I walked in the door of my apartment last night and the smell of natural gas struck me like a gale force wind.
Matt was sitting at the kitchen table, laptop open and earphones half on, working on music stuff.
“Babe! Can’t you smell that?!” I exclaimed.
“Gas! It’s so strong!” I exclaimed. I ran over to the oven and opened the door, listening for the tell-tale hiss of gas leaking from the valve, but there was no sound. All the burners on the stove worked. I ran to the patio door and wrenched it open for fresh air, the bitter windchill swooping across the living room.
I called the customer service line for our apartment complex, who called the maintenance guy, who didn’t show up for 45 minutes. At 30 minutes I gave up waiting and called the fire department, who sent a crew over to inspect our building. The maintenance guy turned them away at the door before he or they had even inspected my apartment. He stomped in wearing heavy workman’s boots, claimed he couldn’t smell anything but if there was a smell, it was just sealant fumes from cleaning out the apartment below us. He shut off the gas line to my stove “just in case” and left, saying he’d back to check sometime tomorrow.
The gas smell hung in the air as Matt and I stood there, worried, hungry because we hadn’t eaten dinner, and furious at the maintenance guy’s cavalier and arrogant attitude.
After a sturdy pep-talk from my dad over the phone, I called the fire department again.
“Yeah, that shouldn’t have happened,” said the chief over the phone, apologizing profusely for the confusion. His crew came back and did a proper inspection, which revealed nothing, though they acknowledged the smell.
“You had every right to call us,” said one short, balding fireman as the crew walked out the door. “And you call us again if you smell it tomorrow after your maintenance guy ‘checks’ it.”
On the one hand, the whole two-hour affair was a waste of time. But then again, at least I knew for sure that there was no gas leak now. And at least I knew that whatever happened after that, I had a whole fire department willing to help me take care of it.
I sent the email and waited, staring at the screen, as a sick feeling settled in my gut. Maybe I shouldn’t have sent that. Maybe I was stepping outside my bounds. Maybe it wasn’t on my authority to address this.
I clicked anxiously from email inbox to email inbox, to twitter and facebook, to the article and back again, checking my phone intermittently for text messages.
No notifications, no responses. The minutes passed and I began to doubt myself. This isn’t my business. I shouldn’t care.
But I did care.
I cared deeply, even if all the reasons and the words weren’t fully formed in my thoughts yet. Something was wrong and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
Awhile later, my phone chirped as an email hit my inbox.
“Thank you, friend,” it said. “Thank you for raising this issue and asking the question. We’re pulling the article. We want you to know that you can always come to us with your concerns.”
It wasn’t until I read those words that I realized what I had been anxious about all that time, what I am afraid of most when I raise my voice or speak out my fear : that someone will tell me to shut up and stop asking questions, stop making trouble because there’s nothing wrong here.
To know me is to know my deep and visceral sense of justice. There are a whole manner of things that I can attribute to this – my birth order as an oldest child and only girl, my conservative evangelical upbringing, my inherited stubbornness from two very articulate and opinionated parents. Part of it is just who God made me as an INFJ and Type 4; I find that as a creative person I am constantly weighing my intuition with the world around me, and this incites a lot of questions and an insatiable desire for truth.
But this visceral, intuitive and discerning part of myself got me into trouble a lot growing up. I learned that I argued too much, asked too many questions, got too angry, and blatantly disrespected the authority figures in my life – my parents, my teachers, my elders at church, the older and “holier” student leaders in my youth group.
Most of what I’ve known of authority is the kind that squelches doubt and questioning, the kind that equates criticism with trouble-making and disrespect, the kind that perpetuates shame and isolation, the kind that creates “did” versus “did not” dynamics, the kind that uses fear to motivate obedience.
I’ve watched quietly as the blogosphere has begun delving into issues of sexism, modesty, purity, rape culture, power dynamics, and sexual ethics. I share links and comment on threads, encourage others to speak up, but I haven’t been able to really speak up myself, and I’ll be honest,
I’m quiet because I’m not sure of my authority on the issues.
I’m quiet because I don’t know if I am a feminist. I don’t know if I am a complimentarian. I’m learning good theology, but I know that I’m no theologian. I know I’m no prophet.
And before now, I had not considered myself a victim to abuse. But the weight of these discussions have helped me recognize my own baggage and begin to unpack it. And here is what I’m learning :
Questioning my own authority is the result of abusive power dynamics.
Telling myself not to care because I’ll get too angry or it’s not my business is a repercussion of false authority.
False authority misappropriates power for itself, but healthy authority empowers the voices of its people to use discernment, find truth, embrace justice, bring healing.
If the people around us, in our work places, in our schools, in our homes, in our faith communities have told us to stop asking questions, then it is not a safe place to be. And those are the places that I’ve found myself silent, unable to ask questions, unable to speak truth and value and love to the people that needed it, unable to raise concern when I discerned that something wasn’t right.
But being concerned with something I find incongruous is not the same as being needlessly angry, and I’m tired of being labeled as such.
A healthy faith, a healthy sexual ethic, a healthy balance of power leaves room for questions, is not threatened by them, and makes no claim to have all the answers. And it certainly doesn’t silence or ignore its followers.
I’m still discerning what this means for me, for my faith, for my voice and for my writing. I know that I won’t always be loud or prophetic or theologically perfect, but I do know this :
I am done with being quiet.