What we’re witnessing in the United States is profoundly sad, and disturbing. But it’s not surprising and neither is it new. Human beings are deeply flawed even on their better days. Their goodness teeters on a knife-edge and more often than not, anger and cruelty grab the headlines far, far more frequently. Anger comes across as violent, tough, and scary – goodness, too often as weak, uncertain, lacking in confidence or courage. The exceptions tend to be drowned out. It is imperative that goodness keeps rising. But it won’t happen if good people remain silent, hidden, and cowering.
I was pondering that old Simon and Garfunkel song written by a young twenty-one year old Paul – The Sound of Silence. The song is gentle and melodic, the lyrics insightful, capturing the world where people choose silence.
Hello darkness my old friend………… I’ve come to talk with you again
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Labelling, branding, and name-calling has become commonplace. Shortcuts to dangerous conclusions avoiding debate, thought, fact checking, and dialogue. Because I write from a Christian perspective it is disheartening to witness, yet again, how much Christianity reflects the culture of the day with a sense of impotency that’s troubling.
The temptation is to write blogs about Jesus walking in the hills of Galilee feeding the five thousand, healing the Centurion’s slave, or raising Lazarus from the dead. We love the images of him that comfort, encourage and inspire. In those instances we never catch a glimpse of soldiers, Roman oppression, the injustice and the blatant inequality of his day. We avoid eye contact with religious leaders who conspire to kill this Galilean prophet, the Herod who slaughters babies to hold onto power, the Judas who betrays with a kiss in Gethsemane, the friends and disciples who scurry into hiding from the violence of crucifixion. We’d all naturally prefer the Galilean Hills to Roman violence. History repeats itself, and repeats, and repeats, and repeats.
What now? Be inspired and challenged by the Christian witness through history that is tough, courageous, uncompromising, and resilient. Not in fighting with swords, but standing for justice, civility, and freedom for all. Upholding integrity, aligning with the the grace and mercy of a God who is not subject to human prejudice, conditional love, or popular approval. Jesus showed the way.
It was the ‘Christians’ James and John who wanted to do violence to the Samaritans because their inhospitable attitude to Jesus was offensive. “Take a flame thrower to to the village and burn them all,” the two angry brothers goaded their leader. Jesus would have none of it. He firmly raised his hand before them and said “No!” Peter taking the sword to the Roman soldier in Gethsemane and severing his ear. Jesus, being led to his mock trial and crucifixion again raised his hand. He not only rebuked his friend, but healed his wounded enemy. Jesus, scourged with whips, nails in his wrists and feet, crown of thorns on his brow, stabbed in the side – tough, courageous, and defiant, declares – “Father forgive, them, they don’t know what they do.”
That’s the Jesus that I declare and worship. One who refuses to takes sides in political agendas and yet who never compromises over truth to win popularity or to be self serving. Political striving is flawed humanities desperate attempt to create order and a semblance of community without addressing the deep dysfunction in every human heart. Jesus hung on the Cross for the human heart – to release forgiveness and hope whenever revelation brings us to our knees in repentance and contrition. Nothing has changed.
The first rendering of Sound of Silence went nowhere and was in fact almost a flop. The duo split up with Paul travelling to England to pursue a solo career and Art heading to university. It was their producer, Tim Wilson, who rearranged the song adding drums and electric guitar. The new sound was a sensation and everything changed. Words and tune unchanged, but an entirely different outcome. The same is true for those who follow Jesus. How we speak and live the love of Jesus will make the impact on the world around us – or not. Sometimes the times require sweet melody, the Galilean Hills. Other times demand a strength in love that is sacrificial and defiant, like the crucifixion.
Another version of Sound of Silence came out a few years ago by the group ‘Disturbed’. It is powerful, guttural, perhaps even pleading and defiant. Same words and tune, totally different sound. The tone and the passion transform the words, the impact, and perhaps even the message. I wonder whether the world doesn’t need to hear this sound from Christians right now?
Not a sound or words aimed at others in blame or accusation, but rather a lifting up of justice and true democracy. Acceptance of all voices and opinions offered in peaceful dialogue. A sound declaring God’s love for all – no matter what. A hand held up in the face of James, John, Peter, friend or stranger. Perhaps even you and me at times – “No, not like that! Politics isn’t the answer here. There’s a deeper truth, and a better way – for all of us.”