Leading from outside of the org chart, or with limited social privileges is a constant apprenticeship in leveraging the seasons for every purpose.
We watch for the time when new things can be born and when old things must die. We guard the fields of our organizations, communities, and societies for the right time to plant new patterns and the right time to reap their harvests.
Most of all, we navigate two of the hardest seasons: “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”
I stopped writing a few years ago. I stopped again earlier this year.
And I started writing again about six weeks ago after renewing my commitment to my own voice.
For so many people in my demographic groups, it’s easy to default to silence, to reserve our thoughts, to hold back our stories, to disclaim our experience, to diminish our expertise. It’s what we’re taught to do, and we’re tagged and punished in so many ways if we don’t do it. But the entire game is vanity.
Polite silence does nothing to forestall violence, abuse, discrimination, or marginalization. The calm civility we’re trained to cover fear, fatigue, and frustration with doesn’t produce change and doesn’t reduce harm. It’s vanity.
Ending my silence doesn’t necessarily mean explaining and teaching. It doesn’t mean sharing with people who’ve proven unwilling to receive. It’s about releasing the old habit of denying what I bring with me when I show up in the world, because I’ve shown up in this world, because I’ve shown up as my organic self and not as a fungible Tetris piece.
For me, forgoing the vanities of silence is to release the hope that the status quo might grow a conscience. Knowing that there’s a time to speak, build, cast away, gather, and sew means I need not stop the clock while committees decide how tepid their statements about shooting victims should be. I need not stop the clock while people parse the distance between compassion and approval or between plain speech and divisiveness.
I need not stop the clock for any reason.
Forgoing the vanities of silence is to shift creative attention from the way things are towards our own zones of influence, responsibility, and control. We take seriously the saying, “When you tell me ‘No,’ it doesn’t mean I can’t do it; it only means I can’t do it with you.” Here—wherever we are—we talk with those who do respect our work and we build alternatives to the way things are with them.
The smallest of seeds, yet it grows into the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches. Small seeds. Simple actions. Local contexts. Shelter for all.
Which reminds me of how I first heard about an organization I now advise. About five years ago, the staff of one of its programs submitted an advert to a magazine, a Christian, ostensibly progressive magazine. The ad wasn’t edgy. It was subtle and traditional and focused on hospitality.
And that’s why the publication’s rejection turned my head.
Wait, I said to myself. So we can cut off our extremities and shave down our corners, and they still won’t make space for us? Then why do we go through all this torture to fit? We can stop it right now.
In my own life, I didn’t stop it right now, not entirely. I spent a great deal of energy for a few more years cortorting myself to fit expectations, environments, and communities that weren’t designed for me and wouldn’t grow with me.
But as I grew anyway, that organization’s case became an Ebenezer for me. While the organization’s staff recovered from that rejection and uncovered and led from their unique vision for faith organizing, I came to recognize my vision and value too.
Today we work together to amplify the whole Church, not just shattered pieces of it, and we’re seeing the spaces we’ve created making room for “the birds of the air.” Working for others’ freedom is our victory, just as Lorde dreamed.