Finding Our Genuine Voice
By Rev. Jordan B. Davis (M.Div.‘14)
I recently helped lead a series of discussions as members of my presbytery gathered to read the book “Waking up White” (Debby Irving). I by no means felt qualified to lead these discussions on my own and am eternally grateful for those who walked this path with me. I feared how I would be received as a leader of these discussions as we discussed our presbyteries current and hoped for response to racial inequalities in our area. As discussions progressed, I began to notice that I was not alone in my self-conscious fear. I did my best to make the space safe to share stories and prayers, however I know that did not always succeed and I struggled a great deal with that.
As I continue to think about these discussions and many others, I begin to wonder what has happened in our society? It seems there is a widespread fear, or at least hesitance, to speak what we believe to be our real truth. We live in a world of constant likes and dislikes as we receive the immediate critiques of almost every person we encounter. We sit wondering what certain individuals might say or do in response to what we say and do. Our genuine selves are buried as we both amp up and tone down our responses based on our desired and feared responses from others.
I have struggled with this in my own life as I discern the best way to respond to events in our world and in my community. Should I write a Facebook post, or not post at all? Should I address it directly or indirectly in my lessons and sermons? Should I say anything at all or just keep quiet and listen? Surrounded by many loved ones and friends who I both agree and disagree with, I know that my choice or response is typically based on who I know will or will not see or hear my response.
As I think about my own life and as I read the varied responses that fill my social media feeds by colleagues in ministry, I am left with one very simple and very complicated question –
Are we, as congregational leaders, being our genuine selves and modeling that for our parishioners?
Do we allow our context to control our words, or do we allow the Spirit to guide our words?
Do we open space for others to be genuine, or do we close doors to protect each person’s ego?
What I fear today, almost more than anything else, is that our loss of genuine conversation and compassion for others as they show their own genuine selves, is building more walls than any person or group in the world can begin to propose. The façade that is created when we both amp up our response to grab the attention of others and when we silence ourselves out of fear of others just might be one of the most dangerous things of all.
If I have learned anything in ministry it is that we are each seeking permission to be genuine – we are seeking affirmation that our uniquely imperfect selves truly are created in God’s beautiful image; we are seeking affirmation that our shaking voice is valued in the choruses of both praise and lament hear around the world. As a leader, I sought permission to share my story, the good and the bad, and I sought forgiveness as I misstepped along the way.
And so here is your permission. I urge and implore each of you, congregational leaders and lay-people alike, church-goers and church avoiders – lift up your beautifully unique and genuine voice and don’t forget to listen to those around you. Hear God’s love and grace lifted up as it drowns out the hatred and tears down the walls. Speak up and speak out in a way that grants permission for others to join the song that so desperately needs to be heard around the world, made beautiful by both the harmony and the dissonance. Speak in a way that offers forgiveness and grace as others find their own genuine voice.
Our voice doesn’t have to be the loudest, it doesn’t have to be silent; our words don’t have to be completely accurate, they don’t have to be eloquent. Our voices do need to be genuine though, filled with the unique imperfection that God has so beautifully woven in and through each and every one of us.
Do not amp up, do not tone down. Do not bury or push to the front. Instead, speak the genuine, seek the genuine, hear the genuine, BE GENUINE. It is through our genuine selves that God’s grace and love will continue to pour out and reach every corner of creation.