Friday, November 22, 2013

Letting Silence Speak

I've gone three weekdays without writing an essay for this blog.

Well, to be honest, I've gone three weekdays without posting anything I've written for this blog!  You see, I've written a couple of pieces, but abandoned both of them, because I realized that I was either complaining about something, being jealous about something, or otherwise contributing absolutely nothing of worth to your life, or mine.

Not that I'm under any delusion that you consider what you read on my blog to be the highlight of your day.  But neither do I want your time to be wasted when you read what I write.  I care much less about whether you agree with my take on a particular subject than whether you regret even reading it.

My time is far less valuable than that of many other people's, so if I don't like bad journalism, or bad literature, or whatever this blog is to you, then I know you won't.  And a lot of times, it's not so much the content that can be bad, but the attitude with which it's conveyed.

So I figure that when the latter is influencing what I'm writing in a negative way, it doesn't make any difference how meritorious the content is.  So not writing is better than writing something in an unhealthy spirit.  Of course, while I make no bones about being a "recovering cynic," even I know when enough is enough.

Imagine my pleasant surprise, then, when today I stumbled upon a quick list of key times we believers in Christ should simply be quiet.  Q-u-i-e-t.  It came as a soft affirmation to my frustrating week of apparent non-productivity, since I didn't have any essays posted to show the topics over which my brain is mulling.  Anybody keeping track of how much I write would see a big empty hole for the middle of this week, but God and I both know everything He convinced me you didn't need to read!

Written by Chicago medical doctor Lina Abujamra, this handy list - each with supporting Bible verses - originally had ten items, but I've adapted it for myself as a blogger.  And I encourage you to hold me accountable to it.

So, here it is.  I should not write:
  1. When I can't come up with a constructive opinion or viewpoint to share. 
    Proverbs 17:28: "Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent."
  2. When I'm mad. 
    Proverbs 25:28: "Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control."
  3. When I may be rushing to a decision, or drawing incomplete conclusions about something.  Lamentations 3:25–28: "The Lord is good for those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord . . . Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; let him put his mouth to the dust—there may yet be hope."
  4. When I'm relying on tradition or convention for the sake of, well, tradition or convention.  In other words, even if something should still be done the same way, I should be sure I can explain why that is so.  I can't expect nostalgia alone to provide a sufficient defense for an opinion. 
    Ecclesiastes 7:10: "Say not, why were the former days better than these? For it is not from wisdom that you ask this."
  5. When I simply don't like something. 
    Philippians 2:14: "Do all things without grumbling or complaining."
  6. When the timing is inappropriate. 
    Proverbs 25:11: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in setting of silver."
  7. When I don't have anything to say that gives grace. 
    Ephesians 4:29: "Let no corrupt talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear it."
This past Sunday at church, our sermon text came from Luke 9:28-36, when Christ took Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration.  Now, Sunday's sermon didn't cover this, but do you recall the moment when Peter, groggy with sleep, realized that Moses and Elijah were chatting with Jesus?  He scrambled some half-baked thoughts together and stammered that he, James, and John should construct three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.

Right there.  On the spot.

What?  Where did that tent idea come from?  Granted, back in the day, all the important people had tents, and those tents could be decorated in ways that indicated the status of the person inside.  So it wasn't that tents would technically be inappropriate, but all things considered, the idea itself wasn't appropriate.

For one thing, the only material the disciples had was their own clothing.  Not exactly suitable for the purpose at hand, both in terms of quantity and quality.  And Peter was missing the whole point about Christ, and the Earthly tabernacle, and how the Holy Spirit would soon come to dwell in us, the new tabernacle.

Tents were so BC.

And anyway, how did Peter, James, and John know the two men with Christ were Moses and Elijah in the first place?  It's not like the photos of these great leaders were familiar to the Jews.  They didn't have posters, or Wikipedia pages, or their own websites, or 501(c)(3) organizations with marketing material.

Did Christ make the introductions?  "Moses, may I introduce Peter, John, may I introduce Elijah?"  Can you imagine how utterly bizarre that must have been?  No wonder Peter was babbling gibberish - maybe the stuff about building three tents was all he said that made much sense at all.

For everybody who wonders about whether God has a sense of humor, simply consider Peter.  One of my favorite little vignettes from the whole Bible is when the angel wants to free Peter from his prison chains, and has to slap Peter to wake him up.  Can you see it?  And then, when Peter, by now a fugitive, gets to where the early Church is praying for his release, and Rhoda leaves him at the gate, can you imagine Peter, standing out there on the street?

"Hey!  Hey - I'm a wanted man, ya know," he's hissing, trying to be quiet, but still fully aware of his vulnerability.  "You're leaving me out here in full view of Herod's henchmen!  Hey!"

So when Christ, Moses, and Elijah heard Peter exclaim about tents, they apparently ignored him.  Or at least, they tolerated his bumbling mortality.  The text completely omits any further reference to the tents, as if Christ perhaps rolled His eyes, maybe hugged Moses and Elijah one more time, and said "see you later" or something as the cloud came down from Heaven and enveloped them.

Maybe with a slight nod and a grin to them like, "see what we mean about our brother, Peter?  God loves Him!"

And then when Moses and Elijah get back to Heaven, can you imagine them deferring to our Almighty Father's sovereign wisdom and acknowledging, "dear Heavenly Father, we didn't deserve Your grace, and after five minutes with Peter, we're humbled yet again at what You've been having to put up with in your plan of salvation!"

Okay, so maybe I'm not being very gracious there, or even orthodox, and I usually don't like it when other people make conventional, colloquial assumptions about true stories from the Bible.  But as we read this passage from Luke in church this past Sunday, I found myself once again marveling at, indeed, what God puts up with as He intentionally uses people like Peter, and me, for His purposes here on Earth.

Especially when we open our mouths.  Or write our blogs.

Which connects with Dr. Abujamra's reminders about times when we believers should go ahead and keep quiet, refraining from offering our contribution to whatever narrative is unfolding around us.  It's best, of course, to follow such advice, but even when we don't, God looks at our hearts.

If we're sinning in our motives for needing to say or write what isn't edifying, that's one thing.  But if we're just acting like Peter, blathering out of good intentions but laughable logic, Christ may still allow us to participate in something grand for His glory and our good.  Even if that moment was so remarkable that, according to verse 36, neither Christ nor His three disciples spoke about what they had witnessed on the mountaintop when they returned to the rest of His followers.

Apparently that mountaintop experience was too holy to mention to another soul, let alone discuss, chat about, write about, blog about, tweet, e-mail, publish, or do interviews about.

Okay, so maybe silence really can be golden!  As in, royalty.  And maybe that's my cue to bring this essay to a close...

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