there's no such thing as voiceless

theres no such thing as voiceless

“there’s really no such thing as ‘voiceless.’ there are only the deliberately silenced, or preferably unheard”.  i saw this quote on facebook the other day and it really made me take notice. “there is no such thing as voiceless…” i will always remember my lovely blog friend suzannah paul’s wise words about there not being such a thing as the voiceless because every human being has a voice. it is part of being made in the glorious image of God.

the problem is that for all kinds of reasons those voices have been silenced or ignored.

our response as bearers of hope and justice is to play our part in calling forth the beautiful voice that God put in every human being in any way we can.

sometimes that starts with ours.

for all kinds of reasons some of our voices lay buried underneath layer upon layer of shame, fear, doubt, jacked-up theology, and generational patterns of silence and un-empowerment.

in this context I am definitely not talking only about women, but rather anyone who has been marginalized or oppressed or tossed to the side by power. this can be because of race, gender,  socioeconomics, theological doubts, sexual orientation or somehow “on the fringes” of whatever that group may be.

the typical mainstream system response (whether in the world or the church) to voices from the margins is deeply broken.

many in comfortable systems would rather not hear from them.

those who speak from the margins make people feel uncomfortable. rattle cages. mess with the status quo. speak painful truths. call us to change.

and most systems hate change.  we are habitually addicted to the familiar, the comfortable.

certain rules, behaviors, beliefs, perspectives guide every group. when it’s used to doing something one way and hears an opposing voice, the group has a way of shutting down that dissension (no matter how big or small) in two primary ways:  1. through deliberate measures of silence (not ever opening the door in the first place; this is especially storing in very closed systems) or 2. tolerating them but basically ignoring them at the same time (this is often even more insidious because people actually are led to believe they are  being listened to when, really,  the current of the powerful was not ever going to change course).

although I have had my share of being deliberately silenced, i connect a lot more strongly with being in the group of the “preferably unheard.” when I look back on the crazy things i advocated for in the church systems I was part of  (as in “let’s care about the poor and marginalized as a first priority instead of the powerful and comfortable” or “let’s create ways for people to share what’s really going inside their heads and hearts and lives instead of pretending that things are more okay than they are” or “let’s create a team of people who share instead of elevating one talking head”–i know, really heretical for Jesus-followers!) I realize now how they listened, nodded their heads, and then carried on with the way things were, the way they wanted. all my words honestly never made a lick of long term difference in any of those systems. in little pockets of people, sure, but that’s about it.

its okay, though, because had it been a piece of cake it probably would have meant I was missing the pont somehow.

there will always be resistance to the voices on the margins. 

power tends to hold on to power tightly. it’s what Jesus was always railing against.

but i also want to acknowledge that there are so many good people out there who aren’t trying to deliberately silence others and really are open to other voices but are just so caught up in “the way things are” that they don’t even notice who’s not there.

the only way to shift this tilt against the marginalized voices is for brave men and women to to use their power to make spaces and places for the marginalized voices to be heard.

this means:

putting in the forefront of all kinds of decisions “who do we need to invite to this table not to just to give input (that’s easy) but to share this work together in new ways.

advocating to hear from new people who normally don’t get heard.

listening to critique that may sting.

getting out of our little bubbles and making friends with people who believe different than us, look different than us, live different than us.

shutting mouths that are used to talking and handing the microphone to people who usually never get it.

asking ourselves “hmmmm, i wonder who Jesus would invite to share”  instead of “who do we want to hear from because they say what we’re used to hearing?” our deference to the strong and confident is in complete contrast to who Jesus continually made time and space for.

and one of the hardest ones to sometimes stand against–being willing to take a hit from powerful people who begin to feel uncomfortable.

goodness gracious, as i write these things i realize how tough it is to really live into this when the pull against it is so strong. it’s so easy to be cynical about real change being possible, but i am going to lean toward hopeful realism & that every effort to open a space (no matter how big or small) for a voice to emerge makes a significant difference in this world.  all these little openings are beautiful reflections of the kingdom of God. combined, they can open more doors, restore more dignity, and light more fires that will change future generations.

God, give us courage to use our voices in ways-that-are-good-but-feel-scary & play whatever part we can to call out those who have been deliberately silenced or preferably unheard for far too long.

 

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

13 Comments

  • I was in a Vineyard church once where soeone from the front said that there is soeone here who has had their voice taken away. someone else said we wer meant to shine like lighthouses. Tese wors went stragth to my heart. I talked with the pastor the folowing day abuot y frustrations at not being heard an as a result of that meeting decided to leave.

    The lady that talked of us being lighthouses cme to e on my last day there sad she was sad I was leaving nd said she had a vision for me of an acron. The acorn was the emblem of the aprrentice squadron I joined in the Royal Air Force. The motto of the squadron was “few are chosen”. My frined told me the church had been treating me the same way Christ was with rejection. I’ve lernt for that, for me that someties marginalisation means being counted worthy enougth by God to suffer the same kind of rejection that chirst suffered.

    So – I took up stand up coedy to find a voice. Whe I was introduced on a hospital tour, the compere said I started off as shy and had emerged like a beautiful butterfly!

    Now when I think of that church I feel sad for all the people that have expereinced the same or similar and don’t have the freedom that I now enjoy. I still greive the loss and life is tough, I swear more than I used to, but I am healing and not longer need approval and afficmation from any church.

    Reply
    • thanks, adam. it’s a beautiful thing to find our lost voices… i am so glad you have and are and will keep singing your song.

      Reply
      • You are welcome. I’m glad you have the confidence that I will keep singing my song.

        Reply
  • Dear Kathy, this is so good … as we toss the cynicism aside, it releases space for the good, the right, the excellent, the praiseworthy to emerge …

    Reply
  • “for all kinds of reasons some of our voices lay buried underneath layer
    upon layer of shame, fear, doubt, jacked-up theology, and generational
    patterns of silence and un-empowerment.” That brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for this post.

    Reply
  • “our response as bearers of hope and justice is to play our part in calling forth the beautiful voice that God put in every human being in any way we can.

    “sometimes that starts with ours.”

    Ever had one of those moments where you realize that you really need to speak up, and all Creation’s cue cards are telling you the time is now, and the main reason you’re hesitating is fear? It’s one of those moments. I don’t speak evangelical, but I think the word is “convicting.”

    Thank you for writing this.

    Reply
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