Monday, January 10, 2005

Truth is Slippery

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 1 Corinthians 1:19

Truth is a slippery thing. I don’t know if it ever can exist – at least the truth that humankind can create.

I wrote a little essay on my grandfather and a moment in time where my life suddenly went askew. Not very many people are left in my family of origin and I thought that my Cousin Lizzie would really enjoy it. I started to read it.

“As I was looking through my books for a Bible that included the Apocrypha this week, I found the Bible my Maternal Grandparents gave me when I was 7 years old. While I flipped through its pages an old white index card with Papa’s writing on it fell out along with a couple of Xeroxed sheets of paper.”

“Now wait a minute!” she said.


“That’s not right! Papa was your paternal grandfather.”

“Yeah, I know, but it makes a better story this way.”

“But that’s not right! You need to get your facts straight! You can’t go around messing up the facts! You’re passing on bad information. You can’t do that!”

I stopped and looked at her over my glasses and saw that she was really upset. Lizzie is the family genealogist and very concerned with accuracy. She did this genealogy stuff professionally and it was a very important thing to her. The truth that I was trying to tell was a spiritual thing – about how a life of faith (represented by that index card) is completely encompassed and enfolded into the larger stories of the faith of our ancestors. And as a literary device, implying that the person who gave me the index card was the same as the person that gave me the Bible, well, it’s a nice touch.

We each wanted truth, but a different truth and went about it a different way. She is very detailed oriented and for her it’s important. My husband as well – he writes accounting software. He subscribes to the philosophy “God is in the details.” For me, the story can tell a truth that transcends the details – but them I forget to balance the checkbook.

In so many ways, my husband and I are opposites. Just the other night we were sitting on the sofa, feet to feet, each of us holding our book or Mac. I was reading email and writing a paper and he was reading a programming book. He said “What ‘cha writing?”

“Well, I am summarizing a thing I found in Trible’s God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. She does some really interesting exegetical things with chastic structures. I’m wondering if this passage from John….” My voice trailed off and I looked at my husband. I could have been an adult from one of Charlie Brown’s TV specials, because he was hearing “Blah blah blah blah.” His eyes were half glazed over and he was saying “Uh huh. Yeah, Hmmm. Really.”

I said, “What ‘cha reading?”

He said, “Well I picked up this book on UML and design principles. You see there is more to good design than a development methodology, You have to really understand requirements analysis, library management and blah blah blah …”

I felt my eyes glaze and found myself saying “Uh huh. Really. Hmmm. Yeah.” After a while he stopped and we went back to reading.

Our stocking feet were sole to sole and I realized we were mirror images of each other. I am more extroverted, he more introverted. I love the big picture, painting pictures with large sweeps of color. He’s detailed oriented, finding fascinating the workings and the innards of things. I am the female, he the male. And yet we are both grounded in the same things. God, family, love, integrity; the plane defined by our feet, our intersection on the sofa.

I talked to a woman in my Bible study yesterday and she was extremely concerned about the two different accounts of Jesus walking on the water. I kept telling her, well you know that Matthew is very concerned about telling the story to Christians who were Jews who needed see Jesus as the ultimate Jew blah blah blah. I talked and talked. Finally she said, “Yeah, but which account is true?” Truth is slippery. We try to grasp it, but we can’t. I get so “high-minded” that I’m to any “earthly good.” I get lost in the big words we put on our theology (soteriology, eschatology, transubstantiation, supralapsarianism, infralapsarianism -- shall I stop now or dear reader do you want more?) Or we get so bogged down in the details, we lose the purpose – does it matter which account is “the truth” or is the truth of Jesus being Lord over all the truth that matters? Our debates become foolishness and Jesus himself a stumbling block if we do not stay grounded in the grace of the cross.

As for the sofa story – for me it states a truth. For my husband, well, it’s a composite of images, not a literal happening. We do sit foot to foot, facing each other on the couch. We do both use our Macs in this position, sometimes even sending emails to each other while wiggling our toes. But is it literal? No, but it states a truth. And perhaps we all can find a common ground, a plane of communication, a plane full of grace where we are grounded – in God and family and love and in integrity.


the reverend mommy said...

I'm sitting here listening to the click click click of my husband typing in a comment on his Mac -- me on the sofa with my iBook and him in the big brown chair and him with his Powerbook. Hmmm... I know that he doesn't like the fact that I made a "composite" -- he kept saying "that didn't happen" and "I never said 'God is in the detail.'" Sitting in anticipation until he hits the send button.....

Anonymous said...

Well, wouldn't you know it. These computer things are picky about details. Here I wrote this great, brief missive and it didn't post because I hit Preview instead of Publish. Dang computers.

So, I'll try again.

For the record, I never said that "God is in the details."

Nor did the the writing / reading conversation take place. (Although I did receive Martin Fowler's UML:Distilled book as a Christmas gift. It came highly recommended, although I'm still partial to Rumbaugh's OMT)

Nor do we usually sit on the sofa feet to feet. Normally I sit in my worn-out easy chair, and she on the expensive sofa, each typing into our laptops. (How Romantic....)

Although Ronald Reagan was quoted as saying, "Any idiot can have the facts." Facts are important. Those who distort the facts risk lying. The New Testament has Jesus, Peter and Paul all saying not to swear -- instead let your "yes, yes and no, no". A bit cryptic, perhaps, but to the point that Christians ought to be people of integrity -- people whose words can be trusted.

Pontius Pilate ask rhetorically "what is truth?" To the Roman govenors of the day, truth was something fungible -- something that could change if you had the power and determination to change it.

I don't see truth as slippery. Truth is fundamental -- rock solid.

It used to bother me that movies told a story so different from the books. Important characters, sub-plots and details were often omitted. A good example is the movie "2010", adapted from Arthur Clarke's novel. The movie leaves out the Chinese mission to Jupiter -- which is the whole reason the Americans and Russians were cooperating in a joint mission.

Now I understand that the medium limits the message. It isn't possible to cram all the character and plot detail from a book into a film. Then again, a film can show visual detail in seconds that a book would require many dull pages of description.

I remember hearing a radio program about a storyteller. He was asking some children if they knew the difference between a storyteller and a liar.

He explained that a liar tells things that aren't so in order to cover the truth up. A storyteller tells things that aren't so to reveal the truth to everyone.

And that explains the differences in the Gospels. It's not an autobiographical tale, penned by Jesus himself -- but one told through an imperfect medium -- people.

Reverend Mommy's Hunband

Michael said...


I like your Hunband.

If he doesn't have a blog, point him in that direction. He needs to write.

Reverend Mommy, you are a dear and I know that truth is never black and white but is grayed by the perspective of us as imperfect beings. But truth is a basic component in our existence.

It is not only the result of the game but how we play the game that matters.

Take Care

the reverend mommy said...


Actually, Truth (with the capital "T") is so big, it becomes ungraspable by us mere humans. Storytellers try to reveal the mystery.

I was trying for the "grounding" image -- we do normally sit on sofa and chair, but on a few occasions sit in alternate spots -- and we have sat in that position. The "foot-to-foot" was to show a grounding, but a growth in different directions. True, he never says "truth is in the details" but is just so much more into them than I (is this evident??). And I cannot count the number of conversations when I try to speak "seminaryspeak" and his eyes glaze over and the times he speaks "technospeak" and I lose it. But the conversation with Lizzie and the conversation with the Bible Study woman was word for word (in as far as I can remember....) How far can the storyteller push it? A thought to ponder.

I was also trying to build in the concept of the stumbling block becoming the foundation. Our society is really concerned with the details. We become Joe Friday, "The facts mam, just the facts." I don't think that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were that concerned. In fact, it really bothered me when I realized that Mt, Mk and L had the Last Supper on Passover, and J had it the day before. What! I now need to throw the whole kit-and-kaboodle out. Just chunk it. No good. This is was until I realized that they told their stories, not to cover up something, but as an expression of the truth.

Thanks for keeping me honest, dearest. You really do help balance me. Waboo.

St. Casserole said...

Rev.Mommy, you are the best. I thought you were writing a creative story of what you want us to know. I didn't get tangled up in your details or parse your story literally.
"Rev.Mommy's Husband" is a good name. My husband writes in my comment section as "St.LiverandOnions." I think it's funny.