I lost my voice last week. Just like that! I’d been pretty run down from a heavy travel schedule and didn’t feel quite right. I thought I was coming down with a cold. Then, in the middle of our first district gathering around the work around the Commission on a Way Forward, my voice began to weaken and waver. Then it just flew away! Not sure where. I limped through the rest of the day, speaking as softly as I could, but then my voice departed for good. Cough drops and cold meds helped a bit, but rest is what my voice and my body needed the most.
Have you ever lost your voice? Laryngitis happens when the voice box in your throat becomes irritated or inflamed. This leads to swelling that keeps your vocal cords from being able to open and close smoothly. It’s usually a viral infection and can be very annoying and inconvenient when speaking is part of your job.
Not being able to speak reminds me that our voice is a gift. God created every human being with a unique voice and calls us to use our voice to glorify God, share Christ’s love, and change the world. My voice was silent for much of the week, but that is nothing compared to millions of people around our world whose voices have been deliberately silenced.
It’s been amazing to observe how our youth have been using their voices to protest gun violence in the wake of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland FL. A movement has begun where our young people are speaking truth to power by asserting the need for stricter gun safety measures in order to protect our schools.
Voices are starting to be heard in other places as well. The “Me Too” movement went viral in October 2017 and is encouraging girls and women to speak out against sexual assault and misconduct in the workplace and elsewhere. Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2017 was The Silence Breakers; The Voices That Started A Movement. The riots in Charlottesville last year rekindled one of our nation’s greatest challenges: our history of personal and institutional racism and the need to keep working for racial justice at all levels.
On February 22, public school teachers in West Virginia went on strike after not having had any pay raise for the last four years. After the State House agreed to a 5% increase and the State Senate would not go past 4%, the teachers would not back down. Among the lowest paid teachers in the country, they refused to still their voices and would not return to work. Last Tuesday the West Virginia House and Senate passed a bill to give all state workers, including public school teachers, a 5% pay increase. Their voices finally prevailed, and children are back to school.
Children, youth, and young adults who are part of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are still in limbo after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced on September 5, 2017 that the government was terminating DACA. In the days and months following, as court injunctions have been filed challenging the Administration’s actions to end DACA, tens of thousands of young people, many of whom have no other home than the US, continue to live in fear.
At the same time, advocates for these young people are using their voices to demonstrate the gifts that DACA recipients offer our country and are urging a gracious response. We are privileged to live in a country where our Constitution guarantees the freedom to make our voice heard. Our United Methodist Justice for our Neighbors, based in Des Moines, with six branches throughout the state, has given voice for many years to tens of thousands of people with free, high-quality immigration legal services, education, and advocacy. I will be helping JFON to bless their new space in Des Moines on Thursday afternoon.
Did you know that the Latin words for “voice” (vox) and “to call” (vocare) come from the same root? At the beginning of Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth, he writes, “From Paul, called by God’s will to be an apostle of Jesus Christ … to God’s church that is in Corinth: to those who have been made holy to God in Jesus Christ, who are called to be God’s people…”
To be called is to use our voices to glorify God and make a difference. Evidently, Paul, who had been called by God to preach the gospel to the Gentiles and become a missionary to all the nations, had heard about dissension among the Corinthians. Paul was dealing mostly with behavior problems among the Corinthians rather than doctrinal issues. All the way through his letter, however, Paul interprets these issues in light of the “testimony of Christ.” Paul encourages the Corinthians to consider and claim their call as people set apart to be agents of Jesus Christ.
Who is God calling you to be as a Christ-follower (vocare)? And how will you use your God-given voice (vox) to change the world? Listen to how the apostle Paul describes this call:
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
Here’s the heart of the matter. God gives a voice to the powerless in order to challenge the powers that be. God gives a voice to the foolish in order to humble the wise. God gives a voice to the weak in order to topple the strong. God gives a voice to all who are despised, discriminated against, and rejected in order to expose those who claim to know it all.
Has your voice ever been silenced? What does it feel like for your voice not to be heard?
Who was your champion and opened doors for you to speak your truth? And how can you be a catalyst for the voices of others to be heard?
Losing my voice once in a while is probably a good thing because it reminds me how many people in our world never have a voice. It also gives some time and space to consider my own call. As my voice slowly comes back, I yearn for the day when no person ever has their voice ignored, discounted, or taken from them. I also pray for the time when every person can recognize, celebrate, and use their voice to share words of hope and deeds of love. Most of all, may I never lose my own voice to console the broken-hearted, cry out against injustice, and witness to the grace and peace of God that makes us whole.