I’ve always been fascinated with the complexities of what we believe. What do I believe is truth? Where did it come from? The set of ideals and values and all the things I find inexplicably true. For all of us I think it comes from a variety of places. Your elementary classrooms, Sunday school, dinner table conversations. As a child, it’s listening to “adults” speak. Eavesdropping down the hall as you hear your aunts and uncles discuss politics. Popping your head up from the pew a few times listening to the preacher as he says something loud and dramatic. Watching the news. Reading the paper. Going to college and realizing it’s a whole different world out there. There are people different than me. There’s a safe, protective bubble over ourselves for a time, and we love to live in it. We don’t want to be challenged, we don’t want to be contradicted. Theories and belief begin to crash against each other as we battle out the truth we think we would die for. My formative years were without the internet, now we can simply google what we should believe in. Who is getting our loudest Amen? The man or woman we voted into office? That evangelist who is screaming in the front seat of his car? The articles we read and share? A specific news channel? Your friends you’re afraid to lose if you disagree with them? There are a lot of loud messengers out there, but what rings true for us specifically and why are we drawn to certain truths?
I found out early on that I had a rebel streak, but not in the way you think. Assuredly, I was the quiet nerdy type. I never snuck out of the house. I didn’t experiment with drugs or alcohol. I didn’t go to parties. By all of that you would presume I would just go with the flow, and accept every truth, rule and expectation in the social construct I lived in. I did not. Sometimes I struggled with the truth that was handed to me. I struggled with the explanation “that’s just the way we do things”, or “thats just the way things are.” I was called into the principles office exactly ONE week before I graduated high school. One week. I had went 13 years without ever having to sit opposite the head authority of the school. I never got in trouble. Ever. But I challenged someones truth over me and sat in that office with a principle, a guidance counselor and my mother and wondered if this thing would hinder me from graduating. Was I going to go out like this? Would I nod my head and just agree with “this is the way we do things here?” I was 17 years old. I was the preachers kid. I was the good kid. The answer was no, I didn’t just nod my head and go with the flow, even if it meant such great consequences THISCLOSE to graduation date. Believe me, I was ready to be finished, but my gut wouldn’t let me allow this to pass. The amazing thing is my mother, aka, the preachers wife, who sat in that room, didn’t expect, nor want me to do “the right thing”. She didn’t want me to go against my gut. I was always taught, and firmly believe to this day that we respect our elders, and that we respect those in leadership over us. However my parents, thankfully, taught me that delicate balance between respecting the space and office of a person without compromising what you really know inside to be your truth. What happened that last week of my high school career is a long story for another day, I would love to tell you, but since those people are still alive I will save it for later lol. The point is, I was cornered in a room by adults to apologize and confess to something I was not. It was not the right thing for me to do just because it was expected. That was not my truth.
This would be a lesson as I started college and went on to work my first few jobs. The adulting. Having to learn how to address situations. Seeing the world as a human and not a label. Seeing the world through a wider scope of just what I was taught to believe. One of the most important things my parents taught me was to think for myself. They poured into me what they knew and demonstrated their values and beliefs to us everyday. But they always encouraged me to go with my gut. The gut. You ever come to head with something and just know in your gut whats right? It’s bigger than your mind. It’s bigger than all the lessons you’ve learned. It’s bigger than your heart. It’s bigger than your feelings. Sometimes we make decisions based on whats been handed down to us. Your political affiliation, your church denomination, whatever is “expected of you.” Other times we make decisions based on our feelings. Maybe our truth is defined by our agenda. Agendas aren’t necessarily bad, we all have them. What is yours? Is it money? Perfect body? Wanting the best for your family and community? Having the best of everything? Having everything “look” right? Being right? Following the rules? I have literally known people in my life who have carried rule books. Carried rule books. Read that again. Carried rule books, under their arms. There’s no room for your gut to speak to you. Church laws, city laws, state laws. Morality laws. Please don’t misunderstand me, laws are good. Rules are good. Order is good. Without them there would be total chaos. We should wear our seatbelts. We should pay our taxes. Sometimes following rules is not fun. It’s not what we want to do all the time, but there is a reason for most things written down.
To my best understanding, slavery was once legal.
Segregation was once legal.
The holocaust was once legal.
To my best understanding the following was a crime:
If it's legal it's right, right? If we speak the truth, it's right, right?
One day out of the blue I asked myself if I would hide Anne Frank. I didn’t know where that came from. My gut clearly answered yes. I definitely would, how could I not? I had read of the brave men and women and families who hid Jews the best they could. I think most of us today would consider them heroes. But think of what they had to do at the time. They had to lie. If confronted by soldiers searching their house they had to lie to protect the actual lives of these people who would have been dragged out to their certain, horrific death. So now what would we do? If we lived at the time. As a law in that country doing the “right” thing would be turning them in. Doing the “right thing” as a Christian would be telling the truth. A follower of Christ must never, ever tell a lie right? As children we are taught never to lie. Lies are never good. We must always tell the truth. The thing I needed to understand was this…does the truth always mean stating fact or does it mean doing the right thing. Is there a difference? Can they be done at the same time? Conflicted? Confused yet? So am I really.
If we know we must always tel the truth, thats what earns us points in Heaven right? Stating facts? Yes I did cheat on that test. Yes I did write on the wall with crayon. Yes I did run over your mailbox ( I did that once and had to knock on the door to fess up) Little lies? Are those considered white lies? Lies that don’t matter, lies that don’t add up? We shouldn’t “lie” because they 1. Can hurt us and 2. Our lies can hurt other people. If we lie about one thing then that makes us think we can get away with telling them. We start a habit. We set a precedent. Do you know anyone that lies so much that you know its a lie but they really think it’s the truth? We shouldn’t lie about cheating on the test because then we think cheating is the way to go and we will cheat our whole lives. We will hurt ourselves. We shouldn’t lie about accidentally hurting someones else’s property or we will continue our lives disrespecting the things that hold value to other people. We want people to trust us. When someone in our life sets a pattern of never telling the truth, the standard has been set and the level of trust is diminished. We don’t want that. We want people around us who do the right thing. People who value honesty and integrity and doing the right thing. These are the people we should vote for, listen to, watch, read about, be inspired by. The groups we belong to, the titles we add to our name, the labels we identify with. So, is there ever a good time to lie? What? That can’t be, it’s never good to lie. If Karen asks you if her hair looks good what do you say? Well, you think her hair looks a hot mess. Are you honest with her? There are probably two camps here. If you’re close with her, like BFF close, you probably tell her the truth. Karen, your hair looks like a rats nest from an 80’s Aqua Net commercial. There, you said, it. You were honest with her. You stated fact. But it was your fact. Your truth. Karen may have liked it, but you didn’t want her going out there looking like that and getting stares. If you barely knew Karen, say, you were just her mailman or something, you would say, my Miss Karen, your hair looks very lovely today. You “did the right thing” You didn’t want confrontation. You didn’t want to hurt her feelings. I’ll leave it up to you which is wrong and which is right. It’s pretty subjective. It’s also a very silly example.
Miep Gies did not have a silly scenario painted before her. She was one of the Dutch citizens who helped hide Anne Frank and her family during the Holocaust. Today is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today we gasp at the unspoken atrocities that our fellow human beings suffered. It happened 75 years ago. That’s not really that long ago. This happened during your grandparents time. There were people who lived in those days who knew it was abhorent. But there were more people who “did the right thing” Doing the right thing then was giving them up. Not hiding them. Not protecting them. Doing the right thing was accepting things the way they were. Miep kept the Frank’s hidden. She fed them. She did not obey the law and she did not state fact. Miep Gies was an honor student, she was also a Christian, a Roman Catholic. She was most certainly taught as a child to never lie, to always respect the law, but in her gut she knew another truth. It was bigger than stating fact. It was bigger than following the letter of the law. It was bigger than doing what was expected. It was bigger than, well, that’s just how things go around here. She had compassion for a fellow human being. It didn’t matter what label they fell under. It’s the label that gets us into trouble sometimes. Would we ever say, let’s just slaughter 6 million human beings for no reason? But, let’s define them as Jews and not human beings and make up a reason and 6 million people disappeared from the population. Their hearts, their souls, their contribution to society. All gone. And they convinced a heck of a lot of people it was “the right thing to do.” Many I’m sure knew it wasn’t right, but stood by and watched it happen because it was bigger than them. The system was bigger. The tiny little truth. The tiny little belief grew into this campaign of hatred and violence, because there was a people who believed it was right.
In the background - an original slave quarter. In the foreground, original descendants of slaves and current med students.
There are conflicting numbers of how many slaves were brought to the United States, but several different sources have stated that 12 million Africans were shipped to the new world. Slavery in the United States was legal. History can word it however it wants to, but it was legal. It existed in the beginning of our nation and was legal in all 13 colonies at the time of the Declaration of Independence. Human beings could be bought, sold or given away. Human beings. With a label—their color. What’s also terrifying about that idea? To most it was the “right thing to do”. It’s just the way things were. It’s what you did. Many people in the church saw compatibility with the idea of slavery and teachings of the Bible. It was ok. It was right. No, no it wasn’t. And it’s not a spiritual teaching of Jesus. We can take anything out of context and convince whoever wants to hear it that way that it is correct. It happened too long. It lived and breathed for too many years. That idea. The mindset. In The Great Awakening, just prior to the American Revolution, people in the church began to emerge and minister against racism and slavery encouraging masters to release their slaves. Can you imagine, having to convince people in the church that they shouldn’t support owning people? Teaching them kindness over cruelty? Where did their original mindset come from? Where did they learn it? How did they think it was ok? Who taught them that? WHY.DID.THEY.CHOOSE.TO.BELIEVE.IT?
Thank God for the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery and involuntary servitude. But was a disgusting shame that we needed an amendment to begin with. We, as human beings needed a law to remind us not to own other people as property? And why in the world did it take so long? Its’ a shame it was something we had to fight to get. A large group of people believed it was right. They believed it was true. The fact is, it’s a disgusting blight that will never, ever be erased from the record of our human story. So, the slaves are free! Let’s throw a parade, cue the happy music at the end of the movie. They won. The good people were victorious in the end! Everyone can live the way they were meant to live. Free. Everyone is brought in, accepted. Right? No. No, thats not true. Thats definitely not a fact. Let’s go to more recent times, as recent as the 60’s. I’ll never forget my Dad telling me a story when he was in Jr. High and seeing black youth being yanked out of the white section of the movie theatre. In our parents time. Maybe you or someone in your family even experienced things like this. A separate section in the theater or restaurant, water fountain or bus seat. Demonstrating that you’re less than. Many people believed it was right. It was following the law—to the letter. Its just the way it was back then. I think we would all say, OH NO, I would never agree to these things. I would never think this would be right. Put yourself in that timeframe. The set of ideals in your school, church, community, the law. What would you do? What would you say? Today we are still faced with things we should have gotten rid of. It’s 2020 for crying out loud. But you know what, I still see racist statements in my Facebook feed. Some from Christians. Gay bashing, party against party. And yes, the Jesus fish is in the profile pic. I’m not here to pick anyone apart. But stand back and watch. The “funny” memes. The hateful posts that get Amen after Amen after Amen. It’s tiny right now. But it gets bigger when you feed it. Satan was a snake in the beginning of the book and by the end he was a full on dragon. Someone fed that thing.
Most things are BIGGER than us. Systems. Laws. Beliefs. Practices. But they get bigger and bigger when you only believe the truth that you’ve been handed and not search deeper and deeper into yourself to see the humane way of thinking. Your gut, what does your gut say? And what should we do? How should we react? Sometimes doing the actual right thing is very frightening because it’s supported by systems bigger than us. It goes against the grain of popular belief and action. Sometimes doing the right thing means doing it alone. Sometimes doing the right thing is doing something thats never been done before.
In John Chapter 8 in the New Testament, there is a scene where a woman who was caught cheating on her husband was seated before the Truth. The law demanded that she be stoned to death. The law. The truth. The fact. The reality. The way things were. It’s just what we do around here. Yes, they in fact were obeying the written law. But they were asking the real Truth what they should do. But what they couldn’t understand is they are throwing her at the feet of Truth. The actual Truth. The Truth didn’t want to do away with her. The Truth didn’t want to judge her or condemn her. The Truth wanted what was best for her. The Truth loved her. The Truth wants to extend grace and mercy and compassion. Her accusers couldn’t understand what the Truth was trying to do. The Truth was Jesus. He knelt down in front of her and began to write something in the sand. We will never know what He really wrote, many people have many ideas. But maybe he was writing out that facts really didn’t matter. That’s not the real truth here. Yes, she had done what they said she had done. That was the truth, the fact. Their truth was the fact that she had done this horrible thing. Jesus’ truth was bigger than that. There was a bigger picture to see but no-one else could see it. It was clouded by what they already believed. They didn’t see a human in front of them. But to Jesus it was all about her. Her well being. The larger picture was her human-ness. Her value, her worth. Jesus saw the fact, but that wasn’t His truth. Later on in that passage the teachers of the law and The Pharisees (the religious) began to question who Jesus really was. This was the group of people who sat the adulterous lady in front of Jesus. How could you have said that to her? How could you have talked to us like that, we were only following the law? How could you have just let her go? “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ Jesus was telling them who He was. He was the truth. Him. The truth is bigger than the fact. Truth is larger than a fact. It’s so much more. It’s about doing the right thing, and He gave a beautiful example of doing the right thing.
Doing the right thing, is well, doing the right thing. Yes, I would boldly and proudly tell a lie to the Nazi’s today if I were hiding someone to protect them. I wouldn’t be afraid to lie. I wouldn’t be afraid of going to hell. I wouldn’t be afraid to tell my hall monitor of a Sunday school teacher what I did if it it meant preserving a life, because that was the actual right thing to do. The truth really will set us free because it sets other people free. Some people take that saying that you should always get everything off your chest. I don’t think thats what it means. Some thinks it means just always, always being honest with people and if you always tell them what you think then you’re being honest and you’re really spiritual. I don’t think thats how it works either. The truth is doing the right thing. If we really wanna ask WWJD then you better dig deeper. He was about people. He sets us free. Because He is good. Because He extended mercy instead of judgement. He showed grace instead of condemnation. He demonstrated love instead of hate. If we showed love in all of our speech, in all of our actions, in all of our social media posts, wouldn’t that set someone else free? Do we want to be the teachers of the law with all those law books under our arms in the story—the one that doesn’t see a human being? Or do we want to be the one on the other side of that written line in the sand? Those are our only two choices. You can disagree with me, these are just my thoughts, the things I believe to be true. Things I’ve thought and pondered and prayed upon my entire life. I’m not worried about the extra points and star stickers on Heaven’s bulletin board I’m going to get by following everything that’s just expected of me. I want to always dig deeper, see the bigger picture.
I guess my main point is this. Don’t accept the truth from just anyone. Don’t accept the truth from just anywhere. Don’t just accept the truth because it’s considered the “right thing to do.” There is history books full of stories and photographs of people who just accepted the “right thing to do.” At one point in history killing Jews was the right thing to do for some. And it took 6 million lives lost for it to stop. At one point in history, slavery was the right thing to do, or at least, it was okay to happen for some people. At one point in time segregation was ok, because, well that just the way it was back then. Truth is doing what’s right for the benefit of another human being. Truth is carrying out acts of goodwill towards the wellbeing of another human. No matter what is accepted, expected, written down or believed. It is always about the value of another human. We must always extend grace, love, understanding, and compassion whenever, wherever we can. In a nutshell, in my honest opinion: The truth is not always stating a fact. The truth is about doing the right thing, the real right thing. I didn’t put it into quotation marks this time, because there is a huge difference. There is a real right thing and an accepted right thing. We have to know the difference. It’s in your gut. Trust your gut. And well, if your gut is telling you it’s ok to mistreat any human, devalue any human, disrespect any human, theres a real problem. If we use anyones label, title, color, race, religion, sexuality as an excuse to mistreat, devalue, disrespect, please, please ask yourself where that comes from and get rid of it before it gets bigger.
Are we going to be on the wrong side of history because we believed the wrong thing? Where does our truth come from?
The photo above featuring the med students standing on an ancestral slave site is very profound. There are beautiful people standing there. Smart people. Brave people. Bold people. Creative people. And there was once a system in place that didn't want this photo to happen. Because too many people accepted the "truth" of the time.
Imagine someone showing you the grace you so desperately seek. Imagine someone showing you kindness despite everything you’e done. Now imagine the gravity of extending that to someone else despite what you think of them. Despite what you’ve heard. Despite what you believe.
The truth is about protecting and preserving other human beings. Always.