The Quiet in the Land Gets Loud

Mom had a dream in which I was kidnapped in South America and she spent her retirement money to find me. When found, I had grown so accustomed to living among the jungle people, I didn’t understand why I should keep my breasts covered.

I asked her, are you worried about me exposing myself, perhaps through this new blog? She didn’t think so.

But it’s a perfectly legitimate concern, one I deal with all the time in my own head as I try to rise to the occasion here. My cultural background is Mennonite, and there are a lot of prohibitions against standing out. My Amish forebears were “the quiet in the land,” the “plain people.”

And though less strict than the Amish, Mennonites are still big on humility. We aren’t supposed to shine too much, or get too high on ourselves, or in general stick our necks out too much. There’s safety in the tribe, in being like everyone else.

Lancaster County Amish 02

By it:Utente:TheCadExpert (GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Of course, being “plain” in the Amish sense means that even while everyone looks the same within the tribe, you stand out against the larger culture in a big way. Your dress, your home, your whole way of life is a rebuke of the world’s fancy-yet-empty ways.

Nonconformism is in fact one of the central tenets of the Anabaptist faith, and I absorbed that ethic as a Mennonite child. To be in the world but not of the world—that was the ideal.

Which may be why I naturally view the dominant culture with a critical eye.

Recently I read Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, and it showed me that we all need to be leaders now. It helped me to take my place as such, to step into this somewhat uncomfortable role. Writing is the gift I have to offer, so I write in service of the world I want to manifest–even if it means going against the ancestral voices that tell me to keep my head down.

Over the last several years I’ve led groups in various successful community endeavors, such as the Irvington SkillShare. So claiming “leadership” shouldn’t be such a stretch, but somehow it still is. (As a teen I heard my peers talk about attending “leadership camp,” and I knew I’d sooner tear my toenails out one by one than do such a thing. Leadership was for kids with confidence. Kids who didn’t mind speechifying. Kids who didn’t need to be humble.)

But there’s an urgency about this time, a sense that we need all hands on deck. We can’t afford to shirk that responsibility out of an ingrained belief that it’s dangerous to stick our necks out. We can’t afford “I’m not enough, I’m just a dumb /fill in the blank/.”

Enough of that. It’s time to get in the game. Let the “quiet in the land” get loud.

What’s your gift, and how are you becoming the leader we need today?