Friday, December 11, 2015

silence, song and solidarity...

Ok, I confess: I am currently a Barbara Brown Taylor junkie. Since returning from Montreal I have been reading and rereading her books non-stop. Last night, I read the first chapter in her small volume, When God is Silent, and fell in love with her tender wisdom all over again. In particular it was these words that spoke to my heart:
..silence becomes God's final defense against our idolatry. By limiting our speech, God gets some relief from our descriptive assaults, By hiding inside a veil of glory, God eludes our projections. God deflects our attempts at control by withdrawing into silence, knowing that nothing gets to us like the failure of our speech. When we run out of words, then and perhaps only then can God be God. When we have eaten our won words until we are sick of them, when nothing we can tell ourselves makes dent in our hunger, when we are prepared to surrender the very Word that brought us into being in hopes of hearing it spoken again - then, at last, we are ready to worship God.

When I returned from our magical, mystery tour in Montreal I was certain of a few things: mostly that my spoken words no longer really mattered. What I needed in my soul - and in my ministry - was more silence and prayer, more songs of joy and sorrow, and more shared acts of solidarity with people of tenderness and compassion. That is, perhaps, what I can do best at this moment in time - and it is what I sense matters most for our churches as we struggle to help love grow and mature within all the fear, hatred and brokenness. 

Earlier in Taylor's essay, she notes how words have lost their nobility. Through the "assault of consumerism" words now carry promises they cannot keep by seducing us with our fantasies. Think of the crappy tasting tomato labeled "vine ripened" she says and "the connection between language and truth has been lost." Journalism has contributed to the obfuscation of truth in words, too as has the sheer "proliferation of words with which most of us are faced with each day... it is estimated that the English language now contains some six hundred thousand words.

By comparison, Elizabethan English had about one hundred fifty thousand, and the King James Version of the Bible contains only six thousand... Predictably, our care for words has declined as their number has increased... We learn to filter out words that are not necessary to our lives the same way we learn to sleep in a house near railroad tracks. Our brains protect us from the daily barrage of words by increasing our resistance to them... We do not listen well.

Her conclusion is more than erudite, however, it is chilling. Citing George Steiner, who
suggests that "until the 1870s, western civilization honored a contract between logos and cosmos, the essence of which was basic human trust in the sayability of the world" she writes: "trust was broken in European, Central European and Russian culture during the decades from the 1970s to the 1930s, resulting in a revolution of spirit which, as far as Steiner is concerned, defines modernity itself."

If that is too abstract for you, then consider Steiner's case in point: in Germany in the 1940s, we discovered that a person who can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, who can listen to Bach and Schubert will getting ready for bed, can also get up the next morning and go to his day's work at Auschwitz. With this discovery, Steiner says, the ascendancy of the Word came to an end. 'The house of classic humanism, the dream of reason which animated Western Society' largely broke down. We now live 'after the Word,' in a time of epilogue, which is both a time of endings and new beginnings.

Cut (ironically after all these words) to my opening hunch that silence, song and solidarity is where the Spirit of the Living God is calling us in this generation. This is the season where the prophet Amos got it right: "I will send a famine on the land; but not a famine of bread or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." No amount of words can derail the hatred being cultivated and spread by Donald Trump. No reasoned, linear appeals to our shared Christian faith can dissuade Franklyn Graham or Jerry Falwell, Jr. from their terror-mongering. Only inner silence, shared song and acts of public solidarity communicate something greater and more salvific than our angst and confusion. Thus, U2 brings the Eagles of Death BACK to Paris to play hard-edged, passionate rock and roll as an act of solidarity in defiance of death. 

So Jews across Europe and the USA head out to the streets to declare: we know what national registration of a religious group looks like - and we will not abide!  Sadly, most of the Christian response has been... words. In the NY Times, on-line, in statements from denominational leaders. Ok, this is a piece of the puzzle - a record of our commitment - but now is the season of famine and only presence communicates the truth of our hearts in the Spirit of God. Taylor gets it right at the close of her essay:

This is my reading of our situation at the end of the twentieth century (when she first wrote this essay.) Our language is broken. There is famine in the land. God's true name can never be spoken.

That's why I am looking for a way to make this year's Christmas Eve worship a celebration of solidarity - not words or nostalgia - but songs, silence and sharing with and in solidarity with those who are afraid, vulnerable and targeted by the merchants of hatred. I wonder if some of my Jewish and Muslim colleagues might join me for our worship - might pray and stand together on behalf of compassion and trust - might sing ALL our songs of hope and light within the darkness? I've got some work to do if this is going to come to pass. Like another artist once sang, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us and the world will live as one."

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