Honesty is one of the first lessons we learn. We are taught that we must tell the truth without exception and that if we don’t, consequences will surely follow.
As we grow from adolescence into adulthood somewhere the line between honesty and deception begins to grow blurry. What was once laid out as very black and white suddenly fuses into gray. We make small compromises in truth to cover for ourselves or our friends or those we desperately want approval from. These small decisions become bigger ones and after a while we’re not even concerned with what honesty is anymore. All we’re concerned with is whether or not we’re protected. We find ourselves fortified inside of some reality we’ve invented for ourselves and we don’t even know what truth is anymore. We can’t even tell ourselves the truth, let alone speak it to those around us. And what’s worse, those around us don’t believe truth because they’ve been conditioned to believe whatever reality has been pitched by those who lead them. We hear this happening with common phrases such as “well, that’s my truth” or “you need to live your truth” or “my truth isn’t the same as your truth.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Few people have the imagination for reality.” The truth in this statement is both troubling and it should act as a wake-up call for all of us.
We live in a time in history where pastors are falling at an unprecedented rate for things that have been covered up for decades. They’ve lied, those around them have lied, their families have lied and all for the purpose of protecting the position of the individual. All of this has been done for one reason; the advancement of human power.
20 years ago I wouldn’t have believed any of what I am seeing today. But 20 years ago what’s now coming to light was certainly happening. I did not, at that time, have the imagination to believe the reality that was unfolding inside the walls of the church. I did not have the imagination to believe that the church I love dearly was becoming a house made of cards. At the time the winds were still and the cards stood undisturbed, but the winds are beginning to pick up now and the fallout is devastating but arguably necessary in order for things to be set right.
A little over a year ago someone that I respected deeply and would have, until that moment, fought to protect fiercely, called me on the phone. What that conversation held was a series of requests. As I listened it became clear to me that what he was asking was that I prove my allegiance by leveraging a situation in his favor at the cost of my integrity. Would I be willing to surrender my code of ethics, jeopardize my career and possibly deeply hurt several people so that he could bypass a series of mistakes he had personally made? His goal was to reach the outcome he wanted without ever having to humble himself before his mistakes or attempt to make them right. He didn’t care about the wake it would leave, the lives it would alter, and he didn’t care about me though he surely thought he could charm me into believing I was an invaluable asset. My life hit an existential crisis that day that continues to this moment.
One of my heroes fell during that conversation and the domino effect has been catastrophic. It has thrust me backwards through time as I have had to question so many things about what has been real and what has actually mattered and how much of what I followed was nothing beyond power trips and lies. I still don’t know very many answers to these questions.
I recently sat with a friend who has been deeply wounded by the church and its leaders for years. She has seen everything from financial misconduct to sexual abuse and blatant disregard for people in a way totally contrary to who Christ is. We sat together and sipped coffee and talked about how each one of us is coping because that’s what you find yourself doing…coping.
I walked away from that conversations realizing that both of us have polar opposite views on how we are wading through the muck of these disasters.
She asked me if I was bitter. I took in a long breath before sipping my steaming coffee and I gave serious consideration to her question because it was more than fair and I wanted to give it the thought it deserved. I know the moments grew awkward as I sat thinking before finally breaking the silence with an abrupt, “No.” It came out more direct than I meant and she drew back just a bit. “Are you sure?” she followed. “I am sure that I do not have bitterness in my heart but there is hate there and that is where I wrestle.” Every day I lay it out before the Lord. I hate the things that are being done in his name. I hate the danger that people are placed in because of the negligence of power hungry religious politicians who are undeserving of the title shepherd because they do not care about the flock that sits (in their estimation) beneath them. Rather than feeding their sheep, their sheep are being used to feed the ego of the shepherd. I am constantly weighing out what part of that hate is righteous and what part is human and asking that the human pieces would dry up and blow away like dross to be forgotten while the righteous bits would start a movement for the kingdom.
I’m not talking about a movement with my name on it. My name is weak and inconsequential. But a movement that would bring justice to the victims crying out and to the victims that have no voice. There can be no grace where there is no justice and this is something that our culture has gotten painfully wrong. To offer grace at the expense of justice is to be ignorant to the gospel message. Someone must always pay the price of justice for grace to abound. I praise Jesus that grace does abound because he paid the ultimate price tag for each one of us. I praise him that because of his payment, redemption is not out of reach for anyone who’s willing to exchange their sin burden for his Lordship.
But I caution my brothers and sisters to be very weary of the grace that is being handed out so cheaply. Grace is extremely costly and grace does not abound in the face of injustice that runs unchecked.
As my friend and I scooted out of our coffee booth nestled in the corner of a dark shop we both left unsettled. She wanted to hear something different from me than what I had to offer. I wanted her to see things from my point of view but she couldn’t. She asked me with tears in her eyes, “Don’t you care what they think of you?” I let out an unnecessary chuckle as I said, “I truly don’t. In all honesty if the people you’re talking about thought well of me, I would be concerned for who it is that I’ve become.” To her and so many others, healing and moving on means that we reconcile ourselves to the behavior of others. That we separate what they do from who they are and love them as if the things that have happened aren’t ours to consider, but they are. They have to be!
Telling the truth means that we are honest with ourselves about ourselves and honest in our processing of the actions of others. Sometimes it means we remove ourselves from dangerous company because we’ve learned to know the motives of those around us. This doesn’t make us unloving. We know that loves always protects but it does not protect the ones that are inflicting harm by allowing them to continue on their path of destruction. Love protects those that cannot protect themselves. Love always trusts, but not blindly when we know there is no trust to be had. Love always preservers because no matter what we have to wade through or encounter, His church will stand and he already has the victory.
But in the meantime, we have to learn to tell the truth; to ourselves first, to others in love, and to understand truth about others because no matter how hard the world around us wants to make truth a relative thing, it simply cannot be. Truth remains unchangeable, concrete, and the beacon by which we will all one day be judged.