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A Silence that Isn't Violence

On Saturday afternoon, David and I took a bike ride to downtown Indy. We were clueless of what had happened the night before, nor of what was happening at that moment as protesters gathered at Monument Circle. When we circled back toward home, we came upon a group of about 200 protesters, signs lifted high along with their voices. “Silence is violence.” “Silence is violence.” We watched for several minutes as traffic stopped and the police stood by. But when I rode on, I couldn’t get their rallying cry out of my head. “Have I been silent?” “Is my silence an act of violence?”

There is for sure a “silence that is violence,” as when police officers stood by, saying and doing nothing, while a fellow officer pinned the neck of George Floyd against the ground until he suffocated. However, there are other times and other reasons to be silent.

There’s silence when there are no words. Sometimes we choose silence because our words are paltry, empty, unsuitable for a time, and situation. The tragedies and injustices we’ve witnessed recently, symptomatic of deeply ingrained injustice and bigotry, are awful. Truly awful. Words are hard to find and feel so pathetic given the gravity of the situation. So there’s silence when there are no adequate words.

There’s silence for introspection. The protesters’ chants provoked me to look within myself and to search out my complicity within the systemic injustices that black and brown-skinned people face every day of their lives. To be introspective and earnest to identify my contributions, my prejudice, requires silence. Space to be quiet before the Spirit who searches hearts and reveals their thoughts and intentions. A silence that begets sorrow and leads to true and sincere repentance.

There’s silence to listen. There’s a time to speak up and there’s a time to listen. Right now, I need to listen. To listen to what my brothers and sisters of color have to say about their experience of living in this country. I need to listen to people who know more than I know, understand things that I don’t understand, and truthfully have a right to speak. Do I? Do white folks like me have much to say of value? I’m not so sure. Other than “I’m so very sorry.” “Help me understand.”

There’s silence for prayer. The grievous chains of oppression, inequality, and injustice that pervade our society are spiritual issues. Pride, greed, hegemony, prejudice, intolerance, and xenophobia are moral and spiritual sins that blind us and bind us. As with all spiritual issues, the solutions must be spiritual, as well. I’m not suggesting an anemic, “Hey, prayin’ for you.” kind of solution. I’m talking about those deep, guttural, anguished prayers of the saints begging for God’s intervention and healing. I’m envisioning an all-out “sack cloth and ashes,” “Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.” kind of praying. There’s a silence that is necessary to engage in that changes us. And that is a silence we all desperately need to engage.

Yes, there’s a silence that is violence and there's a silence that isn't. So please don't assume that because someone is being silent, they're indifferent or uncaring. I’m mindful today to be careful and not simply add my voice to the din of voices crying out and lashing out. Like the voices I saw on the WTHR live feed last night as protesters marched to the Governor’s mansion. Voices spewing condemnation and others joining the chorus of the protesters. It’s so noisy no one can hear anything. Can we have a moment of silence? Just a moment?

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