This one line in Fred Craddock’s sermon over 30 years ago continues to surface as wisdom for me. Lies are useful for short-term gain, but eventually the life gained because of a lie falls apart when the truth is discovered. Lies are destructive because they are not based in reality (perhaps in one person’s or group’s perception of realty). Even though we know this, we lie anyway to get out of a jam, to save face, or because we think what we are saying isn’t important (little white lies). Most of us lie everyday when we say “fine” when asked how we are. It is socially acceptable, more comfortable and who really cares anyway (we think to ourselves). Yet, it does matter. Lies take us farther and farther away from our own truth that gets neglected, buried and finally out of touch, even to ourselves. Once we are out of touch with the foundation of our life, we make it up as we go along — skimming on the surface of things, relationships and events, moving from one thing to the next. Making money, buying new technology, addictions to our phones and social media all keep us on the surface and out of touch with the foundation of life where values determine meaning and purpose.
Jesus shares some wisdom in Matthew 7: 24 – 27 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
Word and practice go together. When I am asked who God is for me, I say, “God for me is Truth”. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” I began 50 years ago as a minister in the Christian Church and my image of God has evolved over time from seeing God as a Being with His book of Life, keeping score of my good days and bad days to my present belief in God as the Reality I experience when I enjoy a moment, when love is expressed and renews my life. It can be a walk in the mountains with flowers and beauty all around where I feel overwhelmed and happy to be alive. It may be a moment in a conversation when I feel connected in a special way. These are not thoughts or creeds or rational constructs; they are gifts– experiences that affirm the value of life.
The gift of the discipline of science is the need for data to define reality. Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts”. There are philosophies, theologies, interpretations, opinions and they are all available to me in a window on my computer. How do I know what is true?
In The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian D. McLaren quotes the Dali Lama who said, “If scientific analysis were to conclusively demonstrate claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the finding of science and abandon those claims.” Brian believes Christianity needs to migrate from a belief based organized religion (defining who is in and who is out) to an organizing faith of love (a faith that is transforming and creative, leading to meaning and joy).
Last week a line in the printed prayer in church bulletin read: “In the cold and dark of winter we come to the warmth and light of this place. We bring our own stories, our own truth.” A little bell went off in my head. A file drawer opened and a note on post-modern thinking popped up. “There is no ultimate truth, only your truth and my truth.” This philosophy grew out of a respect for the individual and personal experience. Our desire for justice requires us to listen to other people’s stories and in the interest of respect and inclusion to honour their experience. In our desire for societal healing–to end racism, sexism, ageism–we encourage people to speak their truth. But like all philosophies there is a deep end where it all gets out of balance and ends up in anarchy. At the far end of this spectrum there is no ultimate truth, only many personal truths which create the world we live in. And everyone is okay; except we are each left with our own truth and no healing. Community and life continue to fall apart; as we are experiencing right now. I believe we are beginning to see the fallacy of this belief and where it leads.
In the Old Testament we find false prophets who wanted to keep their jobs by currying favour with the King, telling him what he wanted to hear and what he wanted to believe. Kind of like the scientists hired to support the tobacco industries who claimed that smoking did not cause cancer, or the scientists employed by climate change deniers to discredit the evidence of climate change.
The contemplative life allows us to believe in a firm foundation and a changing reality. A life of prayer and reflection allows us to question, doubt and challenge what we know because we believe the truth will take us home, will ground us in an ultimate reality that, like life itself, can change and evolve in positive ways that will last.