A quote I repeat as often as I can comes from Adrienne Rich who said this: “When a woman tells the truth, she’s creating the possibility for more truth around her.”
Adrienne Rich made this observation back in the seventies, but beginning a few years ago, the Me Too movement has been proving her right. The collective conscience of our nation has been called out by women who have survived sexual harassment and abuse. You’ll remember. Me Too has not been a trickle of testimony; it is a deluge. Grandmothers and celebrities, girlfriends and professors stepped up and spoke up. On television and Facebook, on the world stage and in quiet conversations with their families, it’s been a kind of coming out. Women told what they had endured and survived, hashtag Me Too.
As this movement was beginning to unfold, it revealed a few things about our world. For one thing, sexual misconduct is far more prevalent than we realized. For another thing, we really struggle to talk about this with nuance. We’ve been clumsy in naming any distinction between a misunderstanding on a date and a deliberate act of violence. In some instances, our world has been too reluctant to take action. In other instances, we’ve been too quick to assign blame. This movement has brought up buried pain in women and men. But that’s not all.
The Me Too movement has demonstrated how Adrienne Rich was right. “When a woman tells the truth, she’s creating the possibility for more truth around her.” That’s the first thing. The second thing is when survivors began coming forward with their testimonies, time and again, women and men began receiving these stories with three of the most powerful words we can say: I believe you.
Our world is changing, and part of that is because we’re finding the courage to speak up and tell our own truth. Part of that is because when we do, there’s a real chance that other people will hear us and believe us.
What if people who lived through hell no longer have to carry that as their own secret shame… What if trauma survivors and those who believe them could be precisely the ones who will turn this world toward greater justice and compassion… And if this is not the work of the church, I don’t know what is.
Look, I know we do this all the time. I know it might seem like no big deal to believe a person who is telling the truth. But if that’s what you think, I lovingly implore you to reconsider.
In the United Church of Christ, something that makes us different from other churches is that instead of tests of faith, we value testimonies. Now the easy part is there are no tests in the UCC, no doctrinal deal-breakers. You do not have to believe that Jesus died to save you from your sins. You might believe this, and that’s okay, but you don’t have to. You do not have to believe that everything happens for a reason and it’s all part of God’s master plan. You might believe that, but there’s no test. That’s the easy part.
The harder part is that instead of tests, we claim our faith through testimony. We know there’s a whole story behind your most deeply-held beliefs, and we want to hear it. As Christians, part of our practice involves learning how to tell our own stories of faith and listen to others— even when somebody else’s testimony challenges our assumptions, even when it enlarges our sense of what is possible.
Instead of tests, we honor testimonies —even troubling ones. Instead of statements, that demand our Yes-or-No, we value stories. Consider the activity of believing! Sometimes we believe that something is true because the information adds up; the facts check out. Sometimes we believe that something is true because of who’s telling us; it’s someone whose authority we trust. This shift between believing the facts to believing the person is exactly what we hear in today’s scripture.
In this letter to the church in Corinth, Paul is utterly fed up. You hear the frustration seeping into his tone. You would not be wrong to sum up the whole book in one sentence: “Come on, Church, get your act together!” Today’s scripture cuts right to the heart of Paul’s passion. Apparently, some church members were not convinced of the promise of resurrection. Like sure, maybe it was a miracle that happened to Jesus, but there’s probably no promise of new life for everybody! Maybe that’s just not real!
When Paul hears of this skepticism, he is ignited. He starts out this passage by reminding the Corinthians of the “facts” of our faith. This was the content covered on the test: Christ died on the cross (some say for our sins); Christ was buried; Christ rose from the dead as the prophets predicted; then Christ appeared to the apostles.
You can believe in God’s promise of resurrection because —behold! Look at the information. That’s the first thing. The second thing Paul tells them is: Well, you know Christ did not just appear to those first apostles; he also appeared to me.
One reason why Paul believes in the resurrection is because his name used to be Saul. He used to be an enemy of the Jesus followers. He kidnapped them and turned them in for bounty; he waited on the crowd that was stoning Stephen! One day, on the road to Damascus, a bright light shone and knocked Saul to the ground. He was blind. That’s when Jesus spoke to him, and Saul changed his life story and his most deeply-held beliefs. This encounter changed Saul’s name, and his mind, and his vision, and his future.
Now it’s like Paul is telling them: You can believe in the promise of new life because it happened to me. I know what it is to get up from the dead and get a glimpse of the new age. So believe me because you learned all the lessons in Sunday School and I’m building this expertly-crafted argument, or believe me because God’s promise of new life is what I’m doing on this earth. Either way, you can believe me.
Part of believing is making a choice. It’s investigating, discerning, proving to yourself that this much is true. Part of believing is holding open the possibility that, who knows, you could change your mind.
It takes work to believe a person. It takes work to believe in a person, maybe more than we realize. That’s the first thing. The second thing is there’s no way to take on this work and not have it make a difference. If you have ever had someone believe you, then you understand.
There’s a beautiful song by Pierce Pettis. It takes a common point of pressure and flips it around into a promise of grace. In my previous church, I would ask the band to play it for worship all the time, because you know, the youth needed to hear it. Really, I needed this song. The lyrics go like this:
“When you start to doubt that you exist,
God believes in you.
Confounded by the evidence,
God believes in you.
When your light burns so dim,
When your chances seem so slim,
When you swear you don’t believe in him,
God believes in you.”
And you know what, so do we. We are your church. We will listen to your truth and we will believe you; we will believe in you. And we don’t all believe the same ideas; nobody needs us to do that. But what if believing each other is a gift the church could offer the world… What if the world needs this more than we know…
This is Memorial Day weekend, a holiday which calls us to remember those who have given their lives in military service. This year, the holiday falls during a season in which we’re also honoring a broader slate of heroes: nurses, and doctors, and lab techs; delivery drivers, and retail workers, and my goodness —everybody who cleans for a living. We honor essential workers and those who are sacrificing to help flatten the curve.
From yard signs to spontaneous music, there’s something unmistakably beautiful about our expressions of gratitude. It is deeply important to acknowledge the service of others —whether that service was from a long ago war, or whether it’s in the ICU this afternoon.
But beyond making people into heroes, there’s something we can do that is even more helpful. We could actually listen to those who are serving and believe them. These days people we know are surviving hospitals, and prison, and war, and it’s one thing for us to ask them to go through that. It’s another thing for our nation to ask them to go through that, but please keep the trauma to yourself, just let us celebrate your heroism. And sometimes that’s what has happened. Recently on the news, I heard a doctor explain that it can be difficult for doctors to seek counseling because the public has declared them to be heroes.
Imagine if the church could change that; if we could establish that heroes get counseling. Imagine if the church could change the climate so people will know: When they go through hell and come out on the other side, they will be listened to and believed. And you and I know, if we do this, hell will start to lose its power.
We might find ourselves newly convicted by God’s promise of new life, not just because it happened to Jesus, not just because it happened to Paul, but because we’ll have our own stories of getting up from the dead. Already those who have survived the horror have come back to turn the world toward greater justice and compassion. Imagine if we made it our business to tell this truth to each other. Imagine if we believed it!
May it be so.