This morning I want to talk about truth.
It is in the readings for today.
- In the gospel reading from John Thomas discovers the truth of the resurrection. He hears the other disciples telling him that Jesus had appeared to them in glory, but he is a skeptic, the founding patron Saint of Anglicanism. He insists he will only believe when the resurrected Jesus stands before him and he can put his fingers in holes of the crucified hand, and his hand in the side of the slashed side. Then the resurrected Jesus stands before him, inviting him to do so. He exclaims, “My Lord and My God”, now knowing the truth.
- The early church described in the Acts of the Apostles lived out the truth of the resurrection and the coming of the reign of God by sharing with one another, so that not one of them was in need. The eucharist, where there was always room and food, prefigured the heavenly banquet. They lived as though they were already resurrected.
- In the First Letter of John the author talks about truth. The truth is in us, he says, when we walk in the light that is God, who is revealed in the person of Jesus Christ.
But what is truth? This question was asked by Pontius Pilate in his examination of Jesus. But he did not get an answer. But what do we think truth is?
- Something eternal, like God, or the Ten Commandments.
- The facts of a situation.
- Something that can be falsified or verified (otherwise it is just an opinion)
- Something that can be true for one person and not for another.
- Something trivial, like 2 + 2 = 4 (not so trivial for accountants and scientists and others who use numbers).
- Something very personal, something that is true for me – in my heart or in my gut.
- The beautiful, in music or nature.
- Logical – the principle of non-contradiction, or the excluded middle.
I did my first degree in philosophy, and there I encountered the various theories about what it means to say that something is true:
- Correspondence: a proposition or statement is true if it corresponds to the facts.
- Semantic: a proposition is true only if it can be represented in symbolic logic/artificial languages; “truth” in artificial languages is precise and clear, whereas “truth” in natural languages is vague and unsystematic
- Coherence: a set of statements in “natural” language fit together and do not cancel each other out. The postmodern variation is to suggest that truth is constructed by society, and that there are “regimes of truth”.
- Pragmatic: a proposition is true if it is useful to believe it; utility is the best marker of truth.
- Deflationary: Nothing of value is added when we say that something is true, except rhetorically; the statement “The grass is green” and “It is true that the grass is green” are effectively the same. We learn more about the speaker of the statement than about the reality to which the statement refers.
This can be mind-numbing, and one might wonder about how helpful this is in ordinary life. Ludwig Wittgenstein would have seen truth as one of those “bewitching” topics that we understand in ordinary speech but which philosophers turn into deeply problematic issues.
So, putting aside these philosophical thoughts, what might we make of truth in the church?
I want to suggest to you that truth is a currency. This is an idea described by in the book Holy Currencies by Eric Law, an Episcopalian priest who founded the Kaleidoscope Institute a few years ago. Eric believes that there are six currencies at work in the church, six holy currencies. These currencies are Relationships, Wellness, Time/Place, Gracious Leadership, Truth, and Money. Over the next few months I am going to talk to you about each one.
Now, any currency is a medium of exchange that needs to be given and received if it is to contribute to the spiritual and religious growth of a community. If we just hide currency, it cannot grow. It may even decrease in value.
This was one of the great economic lessons from the Great Depression. The Crash of 1929 was pretty bad, but the US government through the Federal Reserve and other governments through their central banks exacerbated the situation and turned it into the Great Depression through their tight money policies. Banks were allowed to fail and businesses cut back on investment and costs. Money stopped moving, as people were afraid of losses and incurring debt. This is called a “tight money” policy, and political leaders congratulated themselves on running balanced budgets while the economy ground to a halt. As people lost jobs or were afraid of unemployment they sat on their money, in some cases literally putting it under their mattresses in some cases. While some governments attempted to stimulate the economy, the amounts were so low that it did not make a difference. Only with the coming of the Second World War did the economy start moving again with the massive investment in armaments and forces. The lesson was learned; in 2008 no banks were allowed to fail (well, one was, and that triggered the alarm), and the US government even bought out GM. The UK government took over several banks, and the movement of capital was ensured. While there was a short recession, the markets came back, and the economy never reached the level of the Great Depression.
If truth is a currency it needs to be given away. And we do indeed give truth away. We preach the good news of Jesus Christ, of the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of Jesus, of the re-creation of the world and transformation of lives. We can talk about the strength of this parish community and the good things that happen here – the youth ministry, the hosting of Guiding and Scouting, the celebrations of birth, entrance into the church through baptism, marriage, and the lives and witnesses of our local saints. In Music we encounter another type of truth, which can go beyond words. This is a place where we can get past superficial conversation to talk about what really matters.
But if the exchange of truth is in just one direction, then we will be impoverished. Likewise, if we just take, take, and take, we’ll be morally bankrupt. Truth as a currency needs to be exchanged. We need to give and receive truth. This means not only proclaiming, but listening and paying attention, shutting up and attending to what people are saying.
What processes do we follow? Eric Law sets out two contrasting approaches:
In our listening, whether to others in the church community or outside of ourselves, which approach do we use? Do we engage in a debate seeking to win, or are we in a dialogue, establishing a relationship despite differences? Are we more concerned with conveying our truth, or understanding the other person’s position? Is there a polarity of us and them, or a commitment towards a shared truth? Do we see it as a zero-sum game in which one person is right and the other wrong, or can we see it as a “both/and” situation where there is virtue on both sides? Do we allow ourselves to be overawed by the powerful, or do we seek out the quiet voices of the weak and marginalized? Do we try and raise a mono-culture of truth, or can we have multiple perspectives? Are we derisive of people who think differently from us, or are we curious? Do we work towards an understanding of truth which divides us, or one that is common? Obviously, in the second set of approaches we will see a greater exchange of truth.
What is true for you?
What is true for us as a church community?
What are the truths facing us here in Gordon Head, in Victoria and BC and Canada, in this world?
Now, as Christians, these truths need to be related to Jesus, who says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” But the truth of Jesus does not replace these other truths, or overwhelm them, but it sheds light on them, and by the power of the resurrection gives hope in the midst of a broken world. So let us be people of truth. Let us walk by the light of God. Let the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead lift us up. Amen. Alleluia!
A sermon preached at the Parish of St. Dunstan, Gordon Head on the Second Sunday of Easter April 8, 2018. Gordon Head is a neighbourhood located in the District of Saanich, which part of the Greater Victoria Region on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.