We’ve finished our time with Ezekiel for a bit and are now moving into the book of Daniel. I have to say, this may be the first time in my Bible-reading life that I’ve made it as far as Daniel (this is testimony, I think, to the power of reading a little bit of the Bible at a time, rather than expecting oneself to read too much and then just giving up). Nysse summarizes the book: “Daniel and three friends persist in their faith despite threats created by several foreign rulers whom they serve with dedication. They are a model of fidelity for those who must endure the future events Daniel’s visions depict. The God they confess will be the one who will deliver the faithful throughout history, no matter how evil forces rage.”
On Daniel, Brueggemann says, “The book of Daniel is among the most peculiar and most difficult books in the Old Testament, an expression of faith voiced in genres that are unusual in Old Testament rhetoric. The book was formulated late in the Old Testament period, and has exercised immense influence in ongoing interpretive work. There is a broad critical consensus about the primary matters in the book but, as we shall see, much remains enigmatic and beyond critical discernment” (p. 365). Of “the Jews” that Daniel is instructing, they are “skilled in the tricky practice of faith wherein ‘truth speaks to power’; such speaking is characteristically an act of daring and cunning and sometimes a risky act of defiance. Thus Daniel, as the key character and as representative Jew, is a model for Jewish truth in the midst of Gentile power, a truth that is deeply and passionately fixed on the God of Israel who is said to be and shown to be reliable in every circumstance of risk and threat” (p. 367).
Also, have you ever wondered where the phrase “speaking truth to power” originated? This week’s readings and commentary put the question into my head, so I set out on a little research quest. Its most well-known usage appears to be as the title of the Quaker book, Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence: A Study of International Conflict, referring to it in the work’s Preface as “a charge given to Eighteenth Century Friends” (p. iv). Bayard Rustin, though, first wrote in 1942, “…the primary social function of a religious society is to ‘speak the truth to power'” (p. 2), imprecisely quoting Patrick Malin’s (a Swarthmore College economics professor) 1942 Friends General Conference speech. Mark Edwards sheds further light on this: “A little over a decade later, Rustin helped write the pamphlet Speak Truth to Power. Rustin and his co-authors expunged Rustin’s name from the pamphlet because of his arrest on charges of committing a homosexual act in 1953. Another co-author claimed the phrase occurred to him spontaneously.”
Regardless of the phrase’s precise origin, there is tangible irony in a faith rooted in nonviolence expunging a Black gay man’s authorship from a publication about nonviolent resistance, even as it was at Rustin’s request, “fearing that his recent arrest on a morals charge would be used to discredit the document and its message. It wasn’t until 2012 – the year that Bayard would have turned 100 – that AFSC restored his name to the publication, issuing an apology for its original omission.”
Have you ever needed to speak truth to power? What gave you the courage to do so? How might God give you the courage to, if you need to?
This week we’re reading through the 4rd week of 40 Day Journey With Howard Thurman, days 22-28. In Day 26 he expressed one of my biggest questions: “It seems reasonable, then, to assume that wherever life is found, evidence of creative intent must also exist in that which is being experienced, reacted to, observed, or studied. One such sign, and the most crucial one, is the way life seeks always to realize itself in wholeness, harmony, and integration within the potential that characterizes the particular expression of life. The most natural question that comes to mind, therefore, is: How did life get started? What was the beginning of it all?” (p. 52)
Followed immediately by a couple of my favorite questions, Why life on planet Earth? What does it all mean?
This week we’re in Chapter 4, “How to Tell the Absolute Truth” of The Lifelong Activist. Rettig’s parting statement of the chapter, “Try to get past preconceptions, clichés and stereotypes … so that you can record your honest experiences and feelings about your work. One key here is to listen to your ‘heart’ voice …”
Is it just me, or have any of you become so used to self-censoring to get by and get along in this world that sometimes it is difficult for you to be honest with yourself? It grieves me to say that and yet, there it is. How do you move beyond your self-censoring to tell at least yourself the absolute truth about your life?
Things to Do
Check out the Find Your FBCO Map to find your local faith-based community organizing affiliate and connect with the people who are working together to live out their dreams of a more just world! What’s going on in your living of the Gospel? Let us know in the comments, in our e-mail discussion group, or on social media.
- Almada, Samuel E. “Ezekiel 1-39.” Pages 273–84 in Global Bible Commentary. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004.
- American Friends Service Committee. Speak Truth to Power : A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence : A Study of International Conflict. Philadelphia, Pa.: American Friends Service Committee, 1955. http://ucf.digital.flvc.org/islandora/object/ucf%3A5598.
- Blenkinsopp, Joseph. Ezekiel. Interpretation, a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville, Ky: J. Knox Press, 1990.
- Brueggemann, Walter. An Introduction to the Old Testament: The Canon and Christian Imagination. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003.
- Edwards, Mark T. “When Not to Speak Truth to Power: Thoughts on the Historiography of the Social Gospel.” When Not to Speak Truth to Power, 23 August 2017. http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2017/08/when-not-to-speak-truth-to-power.html.
- Luther Seminary. “Enter the Bible,” n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/.
- Naegle, Walter. “Bayard Rustin.” American Friends Service Committee, 5 July 2016. https://www.afsc.org/story/bayard-rustin.
- Nysse, Richard. “Old Testament: Daniel.” Enter the Bible, n.d. http://www.enterthebible.org/oldtestament.aspx?rid=47.
- Rettig, Hillary. “4. How to tell the (absolute) truth.” The Lifelong Activist, n.d. http://lifelongactivist.com/part-i-managing-your-mission/how-to-tell-the-absolute-truth/.
- Rettig, Hillary. The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way. New York, NY: Lantern Books, 2006.
- Rustin, Bayard. I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2012.
- Schaper, Donna, ed. 40-Day Journey with Howard Thurman. 40-Day Journey. Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Books, 2009. https://openlibrary.org/books/OL23575518M/40-day_journey_with_Howard_Thurman.