Loud and Quiet and Standing Up for God

Stand Up for God: A Christian imperative to defend one’s faith in the public arenas of life.

I wasn’t prepared for all the noise. For how loud the world would feel to me after two days of wind and water and writing.

There is something about large bodies of water like Lake Superior. They take the edges off of sound. Your voice can go no farther than here, than this water. It disappears underneath the waves, and you are left in the muted quiet.

When I walk in through the garage door after the retreat, there is a flurry of gladness. Kisses and hugs and Mama’s home! Right on its heels, though, is Total-and-Utter Meltdown. There is fighting and crying and two small bodies clamoring to be held by the same weak arms.

All my stuff is in the car still, and Andrew is turning up some music, hoping that a kitchen dance party will distract from the toddler fury. Our current song is “Most Nights,” by Fun because it’s catchy and Dane likes the woah part.

When we get to the chorus, I always find myself weepy for some reason I can’t quite put my finger on: I still wake up, I still see your ghost/Oh Lord, I’m still not sure what I stand for/What do I stand for? What do I stand for?/Most nights, I don’t know anymore.

*

It hasn’t even been two weeks since that senseless late-night movie shooting in Aurora, Colorado, and already the internet has whipped itself into a new frenzy.

The candlelight vigils have given way to fast-food picketing. Demonstrations. Our speechlessness and grief in the face of great evil has been replaced with Big Opinions and inflammatory remarks. It is the buzzing of a hundred thousand words making the same old arguments.

It’s all so loud, and it makes me tired all the way through. I sometimes wonder if we’d be better off if we couldn’t speak at all. If we were forced to communicate only through nonverbal cues. A smile. A touch. Arms reaching.

There is a Christian bumper-sticker phrase, If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. And in my early On Fire days I was always standing up for God. Or, more accurately, against swearing. Against evolution and abortion and sex before marriage.

I understood that I was not to be ashamed of my faith. I understood that this meant Speaking Out and Standing Up. It meant a certain kind of Loudness.

But the world is so noisy to me this week. It makes me wonder if we have grown addicted to the sound of our own voices rising angry from our chests. We are saying it this way, saying it that way, so many words, so little communication.

*

On the evening Olympic coverage, I watch as a young swimmer who looks like AC Slater wins the 100 meter free-style by 0.01 second. He pulls off his goggles, and there it is: the awestruck grin, the unbelief, the incredulous laugh.

When he emerges from the pool, there is a microphone and a barrage of questions: “What were you thinking when you saw the score?” and “What did that feel like?” And it seems redundant to me: asking for words to describe the indescribable moment.

Watching him, I am aware of the limitations of language. So much of what is important happens outside of words. It is written across the face; it is spoken in our movement.

I am acutely aware, these days, of how much I don’t know. I am sitting at the edge of that rock called Grace. I am dipping my feet into the cool depths of Mystery.

If pressed, I might say that I “stand for” Jesus. Compassion and Truth. Beauty and light. But I have no idea how that trickles down to the stickiness of life, to hot-button issues, to this noisy world.

If I’m being honest, I will tell you that I’ve never been much for standing. In my short semester on the high school debate team, I cried before every match, shook through every argument.

If I’m being honest, I’ll tell you that I think that there should be a comfy chair in every room of every house so that you can curl up anywhere with a good book or a good friend or simply into the quiet of your own heart.

I’ll tell you that I am better at sitting. At feet-dangling. At porch swings and café chairs and rocks at the side of the water.

I know that it’s more complicated than this. I know that these are important things we’re talking about, and that someone needs to recognize that. I know the importance of voices rising together, of speech free and clear. I know the importance of fighting injustice.

But I also think that there is beauty and love in shaking our heads, saying, “Most nights, I don’t know.” There is wisdom in leaving space for that. There is inherent compassion in sitting with a candle in grief-struck quiet. And when the wildest, most wonderful thing has happened, the only possible reaction is awe.

We sit at the edge of our knowing, and sometimes the answer is to turn around and speak loud to the people around us.

But not always.

Sometimes it is right to sit down at the edge of the endless, sprawling deep. Let our voices disappear into the mysterious Goodness of God.

41 thoughts on “Loud and Quiet and Standing Up for God

  1. Thank you for these words of sanity. I’ve been so torn, wanting to loudly declare something, but so tired of it all at the same time. Words can fall short, but I sure do enjoy reading yours.

  2. I can really relate to this struggle to figure out how to respond to these things. I was getting a bit annoyed last night about something I saw on the internet, and it hit me that I was just standing around fretting uselessly. What should I have done? When I forced myself to think that over, I realized it was time for the Vesper prayers in my prayer book. Who knows how many times I’ve missed Vespers because I was preoccupied with the hot button issue of the day.

    1. I love this Ed. Sometimes it feels like the only response to these things is to add our own voice to the cacophony. But really it’s these unseen moments of prayer and worship that matter, that have the power to change hearts and lives, that go so much farther than any brilliant arguments we can make. Thank you.

  3. I do not know that I need to “defend” my faith. I know I need to live it. I do know this and that is God needs no defending.

    We get caught up when we get criticized and think we have to respond. Why? I think sometimes we should just hold to the statement that this is what I believe and leave it at that. Sometimes I think the best response is no response and to ignore all the chatter. If someone wants to engage us in a thoughtful discussion then do so.

    I think the best witness to our beliefs are not when we are defending them but when we are living them.

    Loudness tends to get turned down and our message does not need loudness to be strong.

    Phillip Brooks said… “Truth is always strong, no matter how weak it looks; and falsehood is always weak no matter how strong it looks.

  4. “But the world is so noisy to me this week. It makes me wonder if we have grown addicted to the sound of our own voices rising angry from our chests. We are saying it this way, saying it that way, so many words, so little communication.”

    I agree. I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 13 and how the Bible says if I do anything without love, I’m a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. All that noise. Even if standing up for a cause, or what’s right, if the undercurrent is impassioned anger, it is better not to speak at all. We need an attitude of love.

  5. I hear you, Addie. I’m realizing in my small life and in these bigger issues, I cannot respond without reflection, my soul can’t move at the pace of twitter or in the flood of over-saturated media coverage. Even for a verbal-processing extrovert like myself, reflection and quiet and necessary. Press on into the grace, friend. Grateful you’re sharing the journey here.

    1. I think sometimes we forget that even though our speech is “free,” that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost someone.

  6. Yes, this:

    “If I’m being honest, I’ll tell you that I think that there should be a comfy chair in every room of every house so that you can curl up anywhere with a good book or a good friend or simply into the quiet of your own heart.

    I’ll tell you that I am better at sitting. At feet-dangling. At porch swings and café chairs and rocks at the side of the water.”

    Me, too.

  7. After reading this I have the biggest desire to curl up in a comfy chair with a good cup of coffee and just exhale into the quiet.

  8. ::deep cleansing breath:: thank you. I’m feeling the ringing in my ears this week too, and came to a similar conclusion… resting in the goodness of God. I have few answers, but I know He is good. I wish we’d be known more for what we are For and not Against.

    1. “I have few answers, but I know He is good.” – that’s where I’m at too. Thanks Amanda.

  9. I’m tired of the noise, too. Glad I’m not the only one. Most nights I say “I don’t know,” too, and I hope with every fiber of my being that God is as good and loving as I think He is. Quiet is underrated here in very noisy America. Uncertainty is also underrated. So are Salt & Vinegar potato chips, for that matter. 🙂 *Sigh.*

    1. Thanks Chad. I agree–quiet is underrated. And it seems like it’s often equated with not caring or with cowardice. I just don’t think that’s fair — sometimes the right response has nothing to do with words.

  10. Oh, friend. Yes. This. All of this. I’m learning more and more to save my opinions for face to face conversations and even then, to listen and seek to understand more than opine and defend. There is a time and a place to speak up but I fear we no longer recognize this any more and our voice is lost in the cacophony. Surely it’s better to speak when necessary and maybe then we will be heard.

    Funny how that chorus has made me a little teary eyed, too. The older I get, the more I’m OK with not knowing.

    1. Me too, Leigh. Knowing everything is totally overrated. I actually feel more peaceful knowing that I don’t know…and that I don’t necessarily have to.

  11. Amen and again amen. In my younger, louder days, I too believed I had to defend it all. Graciously, the Almighty has shown me to bend low into His mysteries. The Truth needs not be defended, it’s a lion who needs to be set free.

  12. Beautiful. Thank you.

    (as for me, I observed the ugly kerfluffle from the perspective of the can, where I did hard time with the stomach flu. Not as pleasant as sitting on the porch but a rather appropriate response…)

  13. I am in a season of tired too Addie. So rather than raising my voice, or should I say chomping on a sandwich yesterday, I dangled my feet from atop an old stone plantation above the river. It was there I felt at peace in my tiredness without words.

  14. My word for quiet is “restful.” The pursuing of it is loud, so I’ve given up pursuing. And with open handedness, it is coming to me. I’ve been quieted by rejection lately, humbled. And the noise of pursuit has been set aside and life seems to be rising up around me in waves of what used to be fearful, but now I am enjoying my voice, my ego, my person, my future lost in its depth.

  15. Our loud and entitled (“I’m entitled to the violation of your peace so that you can hear and respect my opinion”) generation would do well to drag out an old, old quote: “Better remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

    1. I agree. I thought about Proverbs a lot this week. Wisdom seems to always put a higher value on silence than words. So interesting. In the evangelical culture, it’s usually the opposite.

  16. I love this line: But I also think that there is beauty and love in shaking our heads, saying, “Most nights, I don’t know.” There’s a bit of an agnostic in you! 🙂 Seriously though, I never hear Christians say that. It’s black and white, straight and sinner. I really appreciate your calmness in the midst of such a display of vulgarity by so many Christians who just wanted a chance to stick it to the gays.

    1. “I don’t know” has a long, long history in Christianity … it’s called Christian Mysticism. If someone can only see black an white, I can’t imagine they can experience the mystery.

      1. Jim, you’re so right. I always liked that idea of taking something and pondering the mystery of it, of seeking out nuance. Mystery can be lost when everyone else is so loud, as Addie so beautifully describes in this post.
        Cheers!

  17. Embattled minds. Barricades of certainty built around deeply held convictions. Oh, if we would only learn to hold tightly to our convictions without the battlements around them.

    If we would only learn to believe, not without doubt, but in spite of doubt.

    For certainty deadens empathy. It kills creativity. It causes us to view stories other than our own as unimportant, irrelevant, wrong, maybe even evil. And what does that do to the people whose stories those are?

    What about my story? Your story? Am I wrong or evil just because I see the world differently? Because I try to describe the indescribable, the ineffable, using different words?

    Because I know the unknowable differently?

    Because I dip my toes in a different little shaded pool of the same stream of Life?

    Oh Addie! We need your voice. And I, for one, am blessed by it. You bring us hope.

  18. The past few weeks all my heart is doing is aching for heaven. And I never do that, even though that’s where my parents are, with my Jesus, I’m still cool with here, yet lately, it’s all too full of ugly too often.

  19. Yes, Addie. At the end of a long noisy week, I too feel overwhelmed. When I came home tonight, I wanted to visit a quiet place just to rest my weary soul and I thought about your blog and the impact it made upon me a week ago… the serenity of your thoughts.

  20. Came back from a few weeks Up North in MI, but drove back through the UP, with a night on Lake Superior. Just something about the place that makes a person more open to the stillness.

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