The Muzzle -- Learning How To Find Your Voice

"Speak the truth...Even if your voice shakes." - Maggie Kuhn

"Don't fear, oh Voice. When you come forth, you will echo." - Joe Loveless

I am a talker.  I verbally process most everything that comes to mind.  I am adept at thinking a thought and saying it out loud almost simultaneously.  In my humble opinion, that makes me, well...sorta genius.  In my husband's opinion, that makes me, well...I shouldn't speak for him, but you can imagine.  

Last night at dinner we sat around eating a delish [if I do say so myself], homemade meal of crispy roasted chicken with leeks and shared about our days.  It was our kids' first day of the school year so we wanted each of them to dish out all the details.  When it was India's turn [my 7 year old second grader] she took the liberty to dish out the details...ALL THE PAINSTAKING DETAILS.  

We did not receive the Ikea-Instructions-general-vague-idea of her day.  No, we got the second by second, blow by blow of the words, the thoughts, the activities, the outfits, the papers, the snacks, the WALL OF GREATNESS and who gets on it and for what.  Twenty minutes later, she took her first breath and Josh and I gave each other the look that says, "I can't.  I just can't. Not for one more second." 

So she got her verbal skills from me and you're welcome. 

Ironically enough, while I am skilled in the area of verbal processing I haven't always believed that what I have to say is important.  Sure, I can talk anyone in [or out] of a paper bag [whatever that saying means] but when it comes to speaking with conviction about the way I see the world, it has been an epic internal battle that has raged for most of my life.  

As a child I got into many school yard tiffs for speaking up.  Once in 3rd grade, some friends were standing in line in front of me reading a local Hawaiian comic book called Pigeon To Da Max, which highlights local life using the Hawaiian dialect of Pigeon.  I joined in the laughter as they read the book out loud and one of the girls turned to me and said, "You're just a haole [white girl]!  You don't even know what we're saying so stop laughing!"  I assured her that I was born and raised in Maui, therefore I spoke Pigeon and I very much knew exactly what they were saying.  A chase ensued and both girls cornered me atop the wooden fort on the playground and pinned me down with my arms twisted behind my back, yelling, "Admit it!  You don't know pigeon cuz you're just a stupid haole!"

That experience taught me that I shouldn't speak the truth.  That my words and voice caused trouble.  

I put on an invisible muzzle that day.

As a teenager, I found myself under the leadership of two different men who abused me.  They groomed me for the abuse by treating me special, giving me gifts, spending alone time with me on the regular, praising me verbally and generally acting inappropriate.  They did this IN FRONT OF OTHER CHRISTIAN LEADERS who turned a blind eye.  One leader even said, "Rebecca, you bring on this kind of attention by the way you flirt with boys."  She also made it clear on more than one occasion that she was loyal to these male leaders and that she would "defend them to the death, even if they were wrong".  I couldn't speak out against their abuse, even if I found the courage to do so.  She would just defend them anyway.  

I tightened the muzzle. 

When I found out my boyfriend of 3 years had cheated on me, I was told that the only reason why my heart was hurting so bad was because I came from a broken home.  I shouldn't dwell on the pain and "give the enemy a foothold".  I shouldn't ask questions or keep bringing up the past because it would only cause me more pain.  

Tears fell and caused my muzzle to be conditioned to fit better.

When I was a young woman trying to be a pastor to young people I was told repeatedly that I was good at administration but not good at teaching and preaching.  I should stick to organizing events and stay away from getting on stage to preach.  Let the menfolk do that.  I was once told that I shouldn't correct my fellow staff members in meetings because it emasculated them.

I adjusted the muzzle to make sure it was comfy.  

When I became a mom I believed that it was my Christian duty and the "highest calling" for me to stay home with my kids.  I begged and pleaded with God to take this bursting desire out of my heart to be a pastor and travel the world working in social justice.  I gave it all up with anguish in my heart, believing that my sacrifice was the destiny of godly women and that I couldn't work outside the home and be a good wife and mom at the same time.  No one in my life blinked twice at that kind of belief system.  In fact, they praised me for it.  

They tightened my muzzle and told me how good it looked on me.  

These experiences, amongst others, caused me to fear my own voice.  It got me into trouble and made people feel uncomfortable.  My voice was too aggressive, too authoritative.  My voice wasn't necessary and in fact, it was down right aggravating.

Unfortunately, for me, I have the bent of a prophet from the Old Testament and I see the world through a lens of justice and no matter how tight I pulled on that muzzle I couldn't seem to stop my voice from tumbling out.  While, I was taught to keep my voice tightly reined in by my muzzle, I could not resist the powerful urge to speak up when things were not right.  

Why can't women be pastors?

Why are there so few black people at our church?

Why do we care more about paying fare market value for the incredible violinist who plays in the worship band on the weekends then we do for the kids going to school hungry in our own neighborhood?

The war between my muzzle and my voice made my words come out harsh and angry.  The righteousness of justice was muted by my own rage from being silenced.  

It only got worse when I met more muzzled people.  

The hispanic woman in line for 6 hours waiting for Food Stamps.

The black man, feared just for walking down the street.

The child getting kicked out of school for acting out one too many times.

The poverty-stricken family receiving financial help from the church and why are they not more grateful?!

The homosexuals threatening our marriages.

The immigrants stealing our jobs and corrupting our schools.

So many muzzles.  So many powerful people silencing the the powerless.  

My guess is that you may have been muzzled too. Perhaps for your race or your gender or your orientation.  Maybe it was overt or maybe it was insidiously hidden beneath abusive religious belief systems.  While I know not of your story, I do know that we are imprinted with the incredible ability to reflect the courageous, curious, creative love of God.  We are all a breath being uttered that speaks of goodness, beauty, triumph and power.  So much good power that I think it makes some people afraid.  Afraid that if they get too close to this good power they themselves might forget what to say.  

If you have been muzzled, will you do me a favor?  Will you speak?  Will you whisper?  Will you eek out a truth, even if it is just one syllable at a time?  Will you share your beauty and your power with us because we so desperately need it?  

Maybe you need to paint it or write it or sing it.  Maybe you need to work your fingers to the bone to create a thing or maybe you need to hike a mountain right to the top to hear your thoughts loud enough to know what to say.  

Along the way, a few heroes stepped close enough to my story to begin to loosen my muzzle.  With words and actions and prayers they unbuckled the muzzle and rubbed the creased lines on my face until the sting of the muzzle eased.  One or two of those heroes have returned time and again to see me with my muzzle back on.  Again, with words and actions and prayers they remove it or wait with me in silence until I am ready to remove it myself.  

But they stay, telling me to speak.  

And so I say this to you today, "Speak!"  

In whatever way you can, tell us what we need to know.  Tell us how to heal and how to love.  Tell us how to take care of others and how to admit when we are wrong.  Tell us how to see the beauty in life and tell us how to come close to the pain.  Tell us your story. 

We need to hear your story.  

                               It will change us. 

                                                    I promise you, it will change us.  

Together we can work through our anger from being silenced so that our words are less hurtful and more helpful.  Together we can learn to ask for forgiveness from the pain it can cause when our voice has to squeeze through the muzzle and comes out ugly.  

The road to growing into your voice may be long or steep or unpaved.  But take the road anyway.  And let's commit to cheering others on as they journey towards their voice.  

Our voices are too important, too beautiful, too brilliant to be silenced any longer. 

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