Episode 11: The Cost of Silence

Martin Luther King once said:
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Last week, I talked about the beauty of silence and the power of the Still Speaking God to reveal things in the quieting of our souls.

This Week Martin reminds us of the cost of our silences in the face of oppression and injustice.

While doing White Privilege Studies, I attended a lecture by another civil rights hero, James Cone.  The title of that lecture was Theology’s Great Sin, Silence in the face of White Supremacy.  He spoke with some power about the white, liberal church’s ongoing silence in the face of one of humanity’s most pernicious evils: racism.

Like many of you, I spent time this last week reflecting on the impact Martin had on my life; on America; on the world.

If I learned anything at all from Martin’s example as a leader in the Civil Rights movement, it was about the power of speaking truth to power.  There is something utterly transformational about the right words spoken in the right place at the right time.  Martin embodied that.

But there is a second truth hidden in his words; a truth less about the courage to speak than about the cost of silence.  Again, he writes: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Racial injustice matters.  Privilege asks of those who are white that they both not see and not speak.  For those of us who are white, there is an often unstated agreement to hold our tongue.  It is only in part complicity – which of course it is.

It is also fear.  We want what privilege affords us; and we fear that speaking in ways that dismantle that privilege risks losing those things.  We think that speech comes at a high price – and so we remain silent.  It doesn’t often or easily occur to us that silence might have a higher price: we begin to end our lives the day we become silent about things that matter.

I am engaged in a lifelong conversation with people like Martin Luther King and James Cone and Traci Blackmon: those whose courageous voices challenge me to speak and act about things that matter.

When I speak, I am surely trying to address injustice.  I am trying to effect change.  But there is something else going on, and I will admit it:  I am trying to unburden a soul and spirit made heavy by a silence that cannot endure the knowledge that my comfort is the source of another’s pain.

So, thank you for y our wisdom and courage, Martin, Your words both challenge and heal.

And to you, gentle listener, find your voice when things matter.  There is a healing that comes when we open ourselves up to sacred speech in the presence of injustice.  May you come to know that healing on your own journey into the Mystic.

Categories: Column Into the Mystic

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