For this short reflection, let’s use the word voice to define “a person’s expression of personal experience or opinion.” Humans are born with the ability to speak, and infants from birth can express contentment and distress. There is a spectrum of ability for voice. None of us does it perfectly always.
Voice is conceived in the heart and brain. It’s then delivered through the mouth, and also through the hands, eyes and the rest of our body. If voice demands obedience or expresses contempt, it is tyranny. If voice displays for status, it is pride. The list could go on. God is not found in a thousand shades of darkness. Better to seek the voice that confronts sin, that which urges us to light and mercy.
Effective voice opens the possibility that when expressed as a group, the whole is greater than any single human member. Always, we can live in a better community. Mistakes come with living. Just like God’s call, we can ignore or acknowledge them. Learning from mistakes is called experience, perhaps best offered with a wry smile.
In the Anglican church, other deacons and I vow at our ordination “to interpret to the church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world.” How can an imperfect deacon bring the world, especially vulnerable people and Creation, to the imperfect people of the congregation?
In the best situation, the deacon would help people of the non-church world bring their voice directly to the congregation. For many reasons, this seldom happens. Vulnerable people often do not want to speak to strangers, and Creation cannot express its worth and needs with words. Yet silence would betray our vow as deacons — what do we do?
For almost 20 years, I’ve known a particular deacon. I watched and experienced them gaining more effective voice. Part of this was personal. Their life evolved and as their vulnerability decreased, the clarity of their personal voice increased. In frustrating situations, perhaps sometimes it was mostly louder! A demand for perfection before expression would force the tyranny of silence. So, loud is okay, persistent is okay, and clarity is wonderful.
From that personal flowering, the deacon’s ability to bring the experiences and needs of those they served changed dramatically. I saw and heard the urgency and clarity and persistence of a prophet.
Indifference and inaction are convenient and easily rationalized as wise. Yet, God kept calling Jeremiah, Micah and other prophets, and he calls us now to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly Him. May I name the expression of this call the justice voice? My private prayer before I read the Gospel at the Sunday service — “not from me, through me” — applies to justice voice first and foremost. The deeper the communion of the speaker with God, the greater clarity and richness of their justice voice. Often, it will point us in a new direction that we do not easily accept.
Will we listen and respond to a justice voice? In Biblical times, often not! In historic times, often not! In current times — what do you think?
The justice voice from a King David or a high priest would be more easily accepted than that from a rough outsider like Jeremiah or John the Baptist. Yet how easily do the mighty, like King David, ignore God’s call to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly! They are too busy, too important and too comfortable.
When captives are led away after another sacking of Jerusalem, they understand too late that the earlier, awkward and unwelcome voice of that outsider was a justice voice. Jerusalem was rebuilt many times, but each time with the cost of whole generations and great suffering.
No deacon or other outsider will have a perfect justice voice. Some of us may almost never find our justice voice. But, just as Christians must strive to open ourselves to God’s call, so, I ask, must we open our ears and eyes to the possibility that the awkward, unwelcome voice from the outsider or the deacon is a justice voice. If we pay heed, we are indeed wise and blessed.