I’ve been told by a few different people I possess what some might refer to as the “gift of gab.” Most would define this attribute as being able to speak on subjects with eloquence and fluency. While I believe I’m able to hold a conversation with almost anyone on a range of ideas, I just chalked it up as being able to “talk to folks” or “carrying on” with people. Yet, when I made my way into one of my first classes at Campbell University in 2012 I discovered my ability to “gab” about theology.
Theo comes from the Greek root word meaning “god”, logy or logos from the Greek as well meaning “word.” The definition of theology looks something like this,
Faith seeking understanding
The attempt in seekingknowledge of God.
To struggle with God. (Perhaps my favorite)
Theology, and the language surrounding God, became a subject I could converse on for hours. I tell folks there are two things I never get tired of talking about; theology and Tarheel basketball. While at Campbell I took every course offered on the subject. Ancient /medieval, modern, and contemporary. If theology was in the title I signed up for the class. During my last year I was surprisingly recognized for my contribution/work in the classroom (I use the word contribution lightly) and received an award in the form of a misspelled plaque (I wouldn’t let the school fix it; it hangs in my church office as reminder on how not to spell “studies” as STUDTIES).
I left Campbell and headed to Wake Forest School of Divinity where I prepared to add my budding voice to all theological discussions. Because of core classes and scheduling, I was unable to take a theology course my first year. Instead I found a love for church history. I spent the year studying post-Reformation Christianity as well as Baptist history (where I learned about some Baptist theologians who have enriched my life ever since). However this current Fall semester I was excited to take not only one, but two theology courses. As the start of the school year crept closer, I felt I was getting back on the subject where I excelled. I imagined picking up where I left off as the person who always had something, I felt, insightful to add to the discussion.
A month into the semester and I'm surprised as anyone at how much I don’t talk in either class.
Which brings me to the concept of silence.
Remaining silent on any issue, whether it be a stance on gun control in the United States, immigration or BLM, is always cast in a negative light. This is something which isn’t new. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter From Birmingham Jail condemned the act of silence from white moderate clergy on the issue of segregation and the damage which it caused. King would mention the absurdity of passivity,
“I received a letter this morning from a white brother in Texas which said, ‘All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but is it possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry? It has taken Christianity almost 2000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.’”
King wrote of his disappointment of this statement from his jail cell. He believed the issue of civil rights for African-Americans was not an issue for white clergy to remain silent on. However, as I read this nodding my head in agreement I wondered if there ever was a time to suppress one’s voice?
Reflecting back to my theology classes this semester; I believe there is.
I’ve discovered when I’m silent I have the ability to actual hear what others are saying.
I’ve discovered when I’m silent others have the chance to speak.
I’ve discovered when I’m silent I can appreciate another’s point of view.
I’ve discovered when I’m silent I learn stuff which I didn’t know before.
I’ve discovered when I’m silent not all opinions are like mine.
I’ve discovered when I’m silent that the narrative of theology doesn’t belong exclusively to me.
I’ve discovered when I’m silent while others speak, they might bestow upon me the same courtesy when the roles are reversed.
I dare say I, and maybe even “we” as a people, would do well to practice silence outside the classroom from time to time.
I’m not saying to remain silent on issues that matter, i.e. King and his plea to moderate white clergy. This was something that needed to be done. No, this is a different type of plea for a different context. A plea asking for a cooling of tongues in hopes an authentic conversation can take place. I desire to tell you my story, but I also long to hear yours. The stories and thoughts being shared in my theology classes are my stories in the sense of “all are part of God’s narrative” kind of way, but I’m learning I don’t always have to be the one telling them. Plus, how can I tell a women’s perspective, or a black male perspective, or someone from the LGBTQ community’s perspective, or someone who suffers from either a physical or mental disabilities perspective?
I simply don’t possess that voice, and that’s why I must remain silent.