On Being Both Courageous & Humble (Instead Of Silent) - Kyle Hanawalt
It’s crazy that we are only now a couple weeks away from Thanksgiving SLIDE -Good food, family, football. But, as I think about Thanksgiving - I can’t help but to think about the Thanksgiving table also being the place of awkward conversations. Political arguments. People getting offended. Bracing ourselves for that one racist uncle. Thanksgiving can provoke a decent amount of anxiety.
SLIDE And with that in mind I want to take some time to consider the question. How might we navigate situations and conversation, whether it at work, or at the thanksgiving table, when someone says or does something we actually really disagree with? Or maybe more than that - when someone says or does something that we actually think is really offensive and wrong?
So, what I am about to say, I am sure is shocking to hear coming from a pastor, but I find the life of Jesus to be incredibly helpful in navigating this.
You see Jesus lived a life which I think the gospel writer John beautifully describes in saying Jesus became flesh and took up residence among us…. full of grace and truth… SLIDE seemingly suggesting those things are hard to have present at the same, but Jesus was able to accomplish that difficult balance
Jesus lived a life of grace, humility, self sacrifice He memorably taught his followers to “turn the other cheek” rather than to “return an eye for an eye” He developed a mass following and could have easily incited societal or political upheaval, but chose not to… Instead modeling self sacrifice, culminating in his own death He said things like: "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.
However, at the same time, Jesus also live a life that spoke truth to power, he was courageous and vocal in the face of injustice and hypocrisy.
Like when Jesus stepped in to stop a women caught in adultery from getting stoned by a crowd of zealous religious leaders. Calling out those who accuse her, instead of her.
He did this constantly... and in front of crowds
With words like from Matthew 23:23
“Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You give a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, yet you neglect what is more important in the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness!
Or when he saw money changers using the temple to take financial advantage of people - he publicly drove them out calling them, for all to hear: thieves, robbers.
You see, Jesus’ way of grace, humility, and self sacrifice did NOT mean silence or inaction… He did not sacrifice truth for grace. He did not sacrifice courage for humility… he lived out a balance of both
And as I think about this - and I think about the challenge of Thanksgiving tables.
I think Jesus shows us that we should absolutely be looking to live lives of humility, of self sacrifice However, that does not mean we are deferential or passive or silent in the face of offensive speech or injustice. In the face of seeing something that is broken or evil. The life we all want, the life we will feel happy and proud we’re living is not one that confuses humility with silence.
And that is the hardest part of this, right?
It is hard to be in a situation where you hear something that just feels wrong, and then find the courage to say something, to not stay silent.
I am not sure about you, but often when I hear someone say something that I disagree with or downright offensive.
SLIDE It feels so awkward. Like, oop did he just say what I think he said. I just kind of want to hide. Pretend I didn’t hear it. SLIDE I think about an encounter I had a little while ago, I was with a group of people and my other job, where I help run a before school program that offers breakfast, academic support, and advocacy got brought up.
And there was a guy in that group and upon hearing about my other job, said, “It’s a shame that some kids never get taught responsibility. That their parents didn’t teach them any work ethic. It’s a shame that you have to go in and help kids do what their parents should be helping them do.” And he kind of looked at me assuming my agreement - but I just felt so off about what he said and how he said it. It felt so demeaning to these kids that I love and work with every day and even more so, it felt so demeaning to their parents that I know and also care about. And I just kinda wanted to hide, I even contemplated getting up and pretending I needed to get something from the other room. I knew that to address what he said would necessarily mean the conversation turned toward race and privilege. And that those are not just easy breezy subjects. However, I just kind of knew inside that I was not going to sleep that night, if I left what he said go unaddressed So, rather than let what he said just pass - I said, “You know, that actually hasn’t been my experience at all.” And I went on to talk about how working with these kids and families each day, that a lack of responsibility or work ethic did not seem to be at the root of the problem at all. And we did talk about race and we did talk about privilege. And it wasn’t easy breezy. And, I don’t think I changed anything he thought, but I was able to sleep that night, and I slept well. Something about speaking up, as imperfectly as it went, was important to the health of my soul
And that is what I want to spend the rest of my time here talking about How do we live out the model of Jesus - grace and truth. SLIDE Humility and courage… so that we don’t choose silence, and so we can experience the good that does for our souls. how do we do that when our co workers - our friends - and timely for now, those who might be at our thanksgiving table?
I definitely don’t have a magic formula. But…
What I can do though is pass a few things to consider That I have found really helpful
So the first thing I want to offer as food for thought is Consider the role of power and ingroup dynamics. SLIDE Our ability to be heard or respected. Our ability to challenge or push back - is significantly impacted by the power dynamics and ingroup dynamics we have with the person we are interacting with. One thing that always jumps out to me about how Jesus talks to people is how much power and ingroup dynamics change how he interacts with them. When he interacts with those who have power and status, those who experience societal privilege. He is often very challenging, he doesn't hold back punches. - saying things like “you are like whitewashed tombs, pretty on the outside empty on the inside.” Dang Jesus - burn! But, even more than that - he is far more likely to challenge those with power within his own ingroups - which for him meant the Jewish religious elite. With words like - Quoting from Matthew 23 Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started! Wow strange and oddly specific burn, Jesus But, you see it’s the kind of burn that only happens with people within the same ingroup. That burn wouldn’t have even made sense if he would have said it to a Roman - and arguably he wouldn’t have had the authority to say this, to the Jewish religious elite, if he was not jewish. And I have found this to be really helpful You see - my main take away from this is that we can generally be more direct and straightforward, more harsh in our challenge when we are challenging those with the same or more power than us, and those who are in our ingroups. I think of it like the brother dynamic. I get to make fun of my brother - because he is my brother - however it becomes a whole lot less cool if you make fun of my brother. So, for me I am just far more likely to openly challenge other white Christian men. Like, if you have been here and heard me talk - It is clear that I criticize and challenge churches and church leaders more than anything. Because I am a pastor - that is my ingroup. Because the other pastors I challenge are either at my social power level or higher. So, if you are sitting at your thanksgiving table or at work and someone says something that you just feels wrong - perhaps it’s racist, or sexist, or homophobic, or islamophobic If you are a part of that ingroup - if they have equal or more power than you, than I think is appropriate to say something that might come across harsh. Now, if that person is at a power disadvantage to you - or you are not a member of that person’s ingroup - then I think it is worth being more cautious in how you might talk with them. Because too often when speaking to those we have more power than, what we call courage is really just bullying
And I also want to say the biggest reason that I would miss someone in the room today and the reason that I am most likely to miss anyone in a conversation. Is because I am a white man - and in that I can miss how certain things work well for me only because of my privilege That if someone else who is not a white man were to try or say the same thing I said in the same situation - It may not work the same way. So, as I said, what I am offering here are some things to keep in mind, as we try to navigate these conversation. Not the magic key.
The second thing I want to suggest to us toward trying to be, like Jesus, full of humility and courage, is a question:
SLIDE What are you trying to accomplish? First, maybe we actually change someone’s mind - we actually win someone over. SLIDE I remember being in Korea and a friend of mine, another white man, said the N word. And I just stopped and said - Wow, you know I am actually pretty offended that you said that.
And he kinda of blew me off and gave a few reasons as to why it wasn’t a big deal.
And, I then explained to him, why I did think it was big deal. I actually don’t remember everything I said, but it had something to do with the effect of using slurs towards other groups is naturally demeaning. And as we give permission to ourselves to say that - we can knowingly or not, give permission for us to internally believe people are lesser in some way. And shockingly - He was persuaded. He said he had not seen it like that. He told me about how he had grown up with his family using that word frequently - and that it never saw it a big deal. And at least in that moment he promised he wouldn’t say it again. So, best case scenario, when we challenge someone - they might be won over - however, that is a very rare scenario.
SLIDE I want to be real honest, if “changing someone’s mind” is the only “win” we’re hoping for, if that’s the ONLY thing we might try to accomplish when we try to speak up instead of be silent, we’re going to be disappointed a lot. The truth is that it is unlikely that we will win someone over, it is unlikely we will change anyone’s mind and thinking over thanksgiving - This is especially the case with our family OR anyone who ever changed your diaper. Like maybe it’s hard to ever fully take seriously the words of someone once you have wiped poop off their butt.
This happens with parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, but this can also be the case with siblings, and cousins.
It can just be hard for those closest to you to really hear and understand you. So, you have not failed - if you can’t change the mind of someone you care about. it just is a very rare thing to change anybody’s mind let alone someone who knew you when you have acne.
But changing someone’s mind is not the only thing you can accomplish
For example: Refusing to accept certain talk as permissible or allowed does make a difference, even if we can’t change someone’s mind
There was a study that was done by the journal of consumer psychology.
And what it found was something that resonated with reality to me
So, they took a group of people and had them share their opinions on variety of things.
And unbeknownst to the people in the study who were sharing their opinions, there had been several people planted in the room who either just reminded silent the whole time or even left the room. Then they asked people to report what they thought the other people in the room thought about whatever issue they were talking about. And the study found that people assume that those who remain silent or were not present agreed with their own opinion SLIDE So, the take away from this for me - is that even if I have no chance to change someone's mind - or have nothing the learn or gain from a conversation - It might still be worth it to say something. Because by not saying anything I may be allowing the person to believe that I agree. And especially over the last few years, I think I have realized that it does really matter whether people think is ok or permissible to do or say something. When I look at the ME TOO movement - when I look at some of the societal shift that has come into effect - I don’t think it is because now all men, or all powerful men in management positions, have had their minds changed. No, I think it was because enough people said enough. Enough people decided that they would no longer grant any permission to it. And once that reached a critical mass - it changed things. And now, whether certain men’s minds are changed or not, society is better off for it, because of the accountability that has been provided by enough people refusing to be quiet, refusing to permit or allow certain talk or actions. So, I think there is something to consider in just not granting permission to things you see as unjust. Maybe it won’t change someone’s mind, but it might make them a little more hesitant to freely act or espouse what they are saying. And it might be a link in the chain it takes to change thing on a much larger scale.
The next thing to consider is what we modeling for kids
I think how we react to situations where someone says or does something that you might think is wrong or unjust should be impacted by whether there are kids present.
In a weird way, we may want to stay silent because of kids - like we don’t want to make a scene, but I actually just think it is the opposite
Kids are just so perceptive, and they absorb the world that is modeled for them
And so, if they witness something offensive being said - and it is only met by silence - they learn from that. (remember the study I mentioned a moment ago)
That communicates agreement or it’s no big deal However, if something is said, and it met with challenge - hopefully respectful challenge, but challenge none-the-less When kids witness that - they learn. They have a develop a picture of what is ok and not ok. I can still remember one time decades ago when my mother stood up to someone in public for saying something racist - I can remember so few things, from 20 years ago, but I remember that and I remembered that when I was wavering in speaking up to my friend who used the N word.
Finally, I want to end with a few last practical tips. So, If you find yourself in a situation where you feel compelled to speak up, but also feel the fear of that and the draw of remaining silent, here are some concrete things you can try that will point you in the Jesus “grace & truth” direction SLIDE SLIDE Speak for yourself Use “I” statements I don’t see it that way I disagree I think that is offensive I find it important to consider Try to not make it personal or attacking Don’t use statements like “You’re just wrong” “You don’t know what you talking about” “You’re a racist” I statements are a lot easier to receive and hear.
Also, there are a few phrases that I find helpful in these situations SLIDE Wow I see that differently Seriously, not sarcastically OR, That has not been my experience Or, I have not found that to be true Or, Ouch - literally saying ouch if you feel hurt something It can kinda defuse the need to explain or talk from head perspectives and instead makes the felt-impact of what was said more the focus.
SLIDE So as you think about your thanksgiving table in a couple weeks, or you think about the coworkers at you workplace. What I have suggested is not perfect, but I wonder if it helps you live out Jesus’ model of Humility and Courage.
Now there may be times where we should stay quiet and not say anything, but if we don’t put some forethought or intentionality into this, we are likely to do just default to doing nothing, default to staying silent. Not because we thought it through and decided that silence was the best course of action. No, because we will allow the discomfort of the moment, we allow the tension of the issues to be the the deciding factor.
If you would stand with me I would like to pray.