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Lessons in the silence - those who cannot speak still need a voice

Lessons in the silence - those who cannot speak still need a voice

Lessons in the silence - those who cannot speak still need a voice

16 July 2017

Photo: Kristina Flour on Unsplash

By Major Dean Clarke
 
I’m a talker. My ear, nose and throat specialist calls me a “professional talker”, which is why one week after looking down my throat I lay in an operating theatre having surgery on my vocal cords.

For the next week, I didn’t speak a word. [Except for one accidental “oh” to my grandson who caught me off guard.] Then I progressed to minimal talking, or short conversations with lots of vocal rest. But there was no public speaking, no pastoral conversations, and no discipleship conversations. No singing and no playing an instrument. Pretty much for the first time in my life, someone had succeeded in “shutting me up!”

When my wife wasn’t allowed to speak she used to bang on the table, give the kids “the eye” and write down the correction I was to tell them. Of course, by the time she had banged on the table they knew they were doing something wrong, but she still wrote it out and I still had to tell them. With smart phones I don’t have to hit anything. I type into a speech program, press a button and then a cultured voice speaks for me. Male or female, choice of accent, I can even use it to converse in Japanese except no one at home understands me.

Venturing out I had interesting experiences with my silence. When I could “speak” by using the app, the hearer would speak back to me. Even though I would then have to type some more, we had a conversation of sorts. However, sometimes the coffee shop was too noisy to hear my phone talk and so I would instead type my order and show it to the waiter. They would read, nod, not say anything back and get to making the flat white. Because I couldn’t, they wouldn’t either.

It is an uncomfortable feeling wanting to engage with others but they not wanting to engage with you. Although they can’t hear me, I still have something I want to say. I want to engage. Connect. Be a part of.

As a corps leader I regularly try to think like the person who doesn’t come to my corps. The individual who is yet to explore faith in Jesus is the very individual whom Jesus came to find. I understand that one of the reasons they don’t come to our corps is because they simply don’t want to. But that didn’t seem to stop Jesus from having lots of conversations with “sinners and tax collectors”. His focus was those “sick with sin” and doing what it took to help them discover God.

I know it is obvious, but those who don’t come to our corps don’t have a voice in our corps. Nobody speaks for them and so, maybe a little too often, our corps is more focused on those with a voice. We do things “we” like to do, sing songs in ways “we” enjoy and look at the scripture for lessons of value to “our” experiences. They don’t have a voice and so maybe, just maybe, we don’t connect with them like we could.

Pause for a moment and reflect. If they had a voice, what might they want to say about faith and life? What might they say about coming to church or to our corps? Would our corps look and feel different if we could hear the unchurched speak? If we understood their needs, concerns and fears, would our corps remain the same? I’m not just talking about the poor and marginalised we so often hear about. I’m talking about the average Joe who works 9-5 but doesn’t know the rule of church clothes and etiquette. Or the “successful woman” who does great in business and has all the things money can buy. Maybe even the mum and dad with two kids in tow, the single young adult or the widow whose life was great until “he” suddenly passed away and left her all alone. What might they say to and about us?

Conversations are important. They help us to connect with others. They are important even with those who don’t appear willing to speak back. Our corps doesn’t exist for ourselves. Like Jesus, we are here for those “not yet connected” so we have to learn how to engage with them when they find it hard to engage with us. We have to learn how to hear from and communicate with those outside of our corps.
 
This was one of my early lessons in the silence: Not speaking doesn’t always mean a person has nothing to say. Sometimes we have to learn how to listen better.

Read Lessons in silence - part 2.

Major Dean Clarke is the Corps Officer at Brisbane City Temple.

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