[Texts: Amos 7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:14-29]
When I was in sixth grade, my first class of the day was English with Mrs. Camp. There were about fifteen of us in the class. Each of us had one of those salt-and-pepper composition books– I think we called them our journals. When we walked into the classroom each morning, the first thing we were supposed to do was sit down silently, get our journals out of our backpacks, and spend the first ten or fifteen minutes of class writing in them.
First, we’d write the date in the upper-right-hand corner– and we couldn’t abbreviate the name of the month, because Mrs. Camp hated abbreviations more than St. Paul hates sin– and then copy down the prompt.
The prompt– which would always be written across the top of the whiteboard in Mrs. Camp’s painfully meticulous cursive before we arrived– was what we were supposed to write about that day. Occasionally, it would be related to current affairs or an upcoming schoolwide event. Sometimes we were asked to respond to a statement, or assess the validity of a common saying. Sometimes we were asked to recount a memory, like the first time we saw the ocean, or an instance when we remembered being angry. Sometimes we were asked about the future, or our likes and dislikes, or our pets. Some of the prompts were a bit silly, and some were truly thought-provoking.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
What is your earliest memory?
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Pretty deep stuff for twelve-year-olds, right?
A few weeks ago, I was at my mom’s house, going through some of my old things, and I found my old sixth-grade journal from Mrs. Camp’s class. I was looking through some of the prompts– and giggling at some of my answers– when I happened upon this one:
If you weren’t afraid of anything, what would you do differently?
In response, I only wrote one sentence. Five words:
“I would tell the truth.”
I can’t remember what, exactly, I thought I needed to tell the truth about.
Perhaps I had seen a classmate cheat on a test recently, or overheard something that warranted telling an adult. Maybe I’d been let in on a secret that I was having a difficult time keeping.
Or maybe I had done something wrong and had a guilty conscience.
It’s also possible that I was just being vague and enigmatic for the sake of being vague and enigmatic. I don’t know. I wouldn’t put that past my twelve-year-old self. (I fancied myself a rather deep and complicated person, for someone who spent most of my time playing Nintendo and writing terrible poetry.)
Whatever I might have meant by it at the time, that was my answer. Every other prompt was met with paragraph upon paragraph of my thoughts and feelings. I waxed poetic– and often pretentious– in response to just about every other question posed to me throughout that year.
But that one day, that one spring day, I only wrote five words:
“I would tell the truth.”
And, if I’m being honest, I don’t know that I’d change that answer today.
It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since sixth grade. This fall, on my birthday, I will be twice as old as I was when I wrote those words. In many ways, I’m a completely different person, and thanks be to God for that.
And yet, at almost twenty-four years old, fear still keeps me from speaking the truth sometimes.
Which is kind of a problem, you know, since I’m supposed to be following Christ.
And following Christ means speaking the truth.
It means speaking truth to others.
It means speaking truth to ourselves.
It means speaking truth to power.
It means speaking truth to evil.
It means speaking truth to our abusers, and to those who abuse others.
It means speaking truth to those who would exclude from God’s table those whom God loves.
It means speaking truth to tribalism– yes, even Christian tribalism, even Episcopal tribalism, even the cliques in your own parish.
It means speaking truth to people so full of hate that they seem unable to hear us.
It means speaking hard truths, uncomfortable truths, painful truths.
It means speaking truth at all times, and in all things, and in all places, even when nobody wants to hear the truth.
(Especially when nobody wants to hear the truth.)
It means, like the prophet Amos, speaking truth even in the face of harsh criticism.
It means, like St. John the Baptist, speaking truth even in the face of death.
It means speaking truth– the truth of God’s radical, extravagant, boundless love– even when we are afraid.
How often do we, who claim to be followers of Christ, betray the truth because of fear?
And, if we weren’t afraid of anything, what would we do differently?