s still muck and mud.

Funny how much faith we put in the weather report, how quickly entire schedules are swept aside so we can be safe, yet pay precious little attention to certain other voices that have been telling us about their own un-safety for a long, long time now. If we aren’t stuck in the muck ourselves, why is it so hard to hear those who tell us they are?

This morning I came across some of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s quotes that the media won’t cite. They were fascinating. The quote that struck me the most concerned King’s disappointment with the White Moderate. He says,

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

He wrote these words in a Letter from a Birmingham Jail to the clergymen of Birmingham. It is a long, letter but well worth the read and I find myself a little more in awe of this man who was willing to sit in a jail cell to prove a point.

While some things have changed in this country since then, there’s still a deep layer of muck and mud that some of us choose not to see because we still love order (for ourselves) more than justice (for all people) and the absence of tension (in our own lives) to the presence of justice (for all people). I’ve spend my share of time in White Moderate communities where we are taught to love all people but not make waves. How can this even be a thing? Moderation is held high and radicalism frowned upon. And “tension”, forget about it. In these places I’ve called home, it has always been better to sweep things under the rug than to disagree or expose a conflict. I’m speaking about entire communities committed to keeping a calm, perfect face, of striving to maintain “peace” (AKA lack of tension), looking good at all costs.

Edmond Burke said “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing.”

My point is that there are a whole lot of us that feel okay about ourselves because we aren’t out there committing acts of violence. We are nice to those we meet. We do not cheat our customers or hurl racial slurs. We don’t go anywhere that would be too uncomfortable but we still do our share of kind things for others. We hear whispers of injustice but we aren’t creating the injustice so we feel okay remaining where we are at. But, being good and moderate and remaining quiet is the very thing that lets injustice continue. If we are okay allowing injustice to continue, how are we different from those who perpetrate acts of injustice?

Outside the wind is again picking up speed, throwing bits of snow and ice at anyone who dares venture out. In my warm, safe home, I ponder and pray.

May I have courage to always speak up when I see injustice.

May I have the humility to listen to the voices telling me stories so different from my own reality. May I sit in the discomfort and truly learn to listen and to weep with those who weep rather than shushing them.

May I become a radical who dares make waves because I love so deeply, across racial, gender and socioeconomic lines. May I be stubborn enough to reject labels and boxes, to see each person as reflective of the Divine.

May I be wise enough to inspire my sons and all of this next generation to be radicals who will never look at injustice and say, “It’s not my problem”. Who will uncurl their fingers readily from the remote and wrap their arms around the broken instead.

May I be bold enough to yank the rug out from under feet, to expose the lies that lay beneath. The world does not need my silence any more. My “doing nothing” only creates more souls who feel like nothing.

May I love deeply enough to stop spending my time and my money, but to change the currency and spend myself.

And may I never, ever, ever, stand in the way of justice or be a stumbling block in someone’s journey to freedom. Let me, instead, be the one clearing the road so they can run to freedom.