It Takes A Village – VNV Tuesday: Silence Is Not An Option 4/4/17

Rev. Dr. William Barber at a Moral Mondays rally
This past weekend the Rev. Dr. William Barber spoke at Riverside Church in NYC as the kickoff of the church’s yearlong Beyond the Dream: Living King’s Legacy, an”education and action initiative to create a more just and peaceful society.” April 4th is the fiftieth anniversary of King’s Riverside speech. (The text of Dr. King’s speech can be found here: Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.) Basket attended the service, and what follows is his report:

When Silence Is Not an Option

Setting the stage

April 2nd, 2017 – a gorgeous Sunday without rain where the clouds parted to let the sun shine through, and the breeze was gentle. I was in New York City attending two concerts at Carnegie Hall for the 100th anniversary of Scott Joplin’s death, and had heard on Twitter that Dr. Barber would be giving a sermon at Riverside Church to kick off a year of commemoration, celebration and reflection on the life and words of Dr. King. I was intrigued, but unsure about how applicable Dr. Barber’s words might be to a non-Christian.

During the service, the congregation was asked to reflect on two Scripture Lessons. The first lesson was about a valley full of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). God meshed the bones together to form bodies and covered them in skin, but they were still silent and unmoving – it was up to Isaiah to make them breathe, which he did by commanding them to.

The second lesson was about Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead 4 days after he died (John 11:17-45). A large stone was blocking the entrance to the cave where Lazarus lay, and Jesus asked the people who were mourning to move the stone. They hesitated, since Lazarus was dead and there was no reason to move the stone that was keeping the smell of death and decay away from the world. Yet Jesus insisted that they move the stone, until they eventually did. He then prayed to God and called for Lazarus to come out from the cave. Lazarus came out, bandaged and wrapped. Jesus asked the mourners to remove the bandages and wrappings, and let him go free.

This set the stage for Dr. Barber’s sermon.

Defining silence

Silence, in this context, can mean (although not limited to) one or more of the following:

  • “Checking out” because one is overwhelmed and depressed due to forces such as Donald Trump, Fox News, oligarchy, Koch brothers (and their attendant dark-money political groups), and so on

  • Isolating oneself from the poverty and inequality (racism, bruised & battered, the sick, etc.) present in society. This could take the form of living in gated communities or certain school districts that are more affluent/better funded, or not being involved with one’s community

  • Observing / noticing systemic inequality (income, racial, anti-immigrant, gender-based, etc.) and/or the rise of militant consumerism and not speaking up or taking a stand

  • Feeling that injustice, moral emptiness and decay have won and that there is no point in doing anything

In this context, silence can also be considered a sin: the sin of seeing what is happening and not saying anything.

Why is silence not an option?

The status quo is unsustainable:

  • War politics (militarism) and inequality are at historic levels; this includes not just economic inequality but all other forms

  • Extremely conservative religionists have been allowed to claim the Bible as their own without pushback, and have distorted the Bible to suit their own agendas or those of their (financial/spiritual) masters instead of serving God and His people

  • Violence (for example, poverty, lack of healthcare) is unjust and does not square with moral and natural laws

Call to action

Dr. Barber called out several instances where the gospel has been part of social change:

  • New Deal

  • Civil Rights Act

  • Abolition of slavery

He challenged us to reclaim the original Biblical ethics & gospel from those who would seek to distort it, and to do so in a non-violent manner by promoting universal values, such as healthcare.

He cautioned that it would not be an easy, or comfortable, call:

  • There are entrenched forces who will resist and react to any attempt to overturn the status quo

  • Even in the darkest depths of despair, when all is lost or seems to be lost, one will still have to continue to fight the good fight and run the race. Giving up is not an option

  • We will need to exert ourselves (moving the stone, or giving breath) to convince other people of the goodness and values of the teaching

  • You cannot “ask” people to hear you / the teaching. You must make them hear you

Nevertheless, the rewards are many:

  • Those who feel that injustice has won and that they are powerless (the valley of dry bones, Lazarus), can still hear the call and respond

  • This teaching transcends political parties, liberal/conservative divides and other man-made barriers

My thoughts

There is a lot to unpack in Dr. Barber’s sermon, and I will most likely need to listen to it again (via the livestream) and reflect on his words and messages further. There are some questions that I have, to start guiding me along my attempt to determine my path:

  • What role can I play given my current circumstances? (legal permanent resident, but not a US citizen, and becoming a citizen has its own complications which I need to consider)

  • How do I resist the temptation of living in a bubble? (gated community or other “safe” location)? It is a little bit easier for me now since I am single and don’t have any children, so I don’t have to be concerned about school districts, but I could see how that might be a factor for others

  • What can I do to help others? (financially, or through volunteering my time or skills). Even something as simple as performing music could help someone.

  • “See something, say something”: It feels difficult as an introvert, who wants to be left alone and leave other people alone unless they’re doing something blatantly illegal, and wants to be part of social circles, but not saying anything perpetuates the cycle of injustice and violence. What concrete steps can I take myself to address this? (expressing discomfort and speaking out against misogyny, casual racism and other “simple” forms of injustice is a start, but it is not enough)

Final thoughts

There is a lot more that I haven’t really considered or elaborated on, mostly because I don’t have the religious or theological background to understand. But I certainly believe that Dr. Barber’s message is one that is applicable to all faiths and traditions, and even those who are atheist or agnostic.

I also want to take a moment to mention that the Riverside Church was very welcoming, and I felt like it was a place of sanctuary and healing for everyone. It was my first time attending a church service in what I believe is the African-American tradition, and I came away amazed and impressed by the atmosphere.


Addenda from DoReMI…The livestream can be found here; Dr. Barber’s sermon starts at about the 50:00 mark:

About DoReMI 165 Articles
Now a Michigander, by way of Ohio, Illinois, Scotland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. Gardener. Sewer. Democrat. Resister.


  1. Good morning, DoReMI and basket! Thank you for a beautifully written précis of the Reverend Barber’s sermon at Riverside Church. Feel as if I’ve just received a gift of wisdom and kindness. Now the task is to share the gift with others.

    For myself, I will find some way to make a difference. Not sure what, yet, but I’ll find a way. And together we will be able to hold back the forces of Darkness.

    • I can’t speak for you, but for me, I am finally learning not to try and fit my square-peg self into a round hole. I’ve known for years that I’m not particularly good at the electoral politics sort of activism. I do the obligatory donating, door-knocking, calling, etc., but it’s not really what I’m good at or motivated by. Since November, I’ve given myself permission to think beyond that, and it’s made a big difference in how I view “activism.” For me, it’s been presenting viewpoints/suggesting resources in my community (faith and otherwise) that might not usually been heard; reading group(s) are a great way to do this. For you, it may be grandmothering and advocating for your granddaughter in ways that break gender molds. We each have our own unique opportunities, and as long as we’re not opting for silence, those moments can help lead to Movement.

  2. Thanks, DoReMI!

    I think I’m still stuck on Eastern time for now (it’s 6 am here, sigh) but I also have a purring cat so I might try and go back to sleep for a bit before going to work.

    • Lucky you! My cats went with yowling for food this morning, while my dogs decided the bed was a trampoline. Sleep was not an option, but I may try to sneak in a nap later today.

      And thank YOU for the write-up. I’m a known Dr. Barber “fangirl” so my impressions are quite different from those who are hearing him speak in person for the first time. It sounds like he moved you to a new, or at least different, level of introspection.

      • It’s a little easier when you have only one cat. ;-) Back when I had Lillian as well, she would often climb on my chest and just sit there, looking at me. She wasn’t a loud purrer but had her own grace and beauty in addition to being friendly. How I miss her…

        You are welcome! I have lots of thoughts swirling in my head and figuring out what I want to do next.

        • {{{basket}}} – they leave kitteh-shaped holes in our hearts – but they also visit us, sometimes in dreams, sometimes just on the edges of consciousness. if you’ve been thinking of her, even thinking you hear or feel her, she’s stopped by to check on you. Love is love is love is love. more {{{HUGS}}} and Healing Energy.

    • Thank you so much for writing this up and sharing your experience and impressions! With that effort you have boosted the signal and made it reach that much further. I am definitely grateful.

  3. After listening to Dr. Barber on Sunday, I made this comment on Twitter:

    Ezekial in the Old Testament has always been difficult for me; the writing is very similar to the vision quest narratives of Native Americans. Dr. Barber has a gift at taking the obscure, difficult OT passages and making sense of them in a modern context. The dry bones were raised up and formed, but did not breathe until Ezekial spoke…that may not be a new understanding, but as tied to today, it resonates.

  4. good morning Meese and thank you to DoReMi and basket for sharing your experience. I found Dr. Barber’s words so encouraging, I will keep them close so that when my spirits sink they will be there to lift me up again.

    We are forecast for a howling wind storm today, right now it’s just starting so there isn’t too much dust in the air yet. We cancelled outside plans for today since no one with any sense gets out in that.

  5. Good morning, Pond Dwellers. Thanks for pulling double duty, DoReMi. You should consider adding SOB to your hangouts. Then you’d get the trifecta of tribunals. 52 and sunny right now in Sac Town. Expected high of 75. Hey, basket! Excellent summary of Rev Barber’s sermon. I understand how different it must have felt to attend an African American church service. I’ve always wanted to attend but I’m too introverted to go alone. Off to finish coffee.

    • I lurk over at SOB pretty regularly, but since I’m at work most days, it’s hard to do more than that. Lately, I’ve been finding it difficult to do much more than read here and at Teh Orange, so I’ll be continuing my lurking for a bit longer. [No, it’s not paranoia; you are indeed being watched!]

      The different perspectives on Riverside are interesting; when I watched Dr. Barber’s sermon on Sunday, I thought the congregation felt mighty white! I don’t actually know how diverse/not diverse Riverside is, but I did feel like the congregation was more restrained than any AA church I’ve attended. But that might have been the difference between watching the livestream and being there.

  6. Thanks DoReMI for this very meaty diary…not being a religious sort it takes me a while to get past that part so will need to reread a few times before it sinks in…I am in awe though of his power to move people…thank you….

    • One of the things I like about Dr. Barber is that although he speaks from his tradition, he doesn’t make it a requirement for others who want to be in coalition. He makes this particularly clear when speaking about moral dissent; morality is not merely the purview of “Christians.” In fact, he’s pretty darn brutal in calling out the so-called Christians who don’t want to feed the hungry, nurse the sick, visit the prisoners, etc. This is very much a part of the black prophetic tradition (see Dr. King, who was another exemplar).

      I find it interesting that my NC brother-in-law, a lockstep Republican and self-described, but not church-attending, Christian, hates Dr. Barber with a fiery passion. He views him as a troublemaker who should stick to preaching in his church; a novel perspective for someone who claims to follow Jesus, who never stayed behind a pulpit and threw over the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple. But there you have it; consistency is not a hallmark of Republicanism.

  7. Thank you so much DoReMI and basket! This is good work being done on your part, you know.

    I resonate quite a bit with basket’s thoughts in the last section of the write up. I often don’t realize it myself but I am actually an introvert, which is why I’m more comfortable communicating in cat memes and tweets, especially when in a group. My voice opens up as I become more comfortable and feel like I’m among people who won’t judge.

    My mother took us to church when I was little, but the church we went to sent the young, active pastor she liked a lot away and she withdrew from it. She questioned and read about the origins of the Christian church but didn’t talk with us about it at all, I just saw the books on the shelf.

    I have what some might call a colorful religious history, a declared Discordian, which means pagan, who was once baptized in the Holy Spirit among my friends who were Charismatics. Unlike many pagans I have known, I didn’t end up angry with the church, just sad. Where people resonate to the love in Christ’s message, it’s a good influence. Where people turn towards dogma and exclusionism, it becomes a force for harm.

    I honor, acknowledge, and in my own way love Rev. Barber for the stand he takes, the work he does and the voice he gives in service to humanity. His life gives me hope.

    And now, your daily dose of cat.

    • I, too, am an introvert, although to people who think introvert=shy, that’s always confusing. I’m open, vocal, comfortable being the first to speak in a group, and can do public speaking with little hesitation. And when all of that is done, I go home, curl up in a ball, and seek quiet and solitude for about a week. Traditional retail politics would just about kill me, because there’s no break. I sometimes wonder if Hillary’s “discomfort” with politicking is because she is, at heart, an introvert…but one with a far stronger sense of service than I have.

      As I mentioned to basket at one point, I have a love-hate relationship with the church. I grew up in the church, and even had my teenage flirtation with being a “Jesus freak” (read that as obnoxious, self-righteous True Believer), despite the best efforts of our youth pastor. I was pre-seminary in college, and had my beliefs challenged and reformed by some very persistent (and liberal) religions professors. I only opted against getting my M.Div when my parents got sick and needed a caregiver. I left the church after my mom died, because I found no comfort there; I only started again when my daughter was almost two, and I decided I could make the commitment to have her baptized. Once she was baptized, I had baptismal vows to honor, so I continued in church until she was an adult. But it got harder and harder because of the Methodist antiquated, immoral views on ordination and marriage for gays…so I left again for almost 7 years. I’m back, uneasily, but I have to admit that the tradition is so much a part of who I am [mostly] happy to be back. My faith does not conform to traditional creeds or confessions in almost any way; my daughter, who is converting to Judaism, tells me I would make a better Jew than a Christian! Despite all that, I welcome the community and embrace the introspection that church forces upon me. And the church ceiling hasn’t collapsed on me yet, so I figure the Divine isn’t quite ready to declare me beyond hope.

      • I understand what you mean, I am not shy in the traditional sense, I can do public speaking, have taught classes for some years, and have no hesitation when I have a reason to speak and something to say.

        In purely social situations, I’m literally agoraphobic. Parties and other social occasions are uncomfortable and stressful.

        All joking aside, (I often have no sense of humor to speak of, it tends to come and go) if the church ceiling only collapses on those with whom God has a problem, that is not a church I will ever walk into. The concept of a Creator who punishes is one of the first things I had to let go.

        No offense intended! ^_^

        • yeah, I’m that way, too. If I have an “official” purpose for speaking – teacher, elected official, that sort of thing – i’m fine. In social settings, not so much. And as to whether I have a sense of humor or not depends on who you ask. Puns are great (i love the mouse in the diary saying, “At last, I found cheeses!”) because they don’t hurt anybody. If a “joke” hast to have a “butt” it ain’t funny.

          I wish I believed in somebody somewhere who paid that much attention to individuals or even small communities. I don’t. I do believe in positive, loving energy and negative, hateful energy – and that putting enough loving energy out into the universe will overwhelm the hateful energy. But it takes a lot of it and it takes time as loving energy builds from the foundation up, unlike the hateful destructive energy that takes things down in an instant. That’s the keepin’g on keepin’ on – the can’t give up because there’s no giving up window of my “faith” – keep doing all the good you can because eventually it will combine with all the good that others do to make things better. moar {{{HUGS}}}

          • I love this bfitz, thank you so much for all you do everywhere. The wind is truly howling now, peak wind gusts over 50 mph so it’s all going to be shaking and rattling this afternoon. It’s expected to die down at sunset so that’s something to look forward to. At least we knew it was coming yesterday and got everything battened down.

          • Moar {{{HUGS}}} – thank you and thank you again. I lived in KS (KC area) for 5 years and remember that kind of wind. I lived in a mobile home at the time. i didn’t care for the rattling and shaking at all. Glad you have things battened down so they don’t fly off and hit something – or somebody.

  8. {{{DoReMI}}} thanks for doing double-duty and {{{basket}}} for giving us your impressions. A religious leader can put the moral imperative behind actions and goals that are for the highest good of all concerned, do the most to build and strengthen community, fulfill the purpose of our Constitution. One more reason for following the right as in correct path to thriving, not just surviving.

    Gotta get back to work. Be back when I can. {{{Village Peeps}}}

  9. Thank you DoReMI and basket for the article. Much nicer layout here than at Daily Kos. I’m assuming that’s due to WordPress. Dr Barber is inspiring, as always.

Comments are closed.