To Tell the Truth

“The truth will set you free.” John 8:32

I’m never a fan of lying. My students know that one of the worst things that they can do to me is to lie to me and that I value their honesty above all things. Even when they wish to criticize me, I tell them that I’d rather know the truth, even if it might hurt my feelings or be harsh.

We might think that we’re doing someone a favor, by lying, but we really aren’t. A priest-colleague of mine once said that he hates when his parishioners lie through their teeth when he knows that his homily was awful that day. “I would much rather hear, ‘You know, you were really off today.’ Because I’m never going to get any better otherwise and I won’t know if I am really resonating with the community.”

Lying, even under the best intentions, is always a tool of evil. Here’s one example:

In college, I was on a date and some of the guys on my floor saw me kissing my date late into the evening in my dorm room. They made certain assumptions about how the evening ended. One asked what my date’s name was and told me he knew what dorm she lived in because she lived next door to friends. I wouldn’t reveal her name and told them to stop making assumptions about what went on between us.

They pressed further and badgered me for about a half hour about it. To get them off my back, I simply made up a name. That satisfied them and I thought I preserved my friend’s reputation.

Except another woman who lived in my date’s dorm had that name. And the guys spread rumors that I had a liaison with her. She was justifiably furious at me. In lying, I was trying to save someone else’s good name and instead had damaged another’s. It was awful. And it was my fault.

Lying is always a tool of evil.

Ron Rohlheiser, OMI, the great North American theologian and the President of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio says this about lying:

The unforgivable sin against the Holy Spirit begins with lying, with rationalization, with the refusal to acknowledge the truth. But we don’t commit this sin easily, overnight, the first time we tell a lie. We commit it down the line, through a sustained series of lies, long after we first told a lie to our loved ones and began to hide important parts of our lives from them. The soul warps slowly, like an old board soaked too often in the rain. It’s not the first time it gets wet that makes the warp.

We commit the sin against the Holy Spirit when we lie for so long that we believe our own lies. If we lie long enough, eventually light begins to look like darkness and darkness begins to look like light.

His whole article on this is worth a read.

But it’s almost a given that we expect our politicians to lie to us. Either side of the aisle seems to take this given for granted. My favorite show, “The West Wing” has the chief of staff, Leo McGarry even say “I’m a politician, Ainsley, of course, I lied to you there.”

While I’m sure the past administration has lied to the American public, the current one seems to be making an art form out of it. How many outright lies has Sean Spicer told in his first press conference alone and then in a second one tried to back up his own deceptions? His colleagues seemed to have trouble defending him and all the President could say was that Spicer was a “superstar.”

Soon, I fear, this administration will have people think that the following things are true:

1) Climate change is not caused by human-made carbon emissions.
2) Immigrants are people we should keep out of the country.
3) We should drill in Anwar with no regard for the migration patterns of the animals that reside there.
4) All Muslims are a security threat to Americans.

And I shudder to think about what else becomes part of the daily attitudes of people who take what the President feeds them and digests it as “truth.”

As many know, I worked as a producer for a right-wing political talk show. The host, Bob Grant, was an incredibly nice and generous man. And we could barely agree upon the time of day. But regardless, there was often a lack of critical thinking not only amongst his audience members, but among others I knew.

“I heard that on the Bob Grant show…so it has to be true.” That’s an actual quote from a middle aged man who was the uncle of a friend of mine. He was semi-educated, but he essentially took anything Bob said as law.

Rush Limbaugh would often say “I will interpret the news for you.” Essentially saying that we are too stupid to understand the complex political landscape that exists. And this is the hope of the current administration. A soundbyte culture that simply accepts whatever they say as truth is what we have to fear more than anything else.

Today, I will vow to tell the truth. Not only about lies I see come forth from politicians on either side of the aisle, but also to tell the truth when it is difficult. To challenge my own assumptions. I had a spiritual director who would often ask for evidence of negative feelings about myself that I would reveal to him–and often it wasn’t there. I was able to see God in the truth, the truth that I was actually beloved by God and others and that my own failings or shortcomings weren’t all that I was.

We need to hold this administration to something we ask under oath in our American courts to the simplest of witnesses.

We need to ask them to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

So help us God.

Jesus’ Inauguration

Today’s the inauguration …have you ever watched it? Such fanfare….a lot of pomp and circumstance.

I might say that our gospel today is kind of Jesus’ inauguration. He calls his first 12 disciples and he does it with great fanfare for the time. He goes up the mountain to do it—where everyone can see him.

Mountains are awesome, huh? This summer I climbed into the mountains in Slovakia and it was amazing. I have to say two things happened to me on the mountain…I felt small…because of the awe-inspiring views. And I felt energized and powerful. If I could climb this mountain—well, then, what else could I accomplish? Mountaintop experiences are great, no? Maybe you’ve had one? An immersion trip, a retreat, local service experiences, deep prayer.

And as great as those are….you actually have to come off of the mountain at some point! And we hope that you now live each day as someone changed by that experience of what God offered to you….to come down into the real-life, day to day, nitty gritty of the hard work that must now be done—to be the hands and the feet of Jesus.

And I might suggest, that our President needs to come off of the mountain as well! I’m sure that being elected President and today’s ceremony are mountaintop experiences. But governing is not a mountaintop experience, say most who have done it. Governing is choosing. Governing is making deals and being disappointed sometimes in what you had to compromise. Governing is listening to constituents and experts and being moved and persuaded by their stories to the point that you use your power to do something about that for the betterment of society. And Governing is most of all, humbling—because you realize that you can’t accomplish everything that you want to do.

So President Trump needs our prayers but he also needs our voices and our passion. And when we provide that we also should realize that we are responding to God’s call. On the mountain God reminds us that we are not powerless, and that no matter who might be in our elected positions of power, it is ultimately up to each of us, to respond to the call to be the body Christ for others in the world. To respond with love to those who many deem too hard to love: the poor, for the immigrant, for the unborn and its mother, for our LGBT community. All those who simply need us to be God’s face for them. And no President can ever change that.

And we can’t let our fear get in the way….My colleague, Lu Firestone has a great line that she uses often: “Nobody is ever converted by fear.” Because that’s not a real conversion!

Our first reading today tells us that the way people responded to God’s law in the Old Testament is now obsolete. We no longer respond to the law because we think God is going to punish us. No, we no longer respond out of fear, but rather out of love, Love for God and God’s love for us. That love pours forth when we receive communion from this altar each time we come here—where God offers us His very self, in a mountaintop experience so that we might be changed. This love propels us out of fear and is stronger than even death and can drive us out of our of darkness and into the dawn of new possibilities.

So do not be afraid.

Instead come off the mountain…and get to work, my fellow Americans.

And your work is to do one thing and one thing only….. Respond to all things, not out of your fear, but instead with great Love.