I know I’m probably preaching to the choir. You guys are amazing at speaking your mind. The level of honesty, vulnerability and openness and your skill at articulating complicated, intense and deep thoughts and emotions amaze me every day. I know we are seeing almost all this activity in our Facebook group! (*If you’re not in our group, please let me know and I’ll invite you.)
Almost every day I get a thank you from someone in the form of an email or a direct message or a private message thanking me for saying something that has inspired them. They don’t want their family or friends to know this because they will suffer for it. They ask me how I found the courage to be so open and say the things I say or ask the questions I ask.
So today I will talk about how to find your own voice and how to use it.
- Test: It takes some time to find out what your voice actually is and what it sounds like. I know for me it started with finding out what my voice wasn’t. So the first real expressions of my voice were in the form of questions. I’m still not sure exactly what I believe sometimes. But often it’s very very clear what I do not believe. It’s like you have to keep testing to hear if the voice you’re using rings true to you and that it is the truest expression of yourself. It is my belief that the quality of a question reveals the wisdom of the questioner. Ask yourself: “What have I been believing that I actually seriously question now?” You might be surprised.
- Write: Write in your journal. I don’t know about you, but for me, writing things down actually clarifies what I’m thinking. It helps to shape my airy thoughts into a more solid form. Write down the questions you come up. I have stacks of journals that show the development of my own personal wisdom. And it’s my wisdom! It’s not someone else’s. It’s mine. Sure, there are elements of the wisdom of others there, but they come together and mix into a unique concoction that is particularly mine! Write things out. It could be in a journal. Or it could even be in an anonymous blog. I know some people who started this way. Under a pseudonym they had the courage to speak openly without edit. They plan on maybe one day ripping off the mask and going public. Or maybe not. In any case, they are practicing using their voice.
- Wait: I know many people, on Facebook for example, who “like” my stuff but are afraid to let their friends and family know they do. So they’ll message me privately to thank me for something I’ve said that they appreciate. The ramifications they would suffer for being found out or coming out with something they don’t believe or do are so great that they can’t find the nerve to express it. So I tell them to take their time. In time the courage to speak your mind will gather. In fact, I sometimes think our truth waits within us like a pressure cooker and that it is just a matter of time that it cooks to the boiling point and blow the lid off. The gospel stories suggest that Jesus waited until he was about thirty before he came out. In fact, he apparently even resisted this when Mary tried to get him to take care of the wine shortage at the wedding. He said, “My time is not yet!”But the lid blew off. His cover was finally blown. And, as pressure cookers that blow their lid do, the mess created was beyond repair. There is no getting everything back into the pot.
- Practice: Find a good friend or a partner or a safe group (like The Lasting Supper) to practice using your voice. Or your cat, dog, canary or goldfish! Start with just small bits, like sound bytes, little phrases, shares or likes. You don’t have to start with your Magna Opus, a symphony or opera or constitution. Just a sentence will do. You, as well as I, know the power that one tiny little sentence can hold. In fact, I bet there are many of you can remember the one sentence, that one little question, that betrayed your inner thoughts and exposed you, forced you to come out, and invited the assault that you’re under right now. I know I remember. Many years ago I said something like this to someone important: “I don’t know if I believe that anymore.” Simple as that. It exposed me. And, like I said, it opened the can of worms. After that it was impossible to get them back in again. Just start with a good friend. Your partner. Maybe one of your children. A parent. An uncle. A closed group. Just say it. I promise: once you say it the rest takes care of itself.
- Risk: What I mean by this, because I wanted to use a one word verb, is that you must count the cost. Unfortunately, most people don’t want you to speak your truth. I do, many of us here do, but most people don’t. And there are some very mean people out there who aren’t afraid to use their voices to seriously hurt others. So be careful. Even today, someone commented on one of my cartoons,“And you call yourself a ‘pastor’! Go fuck yourself!” Ya, thanks for that. That was in response to me using my voice to question someone telling parents to shun their homosexual children and turn them over to Satan. Go figure! Now, some time ago this would have really hurt me, make me question my pastoral gifts, and make me feel like I’d been thrown a curse. Now, words like these fly by and no longer stick to me. I’m used to it. We all know what it means to lose friends and even family members because we’ve “come out” in some way or another. It hurts. It sticks. But we realize that using our own truthful voice is more important to carrying the weight of others’ expectations.
- Encourage: If you are a parent or a friend or a family member, encourage others to use their own voice as well. Lisa and I encouraged our children from a very early age to find their own voice and use them. And boy did they! And do they! In fact, I’ll humbly admit, I get embarrassed by some of the things they come out publicly. Even just the other day Lisa was looking at her Facebook and suddenly I heard her gasp and shake her head. Something one of our kids posted. But a smile came to her mouth as she was telling me what they were up to. We don’t agree with everything they express. But what delights us more than agreement is their freedom! It is wonderful to watch people find and use their own voice, especially when they are your children or friends, etcetera. Hanging out with free people is a great way to enjoy our own freedom. I think it actually teaches us how to think, speak, and live more freely. Don’t you?
- Enjoy: Have fun using your voice. Like a singer, just enjoy singing your thoughts. It’s not all terrible and costly. I just finished watching a documentary that won several awards, “Twenty Feet From Stardom”, about backup singers… how amazing they are, how close they are to the limelight, but mostly how they just enjoy the music. It’s really good. I recommend it. In the same way, we might not be center stage with tons of likes and shares and traffic. We just enjoy the music! We enjoy the sound of truth on our own lips. We love the wonder… or shock… that our voices bring to the expressions on peoples’ faces. We come to a place where we actually enjoy upsetting the status quo, tipping the apple cart, and causing a deep or even heated conversation. When I use my voice, sometimes I get silence, but most of the time I get boos or applause. All these are good because I’m more passionate about the freedom of expression rather than the editing of it. My edit button’s broken by now. I forget how to use it anyway.
I hope this helps you wild and crazy singers out there! Your voices are amazing. Each one is so unique. The world would suffer without the expression of your own voice. No one else has it. It’s yours!
Now, turn to your cat, dog, canary or goldfish, and say something amazing that you’ve been waiting to say for a long time!
If you want, share it on Facebook, or just click “reply” to this letter and tell me.
Your friend who’s all ears,