by Jen Hatmaker on September 4th, 2014

“It is a special voice that can lead the next generation of believers from within. One who understands every struggle and disappointment, one who has walked away and came back, one who is both prophetic and compassionate. Nish Weiseth is unquestionably one of those leaders. Speak is just impossibly hopeful. It tells of a better way, better community, better grace, better story. You nod, you cry, you shout, and ultimately you go quiet and whisper, “Lord, here is my life; may it speak of You.”
I wrote those words when I first read my friend Nish’s book, Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World.

I've made my cover design envy annoyingly clear to Nish. She is so over it.

Let me back up. I first met Nish two years ago under circumstances we chuckle about now: I was speaking at a Lifeway event called dotMOM in the deeeeep south, and Nish was invited as a blogger. Now, I was comfortable and familiar with both LW, a mom conference, and suth-uh-nuhs, but Nish was like what in the actual what? Not her usual jam, yall. I randomly sat by her on the airplane on the way home and she asked do these things wear you out? and I was all way and promptly fell dead asleep because I am an excellent travel companion.
She later wrote this piece: “Alabama, Southern Baptists and a Recovering Cynic”

As you might imagine, we were instant friends.
Not longer after, Nish invited me to contribute to the online writing community she built called A Deeper Story, a diverse, compelling gathering of writers and thinkers discussing weighty spiritual issues in a safe, inclusive environment. At DS, I was introduced to so many fresh voices asking good questions and creating space for struggle. Nish spends most of her time elevating other writers and leaders with incredible generosity and grace. I am exceedingly proud of her for leading this good work. Wrangling a gaggle of Christians with such varied theology, life experiences, and perspectives is no small task, yet the DS community remains fiercely respectful and supportive. It is a marvel.
The success of A Deeper Story is really a touchstone for the message of Speak, proving that it is indeed possible for believers to come together in the name of Jesus and fight for grace and community amid substantial, even profound differences. In the hateful, disgraceful world of internet commenting, Speak tells of a better way, and the mechanism is simple:
Be brave enough to tell your story and courageous enough to listen to others.
It really is that simple to begin. As long as we stay isolated and anonymous, we can tear people down to our hearts content. We can slash and wound and destroy with no consequences, further fragmenting not only the church but our very communities. It’s so easy. We are exempted from the difficult work of reconciliation. No need to dig below the surface to listen or learn; we can make knee-jerk assumptions, rash conclusions, and downright false accusations. We can safely ignore nuance, complexities, and even fragile human feelings. Separated, we are free to fear one another, second guess motives, assume the worst, and spread untruths. (This is working quite nicely. One need only pull up Facebook on any given day to affirm this paradigm.)
What if, according to Speak, we did the hard work of telling our stories? The gritty, complex stories we all have? What if we ventured out bravely and said I am broken in this tender place or I am recovering or I am dreaming a new dream. Rather than firing missives from afar or making assumptions in silence, what if we sat across the table from each other over coffee and listened? As Nish referenced, Ann Voskamp begs: “Give me your story, not your sermon.”
Our cynicism would take a real hit, I’m telling you that right now. Common ground would astound us. Humanity would take a forward position where only criticism once resided. We could build bridges instead of burning them all to the riverbed floor.
And don’t we need some bridges repaired? Our world is literally burning down around us right now. Hate and fear is taking down whole communities. The suspicion of “other” is tearing apart neighbors, races, and even nations. Speak is a manifesto toward peace, and I can’t remember a time when we needed it more. (If you need a character witness on Nish, she spent last week in Ferguson listening to pastors, citizens, and community leaders, learning from them and praying for peace with them. Hopped on an airplane and went where the hurt was. Like Jesus.)
Like Nish discusses in Speak, telling and hearing stories – not our personal sermons – is the front door to healing divides in our culture, church, and world. It is how we release our gifts to the community, invite the kingdom to break through, proclaim God’s work, and advocate for justice. People don’t want our soapboxes; they need flesh and blood.
We need this message desperately.
I want to leave you with a prayer from Nish as she puts Speak into your hands:
“It’s my prayer that this book will encourage and inspire you to explore your own stories – as well as to seek out the stories of others – and to tell them with grace and abandon. It’s my prayer that this book will remind you that your life and experiences have great value and that the world needs to hear about them. Stories can change us, change the hearts of others, and change the world. It’s my prayer that this book gives you the freedom to speak. And when you do speak, I expect the world around you to look a bit more hopeful, bright, and good.”

Amen, good friend. Amen.
I want you to read this and one of you for sure is going to have it. Enter a comment to win a copy of Nish’s book Speak by answering this:
Tell us a time when telling yours or hearing someone else’s story changed your perspective on them, their “group,” or your preconceived ideas. OR: Who have you been afraid of or put off by that you can reach out to in vulnerability and fight for grace?

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