Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Speaking Silence: Jim’s column at Patheos

Posted by Robert C. on December 6, 2010

Our own Jim F. has an inaugural post of a new column at Patheos titled “Speaking Silence” which can be found at:


To tempt you into reading this first post, here’s a snippet:

Silence is one way to respond to the problem of the gap [between ourselves and others, and ourselves and God]. But silence could be only disguised hatred of others, a refusal of their legitimate demand for explanation. Yet silence is also often what life requires. I do not speak of things that are most dear to me, things intimate, things holy, because speaking of them publicly cheapens them. Or I remain silent about an experience so saturated with meaning that either I cannot yet speak or I don’t know what to say. Silence is sometimes appropriate or unavoidable, but sometimes it is merely misanthropic. Garrulousness is the opposing twin of silence, with fewer redeeming features. Often it too is disguised hatred of others because it refuses to take the others’ demand seriously, pretending friendship and even love, but merely filling the space between us with empty sound. Speech and writing are required if we are to “live together in love” as commanded (Doctrine and Covenants 42:45), but speech and writing must cross the gap meaningfully rather than fill it with more of the same old thing.

Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us there’s “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” Also, the phrase “still, small voice” in 1 Kings 19:12 is frequently translated “the sound of sheer silence” (e.g., NRSV). These verses make me wonder in our day and age of escalating rhetoric and increasing politicization—without mentioning Glenn Beck by name—the extent to which we practice reverent listening and speaking. I know that for me, it is a challenge. For this reason, I very much look forward to Jim’s posts at Patheos, and I am anxious to explore others’ voices there too.

7 Responses to “Speaking Silence: Jim’s column at Patheos”

  1. joespencer said

    Thanks for pointing this out, Robert. I don’t get the sense that Jim’s going to continue talking about silence all the way through this series, that this was more of an explanation of his title, but I’m intrigued. I’ve actually been thinking about silence quite a bit lately, in particular the silence of Job and of Jonah in their confrontations with God, and what their silence implies….

  2. Brian said

    Nice paralepsis re: Glenn Beck. I’m rolling my eyes. This mention of him was unnecessary and distracting. I encounter swipes at Glenn Beck all over the Bloggernacle and I’d really like for once, just once, a well-written piece where he’s getting his facts wrong, where he’s being irresponsible, and more so than say, Maureen Dowd, Arianna Huffington, Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, Joy Behar, etc. Jana Riess’s piece on him about social justice was incredibly sloppy. I’m not going to defend Glenn Beck. I’m not a fan, particularly. I’m just tired of all the drive-bys against him.

    If you don’t like him, fine. Then say what you have to say without making me think about him. If you have an argument, make it. If not, let me draw the conclusion myself. Anything else is just name-calling.

  3. kirkcaudle said

    I look forward to reading your articles “James.” :)

    The following sentence jumped out at me (in the main article via the link):

    “Part of my current job is to engage people in discussions across the gaps between our faiths, and sometimes across the gaps within my own faith tradition.”

    I think the fact that there are “gaps” within the Mormon faith tradition is a sign of it coming to maturity. Faithful disagreements are necessary growing pains for any faith coming into its own. I have had many non-LDS colleges tell me that they had no idea that LDS people differed on doctrine. They are surprised by these “gaps.” I think it is common even in the scholarly community to believe that all LDS people think the same.

    Therefore, I am glad to see that Jim added the line “across the gaps within my own faith tradition” in his article. It is essential to understand.

  4. Robert C. said

    Brian #2, yes, it’s ironic and hypocritical that I am praising Jim’s post for it’s undertone of respectful dialog, and then I take a cheap shot at Glenn Beck.

    Perhaps silence now would be best, but I’ll venture a partial elaboration about my thinking, in hopes that my explanation will be understood in the spirit I intend (not as justification, but as confession and renewed conviction to be kind).

    I have a lot of respect for Glenn Beck for many reasons: He is a public figure who it not afraid to get involved in public discourse about issues that he cares deeply about. He is obviously successful at getting others interested and engaged in public discourse. Actually, I also agree with a fair bit of the substance of what he says—or at least many of the conclusions he comes to, even if I usually arrive by way of rather different reasoning.

    I do, nevertheless, think that there is a lack of nuance to his writing which leads to what might be called a usually shrill or contentious tone on his show. I think this illustrates a general problem regarding the tone of our public discourse that we need to pay better attention to. I nevertheless agree that sarcastic responses, like Jana’s, might ultimately be fueling this fire more than helping it, even though I also felt frustrated at Beck’s underlying theological presuppositions in his criticism of social justice efforts.

    In the end, I suppose my lapse of judgment in my paralepsis actually reinforces the point of my post, and the reason I find Jim’s column so promising: falling into the polarizing and politicizing rhetoric in a way that is not constructive or helpful is a pit that is all too easy to fall into—while thinking about this very issue on the one hand, I slipped on the other. So, after further reflection, I say to myself, “Remember this, kindness begins with me….”

  5. I am interested to see where Jim takes his series. There are a few things that catch my attention in the first post that are worth talking about.

    “In each case, the question is how to speak across the gap between persons of good will, how to say what I feel and see on my side in a way that will be heard on the other. I’m not sure I can do it well. Perhaps I can’t do it at all.”

    I don’t want to read Jim too narrowly but a statement like this does have a relation (perhaps very minor) to the strong urge within Mormonism. The urge to see the importance of public discourse and the relation to others as manifest in defending and explaining the self (and even the corporation). The Church’s response to the Human Rights Campaign is an example of this. But speaking for the sake of the self rather than for the sake of the other has many manifestations, and at different levels of nuance. Even working with structures such as sides and inside and outside encourage this on some level. I have seen this in all sorts of settings. Progressive religious and political leaders here in California have a challenging time getting their messages out and agendas met when they make assumptions about how others within their community will (can and should) respond to the idea being advanced. Even leaders with a lot of experience and knowledge can fall into this.

    “I do not speak of things that are most dear to me, things intimate, things holy, because speaking of them publicly cheapens them. ”

    Isn’t it the job of the poet to give language to these experiences? I’m not sure how to read a great deal of the OT if its not an attempt to speak of the hope that is most dear, the most holy and to do it in a way that finds language that is as beautiful (in the full sense) as that which it hopes to describe. Even if we fail it seems worth trying to give voice to these experiences. Is there such a thing as community organized around such silences?

    As we all know In the specifically Mormon context, the idea of silence over what is most holy, is used to excuse / defend not talking about the feminine divine. Such silence is a prescription, such silence functions as a mask and as a means of control.

    “I remain silent about an experience so saturated with meaning that either I cannot yet speak or I don’t know what to say. ”

    Indeed, that is the most delicious silence!

    “Silence is sometimes appropriate or unavoidable, but sometimes it is merely misanthropic.”

    And sometimes it is an expression of fear. Again looking within the Mormon community who is told to be silent? Whose voices are not welcome? I would say there are many voices dwelling in silence in the Mormon community for the reason that they are, or fear that they are, unwelcome. This silence is not reverent, it is tragic.

    This is one of the interesting things about sexuality in the Mormon context these days. Many gay and lesbian saints feel that silence is their only option because of who they are. They fear what will happen if people in their community know about their sexuality. So they struggle in that they have been taught that who they are makes their religious experiences invalid. Thankfully not all gay and lesbian folks take that lessons but in the Mormon community many do, and leaving the Church has a lot to do with the need to give voice to their spiritual longings and experiences.

  6. Robert C. said

    Douglas, thanks for your thoughtful and interesting comments, as always.

    Just one thought in response: when I read Jim’s “I do not speak of things that are most dear to me,” I actually thought first of Alma 12:9 where those who learn of the mysteries of God are “laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him.” I only have vague ideas about what this can and should mean, but it makes me wonder about times when the poet writes, not striving to express or reveal, but in more of an effort to conceal—for example, as Christ seemed to have done with his parables (following, particularly, Mark 4:10ff).

    From a more psychological perspective, I was just reading in Jonathan Haidt’s The Happiness Hypothesis how keeping secrets and revealing secrets can be understood in terms of the formation of social bonds. When one person tells another a personal secret, the other person is biologically predisposed to want to reciprocate. Without sacred secrets, in this sense, this kind of intimate reciprocation is not possible. Thus, I interpret one aspect of silence as a way of preserving what is sacred (and/or intimate), in more-and-more secular world where sacredness and secretiveness are generally not valued. (In this same vein, I’ve wondered about possible positive roles for secrets vis-a-vis the WikiLeaks issue: in general, I agree that transparency is better; however, if revealing certain secrets put certain people’s lives in danger, I do wonder if there isn’t an important case to be made for a certain amount of secretiveness….)

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