Speaking Truth into Power

During this past holiday, one of my previous college roommates was on break from his graduate studies in Seattle, and we decided to meet to catch up. We were friends before living together in college, and as roommates, our friendship grew even more. I never felt as if I offered him the same amount of kindness he shared with me, but I have always been so grateful for the ways he showed his unconditional love during our time living together. He was frequently curious about the latest adventure I was up to and always provided a listening ear, and he also let me be an introvert when I needed time to myself.
He was off on his own adventure now, living in Seattle and pursuing a master’s degree in computer science after his own successful undergraduate studies in economics at the University of Minnesota – even spending his senior year in China studying and interning (and leaving me without my favorite roommate). It had been a year since we last saw each other right before he moved to Seattle.
We were walking around on a Friday night in December at a Twin Cities mall, which was decked in decorations leading up to the Christmas holiday in just a few days. I don’t even remember what we were talking about, but at one point in the conversation, I muttered something about “capitalism.” It caught him a little off guard, but he laughed at the comment (he was an economics major). Later in the evening as we sat ourselves down on a couch in the new food court that had just been built, I made another passive comment about capitalism. In my friend’s usual kind and honest tone he always offered as he asked how I was doing while we were roommates, the comment prompted him to jokingly, yet slightly seriously, ask me, “What happened to you in the last year?”
To answer the question honestly: I’m not sure.
Everything changed when I came to college, as the voices I heard were no longer steeped in a dominant narrative. Everything changed when I volunteered and worked for homeless shelters that disproportionately housed black and brown people. Everything changed when I witnessed firsthand the under-resourcing of schools and how it particularly affected communities of color as I substitute taught in St. Paul Public Schools. Everything changed when I realized I was gay. Everything changed when I interned for a summer in South Africa and witnessed the blatant racism that was rampant in a freshly, post-apartheid country. Everything changed when I came back, and racism persisted in my own communities. Everything changed when I publicly came out on Facebook. Everything changed as I recognized systems of injustice, deconstructed my faith and began to realize that it was all connected.
In some ways, I knew several years ago things were not how they should be, but I still said the cute and tidy comments. My words never seemed to astray from Christian culture in my ministry circles or the gender constructs of my small, hometown culture. They rarely went off course from the key messages appealing to the agriculturists I surrounded myself with in FFA and as I studied agricultural education. I was conditioned to what I knew. I was conditioned to masculinity, heteronormativity, whiteness and Christian dominance. I was conditioned to systems and the environment around me.

This blog is the work towards a more radical love -- one that tells the story of privilege and marginalization and invites others to come along in that story as I share my own deconstruction of those systems. It is for the young, white, gay man in southwestern Minnesota who sees themselves reflected in my story, and it is for the rural American with a different life experience who wants to learn more but hasn’t figured out how to. It’s for the person of color or woman to know I will never completely understand your experiences, but I see you and will attempt to bring your experiences to light in spaces where you aren’t being listened to. It's for the 20-year-old who sees this world and recognizes things are not as they should be. This blog is for the Christian who wants to know how I can justly affirm being gay, and it is for the person who doesn’t identify as Christian but is desperate to see Christians actually live into the call of love and justice from Jesus.

To the credit of many teachers and activists I follow on social media, as well as my friends and students who have opened their patient hearts to share their experiences with me, I am waking up to the systems no one of privilege seems to notice or perhaps care to acknowledge.

In 1 Kings 18-19, Elijah is the last-standing of the Lord’s prophets during that time and challenges Ahab, the King of Israel, and 850 prophets serving under his rule. As usual, Elijah has witnessed a king of Israel turn away from the Lord, and he is putting his life on the line as the only prophet remaining to stand in the truth against these 850 other prophets. Elijah declares that the God who answers with fire to the two offered sacrifices is the true, reigning God. Long story, short –– the God of Elijah answers, and the people gathered slaughter 450 prophets of Baal under King Ahab’s rule. I am not even going to try to make sense of the slaughtering right here, but one of my favorite musical artists William Matthews offers a powerful interpretation of this story. He poses the question, “Have you ever felt like the only one?” It is the feeling you are the only one standing in truth, and so you decide to challenge the power because you want the truest name of justice to prevail. Truth eventually has a showdown.*

The thing that really tips this story is when Elijah runs into the wilderness to escape everything and is plagued by a deep depression. William then says, “Have you been in a situation where you spoke truth to power, where you said the thing that needed to be said, not out of a place of rebellion, but out of a place of love, and then you ended up being the one who ran away and got afraid?” We are called to speak truth to power even when it is not easy.

Almost five months after publicly coming out on Facebook, a year after reconstructing what faith looks like, two years after graduating college, and nearly six years after moving away from my small town in southwestern Minnesota, it is time for us to speak truth into power. This blog isn’t a rebellion; this is love as it was meant to be, and there is no wilderness to escape to.

Friends, here we are, and we have a lot to talk about.

Welcome to the blog.

*To hear more of William Matthew’s interpretation on 1 Kings 18-19 and a powerful call to justice, listen to The Liturgists podcast Live in Austin.

1 Comment

Sabrina - January 1st, 2019 at 3:08pm

Love! I will be following along from Bolivia; listening for words of wisdom that I am sure will apply to my experiences. My white power and privilege are about to become more obvious than ever before. Thank you for your courage in advance Brandon!