Silence, when used effectively, can be a beautiful thing. As a mother of young children, five minutes of silence would mean five minutes of sanity. For my children, the ability to be silent in a game of hide-and-seek means that no one finds your secret hiding place. Silence in music is usually denoted with rests to signal a break between melody, measure, or pattern. When used in meditation, silence can be an opportunity to sit with one's thoughts -- the good and the bad -- so that we move closer to self-awareness and let go of thoughts that keep us from moving forward. At my son's school, they usually begin an assembly with a moment of silence either in remembrance of something, or to commemorate peace in the world.
Silence when used effectively can be peaceful, calm, and life-giving. But, as with anything good, silence is a double-edged sword. It's opposite use can be paralyzing, negative, and damaging. Growing up, too many times I witnessed occasions when my parents, who immigrated to the United States from Korea in the '70s, were "put in their place" as outsiders and foreigners -- silenced in their humiliation. I have also sat up many nights with a friend in the depths of despair and sadness -- silenced in her depression. In Korea, I have watched comfort women, now in their 80s, scream audible pain and injustice only to be silenced by their oppressors -- their families, and the government. As a pastor, I have held the hands of many grieving the loss of their child, loved one, marriage, dreams, and hope -- silenced in their grief. And as a woman and wife, I have experienced my "proper" place of one who should be silent when visiting family back in Korea who still practice the old traditions.
This Friday, April 15 is the National Day of Silence -- a day when many students nationwide will take a vow of silence to bring attention to the silencing effect that many GLBTQ kids experience due to bullying and harassment. On this day, students everywhere have an opportunity to use silence as a powerful tool to protest the crippling silence that GLBTQ kids go through due to fear, threat, and overall feelings of not being accepted for who they are. In this case, a day of silence can lead to a lifetime of justice, and in some cases, can even save a life.
Especially as Christians, we should be in solidarity with all that society has claimed as different or misunderstood. We should stand in silence protesting loudly so that GLBTQ kids can feel safe, accepted, and supported by their communities. We should express the kind of love that can heal a wounded heart, mend a hurting soul, and reclaim a loss of identity. Can we as Christians possibly exude this kind of love so not one more beautiful child of God has to feel like the only answer to their problems is to end their life -- that the only hope for the pain to stop is by not existing at all? Can we as Christians silence destructive behavior and open our ears to those silenced around us?
Last year when my son was in kindergarten, his class spent the first semester focusing on social interaction. They learned the difference between saying "warm fuzzies" and "cold pricklies." They learned how to resolve conflict using I-statements. They learned empathetic listening. At first, it was hard for me to not be impatient and wonder why my child wasn't learning algebra yet, or writing his first novel, but looking at the world, I'm grateful that his teacher took the time to teach them, because Lord knows our society lacks the ability of empathetic listening. I am also grateful that my son had a teacher who is an incredible role model and ironically whose marriage to her partner was misused in the Prop 8 campaign as an example that schools would have to have mandatory field trips to gay marriages if approved.
Watching my son interact with his friends, I have felt blessed that my son has a church and school community that nurtures a safe and loving environment. It gives me hope to know that my son won't have to experience the negative effects of silence. But if he does, I have tremendous hope that he is learning tools to not only deal with hurt when it comes his way, but also have the courage to stand with others who are hurting. I'll be spending that day in silence (unless my kids give me good reason not to) -- not for peace, not for the quietness, but for justice.
Here is my warm fuzzy to those who are hurting because they have been told or made to feel by others that they are not precious and beautiful: You are precious and beautiful and created amazingly special in God's eyes.
Here is my cold prickly to all those who allow fear or "different" to get in the way and therefore ends up causing hurt and pain: Stop it! Wake up and realize what you are doing!
And lastly, here is my I-statement to the world: I feel sad when every generation chooses to segregate another group of people because of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, or whatever is claimed as different. This causes unnecessary hurt and pain. Life is hard as it is. I'd appreciate it if people would love themselves a little bit more, because by doing so people would have the capacity to love others as well.
Theresa Cho is a Reno, Nevada native who graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago with awards in preaching and theology. She blogs at Still Waters.