Ben Wideman is Campus Pastor for 3rd Way Collective at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania.
One of the most moving news stories from this past week was the announcement that rather than picking one single person, Time Magazine has named a group of people, dubbed the Silence Breakers, as their persons of the year. This group is made up of anyone courageous enough to speak out about sexual violence and abuse. The women on the forefront of this movement created and propelled the social media hashtag #MeToo to prominence to highlight the weight that so many people carry who have experienced abuse. The powerful cover image of survivors of abuse staring into the camera is moving and compelling, as is the arm of an individual who has been cropped out of the photo, representing those who still live in fear of speaking out about the violence they have experienced.
I’ve watched this movement empower young people at Penn State that I work with to be more vocal about their own abuse and more passionate about bringing an end to the culture that for many years has silenced these stories or encouraged survivors to keep their stories to themselves. It gives me chills just thinking about the possibilities behind the change we are experiencing.
Tarana Burke is an activist from Philadelphia, credited as the one who founded the #MeToo movement all the way back in 2006 to help survivors of sexual violence find their voice. In a somewhat surprising decision, Burke was NOT one of the six women featured on the cover of Time despite being more deserving of a cover story than any of those featured.
Rather than express outrage that she as the founder of the movement was not included in the cover image, in an interview this week she expressed concern that people may be sensing that we are beyond our past and that we’re now done with this work. Far from it, she countered, “This is just the start. I’ve been saying from the beginning it’s not just a moment, it’s a movement. Now the work really begins.”
It seems appropriate then, in the Advent season, a season of anticipation and hope, that we’d lift up stories from people like Tarana Burke. As people of faith we too feel the tension of waiting in the in-between. Movements such as the #MeToo phenomenon capture our longing for the future to be here now and also the reality that we’re not quite there yet. We can see the bleakness of our past and we can imagine the brightness and possibility of our future, yet it can be challenging for those of us who want instant gratification to be comfortable in this middle ground. It is hard to not demand that the better future arrives now.
Our task then is to capture the hope and optimism of prophetic voices of our Scripture and the modern prophets calling out from our current “wilderness.” These voices remind us that we are helping to usher in a new reality that can often make us momentarily uncomfortable but brings with it incredible promise. In the in-between we see the bleakness of the past, and though we are not yet there, we look forward longingly to a brighter future. As we wait for Jesus to be fully unveiled, may we join the Spirit’s movement in the in-between.