In my years of professional ministry there have been occasional moments when someone has come to me in need of pastoral care after discovering that what they once believed to be true about their parents/siblings/spouses/friends is actually not true at all. Sometimes these truths are revealed after people pass away or when a secret child shows up or when someone on her death bed decides to clear the air before breathing her last.
These moments can be devastating. They can shatter trust. And they can happen even in the thick of ordinary life in terms of “what we have always believed.”
I was taught that M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hands . . . until I was holding a fistful of them in my hand one summer and they melted like butter.
I was taught that our great nation offers “liberty and justice to all” and that if people work hard, they will succeed . . . until I got to know people who worked much harder than I did who were struggling to catch a break time after time.
I was taught all my life that Robert E. Lee was a great man, a general who – against his own deep sense of patriotism – chose to support his beloved Virginia during the Civil War. I was told he hated slavery from both my history textbooks and Shelby Foote. (Shelby, how could you?) The truth is that he, too, was a slave holder.
At the risk of having you make the false assumption that I don’t love M&Ms, my country, or my Southern heritage, can we admit that we all tell lies?
- Sometimes we tell lies inadventently because we deeply believe they are actually the God’s Honest Truth.
- Sometimes we tell lies because we want them to be true.
- Sometimes we tell lies to protect ourselves or someone else.
Lying – whether we are talking about fake news, or political operations, or history as told by the winners, or face-saving devices – is a sin. If that sounds too pious, one could also say that lies ruin things. Lies enslave people. Jesus encourages us to seek the truth because – you know – the truth will make you free.
But first it will make us miserable because we will be disappointed.
What if following Jesus = always seeking the truth – not only about ourselves but also about our world history? Remember when Ben Affleck denied his own ancestral history of slave owning? Truth is hard.
Most of us are not proud when learning that our beloved ancestors, for example, enslaved other human beings. I know I’m not proud of it. But shame doesn’t bring wholeness. Wholeness comes when we confront what is true, when we lament, when we make amends, when we ask forgiveness – whatever is required in our particular situation.
Hermann Göring’s daughter never believed that her father was guilty of war crimes during WWII in spite of the evidence that resulted in his death sentence. She said that she only knew him as a loving parent. Sometimes we just can’t bring ourselves to believe that people can be this complicated: that a loving father was actually a Nazi. That our ancestors could have been members of the KKK or perpetrators of sexual abuse or incarcerated for embezzlement or – that they were simply liars.
As a native North Carolinian with a Great Great Grandfather who fought and died at Antietam for the Confederate States, I have much to learn. And I’m taking some time to teach myself after Thanksgiving. I want to be free too, so I’m seeking the truth about my own heritage throughout the South. I hope to light a different kind of fire.