I’m reading several books right now – a regular practice of mine. I used to lament the fact that I do this so much, but recently I’ve come to embrace it because I am able to make connections in ways I might otherwise not have. The most recent example of this has come from three sources: Rachel Held Evans’s Searching for Sunday, Jay Bilas’s Toughness, and Luke chapter four. All three are teaching me about the importance of telling the truth.
In her book Searching for Sunday, Evans writes, “we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable.” Truth-telling is a theme I was reintroduced to while I was a seminary at Duke Divinity School. Renowned theologian, Stanley Hauerwas, beats this drum loudly, reminding the church that this is Her vocation. I think it was Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz, however, that really first introduced me to the importance of truth-telling. As much as Christians talk about The Way, the Truth, and the Life, not so regularly have Christians told the truth about our sordid history. Donald Miller saw that and, as memory serves, set up a confession booth in some public square. But rather than having people confess their sins, Miller confessed the Church’s. It was a powerful moment for many people – both those who were present to experience this truth-telling for themselves, as well as for those who were vicariously present through its retelling. In the years since, it seems to me like my United Methodist denomination has gotten pretty good at confessing – nay, lamenting – our sins…or at least our shortcomings. Even beyond my denomination, my Facebook Timeline reminds me of all the blogs and status updates that have been written telling the world all the areas where the Church is falling short. I think this is truth-telling, but it’s not telling the whole truth.
Jay Bilas reflects on something similar to this in his book, Toughness. Jay Bilas was an All-American basketball player who played for Coach K at Duke University. He has since gone on to become a successful coach, attorney, and, most recently, ESPN analyst. When reflecting on his time as a player at Duke, Bilas writes this about his teammate, Mark Alarie: “He was always open to addressing any failure, analyzing why it occurred, and taking the necessary steps to avoid repeating it in the future. But he steadfastly refused to dwell on failure.” When I read this, I couldn’t help but hearing the aforementioned quote by Evans. Just as confessing our sins can be uncomfortable, so too can celebrating our successes. Just as confessing our sins is truth-telling, so too is celebrating our successes. My question to my colleagues and Facebook friends is this: What successes are you celebrating, particularly in the life of your local congregation? What Good is your local church doing for your community? How is the Gospel still Good News for you and your people? Where is God at work in your world and how are you inviting others to participate in God’s activity? Steadfastly dwelling on our failures and shortcomings is only telling half-truths…which isn’t really truth-telling at all, is it?
The third overlapping text comes from the bible, Luke chapter four. Jesus stands in the temple of his hometown and reads the following scripture: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim Good News…freedom for the prisoners…recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Later, in the Gospel of John, we learn that Jesus was sent not to condemn the world, but to save the world. In fact, some of the first words God even speaks in Scripture are that the world is good, and that humanity is very good. Not condemnation, but goodness. The Bible is clear: God is, foremost, for the world, not against it. God is for redeeming what is broken and flawed. God is for healing our sin-sick souls. God is for making all things new. That’s the Good News: that the God who is with us in Jesus Christ is the same God who is for us, wanting us to be that which God intended for us. And God is actively at work making that dream a reality, in making God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Just as vital as it is for Christians to tell the truth about the reality of sin, about how we continually fall short of the glory of God, it is equally vital that we tell the truth: God is at work in this world. Lives are being made whole. The dead are being raised to new life.
May we, through our baptisms, join Jesus in proclaiming the Good News: this the Year of the Lord’s Favor!
May it be so, Lord. May it be so!