“Preach the Gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.” This quote, often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, is a personal favorite of mine. It speaks to the importance of integrating, and aligning, our beliefs with our actions as well as our words. It reminds us that how we are in the world, what we do on a day-to-day and moment-to-moment basis, is often more effective than speaking in reflecting truth into the world.
But it also says that sometimes, words really are necessary. This is the aspect of the quote that I’ve been thinking about after reading a New York Times article about Rembert G. Weakland, the openly gay former Archbishop of Milwaukee whose memoir, Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church, is due out next month. The article explains that Weakland’s motivation in writing his story was not so much to offer excuses for his actions (he admits, for example, to not honoring his vow of celibacy) but “to give an honest account of why it happened and to raise questions about the church’s teaching that homosexuality is ‘objectively disordered.’”
Honest. That’s the word that jumps out for me. I think it’s a brave thing, to tell your story honestly even when it doesn’t necessarily shine a favorable light on you. To offer your story, honestly, to the world with the hope – the faith – that it will be useful in the task of building a more just Church and society. I’m energized by Weakland’s willingness to offer his story because the theme of storytelling – telling one’s own story and helping others to tell theirs – is something that has come up a lot for me in my current time of vocational discernment. I think the world could use more stories like that of Archbishop Weakland, stories that are complicated and messy, that challenge our understanding of things, that force us to reevaluate the rules that we so frequently take for granted – stories that push us to reevaluate our ideas of what justice looks like.
Kate Henley Averett explored the theology of storytelling as a means of doing queer ministry in her 2008 MDiv thesis and has recently published an article on storytelling as a tool for HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness.