Whenever there is a major event happening in the world, in the United States, or locally, I get a text from my colleague and dear friend, Tripp Hudgins, at ABSW: “Blog?” he asks. Since he came aboard at ABSW almost two years ago, Tripp has been encouraging, nay, urging, nagging, and prodding the faculty and administration at the seminary to get our light out from under its bushel. He wants us to contribute our voices and our unique perspectives to the ongoing conversations that happen via social media, in the twitterverse, through blogs, on the interwebs everywhere and all the time—but especially when major things happen. Protests, mass shootings, bombings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, racist attacks, police brutality, and non-indictments: all of these generate massive dialogue on the internet.
Public theology means that our faith traditions can make meaningful, even radically transformative contributions to civic discourse and public policy at times of crisis as well as calm. The Jesus we seek to follow did not shy away from making his faith publicly significant. He weighed in on taxes, imprisonment, just pay, forgiveness of debt, ethnocentrism (which would be the equivalent of racism today), and the deep value of women and girls. Jesus allowed his life to be ended in a most public and political way when he was crucified by the Roman Empire. His earliest followers stayed true to this public living out of faith through their formation of radical communities with shared property, meals that crossed the boundaries of social status, and offerings distributed to the poor. Other early followers also gave their bodies over to be destroyed by the empire in order to point to a reality of Love and Resistance that will forever be greater than any empire—then and now.
Though there were plenty of times Jesus stepped away from the crowds so that he could rest and pray, once his faith became public at around age 30, it was definitely not in the form of quietism. Jesus was active, engaged, and not afraid of conflict with the politically and religiously powerful people of his time. Quietism, whether or not it ever actually existed as such, is a sort of deeply unflattering caricature of contemplatives who sought unity with God’s Sprit above all else, even to the eradication of their own in-tact selves for the sake of the world. Such self-annihilation is considered heretical inasmuch as it leads to, well, it leads to nothing. As the great Evelyn Underhill wrote: “The self must be surrendered: but it must not be annihilated, as some Quietists have supposed. It only dies that it may live again” (Underhill, Mysticism, 68).
So please don’t get me wrong when I say: It is at times like this that I long with all my heart for quiet. Even though the request comes in for me to say something in the form of a blog, and even though I believe that my Christian faith tradition has much to contribute at times like this—despite this, I know that the last thing I want to do right now is contribute to the cacophony of voices that are clamoring to be heard right now. Some of those voices are prophetic, some are strident; some are beautiful and grace-filled, some are challenging and hard-to-swallow; some are gospel-filled, some are hate-filled; some are war-mongering, some are peacemaking; some are creative, some are cliché; some we desperately need to hear, some not so much. But when I think about being one more voice (a voice perhaps more likely to be cliché or strident than prophetic or grace-filled), I honestly just want to be quiet instead.