Zechariah was stricken mute once, according to the book of Luke.
It went like this. An angel told him he’d have a son and name him John, and Z couldn’t believe his ears. Obviously the angel had only one option: condemning him to nine months of muteness. (Sunday school lesson: Don’t mess with angels.)
This sounds horrific. Yet sometimes I wish that would happen to me when I say something stupid. God would say, Ok, sister, that was a little much / you’re off your rocker, kid / how about you just listen for once, and boom. Silence. My only option would be listening.
When Zechariah’s son was born and the naming debate was raging, Zechariah took a tablet and wrote the truth, maybe one of the only things he knew to be true anymore, “His name is John.” And then he could speak.
Since dealing with the natural grieving process apparently wasn’t enough for me to handle in the beginning of 2014, I decided to attend the Justice Conference. As I described it to inquiring friends, “Basically a bunch of people, mostly Christian people, get together and talk about everything that’s wrong with the world.”
Have you heard of anything more fun?
Actually, I felt rather inspired and renewed after a weekend of hearing about wrong things. There’s heaviness, for sure, and something I’ve dubbed a JUSTICE HANGOVER (if you find me crying softly in a corner at one of these events, don’t panic. this is normal). Still, setting up camp among whistle blowers and rebel rousers stirs up something like hope in my chest.
I’ve been delving into a lot of heavy things lately (Half the Sky, for starters), and sensing certain kinds of injustice is becoming second nature to me. That’s a good thing, but it means that I HEAR IT EVERYWHERE — hate out of pulpits and rape culture out of the mouths of my friends. It breaks my heart to hear it from people who share my faith — people who believe in a Bible that speaks the best story about redemption, healing, grace, justice, and peace — not a false peace that refuses to know, but one that faces the hardest things and holds steady.
This is so, so hard, but I feel like I can’t yet speak.
Too often when we try to speak for other people, we add to the damage. I’m not an especially talented person, but I have an uncanny ability to relate anything to children’s stories, so I think of King Julian in Madagascar. Trying to advocate for his visitors from NYC, he reprimands a fellow host in front of his visitors: “Can’t you see you have insulted the freak?”
We speak as if people exactly like us are the only ones who will hear. This excuses us from qualifying, from politeness, from grace except where it applies to the sins we can relate to. It frees us to blog and preach and teach in exclusively Christian-speak and shrug when there’s no translator. I expound on Eucharist before you have any idea what the blood is for.
We take over other people’s awareness days and speak for people whom we consider “voiceless.” We play the advocate before we understand.
So when Christian people get together and say, “We’ve left a lot of brokenness in our wake. What are we going to do to fix it?” I hop on board. I am going to run my little funny-beating heart out to make it on that ship, because I am so messed up and I need to know how better to serve.
This might mean digging up old ways and laying new roads, reexamining urban renewal and religious tourism, tweaking church politics and setting up safe guards against abuse, and opening our eyes a little wider to see all the other people at the communion table.
Soon, I hope to round up some people from around the web and place them in front of you to tell you truths I don’t understand yet. I’ll compile a list of books that have ruined me. I’d love to drag you along to another Justice Conference or have you in my living room for a documentary viewing that will make you feel like a criminal for half of your daily choices.
And then we’ll park ourselves in the woods somewhere and eat sandwiches. We’ll take a deep breath and thank God for the great depth of simple graces, talk about how no one’s less qualified than we are to extend real help to the world, and swap the stories we’ve collected along the road to justice.
The trajectory toward justice is marred with real ugliness, and that can be scary. Even after our best efforts, we won’t all reach wholeness – not here, not yet.
But we have to reach.