If you were to ask your best friend what your voice sounds like, what would they say? No, I don’t mean the resonance or timbre, but the quality of your self-expression and your ability to bring yourself forward in important conversations. Are you hesitant? Forthright? Protective? Harsh? Compassionate?
I ask this for a few reasons. First, we are at a seriously fractured moment in our national discourse, including in our religious institutions — which are pretty fraught settings at time in that so much “right,” “wrong,” “we believe,” “we don’t believe,” is in the picture. Whether it’s on Facebook, the telephone, the family dinner table, many of us are having a hard time speaking up, never mind speaking out.
Particularly when issues matter to us, it can be hard to find the right words, the clear words, the prudent words in which our ideas and passions can be expressed. Without frying the friendship, that is.
I’ve been blessed to be part of the Interfaith Circle for the past 12 years. In that time, we’ve worked together, around tables, to plan events for the community, including our annual Thanksgiving celebration. Sometimes, the international news pressed us to ask each other uncomfortable questions. Sometimes, we had to sit with dissonance and keep exploring to come to a new place of mutuality and understanding.
This past weekend, I was privileged to represent Interfaith Circle at a gathering at the Islamic Center of Minnesota. Three hundred or so people had gathered to stand in solidarity with our Muslim friends and neighbors, and commit to speaking out against religious bigotry and hatred. At last year’s interfaith Thanksgiving gathering, Bet Shalom’s Rabbi Jill Crimmings shared with us the outpouring to her community in the wake of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. Now, friends are reaching out to Catholics in solidarity about the bombing of the Jolo Cathedral in Mindanao, Philippines — just as we reached out to our African American Christian friends after the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church massacre in Charleston.
All murders are horrifying. All massacres are an assault against the creator. But for me, as a pastoral leader, the image of people facing death in their house of worship, be it mosque, synagogue or church, is particularly devastating.
In Minnesota, it seems there’s a particular premium placed on not upsetting people. It’s part of the many faceted phenomenon of “Minnesota Nice.” But recent events have found me centering myself even more deeply in my religious tradition, which gave me a teacher who is not particularly hesitant about speaking truth to power, particularly when people are marginalized, threatened, or oppressed.
Ephesians reminds me, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” That means that I have to find my voice and make it heard. Against white supremacy. Against gun violence. Against religious bigotry of all kinds. Against every one of the “phobias” plaguing us.
There will be people who pull back from me. There will be people who think I’m too direct. But I live in times, and you live in times, where there is very little space left for the faint of heart. Dive into your scriptures and spiritual teaching. Find the place from which your voice can spring, and root it there.
And speak your truth in love, to borrow from St. Paul. You are part of the spiritual solution. In my mind, that’s the ultimate Minnesota nice.