I’m not sure what it is, but I seem to make my way into the public sphere a lot. Even as a kid, my neighbour was one of the journalists for the local paper and I would get my picture in there just for sledding down a hill. Now days I still end up being in front of people, being written about for random accomplishments and then sometimes pushing my way into the limelight by starting protests or opposing something. I recognize that a large part of this is my personality, some of it is my own pride and loving to be noticed and some of it is this push that I have to just expose what I see as harmful and oppressive.
I started this blog about 7 years ago and have had my share of drama on it and put myself in the public eye numerous times. Whether it be writing letters to the editor for my local paper, writing as an opposition to church related blogs or authors, thinking out loud about controversial topics or saying a swear word that offended someone it always seems to upset people a lot or inspire people a lot. In almost everything that I have done I have gotten a range of responses. Never have I written something or been involved in something that has had people all agreed as to whether or not what I said was good or bad.
This for me is fun at times. I like the tension, I like the dialogue. I like being wrong sometimes because I find being publicly corrected to be a educational experience for me (though I would generally feel embarrassed at first). I also like being right and people linking to me to prove a point or because they were inspired or because they wish they would have said what I did. I like sparking unsettling feelings in people and I love motivating people to continue on in their direction. I’m not sure how I ended up this way, but I’m completely comfortable in the public sphere.
As of late though, I’m wondering if being public is almost working against what I’m trying to do. I can honestly say that the reason I go public with things isn’t because I want to be known (it obviously is something I like and I struggle with pride like everyone else, but it isn’t my motivation). I go public because I believe that being in the public’s eye makes you accountable and honest or it at least forces you to be closer to the truth. I like being told I’m wrong, and I like to tell someone that they are wrong. They are both important experiences for me. I think it’s because I value logic and truth. I just love it. I love learning, I love dialogue, I love being confronted, I love confronting and I love people.
I’m having a crisis right now though. It seems that no matter how much I value truth, and exposing it – it doesn’t become more popular. Through all my moves of going public, calling out people, critiquing in love or in sarcasm or whatever tactic I use, it doesn’t actually seem to serve the purpose of convincing anyone new (it’s easy to inspire people who already agree with you). It doesn’t seem to encourage me when someone agrees with me or tells me that it’s good to hear someone else that has their thoughts or when I get the same commenters on my blog encouraging me. So the only voices that really affect me are the ones that that are silent. Either that or the ones that seem to be overly hurt by the things that I have said or caused seem to haunt me and I can’t get it out of my head. It’s not that they disagree with me. It’s not even that I have offended them. It’s more that I have somehow caused them to be less closer to what I believe to be the truth than when I first came into contact with them because of something I have said. Can talking and pointing about the truth actually cause people to be further away from it? I’m afraid it can.
Dialogue, I am learning, is only a helpful process when the other person is involved. It’s important to see when dialogue happens, because when dialogue happens, change happens. When I say things like ‘involved’ and ‘dialogue’, I don’t just mean reading my blog and yelling at me because I am hurting someone’s feelings, or scanning your Google Reader. I mean participating in seeking truth alongside of me. Which, turns out, doesn’t generally happen through words on websites, at least not for me and protests on street corners. Since the beginning, the only real change that I have seen is in myself and those that I actually live in and among. It’s the people that I’m in daily relationship with every day, carrying each other burdens and celebrating joys that I actually seen any change in our lives. People that comment on my blog? People that are pissed off about something I wrote in the paper? People that followed the Tyndale/Bush fiasco? I don’t even know. I doubt change came from these situations to them.
So, it forces me to ask myself the question…What do I love more? People discovering truth or myself knowing more truth and proclaiming it more? My track record has been all about absorbing as much truth as I can and as soon as I know something new or exciting or to expose something I blurt it out because I can’t hold it in. But I think my answer to that question is that I would much prefer to see myself and my community changed by the truth that we have come to see together rather than going off by myself and coming to whatever random conclusions I have come to and then trying to get everyone else in the entire world to believe me.
Which brings me to my title. I’m starting to think that any public, loud, in your face truth seeking or exposing is unnecessary and distracting from what I should really be focusing on. What if the truth is to actually shut up about the truth and just live it in your community and wait patiently to be changed to be more like the truth you believe. What if the most honest and good thing I can do is to not even participate in the global arguments of sexuality, politics and religion? Really what is the purpose of my twitter feed, my blog posts and my list of friends on Facebook. I’m at least coming to grips with the fact that whatever my social activity is online isn’t the source of change in people.
If I oppose Bush coming to Tyndale, and it works, he actually doesn’t come, but then leave a thousand people frustrated and disjointed what is the point? Have I actually helped those thousand people come to see truth more clearly, or have I made it worse? Sure lots of people loved the protest and even signed it, but those were people that already agreed with the fact that we thought it was wrong for him to come. I can easily fuel my passion to think what I did was right because of all those people who agreed with me. I’m wondering though, for all the heart ache and work that was involved. Did anyone actually get closer to the truth (whatever it may be in this situation), or did the whole situation cause most of us to get low and stand more firm in what we already believe so that we could launch attacks in every other direction? Maybe the approach needs to be different. Maybe it isn’t just to win where my voice is the loudest and I can get the most people to agree with me because that seems to be the way of politics, and it doesn’t really seem to work to change people’s minds. We all know politics doesn’t change people’s minds. No one really has a choice anyway so we just go with whatever media tells us best lines up with our current convictions (which were probably already formed by the media anyway). So what does?
It’s the slow and steady patience that doesn’t depend on results to feel like you are doing the right thing. Parker Palmer tells this story of this Quaker named John Woolman who felt that the Lord told him that slavery was wrong and evil and the Quakers needed to free their slaves. The Quakers took this information and brought it to their group and wrestled with it for a long time and they could not come to a consensus. Quakers don’t vote, because they don’t think that 51% should be able to control the 49% and they see that as an act of violence. So they said to Woolman, that while they can’t see this light themselves, they were certain that he could see this very clearly. So they told him that they would support his family while he would travel around delivering his message for as long as it takes for some kind of outcome to happen. So he did this, traveled the East Coast for almost twenty years proclaiming this message to his friends and other Quakers. He became famous for wearing clothing that wasn’t made by slaves, or if he knew a meal was prepared by slaves, he would fast that meal. He had this slow and patient way of confronting that which was wrong without being so in your face about it that he wasn’t welcome. Twenty years!
After twenty years, the Quakers eventually reached a consensus and freed their slaves. The Quakers were the first religious community to free their slaves in the United States, and they did so eighty years before the civil war. Parker Palmer says that this story helps us see that sometimes slow actually means faster because we are getting to the root system as opposed to just putting wallpaper over what we think. This wasn’t just taking a vote and then moving on, but this was a patient waiting game allowing people to change and shift while slowly nudging them along. I find this story encouraging. Because it tells me that all the individual moments of protest and dialogue I will have probably won’t change people, and if it does, it’s shallow and meaningless over time. But that’s the game that everyone plays. Everything has to happen now, you preach a sermon and you expect your community to agree and then shift their entire lives to match that sermon in a week. The media moves from story to story giving us snipets of reality and truth, and we think that’s the way our lives should be as well.
Long term, slowing down and patience is the only way forward. It’s the only way that change comes to me or anyone else. The game is fast and you need answers right away and you need to win. So just leave the game, stop playing it. Grow a garden, take your sabbath, be a mentor, read more books, put your feet up more, relax – be truthful in how you live, not just what you say. The world is in a frenzy all around you and one more person in the chaos screaming about what is right and true doesn’t help anyone. The people who quietly exit the chaos and live beautiful lives are the ones who are the game changers.