The Silence of Friends

“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” This is a haunting quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that tears at our very nature. How often have I stood silent while a friend was being bullied or made the scapegoat? How often have I remained aloof as a group or an individual was being slandered? How often have I allowed inflammatory remarks to go by because I did not want to cause a scene or have someone think badly of me? Dr. King nailed an all too familiar human failing.

How often have I allowed my passion to be heard, drown out the voices of those with weaker voices or with no voice at all? My friend Bennett Murray once said to me, “Those of us who speak so easily intimidate those who do not.” Our ability to speak is a gift. With it we can contribute to the well being of others or we can use it to diminish others.

In public speaking a properly placed pause often is the most powerful statement. The same thing is true in conversation. Sometimes a well placed pause screams loudest. The silence of our friends can cause us to feel betrayed or abandoned. Great injustices are often permitted when good people remain silent. Our folk language puts it best, silence gives consent.

I have more than a little remorse for words that I have spoken in anger, frustration, jealously or fear, but I have more remorse for the words that I have not spoken. We often sooth ourselves by saying, he knows how I feel or she knows how much I care. How are they to know unless we tell them? Most of us are not very skilled at mind reading.

Last Sunday I sat silently as gays were maligned. I told myself that if I spoke up it would only make the situation worse. Twice this past week well educated friends called the president of these United States either a Muslin or a Muslin sympathizer. On one of those times I spoke up and said that there might be many things to criticize the president about, but to question his religion was out of bounds; however on the second occurrence I remained silent. In both cases of my silence, I was put on trial by the words of Dr. King. I tried to convince myself that I had done the right thing and that nothing I said would change any minds and might possibly cost me some friendships. Deep down I know that I failed my responsibility.

Denise George’s has written a disturbing book, While the World Watched: A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement (Tyndale House, 2011). Her book describes in horrifying detail the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963. It recalls a time of great silence by white churches some black churches and the Christian community at large. Many prestigious church leaders encouraged Dr. King to soft peddle his rhetoric and call off or delay the demonstrations. Dr. King courageously decided not to heed their advice.

Speaking up is often very costly, but not speaking up may be even more costly. I recently sat quietly while Christian leaders involved in a laudable mission project talked about the very people they were helping in the most derogatory terms. They are doing the right things, but their attitude contradicts their actions. Why did I remain silent?

Too often I am content to stay on the sidelines and not become involved in the great and small issues of the day. Where is the boldness I demand from others?

Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer: A Step Along The Way

It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.


Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw
*This prayer was composed by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, drafted for a homily by Card. John Dearden in Nov. 1979 for a celebration of departed priests. As a reflection on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Romero, Bishop Untener included in a reflection book a passage titled “The mystery of the Romero Prayer.” The mystery is that the words of the prayer are attributed to Oscar Romero, but they were never spoken by him.

 

Killing Others with Our Hate-filled Words – Danny Chisholm – ethicsdaily

Killing Others with Our Hate-filled Words | Danny Chisholm, Speech, Bullying, Suicide

“Words do hurt. Words can kill,” former U.S. Sen. John Danforth said. “The death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become.” (Image courtesy of winnond/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Tom Schweich committed suicide at his home on Feb. 26, 2015. He was 54.

Schweich was a well-known Republican leader in Missouri. He had been elected to a second term as state auditor and was positioning himself for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth and now Episcopal priest performed the eulogy. He had been a friend to Schweich, and his death had particular impact upon him.

Danforth reflected upon the tragedy, which was related to political and personal attacks upon Schweich as he sought higher office.

He questioned whether Schweich was suited for the rough-and-tumble nature of politics, indicating that he “was a person easily hurt and quickly offended.”

One example resonated with Danforth, as he referred to an attack ad on Schweich.

“As for the radio commercial, making fun of someone’s physical appearance, calling him ‘a little bug,’ there is one word to describe it: ‘bullying.’ And there is one word to describe the person behind it: ‘bully.'”

Danforth added, “Words do hurt. Words can kill. That has been proven right here in our home state … The death of Tom Schweich is the natural consequence of what politics has become.”

I am fully aware of the toxic nature of our politics. It is routine to hear politicians and political action committees attack opposing candidates and office-holders. We’ve become so saturated by it that it’s easy to become numb to its affect.

And, in this case, I can sympathize with Danforth’s assertion that temperament should be a consideration when seeking the kind of work Schweich was in.

You have to have an extremely “thick skin.” Still, it doesn’t excuse hateful and harmful speech.

Why would someone commit suicide? It’s a haunting question. I don’t understand how a prominent political figure with a wife and children would take his own life.

I think it has to do with the fact that none of us can truly know what is going on in a person’s life.

I felt similarly when I heard about the death of Robin Williams. I also struggle with it when I hear the cries of parents when their child takes her own life.

Suicide victims, regardless of their age, must have reached a level of hopelessness from which there seemed to be no return. Christians and non-Christians alike can experience this.

I’ve been a pastor for 20 years, and I can tell you that vitriol and hateful speech can manifest themselves in any number of situations, including the church.

I’m reminded often of John Killinger’s work, “Seven Things They Don’t Teach You in Seminary.” One chapter is titled “There is a Meanness in Some People that is Simply Incredible.”

This tragedy should challenge us to choose our words carefully and be mindful of the devastating impact they can have on others.

It should remind us to be sensitive to the struggles of others and do our best to encourage them.

We may not be able to “fix” their problems, but we can offer them support. And, let’s do our best to make sure our words are consistent with the witness we profess on Sundays.

Suicide isn’t a political issue. Neither is bullying.

I have three children in our public school system who are being taught that bullying is wrong and that there should be “zero tolerance” for it. I fully support that.

As adults, we ought to model that behavior as well. We can’t expect our children to rise to an example that we ourselves are unwilling to set.

Danny Chisholm is senior pastor of University Heights Baptist Church in Springfield, Missouri. A version of this article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ChisholmDanny.

The Two Most Dangerous Words Spoken in Church – Bill Wilson – ethicsdaily.com

The Two Most Dangerous Words Spoken in Church | Bill Wilson, Language, Leadership

Congregations and clergy alike are infected by this insidious disease that eats away at the heart of who we are and our mission in the world, Wilson writes. (Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Two of the most dangerous words in a minister’s vocabulary are, “Yes, but…”These are also two of the most destructive words a congregation will ever utter. The order of their utterance is important.

First we say, “Yes. I agree. We agree. This is true and right.”

●     It is right that people matter more than things. My marriage is my highest priority. My children deserve my full attention.

●     It is right that personal morality matters. Yes, I should be honest and forthcoming with my spouse, my children and my employer.

●     It is biblical and Christ-like to care for our community and all those in it who are in need. It is important, even essential, that we speak the truth in love.

●     It is right that we should be flexible about all things that are not essentials of the faith. We agree that we should care for our staff and respect them.

●     Yes, my body is the temple of God. Yes, gossip is wrong and expressly prohibited in Scripture.

The list of things to which we say “yes” is long and filled with a beautiful litany of assertions with which none can argue.

Then comes the second word, “but…”

●     My spouse doesn’t appreciate me. My church takes advantage of me, and our staff is lazy. My children will understand that I have work to do.

●     Talking about him or her behind their back feels right. If I spoke the truth, they might not like me. She is so hard to be nice to, why bother?

●     I’ve worked hard today, so I deserve an extra dessert. My illness is more important than anything else on your agenda.

●     We’ve got to take care of our own before we worry about those people out there. How dare you change the order of worship.

In short, the “yes, but…” approach reveals that we believe that we are an exception to the rule. We believe in the rule, the truth, the value; we just don’t think it applies to us.

Over many years of pastoral ministry, I’ve heard people explain away the most obscene actions, attitudes or intentions with these two words: “Yes, but…”

I continue to be astonished at our ability to make exceptions of ourselves.

Our ability to rationalize and justify our actions is profound. It is dark, demonic and at the root of much of the evil in congregational and clergy life.

We are quick to excuse ourselves and our behavior behind a stream of denial and blindness to our truth.

We talk ourselves into believing that what is right for everyone else somehow does not apply to us.

Congregations and clergy alike are infected by this insidious disease that eats away at the heart of who we are and our mission in the world.

If we do not face up to our actions, we run the risk of ruining our witness and thwarting the plans God has for us in the future.

What are we to do? Fortunately, the Bible is clear, and there are many who have walked this path back into God’s intentions.

First, we must confess.

Granted, it is much easier and enjoyable to confess the sins of others. They are so obvious and clear and numerous! However, our call to confession starts internally.

If you are not sure if you are guilty of this two-word sin, simply ask your spouse, children, colleagues or a trusted friend, “When and where do I say ‘yes, but…?’ How have I made an exception of myself?”

Then listen as non-defensively as possible, with no excuses or explanations allowed. Take your medicine.

Second is remorse and repentance.

Own your sin and turn away from it. Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Yet, it will take all you have for the rest of your life to accomplish this move.

Along the way, you will discover that neither you nor your congregation can accomplish this in your own strength.

What is necessary is a profound sense of our helplessness and inability to manage ourselves.

Third, we turn to the good news of grace; we throw ourselves and our flaws and foibles upon the mercy and grace of God.

What we cannot do for ourselves, God does in us, with us and through us. That forgiveness frees us from the illusion of perfection. No longer do we believe we are an exception to God’s truth.

Now that we have been humbled and shown the truth about ourselves, we no longer find it necessary to excuse or defend our actions or pretend to be perfect. We know our tendencies to rationalize and justify.

We have those around us who help us see ourselves as we truly are. We are on the journey toward spiritual health as a congregation and as a minister. There is hope for us.

Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Bob Dylan Shows the Way. Express Gratitude.

At the NusicCares Person of the Year Event honoring him on Friday, February 6, Bob Dylan expressed gratitude to 9 groups that helped him along the way. He expressed great thanks to Peter, Paul and Mary who made “Blowing in the Wind,” a hit. He then mentioned The Byrds, the Turtles, Sonny and Cher, Pervis Staples and the Staple Singers, Nina Simone, Jimmy Hendrix, and Joan Baez. He lavished praise on Johnny Cash. Johnny saw that people were putting me down and he came to my defense. “I’ll always cherish the friendship we had until the day there is no more days.”

During this week of Valentine’s Day, we can follow his lead and thank those who have helped us along the way. If a great talent like Bob Dylan can express gratitude to those who made his career take flight, we can take the time to thank those who have helped us.

Think of your last accomplished whether it is big or small. Who helped you? Who was there to cheer you on? Who paved the way? Have you thanked any or all of them?


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