About a decade ago, somewhere in the labyrinth of Marrakesh, Morocco, I told a shop owner I was a writer. I responded to his questions in garbled Spanish. He asked where I had come from. I said Spain; I was there before this trip. My lingual difficulties made clear I wasn’t a Spaniard. We switched to English. I admitted I was from near New York City.
He gave me a sacred charge: “Can you use your writing skills to tell people what you really see?” I was in Morocco with a group of young Mennonites to learn beyond our fears of Islam and otherness. The encounter was the kind of story Paulo Coelho would etch somewhere between the real and divine. It was so ethereal I sometimes wonder if it really happened.
Though I have been a pastor for more than 20 years, I still experience the world as a journalist. I know communicating has power. I see and write and tell on behalf of others, writing within the legacy of a journalistic perspective and the Christian practice of bearing witness and offering testimony. In a time of “fake news,” when media is derided for its task of accountability and the necessity of being financially viable, I find myself still defending media’s craft and essential work.
I am grateful MWR offers space to tell some of these stories. It is a privilege to communicate what I think and see. I try to write truth as I encountered it. I try to be mindful of the Pauline admonition to keep focused on what is good, beautiful and lovely. But I also want to honor the prophetic tradition that calls us toward authenticity and accountability.
Over the last months, though, it has become increasingly difficult for people to hear or read witnesses’ testimony that contradicts political alignments. I have never in my years of writing on behalf of the church felt like I had to work so hard to dislodge untruth. The truth is often more complicated than our initial understanding, and we don’t often have the patience to delve deeply. We become comfortable with half-truths at best.
We have gotten to the point that volume overtakes charitability in trying to understand how a situation might be interpreted through the life of Christ. Dialogue has become difficult because it requires us to believe that the person on the other side of the conversation has good intentions. Many today have lost that trust.
Dialogue also requires me to be open to changing my position or to learning that I may have been wrong, or at least ill-informed. Social media doesn’t give a lot of space for this kind of open-hearted conversation. We make statements, defend and propagate rather than question or cultivate a sense of curiosity. This carries over into our worshiping communities as well.
In my pastoral and leadership work, I want to keep writing to tell what I actually see, to tell the truth as I’ve encountered it. I want to keep inviting us to try to figure out what it means to discern truth beyond the sound bite, to live faithfully according to the Text and the Spirit. These days, it’s hard work.
Jesus warned that this narrow way would never be easy. So we keep at it, sometimes tired, confused and bewildered, but hoping that somehow we might be aware enough to recognize Christ is actually walking alongside us, waiting to be encountered, even in these labyrinth days.
Stephen Kriss is a teacher, writer, pastor and follower of Jesus living in Philadelphia.