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Speaking to the Soul: Speaking Truth to Power

Speaking to the Soul: Speaking Truth to Power

by Maria Evans

 

Good ol’ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego–I think the story of those three in the fiery furnace was one of my favorite Sunday School stories from childhood. It had all the things that make for a good kid story–a bad guy, good guys, licking flames, danger, heroism, and a happy ending (Well, at least if you kinda stop there with “they weren’t burned”. It’s a little more complicated after that, but one doesn’t learn that until adulthood.) Even people who don’t know the story have likely heard the classic Louis Armstrong song, and at the very least, the song is catchy. Finally, if nothing else, the names “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego” are fun to roll off the tongue–so for a variety of reasons these three young men catch our attention.

 

What seems so important these days, however, is WHY these three young men are in the soup with Nebuchadnezzar, and why Nebuchadnezzar is so angry that “his face was distorted”–as my grandmother used to say, “Spittin’, droolin’ angry.” They had essentially called him out on misreading Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Daniel clearly tells Nebuchadnezzar that the statue in the dream has feet of clay, and this should be a warning as to how he understands his power–yet Nebuchadnezzar goes out and builds a gold statue and demands everyone worship it when the music plays. Who knows why Nebuchadnezzar did what he did. Pushback, perhaps? Over-thinking that he should take tighter hold of the reins? Who knows. It’s an old story, though–the toxic cocktail of ambition, power, and greed. Good ol’ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego have spoken hard truth to power–and power doesn’t like it one little bit. Not only would they have anything to do with the statue, they refused the meat and wine at the royal table–a trifecta of refusal. The story of the Three Young Men becomes the backdrop to the kind of “truth to power” that will be inherited by Jesus in the Gospels.

 

Sadly, Christian history doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to speaking truth to power, and challenging the privilege associated with empire. We have the occasional victory in recent history–the Civil Rights era and workers rights during the Industrial Revolution come to mind easily–but the sad truth is that far too often, Christianity has gone to bed with empire, after having gotten a little tipsy on that toxic cocktail–and regretted it in the morning.

 

The reality is Christianity is composed of fallible human beings, and it’s simply hard to choose discomfort over comfort, humility over privilege and perks, and abundant generosity over a sense of scarcity when fear makes the survival mechanisms kick in. It’s the place where we can be lured by the glitter of idols. We tend to think in the 21st century we’re too sophisticated to worship idols and literalize it by thinking of the actual physical act of bowing down to a statue. Yet the reality is we catch ourselves worshiping time and time again at the altars of greed, power, and privilege–and that’s only if we’re aware enough. Far too many times we aren’t even aware that’s what we’re doing and we would vehemently claim we don’t have privilege, or are not in a position of power, or are merely claiming “what belongs to us.”

 

In those times when we come to our senses, and like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, say, “No, you’ve crossed a line there, I won’t do that”–it’s not taken well by the powers and principalities. Refusal to worship the golden statue–even if it’s a very minor refusal–is met with being treated like a social pariah or having others think you’re an oddball. We fear the fiery furnace, and rightly so. Our experience teaches us that things don’t generally end well for those folks–yet, to a degree, our fear blinds us to the bigger picture that the arc of history DOES slowly head to that endpoint of justice, to paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King.

 

None of us can do it all, and honestly, most of us think we’re in over our heads already. If you’re like me, you see some folks out there speaking truth to power, and think, “I wish them well–I’m glad they can do it–but I need to have a job. My heart says “I can’t do THAT.” Yet–in the DNA of every Christian is something–something–that we can do. We know it by that nebulous term known as “our calling”–the piece of the birthright of our being fully human, fully loved by God, and being fully under God’s grace. We can ask God to reveal it to us. We can discern what piece of this we CAN do with God’s help…and whatever it is, we are called to do it, and we should not fear it. As we will discover what the Three Young Men do, there is a 4th entity in the furnace with them–that others will see. That’s not “us.” That’s God. At the very least, we can find a place to stop bowing.

 

I am reminded of a recent sermon-turned-poem by the Rev. William Barber:

 

I need you to turn to your neighbor today and say, “Neighbor, Nebuchadnezzar is scared of you.”

That’s why

Say that’s why

            He’s trying to get you to bow.

 

‘Cause he knows

That if you stand,

It’ll be all right.

 

There’s strength

            In our standing.

 

I stopped by to tell you

            We may be headed

            Into some fiery times.

 

But bowing down

            Is not an option.

Falling down

            Is not an option.

Looking down

            Is not an option.

 

We can’t bow

            Until justice comes.

We can’t bow

            Until mercy comes.

We can’t bow

            Until the glory comes.

 

Now, one day,

            We’ll be able to bow.

When every hill

            Is made low.

            And the rough places

            Are made smooth

            And the crooked places

            Are made straight

            And the glory

Of the Lord

            Is revealed.

 

I’m bowing then.

 

But until then

Until then

Until then

            Bowing

                        Is not an option.

 

Where might you be called to stop bowing?

 


 

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, is a grateful member of Trinity Episcopal Church and a transitional Deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri. You can also share her journey on her blog, Chapologist.

 
Image: Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome, late 3rd century/early 4th century  Public Domain, Link

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Philip B. Spivey

Over the ages, some Christians have sought to live up to the moral compass that Jesus established, while others have sought an end run around it---for their own personal reasons.

Rev'd Barber, and other Church leaders, have sounded the alarm: In the current climate, we acquiesce to a comfort-zone-inertia at our peril. A laser sharp moral compass is the ONLY thing that will save the Republic and our planet. The fire next time will not be confined to any particular zip code.

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Maria L Evans

Thanks, Philip. Yes, history, I believe, reveals that we are...well...pretty human. I think of the old frog-in-a-pot analogy. The frog in a pot that the heat gets turned up full bore, feels the heat and jumps out of the pot...the one where the heat is administered slowly...not so much. This to me is why a faith community is so important. I need people to look at me and say, "Is it warm in here, or is it just me?"

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Wayne Kamm

True insight on your part, and thank you for your continuing witness.

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