Truth

Forgetting to Remember

Jesus said that he came to testify to the truth (John 18). He also said that those who continue in his word are true disciples who know the truth (John 8). It sometimes is the case that Christians can get it in our minds that since Jesus testifies to the truth and followers of Jesus know the truth, that we have sole access to Truth.

Beyond making it difficult to be in relationship with us when we believe we have sole access to Truth, we Christians are not very good at admitting we are wrong. How can we be wrong if we have access to the truth? How can Christian beliefs be wrong if our leader testifies to the truth?

Gil Bailie points out that the Greek word lēthe means forgetful. He notes that when you put an “a” as a prefix you get alētheia, translated as truth (as it is in John 8 and 18). Literally speaking this word means to not be forgetful, or to stop forgetting.

This means that living in the truth does not mean to speak with absolute and ultimate unquestionable correctness. Living in the truth means that we do not forget.

Photo by  James Hammond  on  Unsplash

Photo by James Hammond on Unsplash

We can be wrong and still be living in the truth, because living in the truth means we admit that we do not have the whole truth. Even that which we do “know” to be True, we hold lightly because we admit there maybe things we are unintentionally forgetting.

Living in the truth is one of the distinctions of the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. The kingdom of this world is more interested in forgetting than in remembering. As such, the kingdom of this world is not of the truth. The kingdom of God does not forget and thus is a kingdom of the truth. It may explain in part why the prophets emphasis remembering and why Jesus asks us to “do this in remembrance of me.”

The reality is living in the truth means that we admit we are wrong. We do not fear being wrong, in fact the Gospel proclaims that there is a joy in being wrong. As Bailie points out: “The joy of being wrong is that being wrong can be forgiven: it is insisting on being right that confirms our being bound in sin.”

And so on this week going into the beginning of a new year (Advent) consider the baptism vows which say:

We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin.

We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.

We confess Jesus Christ as Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.

Let us not forget.

Truth as Unity

Recently Rev. Tom Lambrecht wrote a wonderful article laying out as he sees the larger conversation in the UMC and LGBTQ inclusion. His thesis is that one side places Unity over Truth (the progressive position) while the other side places Truth over Unity (the conservative position). This is a wonderful article because it highlights the very false choice that is often presented to our denomination. While he is writing from a conservative side, the same false choice is presented from the progressive side. It looks different but it sounds the same - we either have Unity or Truth (in the progressive position Truth permits full LGBTQ inclusion). 

I submit this is a false choice. The reality is in the story of Jesus: it is not Unity or Truth, but Truth as Unity. Just as the Truth of Jesus is both human and divine or just as the Good News is both for Jew and Gentile - Truth is whole and unified. It endures. Unity has always been at the very foundation of Truth and to split it is to follow the adulterous woman (Proverbs 7) rather than woman wisdom (Proverbs 8).

Truth has a way of incorporating seemingly paradoxical positions all the time. Look to the natural sciences, a tree can be dying and putting on new life at the same time or that a platypus is a mammal but lays eggs. Consider the mystifying paradoxes in physics. Look to the teachings of Jesus (first will be last, last will be first; loose your life to gain it; etc.) And who can overlook the fact that human beings are walking talking paradoxes (Christianity says humans are both sinner and saint to speak of the paradox of human beings). 

The more we put out the false ideas that the denomination upholds either Unity or Truth the more we entrench ourselves in our own egos and messiah complexes. The more we think that our side has Truth or values it more than the other side the farther away we push the very Truth we claim to have command of.

gerome-viavant-217865.jpg

Behind all the rhetoric of our denominational leaders and thinkers about the nature of our situation is a genuine lack of love. That is it. We just do not love one another. Since we do not love one another we do not trust one another. Since we do not trust one another we impose our own sense of justice to a situation that barely (at best) connects to us. We just cannot stand the idea that there is someone who bears the same name I bear (United Methodist) and is doing something that I cannot abide with. So even if we are miles away from the matter and it has nothing to do with us at all, we impose our opinion. We use all sorts of justifications to merit our opinion, but the reality is it is all a mask. We use our language to mask the fact that we have frail egos and we cannot imagine being associated with "those people". (See liberals who oppose Trump or conservatives who oppose Obama at every mention of their name as an example of two groups of people who cannot stand being associated with one who bears the same name: American.)

I am embarrassed by many in my own denomination. I am embarrassed in my own actions. But just as I cannot split myself from myself, so too the Truth cannot be split into neat little categories. Truth as Unity is the way Truth has always been. But, hey if we want to divide up Truth so we can each feel better about our own little kingdoms, egos and pride then we will never make a single Disciple of Jesus Christ - only disciples of our own selves. 

Being Right to the Detriment of Being Effective

There is a lot of talk about "fake news". There is recognition that we all live online in little bubbles of information. There is awareness that humans tend to build and live in echo chambers. There are people in leadership who say "There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore of facts." With these salvos on Truth, it is no wonder there is a backlash and people are reasserting the need for facts and truth. 

Like many others, I am a fan of facts and truth. Christianity is also a fan of Truth and facts. The arguments around what is true and what is false create an environment where someone is willing to treat another like garbage all in an effort to ensure they are "right". There are a few ways to express this. I have stated before we are in a time when Truth trumps Love and I believe that Christianity is a way of being so that Love trumps Truth. 

Dr. Susan David in her interview with Krys Boyd (http://www.kera.org/2016/12/08/staying-calm-in-a-crisis/) puts it this way: we would rather be right than be effective. We would rather see to it that our point is made to the detriment of people willing to listen to us.

Or to have an axiom in the negative : if you are right, don't be a jerk. 

Another way to talk about this is the difference between political correctness (being right) and emotional correctness (being loving). FOXNews commentator Sally Kohn fleshes this idea out in the following TED Talk

Just a little reminder that Jesus was often willing to forgo expressing Truth if it came at the expense of Love. Perhaps the woman was caught in adultery, but Jesus does not condemn. Humans know we screw up, but Jesus still was willing to go through the crucifixion in order to bring about the loving reconciliation needed. The reality is I want to be different in this world and the way that I see being different is to act out of Love, even if the Truth takes a backseat for the time being. 

When people come into my office and talk about their lives, I don't need to tell them that they screwed up and are making a mistake. They know that. I don't need to be self righteous and point out the Truth of their actions - I need to extend Love.  

Preachers sometimes don't tell the truth on purpose

Preaching is less a public speaking teaching opportunity and more an act of worship. This means that sometimes, preachers don't tell the truth on purpose. That does not mean that preachers lie, only that preaching as an at of worship is trying to communicate a deeper and transcendent reality than the truth can express. Which is why the old preacher joke ("are you telling the truth or are you preaching?") is funny. Preaching does not always share the truth. 

Before we freak out, let me be clear, there is a difference in telling the truth and telling Truth. The story of the "Giving Tree" is not a story about the truth but it is full of Truth. Most children's books I have experienced do not tell the truth on purpose either, but that is to be expected by the reader. I would submit that when we began to see the preaching moment as primarily a "teaching moment" we reduced preaching to teaching the truth and that means many times preacher are not able to express with deep wonder and beauty Truth of the Gospel. Yes, you can make a children's book about how much a mother loves her son and it will be True, but it has not captured the imagination as the story of a tree that loves a boy (which is not the truth but very True).

Many preachers often don't tell the truth on purpose because preachers are not trying to share the truth but they are trying to express Truth - just like Jesus.

The parables of Jesus are not the truth, but they are True. There was not a woman who searched her house for the missing coin or a man who had two sons or a man who sold all they had for treasure in a field or a Good Samaritan or...

If something has to be the truth in order for you to accept any Truth in it, then you are missing a lot of beauty and joy. Don't let the lack of truth keep you from seeing Truth in this world.