by Becky De Oliveira—
A few years ago, I went out for coffee with a couple I knew from back in England. We talked about all kinds of things—generally catching up on the years we hadn’t seen each other—but one subject they were both very keen to question me about was the One project. I tried to demur—I’m uncomfortable as a spokesperson under most circumstances, and regardless of what anyone might think, Japhet (my husband and the co-founder of the One project) and I are technically two different people. I don’t usually do his talking for him and as far as I know, he extends the same courtesy in my direction. “I’m not one of the leaders,” I protested. “It’s not really appropriate for me to try to explain what it’s all about.”
“But you have opinions,Becky,” the woman of the couple said, getting a little incensed at what she may have perceived as my deference to men.
“Well, sure…” I said, squirming, not wanting to claim that I had no opinion, like this awful boyfriend I had in high school used to do when my parents tried to make simple conversation with him. Not having an opinion—refusing to play along—in a social situation is like turning up your nose at so much as a tiny bite of cake at a birthday party. It really makes youlame.But as much as I generally prefer not to be lame, I also reallydidn’t want to have to try to explain the One project to people who appeared skeptical and who might take the ineptitude of my explanation as some sort of gospel truth and who might dismiss the entire concept simply because I hadn’t explained it well enough.
So this couple, bullies that they are, browbeat me into explaining. Mostly, they wanted to know whether those of us involved in the One project could “speak with one accord”—would we all agree to the basic premises of what the project is about and would we articulate our vision of it in the same way?
“Absolutely not!” I said brightly and without so much as a hint of an apology.
And I don’t apologize now, nor do I think any of the original 7 or the current 13 leaders of the One project would ask me to. I think they’d agree. But I’ll speak for myself here: I am not looking for consensus. I do not envision a perfect world as one in which everyone thinks in the same way—not even about something as central to existence as faith. As a writer, I believe very much in the concept of voice: Everyone has one. Your voice as a writer is as unique as a thumbprint. The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, was identified and arrested because of his writer’s voice, because the Unabomber Manifesto, when published in TheNew York Times, was so distinctly Tedthat his brother recognized his voice almost as clearly as if Ted had phoned him from a remote location in Montana and asked to reverse the charges. Even if you got a group of people together who all shared the Unabomber’s points of view and opinions—and I’m convinced you could summon at least a baker’s dozen worth of weirdos focused on virtually any idea—you would not find that they spoke with the same voice. They wouldn’t fixate on precisely the same issues and they wouldn’t—this is important—use the same words to describe what they think and feel. This is partly because what they think and feel differs, but it’s also because the very language they choose chooses them. Certain words capture each of our imaginations and in using these words we define ourselves over and over again.
Me? I like the word awesome. I overuse it. This, you might say, is part of my value system and it is not part of everyone’s value system, nor should it be. So when any of us—you, me, the guy over there—tries to explain our values, we are going to sound different. We are going to list different values and we are going to explain even the ones we have in common differently. We don’t probably all mean the same thing when we talk about community,for instance. But I’m convinced that each of us does mean something important, something essential to our collective humanity, when we talk about community. Or faith. Or purpose. Or any of the other words we Christians—or some of us anyway—like to toss around. This is OK. When I hear someone else explain their journey, where they’ve come from, where they’re going, what they think is important in life, this enriches my own experience. It may not change my voice—although sometimes it does in large and small ways—but it does change my hearing. The more I listen with an open heart to the voices of others, the more my ears tune in to these voices and register each as beautiful, each in its own octave and key, but each melodious.
Becky De Oliveira is a doctoral student at the University of Northern Colorado, studying research methods. She also has several jobs in teaching, writing, editing, graphic design, consulting, and podcasting. She does special projects for the Pacific Union Conference. This blog was originally published in Mountain Views, the quarterly journal of the Rocky Mountain Conference.