Tag Archives: truth

What’s the Alternative?

 

Alternative facts.

My children would have loved to have access to those when they were little.  “I didn’t break that glass, the manufacturer failed to make it to a high enough standard.”  “No way, you broke the glass. Don’t lie”.  “I’m not lying, I’m giving you an alternative fact.”

Touche’.

We often  accuse politicians of thinking we are stupid.But when we let someone in power tell us that there are such things as “alternative facts”, well, we’re just making it too easy for them.  Why do you need an alternative fact? Is it because the fact at hand isn’t working for you;  because the fact at hand doesn’t help you control the story?

Lots of people who grew up in America about the same time as me have had to unlearn lots of “alternative facts” about gay people, black people, women, and Catholics to name a few. It took a long time to unlearn that stuff. It was important we learned those facts because they told us where we were and without them, we were lost and America was in danger. Or so we thought.When I look back, those facts seemed to be about diminishing those we didn’t like, who we felt threatened by, who we wanted to keep down and keep in their place.

In the world of real facts, I like the pilot of the plane I am flying on to know how much fuel is in the tank. I like the doctor to know that dark spot on my ear was a benign nothing to worry about. I like my pay slip to match  the amount of money actually deposited in my bank account. I am willing to accept that facts can be spun, used to serve many arguments and contexts but I can’t accept that they have alternatives. An empty petrol tank can’t be full. A loaded gun can’t be empty.

It might seem amusing to have a religious person talking about alternative facts. People might accuse us of having a preference for them, but we really don’t.  I believe Jesus’ death on the cross repaired a fundamental wound in the fabric of the cosmos. I believe that God created the world. That Jesus rose from the dead and that following the living Jesus is a crucial part of putting the world back together. These aren’t alternative facts. They are my starting points for who I am and how I engage with the world around me.

I can’t “prove” anything I believe in. I can’t show you photos or statistics or metrics. I believe in powerful eyewitness accounts. I believe that those who have gone before me have offered a powerful world changing tradition and experience. I believe my fellow believers and I have had powerful experiences of our own. Just as I can’t “prove” these, they can’t be disproved either.

In life, my beliefs have to coexist with facts. Facts like gravity, church electric bills, members’ lists and officers.  Jesus lived in a real place, under a real Roman Empire, in a real century, died on a real cross with the story written in real Greek.

Truth is  important as a way of navigating between faith and facts and getting the best out of both. For instance, factual information about how human activity negatively impacts creation around us leads me to put my reaction in faith terms: how does God feel about what we are doing to a creation he brought into being with his own words and breath? Facts lead me to seek faithful action.

A desire for alternative facts is a desire to hide the truth and hide from  it. It is a desire to hide our inability to handle that truth.  It is sad for a president of the USA to  line up a bunch of Christian preachers to see him into office and to not have one of them point out the folly of his approach to the truth and facts. It is sad they chose not to school his staff in the ways of letting truth be truth.

If they had chosen to do some schooling, they might have told him about Psalm 15:

Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord?
Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?
Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right,
speaking the truth from sincere hearts.
Those who refuse to gossip
or harm their neighbours
or speak evil of their friends.
Those who despise flagrant sinners,
and honour the faithful followers of the Lord,
and keep their promises even when it hurts.
Those who lend money without charging interest,
and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent.

That’s a hard road to follow and it is guaranteed to have stumbles and falls and restarts. But people who walk the road will be better people for it. Had those preachers done their duty, they would have pointed out that truth leads us to a better place both in the world and in our souls. It’s a shame they didn’t agree with the  Psalmist whose words are for everyone whether they are kings or peasants or presidents.

The short message of the Psalm is this: the one who walks this way walks towards the light. The only alternative to light, is darkness.

Downton Abbey It Ain’t

(a sermon for Easter 5; John 14:1-14)

If you have encountered this passage before it will most likely have been in one of two settings: a funeral or evangelism. At funerals we use the passage to give hope and express hope that our death is not the final stop in the journey of life. In Evangelism, it is used to convince others that Jesus prepares a place in heaven for those who believe in him.

Here, Jesus is telling his disciples he is leaving them soon for a new place they can’t go to yet. It is farewell rather than goodbye because he will wait for them and prepare for their arrival. Thomas makes another underwhelming appearance by asking, “But how will we find the way?” as if Jesus is going to give him a postcode to put into Google maps.

The disciples misunderstand what he is telling them. They want directions. They want to be where he is (assuming it is a lovely place, like God’s house must be). However, Jesus has been constantly pointing out that to make the journey he is making, you have to do more than punch a postcode into a sat nav. This is the journey that begins with picking up a cross.

Like many of the bible passages we take up and make comforting, that comfort comes with a risk of missing the big picture. He is telling them about a cosmic movement of the kingdom of God . John is notable for presenting the disciples as unknowing. They expect the wrong type of messiah; they don’t understand what Jesus is doing. It is part of his theme of light in darkness. They remain in darkness until the resurrection shines light on them and revels God’s glory.

Here Jesus is speaking to them about a future which begins now. A kingdom in which we all dwell together in peace and security and without fear. A kingdom that ought to be filling us now so that we aren’t strangers in a strange land later.

So, what we often present as a “sound bite” for our comfort and encouragement, is actually packed with massive Kingdom themes which inform our journeys to and in that kingdom.

Where will you find me?

If you have children or grandchildren, you may be familiar with the Where’s Wally books. Here the disciples are playing “where’s Jesus”. The only other time Jesus uses the expression “in my father’s house” is about the temple when he was found there teaching at age 12. The temple was meant to be where heaven and earth met. Wherever those two place meet that’s where you find Jesus because that is where you find God. The temple was a stone reminder of the reality of heaven meeting earth, not the definition of it.

It can be the big eschatological meeting of heaven and earth in Revelation or the small ones we have every day when we love the poor and love our neighbour and immerse ourselves in God.

I don’t know about you but the first thought that always comes into my mind in this section is Jesus making beds and plumping pillows, a bit like a maid in Downton Abbey. Instead, he will go ahead on the cross and in the tomb and whatever happens on the Saturday of Easter to prepare that meeting of heaven and earth in the future and in our lives now.

How will you find me?

I once went shopping with my mother in Walmart and we got separated in the gigantic store. I looked all over and couldn’t find her. One of the staff saw me and took my hand asked what was wrong? I said I couldn’t find my mother. She asked if I wanted her paged on the PA system. I said no, seeing as I was 45 years old it might be a little embarrassing!

I am the way the truth and the life. You will not find my father’s house without me as your guide. Without practicing my way. Without my sacrifice. Without the Godly truth I have been telling you all this time.

Now we tend to do two things with this. If we are afraid of making people feel excluded because they aren’t followers of Jesus, we water this down and add the very small word “a”: a way, a truth, a life. Jesus is just another holy wise man. Others are available. On the other hand we can condense it down so that if by an accident of history, or geography or poor evangelism I will go to Hell because I didn’t have the name of Jesus on my lips when I died. I may have looked remarkably like one of those sheep in the parable of the sheep and goats but that won’t matter.

The truth here is that you don’t come to the Father through systems and beliefs. You come through Jesus who looks at each person to see if it is like looking in a mirror. Can he see himself in you? He will not ask you to recite the creed or ask if you think he is God. He will look for the family resemblance.

How can I do this?

Do I look like Jesus is a scary thought. I’m a sort of overweight scruffy man on the cusp of proper middle age full of habits, good and bad, and a whole life of experiences. I don’t think I look very much like Jesus nor do I think under my own steam I can fake it very well.

Jesus promises the helper. We are out of shape, unfit for the task so Jesus sends a coach. The spirit comes from the father and the son. We have to remember that we are mistaken if we think the spirit comes to give us our desires and to fill us with power. Instead he comes to make us resemble Jesus, to be a presence in his name and a reminder of his life, words and acts. The world needs less demonstrations of power and more demonstrations of love. The spirit helps us to love like Jesus did and to deal with the outcomes of that love. The spirit expands the image of God in us.

Where do we find you? How do we find you? How will we be able to do this? We start with love because that is the soil and the climate in which that heavenly place is nurtured. Jesus’ way and truth and life is saturated by Love: the father’s love for us and our love for him and our neighbour. When we love, we know the way to where Jesus is.