Tuesday, January 12, 2010

And I and Silence

Over the last year I was preaching approximately twice a month. This was at our school's chapel, and high school students were my intended audience. The messages had to be short, between twenty and thirty minutes, and the audience had little tolerance for unfocused, under delivered material. The audience is the roughest kind for any public speaker; it was a captive audience. At times I could see that some students were engaged with my words, and other times they were dozing. If I was lucky, and doing my best as a speaker, then perhaps one or two kids would remember a joke or anecdote from the introduction.

There were times when I loved preaching and times when I hated it. Nevertheless, last week I sent a note to the chapel director for this semester to tell him I quit.

I hated the way preaching shaped my identity. It's impossible to know if it shaped my identity among students and colleagues, but it shaped how I felt about myself. When a person stands behind a pulpit to proclaim a religious message, I believe he is accepting an identity. His identity becomes a religious voice.

I don't want to be a religious voice; I don't want to be any kind of voice. In a world where there are voices everywhere, most of which are more powerful, well-spoken, and persuasive than mine, there seems to be no need for another voice. To be a religious voice is to enter into a cacophony, which requires confidence. I have little confidence in most anything. There is no strong voice coming from me.

One cold day, my sophomore year at college, I went with my friend Aidan to go "witnessing" in the Southeastern Ohio community where he had become the freshly installed pastor of a small church. This was actually a trailer park within the community, and it was culturally Appalachian. It would be a stretch to say that I actually was "witnessing," because an introvert like me is not about to go talk to strangers, especially Appalachian strangers.

What I remember most about that trailer park was the mud. As typical in late winter Ohio, the ground warms just enough to make a mess out of everything. We walked through the mud, and jumped over puddles, going from trailer to trailer, inviting residents to participate in a "Spiritual Survey." The Spiritual Survey was just the hook to get people to talk so you could pray the sinner's prayer with them at then end or your presentation, and then invite them to church. I could criticize it all day, but we went door to door out of concern for the gospel, and Aidan went because he cared about his ministry.

Most people were courteous and sympathetic to what we doing. Some allowed us to pray with them, and even one teenager prayed the sinner's prayer. Yet the man whom I remember is the one who opened the door and said, "Listen guys, it's cold, give it a rest."

Just more voices in a world of noise.

I believe in silence. If there is anyway to send a message in a world of noise, religious voices nonetheless, it must be through silence. There are silent ways to communicate Christ's Kingdom, and that is where I want to bring a message. In what way can I show a student that I love them, and that God loves them, without adding to the clatter? How can I present them with a Christianity that is quietly dignified, yet powerful to change lives?

So I quit preaching to learn to be silent. For an introvert like myself it might not be hard, but then again, it might. Emily Dickinson wrote, "and I and Silence...." I want to learn how to minister with Silence. My hope is that my students will hear my Silence, and be open to hear the Word.

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2 Ages Verging by Ryan Cordle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.