In my prayers, the phrase “speak the truth to power” has found deep resonance. As I talk to God, this idea–this picture of a calling–has been floating around and around, picking up new meaning in its ceaseless journey through mind. Speak. the Truth. to Power.
First of all, Speak. This involves the words that I use, my mouth, my hands typing on a keyboard. The Bible tells us that our words are full of power; by this rudder we control the motion of a whole ship. God spoke–and there was something instead of the empty void of nothing. We, as image bearers of God, live out an impression of that initial divine creation as we participate in the smaller act of culture creation–using our spoken words as our tools. What is spoken is not merely internal. It is shared with others, it is given wings to fly in the world–to be accepted or rejected, to soar or to be shot down. The act of speaking is an act of risk-taking. I am being called to take risks.
Secondly, the truth. What I say matters. I am not being called to say anything I want to, but rather what is true, what is honest and reflects reality. There is a fundamental layer of presuppositions here: that there is a truth, that that truth is knowable, and that that truth can be communicated verbally. This is an incredibly counter-cultural idea. Yet, the truth will set you free. Every culture needs truth, and mine is no exception. In order for the culture to attain its fundamental value of freedom, the truth needs to be upheld and respected. The truth is not my agenda, or my boss’s agenda, or my political party’s agenda, or my religion’s agenda. It is what is supported by the facts, by rationality, by history, by philosophy. I am being called to speak in a way that will likely not serve my own ends, but will further the cause of the truth.
Finally, to power. This world is full of power disparities of all sorts. In comparison to some, I am in a position full of power; I belong to my culture’s majority ethnic group, my upbringing was middle-to-upper middle class, I am well-educated. But in comparison to others, I lack power; I do not employed into a position of authority, I am a woman, I am not among the top 1%. I am being called to use my power to address those with more power for the sake of those who have less power. I am being called to be a voice for the voiceless. I am being called to speak the truth even to those who have the ability to impact my future.
Speak the truth to power. As I reflect back upon my own past, it seems that some of the hardest times could have been preparing me for this future call. I often turned to books and the written word to populate my internal world with companions when I had few friends in my external reality–and this has given me a measure of articulateness that allows me to speak and be understood. Times of emotional turmoil have sent me to counseling and opened my eyes to see into myself and others in new ways–enabling me to be aware of what is true in a more fundamental sense. I relied upon diplomacy in my home life–and this is certainly a needed skill for offering constructive criticism to powerful people.
I don’t know what the rest of my journey will look like, and I am still learning to trust God along the way. Yet I am beginning to see the shapes and shadows of an outline, and I am excited for the possibilities ahead of me.