The Silent Treatment: The Injustice of Minding My Own Business

Shelby County Courthouse, Memphis, Tennessee, USA

I am a failure.

Bear with me for a second.

I’m talking about a failure when it comes to relating with many of my fellow human beings.  People of all types who are different from me.

This idea began ruminating in my heart a few years ago, but the controversy and commentary surrounding the Trayvon Martin shooting has for some reason brought it to a head.  Let me explain.

What makes me a failure?

There is a technique sometimes used to justify certain interpretations of the Bible.  It is called the argument from silence.  In other words, x position must be true because we know x was being talked about in biblical times and no bible writer ever refutes it.  For example, Jesus never refuted the mainstream view of say men’s fashion popular at the time of his ministry by other Jews, therefore he must have agreed with it.  That’s an argument from silence.

And that’s why I have failed.  I’m a failure from silence.  I’m not a failure because of what I have said or done, but because of what I haven’t said and haven’t done.

I am a failure because I live in a context of relatively recent racial strife and ongoing mistrust, and there is nothing in my life to indicate I no longer hold the views once openly and today subtlety practiced by many who look like me.  I just try to live my life like everything is fine.  I just try to mind my own business.  What I say I believe is largely irrelevant.  My actions tell the whole story.  Where I live, who I mostly talk to, what I spend my money on, the authors I read, the schools and churches I attend, the places I go, the people I trust, the people I let into my life, the people I respect, all mostly look and think the same.

I am a failure because I have not actively been part of the solution, thus making me part of the problem.

I am a failure because I think just being polite and respectful to people of different types is enough to make me not prejudiced.

I am a failure because I use negative stories to confirm and reinforce stereotypes and write off positive stories as unusual or happenstance.

I am a failure because I categorize individuals with statistics.

I am a failure because I do not recognize the context by which others hear and understand my words, no matter how well intentioned my words may be.

I am a failure because I think my success, position in life, and values are my own.  I think I conjured them out of thin air with maybe a little help from my parents.  I don’t see my family’s ethos of self-sufficiency and independence comes from a multi-generational infusing, all under ideal political conditions.

I am a failure because I see what I have as earned instead of given through blessing.

I am a failure because I have only a handful of friends who did not grow up in middle class neighborhoods with two parents.

I am a failure because I know very few people who do not think just like me.  I am a failure because I rarely leave my comfort zone and when I do it is usually in some distant location which will not affect my everyday life.

I am a failure because I never speak up and sometimes laugh when tasteless jokes and veiled comments are made in my presence.  Whether it is a “joke” or not is irrelevant.  Such comments breed malice and contempt in my heart for others.

I am a failure because I am quick to judge and slow to listen.  In fact I don’t think I ever listen.  I don’t think I have ever sought to understand the life story and values of someone radically different than myself.

I am a failure because I think I’m ok and well off, thus everyone else should be too.  I think if I can do it why can’t everyone else.  I think If they don’t it must be their own fault.

I am a failure because I think if I can just take care of my family and mind my own business everything will be fine.

I am a failure because I have flown across continents to help others, but have not even seen large swaths of my own hometown, much less talked with anyone there.

I am a failure because I make snap judgements on human lives by what they wear, how they act in public, what language they speak, and what they sound like.

I am a failure because sometimes I think I am something better than a stinking sinner whose greatest works of righteousness are but filthy, dung covered rags before the perfect glory of the Lord of Hosts.

And I would probably remain a failure but for the unrelenting grace of my Lord Jesus Christ.  He, who will not let my conscience rest, is making me anew everyday.  He will make me a success in this area.  While I still have a long way to go, I am at least now journeying with my eyes open armed with the healing balm of Gilead for my sin sick soul.

Our situation here in America is complex and evades any simplistic solution.  Many groups are to blame for our direction.  But before any true healing can begin, we all must own our part.  The kingdom of God is at hand yet we who are to profess it are all too often tribalistic and self-interested.  I’ve had enough and I think you probably have too.

So what is to be done?  For starters, I confess.  I repent.  I resolve to be part of a better tomorrow.  It is time for my life to resemble that demanded of those who claim to follow Jesus as Lord.  It is time to be a peacemaker.  It is time to weep for sin.  It’s time to hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness.  It’s time to finish staying out of the way.

The stakes are high, least of all for our own souls.  Building walls between us and our fellow humans leads only to the self-imposed, cold isolation of pride.  It is a prison from which escape is nearly impossible.  The Gospel is so much more than that and we were made for so much more than that.  We cannot afford to be silent.

I will not be silent anymore.

What about you?


7 thoughts on “The Silent Treatment: The Injustice of Minding My Own Business

  1. This was very good. Do you think though, that we all have the same responsibilities toward the goals? I mean, aren’t some gifted more than others in one area, while the others are gifted in a different one? Should we consider ourselves failures, or part of the problem, if we are not all activists in politics, for example? I’m just thinking that perhaps if you are convicted so strongly about those things, that they are, in fact things you need to do better with…if you’re truly convicted about them. But what if someone else is doing what might be considered to be less? What if the things they are convicted about lead them in a different direction? 🙂 I’m not trying to be a troublemaker. Just asking honestly.

  2. Thanks for your comments. It’s not for me to say if you are a failure or not. That’s for you to say. I don’t think we all need to be activists. I don’t plan on doing anything like that. What I am talking about is more a mentality. I want to be more intentional within my own community and with the people I cross paths with in my everyday life. That’s more of what I am talking about. As to your second point, what do you mean by doing less? I think everyone needs to listen to others’ stories and understand the context into which they speak. If everyone did that we wouldn’t need activists or politics or anything like that. That is my main point. We need to worry less about being “right” and more about understanding. Does that make sense? Does that answer your question?

  3. There are so many ways that we all fall short in our thinking and in our actions or lack thereof. We know that we have the best example of how we should live…but we get caught up in the ‘world’ and in our own (and those close to us) wants and needs and ‘goings on’. We do need to pause now and then and make sure we are not ignoring the rest of humanity

    Thanks to our Lord we do have the assurance that he forgives us when we are sometimes ‘silent’..Diane

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