Counting the Cost and Speaking Up

Counting the Cost and Speaking Up

Overheard in the dining room, over lunch.

“I remember the kids walked to school- we never thought twice about it…”

“and there was a time I used to leave my keys in the ignition, at the shops, overnight, almost always”

“But you can’t do that now!”

“oh no! The crime is so widespread that the kids need to be supervised in the garden!”

“and your car isn’t even safe in your own driveway, behind a gate!”

At this stage, I left the room, gutted that people I so respected had not made the connection.

The thing is, I love to speak. Chat, talk, ‘have a natter’ and discuss. I find it fairly easy to share the (sometimes difficult) truth with colleagues, family, and friends. Although, after this conversation I found myself acutely aware of the fact that maybe I am comfortable delivering certain truths. But some other truths, I am less sure about sharing. Not because they aren’t true, but because I am afraid. Of killing the mood, being too confrontational or antagonistic and generally, what other people might say or think about me. Ugh. I’m the worst.

I wish I’d found a way to say, to these older, respected people in my life, that the things they were saying, while not untrue, were incomplete.

I wish I’d found a way to ask, with grace and deep respect,

“Have you counted the cost of those things you so enjoyed?”

  • In that era, separation between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have less’ was enforced with power.  Whilst those keys in the car overnight was convenient and safe, there were millions of people who had to carry pass books when in other suburbs or communities.  This entrenched fear: carry your pass book or face arrest.  Keys in a car overnight vs facing arrest for not carrying a pass book?  I know what I would prefer to change!
  • There was enforced separation through jobs being reserved for white people.  The economic odds were stacked in our favour.  It didn’t matter how hard you worked, there were certain opportunities afforded to you if you were categorised as a white person, and others who were prevented from accessing those opportunities.
  • There was enforced separation through education – relegating generations of children to substandard education, barring them from meaningful opportunities in the workforce, even after the laws changed in 1994.

I might understand what you mean by the ‘good old days’.  But many times what we put into the category of the ‘good old days’ came at the expense of many people who would call them the ‘bad old days’.

And I understand that perhaps these people spoke ignorantly, genuinely unaware that their everyday experiences were at the cost of other people’s everyday suffering. But we see Scripture that instructs (not gently suggests), that we should speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, speak up for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31 8-9). But I didn’t. Because I was fearful. I fervently pray that next time, I will. That I will muster up the courage and try my best to speak so that people listen, rather than be antagonistic which generally makes them just lean away and think of me as too radical.

A scripture which stuck out to me quite early in my faith journey was

Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? James 3 10-11

I like the analogy- it’s poetic to me in some way… At the time, it was a lens for me to stop swearing and gossiping. That my mouth was reflecting a kind of hypocrisy- flowing with both worship and gossip, prayers and profanities. But now, thinking it over alongside the wisdom of Proverbs I see the risk of another kind of hypocrisy- where we are failing to see what might be underlying our nostalgia, or letting racist comments slide or even missing an opportunity to stand up for the destitute and those lacking representation- all of those are types of hypocrisy that God is displeased about. Those are salty water. And when they flow from the same source as fresh water (the things about you that really please God) the result is still salty. I don’t want to be a mix of salty and fresh, because, as the passage from James concludes in verse 12

 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

So the very practical ways that we can use our speech for good would be to Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; in my life, I think this looks like fostering greater representation. At work meetings and social gatherings, I should be more aware of what kinds of people are represented and if there is a situation where a group of people is not there, I need to deeply consider why that is.

I could also, in those situations, try to include the underrepresented group. If that’s not an option, I can make a point of trying to place myself in their shoes and represent them to the best of my ability and knowledge. I realize a very real danger exists in this, so bear with me. This also means that in a situation where I’m standing around the braai and a racist or sexist joke or comment is passed, I can point out that it’s not honoring to speak about people like that. Anything we can do to speak up for people, we should.

I should also speak up for the destitute, people struggling through situations of material poverty or provisions. This could look like meeting some of the people who are homeless in my area and using my speech to include them in conversations and use my listening to dignify them with time and care.

Adding my voice to the rallying cry of others in protest (even if the outcomes are not directly beneficial to me) would be pleasing to God too, in light of the scripture. Speaking up, challenging the presumptions of others and possibly harnessing any privilege I have is not always difficult- and I suspect that the more I do it, the easier it will become.

And all of these things can be glorifying God because He’s given me a mouth to speak along with the instruction to use it to stand up for people. Are you a defender, protector, and stand-up-er? Could you be using your words to glorify God and uplift people at the same time? If you are already doing this- please comment with some practical ideas for me. If not, maybe you could prayerfully consider these two scriptures alongside each other?

James 3.

8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison…10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Proverbs 31

8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.9 Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.

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