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Ask Boldy, Live Justly

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Ask Boldy, Live Justly

Commentary by Tracy Simmons

This column is an abridged version of a guest sermon given over the weekend at Chewelah United Church of Christ.

I’ve never been good at advocating for myself.

Just the other day I overpaid for a coffee I didn’t order because I felt bad correcting the barista. 

As a kid I was told to be silent, to keep my head down and stay out of the way. 

I was praised for never complaining, or talking back, and for doing what was asked without question.

“Tracy is so well behaved,” people from our then-house church would say. They’d quote 1 Peter 5:5.

“God gives grace to the humble” as if being well behaved was the same as humility.

I understand now 1 Peter 5:5 means God helps those who aren’t too proud to ask for it. But as a kid, I thought God would reward me so long as I wasn’t self assertive, as if being so was a sin.

So I kept my thoughts to myself, and my nose in a book.

They switched up the language sometimes and used the word ‘meek’ to describe me too, calling it a spiritual gift.

For as long as I can remember, my pastor reiterated the importance of submission.

That meant not challenging my mom, step dad or elders, even if I disagreed with them, which I often did. 

Compliance, apparently, was being ‘meek and humble.’

Asking questions of them was selfish anyway, I reminded myself, because it meant I was doubting them and putting myself first. An acronym I learned in grade school seemed to be lodged in the back of my mind.

J-O-Y. 

How you found JOY in your life was to put Jesus first, others second and yourself last.

It’s no wonder I’m a pushover. 

In my professional career, I’ve never negotiated pay or complained about being overworked and underpaid. When making a big purchase, I’ve never negotiated for a better price.

It seemed too confrontational, and it was putting myself before the seller or employer, which is the opposite of what I was taught. 

Undoing an entire childhood of lessons on low self-worth takes, it seems, an entire adulthood.

Yet, even though I’m acquiescent, I’ve always said I stand for justice.

I’ve reported on issues like equal rights and racial equality. I’ve written columns on them. I give voice to these matters through SpokaneFāVS.com.

That’s adamant. Right?

I’m not so sure. It’s easy for me to stand up to the keyboard.

But if I physically saw an injustice happening in front of me I fear that I’d resort to my silent ways and turn away from what I was witnessing.

I want to be courageous, but if I can’t stand up for myself, how can I stand up for others?

Maybe the persistent widow can teach me how.

We learn about her in Luke 18: 1-8.

In this parable, according to Mosaic law, judges were supposed to give special attention to widows because they were marginalized in society and often targets of oppression and fraud. However, that didn’t stop the persistent widow in her pursuit of justice. 

She goes before a judge with her petition repeatedly, not taking no for an answer, “My rights are being violated,” she says. “Protect me.”

He eventually does.

Persistence like this takes courage. 

I’m in awe of this widow. I can’t picture myself standing up before … well anyone … and advocating for myself. It feels selfish, confrontational, bold.

Things I was taught not to be.

If the story of the widow were to continue, I’d like to think she went on to stand up for others who were also marginalized, because it was never just about her. 

I’m learning to be like her and stand up for myself.

It feels better than the meekness, the cowardice, I’ve been shrouded in for so long.

It feels good to learn courageousness and come to understand what the Scriptures really mean, instead of what my pastor wanted me to think they meant.

Right now, for me, I’m being intentional in my life to try and speak up for myself in hopes that when the time comes, I’ll be brave enough to speak up for others. 

Maybe for me it starts by gently telling the barista they got my order wrong, maybe tomorrow it will be something more significant.

Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.

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