The Truth

Unzip_the_Truth_by_ChubbaART (1)Last week The Anxious Bench had a discussion about the importance of “truth.”  One of us made a comment on how elders and deacons in church can often be heard saying “We have to preach the TRUTH” or “we have to teach TRUTH in our Sunday School.” (the capitals emphasizing the tone of such statements) It’s usually followed up with some comment about how we have to stick to “The Bible.”  You’d be hard pressed to find any Christian pastor that would disagree with such a statement.  So it begs the question…why do people feel the need to make such a statement?

It’s usually because people feel that their understanding of “the truth” is threatened. People of faith put their trust in sacred texts.  For Christians that text is the Bible.  The Bible then becomes the shaping force in the Christian life.  But the text is not static.  The text is supposed to lead us to a living relationship with God, not a static picture of God that we can cling to.  If the truth we’re talking about is only a picture of God vs a relationship with God then we fail to recognize the truth.

A good example might be found in a trip to the restaurant.  You sit down and the waiter hands you a menu.  The menu is filled with pictures of the various options for order.  You see something that you really like and when the waiter comes you point to the picture and say “I’d like to have this.”  But you really don’t want “this” which is the picture in the menu, you want what the picture represents.  People in search of Biblical truth can often go in the wrong direction when the truth they’re talking about is nothing but a series of cut out pictures that fall short of what they represent.  We must read the Bible, our sacred text, with a sense of humility and even a willingness to make room for interpretative differences while trusting God’s spirit with integrity in order to live into the truth.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a profound essay called “What Does It Mean to Tell the Truth?” while in Tegel prison in his final year of life.  He was dealing with telling the truth with respect to ethical standards which is a different but related topic.  But something he says rings true for the conversation about Biblical TRUTH.  He writes:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer“It is only the cynic who claims “to speak the truth” at all times and in all places to all men in the same way, but who, in fact, displays nothing but a lifeless image of the truth. … He dons the halo of the fanatical devotee of truth who can make no allowance for human weaknesses; but, in fact, he is destroying the living truth between men. He wounds shame, desecrates mystery, breaks confidence, betrays the community in which he lives, and laughs arrogantly at the devastation he has wrought and at the human weakness which “cannot bear the truth.”

The type of person Bonhoeffer is typically talking about is someone who is critical of sacred texts.  But unfortunately most of these words could also be used for many people (Christians included) who guard the TRUTH of their sacred texts in a hard, cold and static fashion with no room for the mystery of God himself.

There’s a lot to consider in Jesus words to his disciples in John 14 after telling them not to be afraid.  He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  In doing so he defines himself as the truth.  The challenge of Christian truth is to live with a reality of Jesus who is not contained to the pages of the Bible, but is alive and at work. a-good-man-is-hard-to-find1 To hold on to the TRUTH means that we need to be ready to expect the unexpected.  As the misfit in Flannery O’Connor’s novel “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” says so well,

“Jesus was the only one that ever raised the dead and he shouldn’t have done it.  He has shown everything off balance.”

Or maybe we need to come to grip with the fact that Jack Nicholson’s character Colonel Jessep’s in the movie “A Few Good Men” might be right in declaring,

jackYou can’t handle the truth!”

Because far too often…we can’t.

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“Hallow E’en”

I loved Halloween when I was a child.  With the help of your parent you would try and come up with a unique costume.  While I gazed longingly at the ready made store bought costumes, my parents (who were good stewards of their money) were always helpful in creating unique outfits.  You could dress up like a clown, construction worker, hobo, and yes I’ll admit it, one year I even dressed up like a girl.  Because I lived on a farm my parents would drive my siblings and I around the countryside going from house to house.  It was celebrative, communal and the only time of the year that I got boxes of Cracker Jacks and Kit Kat bars.

But what I don’t remember is the celebration of darkness, fear and death.  Sure there were some kids who put on witches hats or wore a bed sheet and called themselves a ghost, but there wasn’t an obsession with covering the front lawn with tombstones or making your front doorway a blood filled scene from the latest horror movie.  It may be that my parents had an easier time shielding this activity from me because we lived on a farm or it may just be that my memory is skewed, but it feels to me like something has changed.  I do remember older teenagers egging homes and such so I won’t claim that those were more innocent times, but I would still argue that the scales have tipped to emphasize the dark side of life and call it fun.

The history of Halloween is mixed depending on which version you read.  The Christian history of the event is the celebration of All Hallows Eve (‘Hallow E’en’ is Irish), the night before ‘All Saints’ day where all the departed Christian Saints are remembered and celebrated.  You might argue that yes, Christians were celebrating the dead, but not gore, darkness and fear.  Some attribute the celebration of death and gore to the pre-Christian pagan festivals held at the end of the harvest.  But if you look deeper into some of these pagan Halloween practices, they were ‘fire festivals’ and winter solstice gatherings.  We see then that even many of the non-Christian practices of Halloween were not celebrations of blood and violence.

I confess that I feel troubled and conflicted with what Halloween seems to celebrate today.  As a Christian, death is not something to fear, death is a reality that we all must face.  But the Christian message is that in the end God wins and that even the darkest of evil forces, which lead to death, cannot match the power of God.  What gets celebrated in Christianity is life.  As Jesus says in the gospel of John,

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

I don’t want to celebrate and make merriment over the darkness of death and am often troubled by those who seem to take death so lightly; it is an affront to the way things are supposed to be.

My hope this Halloween for all of us is threefold: May we contemplate what it is we are celebrating, consider how it might be molding our children and may we together find a way to enjoy each other’s creativity, imagination, and presentation in an atmosphere of communal generosity.

Note: This article was first published in the Alberni Valley Times, October 28, 2011