A Time to Keep Silent, and a Time to Speak

At this point, to suggest we’re living in stressful, chaotic times would be insulting, even obscene. One can hear the collective groan, “Duh. Just get on with it, writer dude.” Therefore, rather than grasping at the low-hanging fruit of current tensions, already glaringly obvious, I draw our attentions instead to possible solutions.

Others are better at that than I. To help us find a way forward is friend and colleague Janet C. Hanson. Besides the clarity of writing wed to ample humility, she brings a depth, wisdom, grace, and unified consciousness to the fore. In her own generous way, she pulls us back from the heat of flames that would otherwise consume us toward the cooler, gentler twilight of shared consideration.

Better still, she takes us for a walk through the biblical narrative – a template for life well suited to the jostle and grind of anxious disagreements and the division they so easily bring.

Join me as I share her words of comfort and conviction, kindness and kairos, welcome and whimsy.

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“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Benjamin Franklin warned, “As we must account for every idle word, so we must account for every idle silence.” If this is true, how do we avoid erring on either side?

Lately, I feel a bit like William Faulkner, weighed down by the utter futility of it all. “Talk, talk, talk; the utter and heartbreaking stupidity of words,” he lamented. Has there ever been a time when truth was so silenced and outrage indulged for the most petty of reasons?

Collectively haunted by a year no one wanted, shouldn’t we pause for a moment? Shouldn’t we admit our fondness for slander, and self-righteous pander to the cruel and coarse–is there room for remorse? And just one day to pray and then say “I’m sorry?”

It seems hopeless. As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, someone will do something apparently WRONG, and others will make certain I know it.

And should I respond? Are only cowards quiet? Am I complicit with madness if I don’t speak against it?

Well, perhaps.

But I’ve good reason to be wary. Too often, my righteous rancor and your irked indignation point in opposite directions. Which leaves us both trapped in the crossfire.

Not Silent Enough

The current fascination with IMO (“in my opinion”) should alarm us. For, when stuck in “constant comment” mode, we’re deaf to the cries of more timid voices, to hidden need, to God’s concern for the unnoticed and unloved.

The wisdom found in Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us there is a time to resign from being the squeaky wheel and just listen. In the 11th verb of our Alphabet of Life series, we address the question, “At this moment, with this audience, do I speak or do I keep silent?”

Keep Silent, Until

Even when flooded with well-earned affront, our most helpful thoughts are never found “off the top of our heads.” Where anger is concerned, it’s not the cream that rises to the top, but the grease, the oily residue of visceral emotion, rather than the profound.

So, there’s a time to be patient and wait, if only to reconnect with deeper, more reasonable thought. Perhaps we should all tape this reminder to our bathroom mirror:

Try reading that aloud a few times and feel your heart slow.

Wisdom doesn’t demand a vow of silence, nor benign banality, but to “keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking [or repeating] lies,” (Psalm 34:13). For, if we don’t resist the addictive impulse to “bite and devour one another” (Galatians 5:15), we will all end up feeling like chewed-up remains.

“Let no unwholesome words come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). We deceive ourselves if we think our times are so remarkable we are exempt from the command to speak benediction, not condemnation over others.

So, before I speak up, I must ask,

  • Do my words shed some light, or simply give free publicity to darkness?
  • Do my words reflect God’s love for all people, or merely people I approve of?
  • Will my words be worth quoting in my obituary?

The Last Word

Orchestral conductor Benjamin Zander tells the story of a friend who, on a train bound for Auschwitz with her 8 year old brother, scolded him quite harshly for losing his shoes. Those were the last words she ever spoke to him. Her brother died, but she, miraculously, survived, emerging from that evil place with new, compelling vow:

“I will never say anything that couldn’t stand as the last thing I will ever say.”

Words matter. Your thoughts (whether mute, or muttered, or typed in a comment) can discourage and destroy. But when patiently crafted and delivered in love, your words just might heal the world.

Thank you for joining us here! You can subscribe to this series by scrolling to the very bottom of her site (see below). Next time, in An Alphabet of Life: Wisdom learned in the verbsL is for Love.

* * * * *

Janet is a graduate of Fuller Seminary, and she and her family are fellow Covenanters living in California. Here’s a snapshot from her website to introduce you.

“Welcome to my blog, where I tinker with the nuts and bolts (and apparently useless pieces too) of faith, culture, art, and ordinary life, and hold them up to the light of Christ.

I typically publish my thoughts (questions, doubts, opinions, observations, self-therapy, flawed but sincere conclusions) every other week, or when life allows. I LOVE it when you share yours back.”

Don’t be shy. Pop onto her blog, say hello and share a comment or two to keep this conversation going!

3 thoughts on “A Time to Keep Silent, and a Time to Speak

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