Christ In Winter: Reflections on Faith & Life for the Years of Winter…
I was once having a conversation with the governor of Illinois. It was a small gathering, in a private home. The governor and I and the university president were the only men there. At some point, I caught my wife’s eye. It was the evil eye—the one that says, “Listen up, dummy.” So I listened up.
There were only three people talking, the governor and I, standing at the end of the dining room table, and a woman in the living room, holding the attention of all the other women there, plus the university president. Apparently she was an appointed speaker, and while the governor and I were not talking loudly, or even arguing, which might have been expected, since I did not approve of much of what he did as governor, even though I did approve of him as a person and member of my church, we were not paying attention to the speaker, and distracting the listeners by our noise and inattention.
There were reasons for my inattention. I thought it was just a gathering at the home of the university president; no one told me there was a “program.” I was enjoying interacting with the governor, thinking “Someday I’ll be able to write about this.”
When my wife caught my attention, and informed me with her facial expressions that we needed to shut up, I thought about passing that along to the governor. I did not, though. I didn’t continue the conversation myself, but I did not tell him that the conversation we were having without problem earlier had now become an issue. I waited until his wife caught his eye, at which time the conversations stopped in the middle of a word.
The governor’s wife was not afraid to speak truth to power; she was used to it. To her, I’m sure, the governor was not “power.” Just someone she had to shush from time to time.
Not so for me. I could have whispered, “Oh, wait, Governor. We need to stop talking now.” Not a big deal. Except he was the governor! I had known him before he was governor, when he was just “Jim,” but now he was governor. I have told many powerful people to shut up, including the President of the United States. Granted, they were inside the television set at the time, but still… Face to face, though, I could not tell Jim Edgar, even gently, to put a sock in it, as Archie Bunker always so gently told Edith.
So I understand how hard it is to speak truth to power, and thus why the powerful so often do not know the truth. Thus, I admire all the more those who are willing to speak truth to power, even when they know it will lash back on them in unpleasant and even vicious and brutal ways.