It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when I was afraid of the sound of my own voice.
It's hard not to develop that fear when seemingly every time you proffer an opinion, especially a dissenting opinion, you get shouted down. In my family of origin, I learned to keep my peace in order to keep the peace.
Danny's "good ear" was one of the many things that attracted me to him in the first place -- one of the things that inspired early love and definitely one of the bedrock foundations that allowed our marriage, and our love, to survive the storms of life. In other words, he listened to me, even when I disagreed with him. And, if he was around, I had a voice, because I knew he had my back. (Not that I made it easy for him. My voice, expressing a dissenting opinion during the State of the Union address in January 1975, got him punched right in the face. )
Still, in new situations, I tended to clam up rather than draw attention to myself. And since I didn't want a repeat of what happened during the president's address, I became reticent even when Danny was present.
It didn't last. I eventually had to find my voice again once I re-entered the work force in 1988. It wasn't easy. Mostly, I just went along to get along. Only the most egregious assaults on my core values aroused a verbal response.
In spite of how freely words seem to flow here each Wednesday afternoon, I am still fairly reticent, looking long before I leap into a verbal fray. Most of the time.
Although the McCook Daily Gazette has embraced the new technologies of the day, we do still have a fax machine. Although it consumes fewer and fewer trees with every passing year, it occasionally spits out some needful things -- and some things I could go my entire life without seeing. Such was the case Tuesday morning when we received yet another fax from the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, this one promising to picket the funeral of the 9-year-old girl killed in the Saturday shooting in Tucson, Arizona.
I won't give them any free publicity by quoting from their hate-filled diatribe, but I think my exact words in response were "It's a good thing I'm not God. I'd have struck these people down with lightning a long time ago!" as I crumpled the paper and threw it in the trash. No one in the newsroom missed it, I had the volume that high. Talk about finding your voice!
Thankfully, I'm not God. Neither is Fred Phelps. I just wish he would stop speaking for God in such a hateful way. 2 Peter 3:15 reminds me that God's patience means salvation, and since the Lord stayed his mighty hand long enough to draw me out of the darkness and into the light, I need to be patient as he brings others into the fold.
I still wish Phelps would quit speaking for God in such a hateful way. I also wish he could see how incongruent his actions are. He calls down heaven's fire on a "godless government" all the while expecting that same government to provide him with protection to continue to spew venomous hatred that brings shame to everyone who calls himself a Christian.
In fact, the Supreme Court, another arm of that godless government Phelps is so quick to condemn, has said that the so-called church is exercising its right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment. Such are the realities of living in a free nation.
I've no doubt the people of Arizona will find a way to shield the Greene family, just as the people of Southwest Nebraska shielded the Matheny family when the Westboro troupe picketed Sgt. Randy Matheny's funeral in February 2007.
Our challenge, as followers of Christ, is to find a way to counter the culture of hate that Phelps is spreading, to shield the innocent among us from the poison he peddles, replacing it with the sweet nectar of truth.
Does God hate sin? Certainly. He, more so than anyone, fully understands the damage sin does, to an individual as well as to the innocent. He sees families, communities, even entire cultures, absolutely consumed by sin and thereby destroyed.
Is God man's judge? Undeniably. He has set a date for judgement and will not be turned from it. That being said, he also has set a time of opportunity for men to repent and to turn to him for healing and restoration. This is that time, as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 6:2.
It is not for us to judge nor to condemn our fellow man. We are, after all, all the same.
Nor is it for us to define sin. The Lord has defined sin and established the penalty for it.
Thanks be to God forever that he also has paid the penalty and has been patient with us, through these many generations.
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.