The Death of Truth?

Last Sunday, a 28-year-old man walked into a Washington D.C. pizzeria with an assault rifle in hand. He had one mission. He was there to investigate an online claim that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were running a child sex ring from the basement of the business. He was there to stop it. Now, there was absolutely no evidence whatsoever to this online claim, but the young man wanted to believe it so much that he convinced himself it was true.

There are moments in history when large groups of people begin developing and accepting their own truth. These moments are not based upon solid facts or credible evidence, but rather given birth within a self-prescribed ideology that ignores factual reality to create a new ideological reality. There are two infamous examples in our modern era. In America, for most of our history, we accepted the false claim that blacks were inferior to whites thus justifying both slavery and Jim Crow. Prior to World War II, the Nazi’s created, distributed and accepted a similar distorted truth about anyone who was non-Aryan.

Now, there needs to be a shift in our understanding how these false ideas gained footing. There is a misunderstanding that the people who developed these ideas and those that believed them were somehow ignorant or uneducated. In both instances, that was untrue. On slave plantations and in the Jim Crow South, a vast number of citizens were educated and economically advantaged. In Germany, prior to the war, intellectual developments were on the rise. This was the era of Einstein, Heisenberg, and Bonhoeffer. Therefore, ignorance and education were not the primary factors in the dismissal of truth.

A toxic environment was nurtured and fostered in both instances that gave credence to distrust natural facts and replace them with personalized truth. What we are seeing across the world today is very similar. Educated individuals are making a conscience decision to ignore truth, simply based upon a perception that it is biased against their ideological convictions. Even when confronted with evidence that validates truth, some choose to either ignore it, look the other way, or argue that truth is manipulated. When individuals and communities conclude truth no longer matters, then they have opened the door for any personalized mythological ideology to gain ground and thrive.

Jesus was once asked about truth. He responded, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). His inquisitors, however, prodded him further. He condemned the father of untruths, “(He) does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Because the people were willing to accept lies, Jesus concluded, “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe me” (John 8:45).

There is a growing consensus that we are entering a post-truth era. If this is the case, then the world is heading towards dark days. With the death of truth comes the death of justice. With the death of justice, love of others will be replaced with a lust for power. Therefore, speaking only for me, I pledge to be a bearer of truth. I pledge to keep fighting the good fight that sheds light into darkness. I pledge to extinguish lies and falsehoods built on personalized ideologies. I pledge to uphold the standard that Jesus held, always seeking a truth that liberated others and welcomed strangers into divine community. I pledge to follow Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

An Advent Theft

Last night, the winds changed. Instead of a warm, gentle, southerly breeze for a cold December day, northerly winds picked up bringing the first bitter bite into an early winter. During this change in weather, someone walked onto the property of NorthHaven Church with desperation in their heart. They pulled their truck up to two trailers that we had recently acquired for conducting disaster relief this Spring. The trailers were donated to us from the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma and First Baptist Church, Rome, Georgia. Our uninvited guests broke into one of the trailers, stealing a large generator that provided power to it. Leaving behind a mess for us to clean up, our uninvited guests pulled away with the generator and a little piece of our hearts along with it.

It can be easy to get angry at such bold and callus behavior. My head keeps telling me these thieves have no consciences, stealing from a church that is attempting to help people going through extremely difficult times. My emotions begin to boil over as I contemplate the thieves selling the generator for cash to buy drugs, booze, or for some other mischievous behavior. I get so worked up just thinking about it, but then Jesus shows up. He tugs at my heart, he touches my soul, and he clears my mind. His words reverberate in my ears, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). Grace. Mercy. Forgiveness. Love. Hope. The easy thing to do about this situation would be to react with anger and retribution, but God has called us to a higher standard. He has called us to rise out of darkness that we might shed light for others to follow.

In Victor Hugo’s masterful work, Les Misérables, Jean Valjean found his way to the Digne Parish in southeastern France after being released from prison. The parish was overseen by Bishop Myrel. The bishop was a small man, but as Valjean discovered, the bishop had a gigantic heart. Early the next day, Valjean leaves the generosity of the parish and steals the silverware. Caught by local authorities, he was brought back to the bishop to face his crime. Bishop Myrel, however, demonstrated the epitome of God’s grace. He commends the officer that brought Valjean back, but informs them that he has given the silver to him. Not only that, but he had forgotten the two most expensive pieces. Handing him two large silver candlesticks, the bishop leaned into Valjean and offered, “I give you this silver to become an honest man. God has raised you out of darkness.” While Hugo’s overall work emphasizes the French Revolution, the real story is about one man’s revolution to become a better man.

Therefore, as I drive myself to buy a new lock for the trailer, file a police report, and talk to our insurance company, I reject the anger trying to build up inside me. Instead, I am attempting to follow the words of Jesus and the example of Bishop Myrel. My hope now is that our uninvited guests find use for the generator. I hope it brings them prosperity that they no longer must steal from others. I pray that through their actions, they discover God’s grace, his mercy, and his salvation for their lives. May they rise from the darkness of dishonesty to bask in the light of glory. In other words, may they discover the hope of Advent through an Advent theft.

The Sacredness of Standing Rock

Over the weekend, the Army Corp of Engineers denied an easement permit that will prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from being routed near the water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The Corp said they will work with developers to reroute the pipeline, but developers vow they hope to finish the pipeline without having to reroute it. Over the last year, developers and protestors have collided over the safety of the pipeline and the possible danger it possesses for the environment and residents. Developers argue they have a legal right to continue the project, while the Sioux argue they are frightened of its possible dangers. They point to recent pipeline breaks across the country as examples of these dangerous possibilities.

This current conflict between developers and indigenous people is nothing new. From the moment Europeans set foot on the soil of North America, western developers have coveted the natural resources of this land. Claiming the divine rights of kings, later evolving into the divine rights of white men, American lands were conquered, its inhabitants killed or resettled, and western expansionism became part of the American psyche. From those first years to now, there has always been a sacredness to this struggle. Where does one person’s rights begin and another’s end? What are the larger priorities of humanity, progress or preservation? What is more important, making life better or making certain we maintain life? These are the sacred struggles of humanity, and possibly, at the heart of what has taken place at Standing Rock.

When the Prophet Jeremiah delivered an admonition against the leaders and people of Judah, he described their rebellion as a rejection of God’s fountain of living water (Jeremiah 2:13, 17:13). Modern day readers are left to wonder why he used such an illustration? For an ancient people whose sacred story was about finding salvation by the Red Sea, wandering in a wilderness for decades, and needing clean water for survival, Jeremiah’s metaphor was more than a mere image…it was God’s gift of life to the Hebrews.

Centuries later, the Prophet Zechariah offered these encouraging words to a conquered people, “On that day (of the Lord) living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem” (14:8). When John the Evangelist introduced Jesus in his Gospel, he did so with an encounter between the rabbi and a Samaritan woman at a well. Their topic for discussion, living water (4:10-11). Jesus asked her for a drink. She obliged, but noticed he had no cup from which to drink and how odd it was for a Jewish male to speak to a Samaritan woman. His response comforted her, and comforts the world today, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (4:13-14)

Chief Joseph, 19th Century leader of the Wallowa tribe in the Pacific Northwest, once said, “I believe much trouble and blood would be saved if we opened our hearts more.” When the people of God open their hearts and minds to His ways, then we discover a sacredness to life. We discover that water is sometimes more than a refreshing drink. Water means life. Living water means salvation. The reason the events at Standing Rock are so important is not because a tribe stood up to a large oil corporation, but that they stood up for life. They stood up for God’s creation. They stood up for the sacredness in which God breathed into the world.

In closing, we need to seriously consider our responsibility as God’s caretakers in this world. I truly believe the oil company and their employees are not evil people, but individuals and families attempting to carve out a living and provide for a demand in the world. Therefore, my prayers and hope for Standing Rock continue to be that all involved can discover another way to achieve both progress and preservation. To find this way, we will need to open our minds to new possibilities. We will need to see each other as collaborators and not enemies. We will need to acknowledge the land is given to us by God, thus we have a sacred responsibility to care for her. We can find another way, but we must open our hearts to each other and fill our souls with Living Water.

Where Do I Belong?

After a year of disappointments in presidential candidates, political parties, social movements, religious denominations, and generational leadership, a feeling has swept over me that I have not felt in a long time.  Where do I belong?  This is the same feeling that began to emerge when I realized the beliefs and drives of a certain political party and a certain religious denomination were no longer a part of me.  I struggled then, and I struggle now.   We all need community, but when one feels isolated from others where should they turn?

Now, I do know one thing about myself.  I know where I don’t belong.  I don’t belong in movements swept away with power, exclusion, and a desire to dominate.  When these movement read Paul’s words about running the race to win it, they think he means winning at all cost no matter the collateral damage.  When they rail about a Pauline understanding of freedom, what they truly mean is “freedom for me but not thee.”  Finally, they are more interested in doctrinal and political conformity than being challenged to think and act progressively.  

Therefore, if I know where I don’t belong, where do I belong?  There seems to be one constant in my life where I can always land in a soft place…the local church.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the local church is not a perfect environment either and I know some situations are like the ones I described previously.  However, for me, the local church has been a family where I can find belonging, disagreements, acceptance, struggles, hope, heartache, grace, fellow-sojourners, fellow-sinners, fellow-saints, and above else, I can find love.  

As the world moves further apart, the local church seems to be the place where diversity can be celebrated.  It’s the one place in my experiences where differences can be set aside in order for relationships to emerge, foster, and grow.  Again, the local church is not perfect, but it is the only organization that Jesus said he had come to establish.  When celebrating Peter’s answer about his identity in Matthew 16, Jesus indicated he would use Peter’s faith to build his church…not a denomination…not a political party…not anything else other than his church.

It is true that local churches work together in order to conduct larger ministries, but let us never forget that the local church is the heartbeat of Christianity.  The local church is the place for me to participate in family.  The local church is the place where I can belong, where I can love and be loved, and where I can find the deepest levels of community.  The local church is where my theological conviction are lived out on a daily basis.  In a time in my life when I feel isolated from larger movements, it feels nice to have a local church that I love and loves me back.  

Thanks NorthHaven Church!