Finding A Voice

October 22, 2014

Monday I was reading about Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish Roman Catholic priest. While no fan of the communist system, Fr. Jerzy also wasn’t an activist. But when the Gdansk shipyard workers went on strike, and the Warsaw steelworkers went on strike in solidarity with them, in August, 1980, the strikers requested that a priest come and celebrate Mass at the factory. Fr. Jerzy was available and went. Jerzy_PopieluszkoDuring that service Fr. Jerzy came to understand that the strikers’ struggle for justice and freedom was a spiritual struggle. Arguably, it was in that moment that he found “his voice,” requested that his bishop allow him to become chaplain to the striking workers, and became an active voice in the Solidarity movement that eventually led to the end of communism in Poland.  (Unfortunately, he never lived to see the end of communism with the elections of 1989. He was found dead on October 20, 1984, after being abducted by secret service agents the day before.)

In my prayers, reflecting on the death of Bishop Tom Shaw, I’ve thought about our many conversations. As others have noted in recent publications, +Tom was a relatively quiet person, living the life of a monk. It wasn’t his tendency to speak, but more his tendency to pray and ask for guidance regarding the work God wanted him to do. It was that guidance that led him to run for bishop in Massachusetts, though he’d never really considered it until that time.Tom Shaw Similarly, as bishop, journeying in prayer he found “his voice,” standing up for Palestinian rights, gay rights, marriage equality, and the needs of inner-city youth, among others.

As I think about their witnesses and the finding of their voices, I wonder about my own voice. In some ways, I’m constrained by location. I can endanger myself by what I say publicly. Also, when I speak it reflects on the church in Colombia as well as the entire Episcopal Church, whether or not that was my intention. That said, I still wonder about my voice. Yes, I speak in the U.S., sharing my experience of mission engagement in Colombia and elsewhere. Yes, I’d like to think I speak truths from the pulpit when I preach. But I also know there is so much more I could say.

In a recent meeting, we discussed the realities of cocaine trafficking in Colombia. It was noted in the meeting that 34 million in the U.S. will try cocaine … recreational one-time users. To meet that “recreational” demand, however, the cartels kidnap children and force them to work in the cocaine industry. To deter their desire to return home, their families are killed, often during the kidnapping so the child knows their family is gone and there is nothing to which they might return. On other occasions, we’ve shared about the indiscriminant spraying of fields funded by U.S. dollars that is poisoning children in the countryside. (It’s kind of like the father who spanks all of his children to make sure he gets the right one.) We’ve also discussed and are actively involved in programming to support displaced persons, the 5.2 million people who have lost their homes through para-military violence, political inaction and/or dysfunctional policies, and natural disasters.

When I’m back in the States, I wonder what it will take for me to challenge people to question the U.S. government’s funding of indiscriminant spraying, or whether I’ll have the courage to try and educate young people about that one night of college fun that didn’t just cost them a few hundred dollars for their purchase of a snort of cocaine, but rather the lives of many Colombians and the ruined lives of their kidnapped children. I wonder if I’ll find the voice to speak compassionately and respectfully about those in Colombia forced from their homes, many of whom are still homeless, when people complain about having to deal with dysfunctional banks and their respective system for home mortgages.

I don’t know what God has planned for me, nor do I know how my “voice” may evolve in coming years. I can only pray that like Fr. Jerzy and Bp. Tom, I will have the courage to hear and respond appropriately to what God has to say to me.

6 Responses to “Finding A Voice”

  1. Michael Malec Says:

    Thanks for introducing me to Fr. Popieluszko. As a Polish-American Catholic, I am embarrassed to admit that I did not know of him or his work.


  2. Marilyn Says:

    I’m sure the Lord is preparing you now for a further purpose. And I pray now that as you seek His perspective and wisdom you will make a difference that shines His light and love.


  3. Lucretia Jevne Says:

    If there were no market for cocaine they wouldn’t produce it. A voice educating young people about the havoc and the high cost to society their casual snort of cocaine causes, from someone who has experienced that first hand, might go a long way towards improving the situation.
    Finding an effective voice for any cause and knowing how to use that voice is very difficult but with much prayer, reflection and understanding you will be able to find the voice God is calling you to use. Many blessings for your discernment and actions.


  4. Mary Brown Says:

    Hi Ted!

    This is truly a beautifully written essay and very thought provoking. I honestly had only a vague idea of the violence still going on in Columbia resulting from drugs. We hear so much more about Mexico and the horrors going on there due to the drug trade. To define this tragedy in such stark terms as a night of so called fun and entertainment is an abrupt realization that few Americans can tolerate. I hope your message reaches those in need. Take care, my friend.

    Mary Brown


  5. This is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in awhile – it merges an authentic vulnerability with powerful wisdom. Thank you.


  6. Maria Says:



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