From Our Intern Minister
Theology of Silence
During the holiday season I find it difficult to find my spiritual balance. I need periodic moments of silence, and these times are hard to find in December. However, these moments are of the utmost importance because without them the surface elements of life take over. I don’t need many of these moments of silence but I need them nonetheless. I remember the first day of my chaplaincy internship. I got there early but my mind was still racing ahead. I had just quit my fulltime job days before and was arriving into a place of incertitude. The student chaplains were to meet in front of the chapel. Most met there and made short introductions with each other, but one student, Leandro, a Roman Catholic Priest from Brazil, went directly into the chapel, virtually ignoring us. There he sat in silent prayer while the rest of us gabbed and waited for the supervisor. I admired him for being that rare human animal gifted with beautiful speech that could refrain from using it. Later on that first day, we had a check-in question where we were to share with the group where we found the divine in our lives. Leandro said he found the divine in silence. He reminded me of the power and gift of the silence.
I don’t know if true audible silence is attainable. As I write this I hear the hum of the refrigerator and the filter buzzing in the fish tank. The silence I am reflecting on is something more than physical surrounding can give. However, experiencing a sort of physical silence can remind you of the silence that is within. Normally ‘being silent’ means to not speak your mind but by intentionally being silent we are still speaking but not in words or thoughts. We are removing attitudes, images and ideas. We are stripping down life to its bare essentials and trying to speak to the ineffable nothingness, being-itself. Silence helps us confront the darkness and dryness within. Our culture of economic productivity thinks this type of silence is a waste. But paring down cultural life and just focusing on being, on silence, restores the soul.
The ironic thing for me is to get a sense of silence it helps to listen to music. Music can embrace and incorporate silence. Music can deconstruct all the manifestations of elegance and ornament that normally exist around it. To help me come into silence I have been listening to a particular piece, Silence is the Question by the Bad Plus. It is the simplest of compositions. The main section, often repeated, is simply 3 chords and an ascending C major scale. Between these seemingly simple notes, I hear a deconstructed world of silent contemplation. It is as if the notes lead toward silence (as perhaps all good theology should as well). There is a question of silence. Silence is not an answer; it is a mysterious question we have to regularly dive into.
There is a lot of excitement building around the possibility of partnering with Family Promise to help homeless families in our community. Helping those in need is our religious duty. But I also think that helping the needy is being in process and participation with the divine. We are lured into this from the call of the great religious and ethical traditions, and we are embraced and intimately connected to the ground of this call, love. As this passion flows through us we respond with compassion and we actualize the divine possibility in front of us.
We have an opportunity to live out our religious calling, to participate in the divine with other faith-based organization in our community. We have the opportunity to get our hands dirty and help those that are hungry, thirsty, and homeless. We have the opportunity to house and help the needy in this church building. After all, a church, the building and its people are here to help and serve.
The social justice committee has faced some opposition to this opportunity. I was talking with one pastor on the phone after I had sent a letter to him about the possibility of working together. He asked, “So let me get this straight, you want to put our differences aside and work together to help homeless families. “
“Yes, basically”, was my reply.
“Well, then I don’t want anything to do with this because our differences are too vast. I cannot ignore our differences. I care too much about my congregation’s eternal salvation.” As shocking and unfortunate as this response was it was of the minority.
However, it is apparent that what this pastor was most concerned with was correct belief. He did not want to associate with those who are different than him. Instead, let us be concerned more with correct action and let our knowing, being, and doing converge. Let us embrace and celebrate the diverse theologies in Ozaukee County bringing our spirit and history of religious tolerance into our community.
Maybe that pastor was right about one thing, we should not ignore our differences. Let us embrace our differences and then get on with living out our compassion. The only way to combat our differences in belief is to lie down together in the intersection of faith and action.
Our theology should unite the world with our church, making the spiritual realm equally as in important as the real world of lived history. If we have a choice in politics or in social action, let us side with the poor, side with the oppressed. Let us not be content with the status quo. Let us use our faith, our theology, our principles, and our religion to arrive at compassion, not division.
Family Promise Update
It has been a long process of just over a year but we are nearing a huge day: October 23, 2013 at MATC in Mequon at 7:00 pm. A representative from Family Promise, a national organization that works with faith-based groups to directly help homeless families, will be speaking. All are encouraged to attend. Our goal is to get a dozen or more churches committed to this project so that we can move forward. The Social Justice Committee has been hard at work trying to build relationships with the other 60 or so faith-based organizations in Ozaukee Co. While we have had some negative responses, the majority of the faith-based organizations have been overwhelmingly supportive and positive.
The idea for this project stemmed from surveys and a Barn Banter where the congregation’s recommendation was to focus on poverty in Ozaukee Co. More specifically we received direct input from a non-profit panel discussion at UCN. We learned that there is not an organization in Ozaukee Co. that helps families who are experiencing homelessness. The social justice committee reached out to Family Promise chapters in other nearby counties and learned that it was a great organization that met our objectives. If we can gather enough committed faith-based groups, Family Promise would help facilitate and mobilize the groups to house and feed families experiencing homelessness. Initially we are trying to organize and publicize this but hope to co-lead this project with other faith- based groups. For example, if there are 13 committed congregations, UCN would be responsible four weeks out of a year.
If you have more questions please contact me, read some of the literature available at UCN, go to familypromise.org and come to MATC on October 23 at 7:00 pm. Please talk up this exciting project in the community.