Saturday, December 29, 2012

outside voices

Outside voices are loud.

Both my daughters seem to have been born with a mutant superpower--an internal megaphone attached to their vocal cords inside their bodies that amplifies every syllable to an eardrum-reverberating volume. They seem to be actually physically incapable of producing anything other than an outside voice.

A lot of times, this makes me want to clap my hands over my ears, close my eyes, and howl at outside volumes myself just in order to break through the constant audial chaos. It's a real trigger for my anxiety. Unfortunately.

In rare moments of quiet, when I don't feel battered by the overwhelming soundwaves, I am grateful that my daughters are gifted with loud voices and strong wills and brave spirits and, yes, even talents for defiance. They're going to need those things, in this world, which still prefers its women to be seen but not heard. My daughters, I predict, won't take that sort of thing quietly. They don't tend to take anything quietly, really. Not even Eucharist. (Zadie has an adorable and very loud habit of yelling, "daddy! daddy! daddy!" as we approach the altar.)

But mostly, I want to shut the outside voices out.

I've been pondering this on and off for awhile, as one of the take-aways from the discussion on my "James" experiment post and the kerfuffle that prompted it. There's a serious and difficult challenge in discerning which voices to listen to, and which to ignore--which critiques to take to heart, and which criticisms to let bounce off thick skin.

It's something of a truism, I think, to observe that prophetic critique must be offered from within the boundaries of existing relationship. The prophets were part of their communities; they spoke to their people as part of them, not as strangers or aliens or hermits. They were part of the group they critiqued, accused, even on occasion condemned. They spoke as a part of the "us."

This conviction forms a large part of why I have continued, stubbornly, to remain a participating member of the Churches of Christ, the church that I grew up in and which has formed me and my faith my whole life. I have a lot of criticisms to level at my church; I think they're fair, that they're needed, that they must be voiced, that they must be heard. And so I do my best to be heard, as one of the "us," because to speak from the inside is, I've long assumed, to speak from a position of greater privilege and therefore greater likelihood of being heard.

All this is probably true.

But what I've come to realize--slowly, slowly--over the last couple of years, is that this assumption also works to shut out the outside voices, when we assume that the only legitimate prophetic critique can come from the inside.

And that's not true.

I've spent some time over the last couple of years listening to a lot of "outside voices" in various forums. I am convinced that the Churches of Christ would be a stronger and truer body of Christ if more of the folks in power--those influential preachers with the blogs and the pulpits and the lectureship invites, those university admins, those editor-bishops, those elders at the local congregations--were hearing those outside voices too.

"Ex-CofC'ers" have a lot to say. It needs to be heard. It's rough, it's awful, it's heartwrenching, it's shameful, it's condemnatory, and it needs to be heard. And taken to heart.

Those outside voices are loud. They're grating. They're unwelcome and they are inappropriate and they are, frankly, pissed off. And as long as we write them off as over the top criticism from the outside, rather than legit prophetic critique from one of "us," we risk perpetrating the same behaviors and doctrines and attitudes that have so critically wounded a great many people.

We need to hear from the women who've left because the church that inspired their service told them "no." We need to hear from the sexual abuse survivors who have left because the church sheltered and defended the wrong people. We need to hear from the scientists and philosophers and intellectuals who've left because they were required to check their brains at the door in order to worship the God they wanted to believe in. We need to hear from the gay and lesbian and queer folk who left because they were taught God could only love them if they were someone else entirely. We need to hear from the disillusioned who saw that preaching and practice never quite matched up. We need to hear from the people who haven't "stuck it out" in the name of church unity or family harmony or whatever, from the people who see things differently because they are looking in from the outside.

If we're not hearing them, it's not because they're not trying to be heard. They're using their outside voices, and if we can't hear them, it's because we're choosing to listen only to the inside voices.


Anonymous said...

I don't think I'm unheard because I'm an outside voice. I'm an outside voice because I was unheard.

JJT said...

Yes. That's what I'm trying to get at.

Anonymous said...

It's been my observation that no dissenting voice is still thought of as "inside," whether a participating member or not. So it seems to me more of a failure to hear critique, period, than of being able to listen to those outside the group. Which may also be what you're saying, but the bit about your remaining participating member of CofC has me uncertain.

JJT said...

Ah. Yes; I think part of the strategy of not hearing involves demonizing the person voicing critique. "Othering." So, we don't have to listen to you bc you're obviously a sinner, and you're obviously a sinner bc you've left the church.

Anonymous said...

I found that trying to speak to a group of people who has already decided they are not going to hear me is a waste of my time and will likely result in exhaustion and disallusionment on my part.

JJT said...

Very true. I wouldn't want to encourage that, honestly. People move on bc they need to, and moving on means "not having to have feelings about that anymore" (can't remember who said that or when recently). I'd rather advocate in the other direction--remind the non-hearers that they should be listening. The burden's not on you, in other words.