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“Shhh” is the Prevailing Wisdom & You Should Question It

“Shhh…” might be the most powerful word in the English language.

“Shhh…don’t rock the boat.”

Shhh…hold your tongue.”

“Shhh…people aren’t ready for that.”

Shhh…some people don’t like what you’re saying.”

“Shhh…you don’t want to cause people trouble.”

Don’t Upset Anyone

Every time you’ve tried to do or say something significant, someone was there to tell you “shhh” .  “Be realistic. Calm down. This requires sober judgment. You might be wrong.”  The grandaddy of “shhhs” in my business – ministry – is “be pastoral.” This is effective because it forces God to be responsible for the status quo. It’s not just ministry though, it happens in every career and creative endeavor, doesn’t it? But we all know what “shhh” really means.

Don’t do anything.

Don’t say anything.

Don’t question anything.

Don’t try anything.

Almost Wisdom

As a minister, I’ve heard “shhh” my entire career…from everyone – professors, pastors, former pastors, congregants. And it sounds like wisdom. It sounds good to go slow, to be careful and deliberate; and it is, if you’re actually going somewhere.

Truth is that the calls for “shhh” in your life are actually urgings to settle – to not let any dream, any vision, any cause get so far under your skin, or allow an alternative reality to infest itself within you to the degree that you have to release it into the wild.

Embracing Death

Every time you accept the “shhh…” you’re killing what God gave you to bring life to others. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the moment we become silent about things that matter.” 

  • Authors shhh away their voice.
  • Singers shhh away their song.
  • Artists shhh away beauty.
  • Preachers shhh away the prophetic.

God blessed you with something to communicate to the world, but the prevailing wisdom of “shhh” is winning. We accepted the “shhh.” We are shushed!  In return, we have a world obsessed with Snooki and the winner of American Idol. We live in culture where there’s very little real threat of intolerance because, other than who is sleeping with whom, we don’t care much about anything. Because long ago, we accepted the “shhh.” We gave away our delightful yearning because it made someone else uncomfortable.

Earth Quakes

Yet the earth quakes, not by “shhh”-sayers, but by those willing to speak!

Harriet Beecher Stowe rejected the “shhh,” wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and was a substantial voice in the abolition of slavery.

Martin Luther attended his ears to God over the crowds of “shhh”-sayers and made the religious world quiver and rock.

Martin Luther King, Jr, looked into the eyes of his fellow clergymen and the soul of a country, assuaged the “shhhs” to cash the check of America’s promise of freedom to all men.

These people shared the common experience of being shushed….They just didn’t listen. They risked being wrong. They jeopardized acceptance by the church and government. They gambled their own lives in order to speak, when the world said “shhh.”

Many of the people I know in the religious world, in the writing world, and in the creative world know few words more than “shhh.” They exist to mediate all things back to stasis.

You cannot listen to them. They – just like they are trying to do to you -have been “shushed” into a bowl of something melted.

You were made to move the needle. You were made to create. You exist, as Steve Jobs once said, to “make a dent in the universe.” 

How are you rejecting the “shhh”?


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  • Very thought provoking article! Still don’t know what a Gravatar is but I did like the movie.

    • A Gravatar is that a little picture of you that, when you choose one and upload it, will appear when you comment. If you here and upload one, it will be with you always – even when you comment on other websites.

      Thanks for your comment, Dorris.

  • Max Chance

    Great blog, as usual- and a powerful observation. Reminds me of the Edmund Burke quote that “all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

    I’ve been preaching out of Luke 17-18 these last few weeks, and noticing how Jesus walked along the border between Galilee and Samaria (on his way to the showdown, of a sort, in Jerusalem), and it struck me how metaphoric that path was to his actual experience… Because whether he encountered a Samaritan village or a Jewish one, he was rejected both places– over their diametrically opposed politics. His message was: “God loves you both.” Their message was: “shh.” He kept trying to reframe the conversation for both parties- and being rejected by virtually all.

    We all know the call of the Christian life is to die, to lay down our lives. But I wonder if we recognize that part of that means laying ourselves across the tracks of even our own brethren’s freight trains, in a last-ditch effort to slow or stop their momentum, when it isn’t coming from God. It’s sobering, but, I think, just as critical a part of our living self-sacrifice.

    Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful discourse. The Luthers, the Stowe and Jobs references… all great examples of lives lived boldly in a fresh vision. Heroes of mine, too… all of whom refused to “Shh.” Great post, brother.

  • “As a minister, I’ve heard “shhh” my entire career. From everyone – professors, pastors, former pastors, congregants. And it sounds like wisdom. It sounds good to go slow, to be careful and deliberate. And it is, if you’re actually going somewhere.”

    Well said, Sean. Hard to know sometimes whether we’re actually going somewhere or not. It’s hard to balance the pastoral with the prophetic. It’s a real tension I carry around with me all the time. There’s a fine line between prophecy and griping sometimes, but I’d hate to refrain from prophesying simply out of fear that someone will perceive me as a griper.

    Good, thought provoking stuff. Thanks for sharing.

    • True, Shane. It is hard to know.

      What concerns me as a preacher/pastor/ teacher -type: I’ve never had one person – professor, pastor, former pastor, congregant – ever encourage me to boldness on teaching and leadership. No one has ever encouraged me to speak. It’s always the “shhh.” Where would we if people like MLK, Jr. had listened to people who said things like, “Humble your Bible reading to the interpretation of the collective community”? as is often advocated. Has your experience been similar?

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