The Truth and Nothing But The Truth, So Help Me God
This past Sunday I preached at Highlands Church in Denver. We are in a Lenten series on suffering, and I was speaking on God’s perspective on power. We have two worship services. This Sunday the worship was so meaningful I wanted a third service, just to hear the music one more time. Except I’m not sure I would have had the energy to preach a third time. I left it all out there, and when the second service was over, I was spent.
I have always loved preaching, but since I became me, my preaching has changed. As the privileged white male slowly becomes the person now emerging, my preaching is less from my head and more from my heart. More than that, there is filtering through my life an awareness previously missing. I have lived a privileged life, and I will not live long enough to totally lose that privilege. I do not want to preach as an expert. I want to preach as a searching fellow-traveler.
As a white male evangelical leader, it was easy for me to become theologically smug. I believed I understood the truth and spoke it with confidence. What was lacking was an awareness of the insularity of my tidy world. I was not alone in this self-referential bubble. Lots of my male friends and co-workers dwelled within the same castle walls. We all had a bit too much confidence in our grasp of the truth.
The other day I heard about a megachurch senior pastor who recently preached on the importance of truth. My friends tell me he used me as an illustration of someone who has departed from the truth. While he did not call me by name, they said it was pretty obvious about whom he was speaking.
I know this pastor to be a good man, thoughtful and caring. He wants to get it right. He believes in the truth, and confidently preaches his understanding of it. I know how he feels. I once lived there. But I did not know how much the notion of propositional truth is a conversation dominated by a privileged few, a debate mostly among men who believe their perspective is the most objective take on the true nature of things.
There is no such thing as objective truth. There is truth, but it is always subjectively received. The best we can hope for is to get as close to objective truth as is humanly possible. To do that we must open our understanding to rigorous cross-examination, looking at truth from multiple perspectives, not just the perspective of the dominant culture.
When it comes to religious truth, I believe that truth, devoid of flesh, is little more than a cold and broken hallelujah. Propositional truth does not have arms and legs and a beating heart with which to hold a fragile soul. It is not incarnational. It does not bleed, or give birth to children, or sweat and cry. The search for religious truth is too often an esoteric conversation limited to those whose lives are comfortable enough to allow them the luxury of contemplating the notion of spiritual truth, inerrantly received.
This week I watched the movie, The Shack. I had heard from a few men that the movie was terrible. It was not. The movie was wonderful, a touching depiction of the Trinity, much in the vein of what Richard Rohr describes in The Divine Dance. I cried from the moment Jesus appeared on screen to the end of the movie.
I thought I might write about The Shack and looked on the Internet for the writer of the adapted screenplay. I discovered most of the Google references to the movie were evangelical diatribes written by white men. All railed against a “dangerous, heretical film.” Seriously? Octavia Spencer as an approximation of an all-loving God? A wispy Asian woman as an approximation of the Holy Spirit? A Jesus whose guiding principle is unconditional love? Yep, that sounds dangerous to me?
Some criticized the movie’s simplicity, and while I understand their critique, I do not agree. The movie was not targeting the rational left-brains of confident men. The Shack is a movie of the heart. It is about suffering as we actually experience it, with anger, despair and hopelessness. It is a movie about the triumph of wisdom and love. I have spoken with three other women who have seen The Shack. We all cried, hard. The guys I know who’ve seen it? Well, most of them found the movie lacking.
Truth does not abide within the walls of the rational mind. It permeates all of life, and it is messy. The truth is hard to tell and the truth is hard to tell. It is both difficult to discern and difficult to speak. I do believe the truth will set us free, but I also believe getting there involves a lot of soul searching that is as much a matter of the heart as it is a matter of the head. As Pascal wrote, “The heart has its reasons that reason does not know.”
Which brings me back to my preaching and the accusation from the megachurch pastor. Have I abandoned truth? I invite you to check out last Sunday’s sermon. http://www.highlandschurchdenver.org/audio/weeklysermon/ Some of you will say, “Yes, that is, in fact, someone who has abandoned the truth.” Others will likely hear a woman beginning to understand things she never understood before.
Or, if you don’t have 22 minutes, take my word for it. My heart yearns for the truth, but I hold lightly to my grasp of it.
And so it goes.
7 thoughts on “The Truth and Nothing But The Truth, So Help Me God”
Your message Sunday was, heart truth, as is every message I have heard from you. Even though I heard it in person I have to listen again on our website every time.
Thank you so much Bobbie.
Great stuff. Knowing our shared roots in the Stone-Campbell world and the particulars of my on theological education, formal and informal, all this makes great sense. It is encouraging to be in touch with others who’ve moved away from a propositional approach to truth.
I remember hearing Parker Palmer say in a presentation about reforming theological education, that the root words for truth and troth are the same. Thats the old English “troth” I grew up hearing in wedding vows, “and thereto I pledge thee my troth.” Palmer’s point is as yours below, insisting that truth is relational and lived – in generosity, compassion, forgiveness, faithfulness, truth-telling, inclusion, hope, etc.
A part of my journey now involves not judging myself for the years that I walked unquestioningly and confidently in the arena of propositional truth as the only way to appease a pissed-off God, and relating in honest and gracious ways to those who are still at home in that world.
I look forward to listening to the sermon.
W Michael Smith
1 Faulkner Ave.
Asheville, NC 28805
Oh Michael, this made me cry. To have someone from my old world who understands is priceless!
Paula, thank you for a very touching post. It is a little overwhelming to realise the messiness of life is where our God is.
And for some of us it can only be seen when we lose some of our male certainly.
Thanks for sharing your insights.
As a retired Mennonite (now Episcopalian) woman pastor, I can readily identify with the difference in preaching presentation….male vs. female. Much easier for us to address the ordinary instead of trying to impress with deeply academic presentation. I think we tend to be less respected than male pastors as well. Men are addressed as Pastor, Rev., Rector, etc. Women usually by a first name. In pastoral meetings where I was the only woman, my suggestions/thoughts were ignored only to be repeated 30 minutes later by a male and accepted. Thanks for sharing your insights…..very meaningful.
Ann Nofziger…..friend of David Ellis
Ann, oh the things I am learning…