Or “Please mute yourself.”
Even “I’m going to mute everybody.”
The words still seem strange every time I say them, Zooming them across the ether, over the background noise of rustling of papers, conversations coming from other rooms, dogs barking, the wailing siren of a passing ambulance.
Then I watch lips move with no sound coming through. The person talks on and on until several of us say, “You’re muted “
A pause, a searching look into the computer screen. Then the person begins again.
Or I notice that I have been talking a while now and no one is responding. People are talking over me or past me. I used to have nightmares like this. In the dream I am in the pulpit and all around me people are acting as if I’m not even talking. But in this case, I am awake. And I am muted.
Perhaps most troubling- I realize I am not muted when I thought I was, and I should have been!
This Zoom technology we are learning is also offering an interesting experience of conversations generally. When should I speak? When should I listen? How do I make room for your words? How do you make room for mine? When should I mute myself or others? And of course, when should we unmute?
Scripture has a lot to say about this. Not about Zoom, of course, but about muting and unmuting, certainly.
One of my favorite proverbs:
“Even fools who keep silent are considered wise; when they close their lips, they are deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:28)
Or this one:
“To watch over mouth and tongue is to keep out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23)
In fact, there are over a hundred Bible references to how we are wise to watch what we say. In the New Testament we are advised:
“Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:18). Maybe James got himself into trouble with his words. He goes on to devote half a chapter to the topic, ending with this observation about the consequences of an unbridled tongue: “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire!” (James 2:5). I think James might have been wishing for a “mute” button.
Even Jesus gets into the conversation, so to speak, when he observes, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out” (Matthew 15:11)
An invitation to mute.
But there is also the reverse invitation. The psalmist observes,
“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the earth proclaims God’s handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge.”
This saying is attributed to Solomon:
“Like apples of gold in a silver setting are words spoken at just the right time.” (Proverbs 25:11)
The prophet Jeremiah found himself unable to refrain from speaking truth, even when it was met with derision:
“If I say, ‘I will not mention God, nor speak any more in God’s name,’ then there is something on fire inside me. I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” (Jeremiah 20:8-9)
And of course there’s Jesus who seemed to invite the whole world of the silenced to unmute. When the religious authorities asked Jesus to silence them, he answered: “Even if they are silent, these very stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:39).
And who can mute the stones when they cry out? Such a thought makes me wonder where in my life I might be muting the messages that matter most. And where I might need to mute those messages that are distracting me from what my faith is calling me to do.
My denomination, the United Church of Christ, continues to proclaim that “God is still speaking.” To such a proclamation I say, to myself and to us all: