One of the wisest of human beings, the philosopher-king of Ecclesiastes, said, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven…. A time to be quiet and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,7b NLT).
I have spoken.
I have cried out again and again about some of the things which matter most—immigration reform, racism, mistreating the poor and marginalized. Indeed, I’m compelled to speak out, driven really, even if there are only a few around to hear me or only a few who will pay me any mind. For these words are ever before me:
If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done? Proverbs 24:10-12
There are other words that continually ring in my ears, words like MLK’s: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,” and “There comes a time when silence is betrayal,” and, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends”.
Yes, I have the right to remain silent, but remaining silent and failing to act (when I should and am able to) can and will be used against me on Judgment Day. Though of course, I trust I remain in Christ’s mercy.
So like Luther, here I stand, finding contentment and satisfaction in speaking up and doing what’s right, to the best of my ability. I’m no better nor holier than anyone else, just doing what I can do with what I’ve been given—God helping me.
Speaking up entails I will offend some people. I’ve been accused of being too liberal or too conservative depending on the vantage point of those criticizing me. I’ve been scorned and scoffed at—accused of being simple.
Maybe I am.
Speaking up—with prayerful actions backing up my prayerful speech, are the ways in which I concretely love God and others. Remaining silent when I should and can speak up betrays my God and my fellow human beings. I cannot sell out just to maintain or cultivate my reputation among certain powerful or popular people. If I were to do so, I’d commit grave injustices.
I still continue to speak carefully and cautiously in public via the written (and contacting our legislators) word knowing full well I’ll be criticized. Truth filled with love and expressed in love still will offend somebody—most of those who take offense are my fellow brothers and sisters in the Church.
Jesus is the most brilliant and loving person in existence. And yet, while he was on earth, his words and actions scandalized most of the religious VIPs of his day.
Jesus refused to get with the program when the program didn’t align with our Triune God’s ways. And today there are many instances where the American Church’s programs, ways, and agenda still do not align with God’s (and when mine don’t). When they don’t, we admit it. We speak up. And we speak up and act on behalf of the marginalized and mistreated no matter who they are (including animals and creation).
We do this when the Church is mistreating them, and especially if the Church is mistreating them. We cannot stand for it for those of us in the Church are supposed to be the face of Christ to others. God inclines his face and his ear toward the vulnerable (Psalm 34:15). He will not kick them when they are down (see Isaiah 42:3-4)
Not only do I find satisfaction in speaking up, I also find contentment and satisfaction in being silent. I can’t speak endlessly. Just as there is a time to speak, there’s a time to be quiet and listen (Ecclesiastes 3:7b). It’s only in silence and solitude that we can hear and see most clearly. God-haunted and prayer-laced silence, solitude—and the peace that ensues—leech soul sickness out of us. These disciplines keep us from doing violence to others through our words and actions. They begin cultivating love in us—even for those who have sinned against us—and they also help us weigh our words and our actions. These practices help us decide when and how to speak (and act).
I’ve been speaking (and acting). And now is a time for me to spend some time in silence and solitude. I can find satisfaction and contentment in silence and solitude because they will allow me space to speak and love well at the right time instead of doing violence to another.
All in all, whether I speak or am silent, I find satisfaction and contentment in fulfilling John Wesley’s words, one of my life’s mottos: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”