Truth

In these days of fake news, bumper sticker slogans, and statements so brief they can fit into a tweet, there is not much room for truth.  We have a political climate intensely divided, with little agreement about the facts regarding any particular issue or even what the problem is.  Within Christian churches there is deep disagreement about scripture and its interpretation and about authority, leaving congregations who have worshiped together for decades torn and hurting.

What is the truth?  What can bring us together?  Propositional truth, factual truth, matters of reason have their place.  They help us observe, define, describe, and categorize.  They also tend to divide—either-or, it is or it isn’t.

Jesus said, “and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).  This Truth (with a capital T) gives the kind of freedom that leads to a fuller life, one led in harmony with God and what God has made so.  Friends (Quakers) are guided not by dogmas or creeds but by queries.  One such query asks, “How does Truth prosper among you?”  The query is searching out not whether the group believes in certain propositions but whether their faithfulness and practice bring them into spiritual unity (not unanimity).

Truth is a spiritual reality as real as “objective” reality, or more so, that gives meaning and life to everything.  It is not something just to be thought about or recognized; it is something to be entered into.  In A Language for the Inner Landscape, Brian Drayton, a scientist and a New England Friend, and his teacher William P. Taber, Jr., reflect on Truth:

 “Those who enter into this Truth, this reality, come to feel a sense of the divine harmony that holds our universe together and that operates in our own minds, bodies, and human society . . . . To be in the Truth, then, means that one can—and will—live out those standards of inward peace through outward gentleness, tenderness to all creatures, and the right and just ordering of human society exemplified by the life and teachings of Jesus.”

Perhaps if we sought after Truth instead of arguing about what is true, we would find a way to come together, grounded in Love, for the wellbeing of all.

Queries:

What is your experience of truth or Truth?

How or where does Love begin in you?

Prayer:

“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.  Lead me in your truth, and teach me….” (Psalm 25: 4-5a).

For further reference:

“Buy truth, and do not sell it; buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding” (Proverbs 23: 23).

“Jesus answered, … ‘For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.’  Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’” (John 18: 37-38).

Love One Another

Jesus tells us to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves, even to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  And he makes clear that our “neighbor” includes people who think and worship differently from us.  It is a lot easier to love people who are like us.  This is hard teaching.  Maybe Jesus was just crazy.

During the presidency of Barack Obama, there were many people who were very angry at him and his policies, who feared that he was bringing Socialism.  Today, at the beginning of the presidency of Donald Trump, there are other people who are very angry at him and the policies he has advocated, who fear that he may be an American version of Adolph Hitler.  Love?  You’ve got to be kidding.

On Inauguration Day I was reading The Grace in Aging (2014) by Kathleen Dowling Singh, whose perspective is primarily Buddhist.  I read:

The mind of anger often appears as judgment….Judging others, we shore up our own beliefs and assumptions.  Judging others allows us to feel superior.  That wish to feel superior is harmful.  It feeds our fictional self, keeping us in ignorance.  Judging others rips us out of interbeing and connection.  It arises from ignorance and obstructs compassion….Judging puts out a directed negativity and adds to the toxicity of the world.

Singh ends that chapter encouraging us as we age to “hold the space for peace in the world.”  Whether we are following her advice or following Jesus’ commandment to love one another, I don’t think it’s very comfortable.  It requires being open and vulnerable, being aware of our limitations, respecting everyone as a beloved child of God who may well carry a piece of truth that needs to be heard.  That’s challenging.  Slogans and put-downs are a lot easier.

Queries:

How do you discern Truth?

What does it mean to love those with whom you disagree?

Prayer:

Richard Rohr, in his Daily Meditation for Saturday, January 21, 2017, describes a prayer of the heart.  “Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind, and you want to play it out or attach to it, move that thought or person literally into your heart space…,” which is a place where “it is almost impossible to comment, judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic.”  Then open your heart into the heart of God.

For further reference:

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (See Psalm 133.)

“Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.” (See John 16: 1-4.)

White Library

People sometimes think they want a religion—or, rather, a spirituality—with no given content. For some Quakers it can seem more important to avoid offending those who don’t believe in this or that than it is to hold onto the content of the Life and Power about which early Friends spoke and through the virtue of which they lived and challenged the injustices of their day.

At the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Australia, I saw an exhibit by a Cuban artist called The White Library. Visiting it, one goes into a rather large room with books on shelves and ready for reading on a table. But the books have no words, no color, no images. Each book is only stark white emptiness.

The open books look as if they have pages, but they may not. It is clear that nothing in the room has visible content. While everything is white and clean, the room is eerily disconcerting and unwelcoming.

It feels as if something important had been removed, repressed, or wiped out. It makes me wonder what the content is that is missing. I wonder in what ways we might be allowing or creating white libraries–losing touch with our roots, whitewashing our story, or choosing blandness over richness that might be challenging.

 

Queries:

What would it be like if we didn’t have and use Quaker writings (John Woolman, Thomas Kelly, Caroline Stephenson, Pendle Hill pamphlets), the Bible, other Christian writings?

What about your faith have you dismissed or written off?

Prayer:

Settle into silence and listen.  Where are you barren and empty?  What have you whitewashed or ignored?  What needs to happen?

For further reflection:

“You are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside . . .” (See Matthew 23:27-28).

“Recite [these words] to your children and talk about them . . .” (See the shema, Deuteronomy 6: 4-9.)

Believe?

There is much in Christianity that causes people to think that what they believe is important—the liturgical recitation of a creed, the interpretation of verses such as John 3:16 (whoever believes in Jesus will have eternal life), and the current individualistic expression of the faith. Some stumble when it comes to believing in God; others, believing in doctrines such as the virgin birth and the resurrection; and others, believing in the value of the Bible. Many people interested in Quakerism pull away because they can’t fully believe in pacifism.

To focus on whether one believes this or that is to miss what the faith is about. It is about a relationship with God—Mystery, Guide, Inward Teacher, Love, Source of Life. This relationship is bigger than oneself and, by definition, cannot be fully comprehended.   Believing as we understand the word is a misleading approach because it is intellectual, heady, not of the heart.

Bible stories are about people who have encounters with the divine in relationship. They are not about people who believe certain things, which then connect them to God. I love the story in Luke 8 when Jesus is in the boat with the disciples and an intense storm comes up so that the boat is sinking. When Jesus calms the storm, the awed response of his disciples is “who is this who calms the wind and the waves?” Beliefs are not what the disciples are looking for. The truth of this story—and the stories of the virgin birth and the resurrection—comes through being revealed, not through a belief system and the scientific mind’s intellectual assent to the stories.

Faith is about seeing things, experiencing relationship, asking questions. To have faith is to make a choice to jump into a particular stream, to take on a story as one’s own, to ready oneself to learn from the Inward Teacher—and not other options. I have found that even if only 51% of me can make that leap, that will do. Consent to the journey, and then see what you will be taught.

Queries:

How have your beliefs changed over your lifetime?

In whom are you putting your heart and trust? What story can you recall about a time when you were taught by One not controlled by your own ideas?

Prayer:

Listen to music that touches your soul. Or take a walk in nature, gradually quieting inside, being fully present to what is around you.

For further reflection:

“Who is this . . .?” (See Luke 8: 22-25).

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (See Proverbs 3: 5-8).