Truth and Courage

definition of courage

The word “courage” and the word “truth” are intimately connected…in my book, anyway. While the word courage is often identified with magnanimous feats in history, of war heroes and historical figures and fictional super heroes, I think its most important function is as the foundation for truth. Telling the story of who you are with your whole heart, speaking your truth takes more courage than most would admit, especially, given the temperament of the world today. Given the blatant disregard for truth that exists within powerful hierarchies and the level of sophistication of the lies told, it becomes an even greater challenge to recognize what the actual truth really is so that telling the actual truth becomes an even more courageous exploit. In order to combat the pathology that a culture of lies create…we all need to embrace the courage to tell our own personal truths first, and then stand together when those talented liars who lie try to attack us for it. Once you stand for truth, I’ve found, it is intolerable to accept or perpetuate lies coming from anybody else. And it is speaking out against those lies where courage is so necessary…because there are plenty of people in the world who are not only content with those lies, but thrive on them.

Stripping down the illusions that I surrounded myself with took the greater part of my lifetime and I found the courage to wipe those illusions away in large part because of my faith and a deep experience of unconditional love of God and also those brave souls who’ve shared the stories of their hearts and showed me a different facet of life through their experiences. Being on the beneficiary side of those personal stories revealed to me a broader truth and with every story a greater perspective. Championing truth requires perspective, and since I only have one set of eyes and limited control over my physical movement I often depend on listening to other perspectives to expand and form my world view. As I’ve mentioned before, truth is not two dimensional, it demands we move and try and see things from a different angles and perspectives. Once you strip your own life from illusions it isn’t as difficult when listening to another’s perspective to tell who is being truthful and who is either lying to themselves or has too high a stake in believing the lie. That was a hard statement to write because am I not prescient (well, maybe a little), and certainly don’t want to inhibit anyone from telling their story, but this isn’t about judgement, its about truth. I want everyone to be able to share their truth…I’m just saying that there are some criteria that I use in deciding whether or not I allow their perspective to shape mine or not.

Fear is the first condition I have for rejecting someone’s perspective. Perpetuating fear is the opposite of courage, and is the true cause of hatred in this world. Please let me be clear, being afraid is not the same thing as rooting one’s perspective in it and using it to justify your choices and behavior. Because fear is the greatest illusion of all, truth cannot exist in someone who roots their ideology in fear (1John 4:18), I don’t care if what they are afraid of is the devil, a political party, race or gender, or an intimate partner. It is embracing courage to face your fears and not be controlled by them that frees your heart to speak your truth. And speaking that truth literally makes you free and will distinguish you from the rest of the population who simply succumb to lies that feed their fears.

The second condition is the willingness to change. This is a bit of a slippery slope, because I certainly am not talking about being malleable, to change in accordance with everybody else. I’m also aware that change happens over time and never all at once. I’m talking about the willingness to make necessary changes that must be made in a person’s life when things aren’t working, or honesty when you decide you’re just not ready to make a needed change. Change, while inevitable, is still one of the things that is hard for most people, and it takes a lot of courage to do so. We tell people up front at our clinic that we can’t “fix” anybody without their help. If they are unwilling to change bad habits, there is nothing we can do to help them turn their health around…the individual themselves is the change agent, not those who are supposed to magically fix them. And there are those who will try and convince you that “they” can fix you. It’s just not true. I am the superstar in this equation, I make the changes, I reap the benefit for doing so.

The third condition are those who refuse to take responsibility for their lives and blame others for their life challenges. People who are never responsible for anything that happens in their lives and can point a finger at everyone else but themselves, are not being courageous or truthful. Again, while there are plenty of people who are tragically victimized or face tragic circumstances, I am not talking about them. I am speaking about those who consciously refuse to proactively engage in finding a solution to any problem they face, and instead find a scapegoat to vent their rage and frustration, even if they turn it inward on themselves. While blame may give momentary solace, it never fixes anything and is the source of some of the greatest conflicts in history.

Lastly, are those people who allow structures and institutions in our world to  control them and tell them who they should be in a way that redefines them according to to the acceptable norms within the structure or institution. They tell them who they should be instead of who God created them to be. While I understand civilized people embrace certain behaviors, like the golden rule for instance, those structures whose purpose is only for power and control and superimpose a perspective at the detriment of an individual…I reject. So when someone tells me that God deplores homosexuals, or black people are inferior, or illegal aliens don’t deserve humane treatment, or their “faith” is the only true faith, I know right away they really don’t understand God at all.

All in all, I think truth and courage go hand in hand. It is difficult to share your truth when there are people who would condemn you and judge you for it. It also takes courage to speak truth to power again for the same reasons. I struggle at times worrying about the consequences of the words I speak, I’ve had my share of condemnation and judgment too. But the alternative would be to lie and that’s just not possible at this stage of the game. So, today I pray for courage and to tell the story of who we are with our whole heart.

 

Truth and Complicity

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My stomach grows increasingly tight, often triggering my autoimmune symptoms as I move forward in my year of truth…and I’m not even half way through. “Be careful what you pray for”, is a statement that I find both disconcerting and freeing at the same time. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to move fearlessly into the future with truth as my primary weapon of choice to break down the lies and illusions that seem to be well, just everywhere…and I’m certainly not just projecting the lies that exist in the outside world because I face my own every day, I have to say, just in case you see me as some self righteous lunatic. I know it is hard to come face to face with personal truths, but as Jesus said: “how can you point out the speck in another’s eye when you can’t even see the plank in your own”. I am also aware of an intrinsic flaw in my character of being so intense about something that I can get in my own way. I hear my fathers voice daily telling me to lighten the hell up…and breathe, for God’s sake. And then say, “All will be well, and the manner of all things will be well” (Julian of Norwich) and try to move on and forward. We are all works in progress, right? So here goes…

We are surrounded by lies. There are powerful people in the world that are making it their goal to obfuscate the truth almost everywhere you turn, often to avoid being held accountable for their own actions, even if it ruins lives. And, based on a dream I had last night, we are all complicit if we don’t take every measure to verify and fact check what we are hearing every day. If you only get information from one source and use that source to bolster the unchecked rhetoric flying around out there because it  validates your world view and personal bias, blame and bent (and it can come from just about everywhere, from politics, to healthcare, to education) then you are being complicit in the attack on truth. There is no justification for the willful blindness that perpetuates itself throughout the media. And yet I am astounded everyday at the next new attack on the truth and how easily people are willing to just comply with or ignore it.

Try and think of it this way…God is the truth, and in my faith, Jesus is truth as well and even died for it. So, every time you believe a lie by your complacence and not by naivete or ignorance, you act in defiance of God, and when you condemn the truth because it challenges you, you condemn yourself and you turn from God. It. Is. As. Simple. As. That. For if believing in and following some self serving myth that feeds ones basest desires is more important than working hard to find the truth of the matter at hand, then you are being complicit in those lies. What good are the moments in scripture when Jesus rails against the liars and hypocrites if none of us are willing to stand in those very same shoes as if he is railing against each of us individually? Love of God is expressed through word and deed, which is why Jesus was so hard on those in leadership positions who looked so holy on the outside but were full of evil on the inside. My original post for today was about truth and love, which will have to wait until a later date. In truth, I didn’t want the backlash of what my heart really needed to say: if you can’t stand up for truth, you don’t stand up for God. It sounded just too mean. and talking about love is much nicer…and then I had a dream:

I was in a crowd of people who were basically talking crap and spreading rumors with no questioning of their validity or factual basis. I felt I had to say something, and it was a bit lame or innocuous, like “you really shouldn’t be talking about people like that”. I left the room and then I became the one they talked about…and I lost it. I went back in the room and railed against all I know from all I’ve learned in my life and I made them answer my questions about whether what they were saying was accurate, good or kind. They said nothing and sat there stunned. I felt better.

I don’t really think deep down most of us want to be complicit in a culture of lies…but it has become too easy to do so. When life is good financially, or when a lie benefits you personally its too easy to look the other way. That is simply unacceptable. For our actions and inaction have consequences. And if you’re like me, you want to be on the right path, and never become complicit in perpetrating lies and illusions. So when I am unclear (which is a lot of the time) I always use a prayer of Thomas Merton to give me solace when I’m unclear what to believe:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone

Little White Lies

lies-clipart-3

One of the things I’ve noticed as I’ve embarked on my adventure of truth is how often I’ve told the stupidest lies, ones that mean absolutely nothing except to embellish a story, mask a feeling, cover up or avoid something embarrassing.  I’m sure everyone does it. It appears harmless enough…but compounded day after day? I think a whole other story emerges, an illusory one that begins to obscure simple human truths, like we are all imperfect, sometimes our daily story is boring and most importantly we avoid feeling necessary feelings, even ones that portray us in a much poorer light than we would like others to see. It is also how the layer after layer of subterfuge begins to cover our true selves. Perhaps the simple lies we tell are the ones that, building over time, are the most dangerous because we not only limit our own development, but in turn affect the truth of who we are to other people. While I have no problem with putting our best selves forward, its never good to buy into the lie that we are something that we’re not. The truth always comes out eventually.

In my job, I listen to excuses all day long…why they can’t make a must needed change, afford care, eat healthy food and exercise, be faithful, stop smoking, and well, the list goes on and on. I always try to reserve judgement because I know how frightening life changes can be and figure when they are ready the excuses will stop and the real work of health can begin. And when that happens the transformations are truly amazing. Sadly, there are times too when the excuses are just too big and the blame begins, and the “you just don’t know” conversation begins and they fall victim to a sense of powerlessness. I can never know what each person is going through and I always try to be unconditional, offer empathy and compassion but hopelessness? It’s never been an option for me. The backhand of karma has smacked me upside the head too many times to even entertain the thought of engaging as a victim in any situation let alone allow someone else to do so. Making excuses and being powerless is antithetical to my faith, plain and simple. And truly, that’s where the real work is, isn’t it…first believing that we are all created in the image of God, just as we are, without embellishment. It is where we should begin each day on our journey and put our faith in remaining true to that simple principle. Then, there would be no need for those silly lies we tell.

Tomorrow, let only truth come from your mouth, and be aware of when it does not. You may be surprised at what you learn.

 

 

Higher Ground

mount everest

Deception is heavy. Lies breed more lies. Illusions feed on fear. All together, deception, lies and illusion are the weights that keep us down, immobilize and prevent us from standing on the highest ground, having sight to see what’s up ahead and how to move forward. I know and understand this, yet why does it seem so daunting at times?. When Jesus said my yoke is easy and burden light, I believe he was speaking of being free from the burdens that lies bring and the deception of covering our sins, that living in truth brings true freedom. When you live and walk in truth, there is nothing to hide. But that’s the rub, isn’t it, being in a place where you have nothing to hide. Standing naked while the rest of the world seems to be clothed in any number of costumes to cloak who they really are underneath is the purest form of vulnerability. And yet, if I am to be a follower of Jesus, whose very purpose is to testify to the truth, then naked I must be. The rest is pure logic…if you do not walk in truth, and testify to truth, you really aren’t a disciple of Christ, or any other faith who holds truth as a central tenet of its dogma. Getting rid of all the subterfuge is the first step, and the second is the exposure of ones flaws.

When I worked in ministry, I had the honor of being a 5th step counselor for an adolescent treatment center. The fifth step in AA is: “Admitting to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs” It was a step often feared, but once accomplished always left the participant (that I saw anyway) with such relief, lightness and often joy. It’s hard to walk around the world with the heavy burden of guilt and past acts of hurtfulness, but once released, it was as if they were standing on higher ground. It is an instrumental step for people in recovery, and I have learned so much from those who are in the program.

So in the early steps of my year of truth, I feel strength in standing on higher ground, not in a way that is better by any means, just lighter. I’ve learned to appreciate that being born without filters has proven to be quite a gift. I am who I am, flaws and all unburdened by lies or deception. The scarier step is to continue to walk in the world and be seen and judged by those flaws. I always believe that when people see me what they see is what they get, and while that is mostly true, I also know the nature of my sensitive heart and the length to which I have gone to close it off to the angry sentiment, deceptions, betrayal and judgments of the world. In doing so I also closed myself off to the support, love, acceptance and joy that comes when my heart is open. Trust and truth go hand in hand, of than I am sure.

Today I walk unhindered and exposed, naked and at times afraid, and yet in full sight of the goodness and hope that higher ground offers. My prayer is that you too will join me on this journey.

1984

russia-1984

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my visits to Russia, once when it was the USSR, and once after it dissolved. I was reading through my journals about the trip the other day, and I thought I would honor that young girl by first sharing some of her insights about the trip. I was the youngest member of a delegation of the National Council of Churches, being only 24. I had to study extensively before hand as well as attend briefings for days at Columbia University in New York City before we left. It was 1984, and there was still a cold war, but I believed that this opportunity was a God-given one that I couldn’t pass up. There are so many more stories that I can’t print here, but I want to offer some of the insights that shaped my future thoughts

Notes during our briefings

Like America, there seems to be a big difference between the people and those in power. The big difference is the sense of futility of the Soviet people feel in overtly doing anything about the injustice they are forced to live with. I was also amazed at the structured and networked way people work around the system. I’ve always believed things are not always what they seem to be, that we live in a time of Olympic level charades-the feeling that things are not what they appear to be. In the USSR it must be overpowering. Again, the difference between the two countries is not just ideology but one of survival. All the bullshit in America is who can get ahead-who can accumulate the most. The feelings in Russia are to survive, to beat an unfair system-yet Hedrick Smith says they’re very generous people-they love to share gifts with people. We are not allowed to bring any denim and the woman have to wear skirts or dresses. Clothes of the west are a hot commodity. They asked us to bring pins to share, I am completely unprepared.

about the Olympic boycott

I’ve just heard about the boycott of the Russians to our Olympics. I’m sad that our two countries keep egging each other on.What will this do to my trip? I’m beginning to realize the seriousness of what I’m about to do. I’m nervous because I don’t know what to expect, but don’t want to push any preconceived ideas into my thinking.

On the the trip    the-children      russia-friends

After our city tour, we went to a small village church. The pastor’s name was Basil and I know what will have been the highlight of my trip was the children, it was wonderful! There is no way I can explain it in words…just freedom. Fr Basil took us to his “home” where we had another “gala” dinner-we made many toasts (too much vodka). During one of the toasts by Fr Innocent (irony of the year) I started to cry, partly because I’m tired, but mostly because of the double speak, the secret language of the heart and the language of the mouth, or party line, which I’ve had pretty much enough of by now. My eye contact with people has become quite piercing…and they don’t like it, not at all. But you see, you have to look so deeply for the truth and when they deceive and you’re looking deep into their eyes, they can’t hold your gaze. It started having a bad effect on people…not speaking but just forcing eye contact. I hoped my eyes say “I see YOU”. It was when we visited the collective farm I wanted to scream “Do you really think we’re that stupid?” It doesn’t matter to me that you’re trying to impress me, what I want is the truth…a rare commodity here. I’m tired of the press, people taking our pictures and the presence of the KGB. Do they think I can’t tell the difference between a real seminarian and a Soviet officer, especially the way they look me up and down?

Zagorsk    zagorsk-2  zagorsk-3   zagorsk-4

Celebrating the high holiday for Russian Orthodox-Pentecost, at Zagorsk, which is their equivalent of Rome was beyond words. When our many buses drove into the monastery, there were thousands waiting to greet us. Walking through all those people just staring at us made me realize that we were definitely on display. The whole experience was beautiful and breathtaking and yet completely freaked me out.

The cantata at the Baptist Church   cantata

There was quite a bit of excitement at the Baptist Church. They had prepared a special cantata for us and it was really beautiful. But after the music was over, some people held banners over the balcony claiming in English that many pastors of Baptist Churches were being imprisoned. I was astounded, everything had been so “perfect” until this point. Our leaders avoided it and we were basically told from everyone, what you saw, you didn’t see. Afterwards, I could see one of the wives giving an interview with journalists. I am impressed by her determination and guts and will pray for her protection.

Gala Dinner Menu (one of many)          gala-dinner

Cocktail/Salad: rolled ham stuffed with eggs, stuffed hard boiled egg with tomato, salmon and white fish, tomatoes, and breads with caviar. This served with vodka, also for toasting.

First course: crepes and black caviar. Served with red wine.

Second course: Chicken Kiev, with vegetables and rice in a puffed pastry. Served with white wine.

Dessert: Ice cream and filled cake. Served with Champagne.

Coffee: biscuits,cheeses. Served with cognac.

Dancing, and most were a bit drunk…Cheers to my Irish tolerance (and I did toastes with water, not vodka)

Leaving the USSR  propaganda   soldiers

I’m in the Moscow airport ready to board the plane for Amsterdam. My feelings are mixed. I’m sad to leave because I feel like I haven’t seen enough-but the tension of this society is so oppressive that I can’t breathe. I’ve also felt disillusioned about this trip. It seemed to be so much media hype for our Leader—– I don’t like to be part of diplomatic niceties which I feel most of this trip was, especially near the end. There were times when I felt like I was on the mountain being tempted by the Devil with all the fanfare, pampering and “gala” dinners. Everything. was. just. too. nice. It makes me wonder what the results of our trip will really be. Will all the frosting hide justice? i.e.the women at the baptist church.

Amsterdam     amsterdam

The lay over in Amsterdam was a needed break. My wild side came out, and I’m sure a bit of repressed anger too. I waltzed some of the ministers down to the red light district..he he. Their faces as they looked at the prostitutes in the store fronts doing their best come hither, is something I will never forget.

Home     breifing

They said everything was a perfect success. I began to panic because I knew I had to tell people about my experience-that was part of the deal. While going to the USSR was a dream, I had to borrow against my next year salary to do this, with the little I make working with the church it was such a risk. I thought I would be making a real difference, and now I wonder. One of the youth group members committed suicide just as I was arriving home. Physically her life was nice, like our peace mission. Nice isn’t enough, it just can’t be. Christianity can’t always be nice. Peace should be defined by more than nice. It means pain, sacrifice, being vulnerable, being scared and letting go in the face of it. I didn’t get that from the leadership of either country. I felt those things personally and I’m angry that those feelings were never supported by a group speaking in my name too.

We Americans and the Soviets are different, I accept that. I accept protocol and diplomacy are very important. We depended too much on behaving “appropriate” and not enough on being Christians. Our connection was our mutual faith. The Church’s route just has to be different than a political one, it has to be. Politics is rooted in a struggle for power, Christianity is rooted in the spread of the gospel and love. Human beings have proven through history that they are incapable of bringing about lasting peace by their own initiative. It doesn’t matter how good and noble the intentions are if they become egocentric somehow.

Because I am young, the youngest that went by far, my insight and intuition isn’t quite as keen as it will be some day. God has blessed me with much potential, though. So I will listen to how deeply disturbed I feel. There was so much going on in the Soviet Union on a completely different level. I could tell by eye contact, body language, atmosphere-the shadow language. It was all very subtle, but clear enough to demand attention, because when added to the whole picture, my impressions were radically altered. My struggle will be to create an honest picture without embellishment.

Afterwards, I was relieved when a journalist called to get my opinion of the trip. Excited to tell my truth, we talked for a long while. When the article came out in a national paper, not only wasn’t I mentioned, but it “nice.” In my mind, I had been censored and rendered insignificant. I became depressed and disillusioned after that. I spoke three times about my trip, the bare minimum and I continued to worry and pray about the baptist ministers wife and what the truth really was….so I went back, four years later……

Perception and Reality

wolf in sheeps clothingThere is such a distortion of truth these days. There is no discernible difference between what someone perceives to be true and what is true. The effect, in essence, is that illusion has a greater hold on our daily lives than actual tangible reality where one loses the ability to discern what is up and what is down, what is good and what is bad. Not to get all existential here, but we seem to be living in a time when if you repeat a falsehood enough times, call someone a liar enough times, state publicly that something is what it is not enough times, the actual physicality of the world shifts and what was once false becomes true.

While I understand that perception has the ability to shape our understanding of reality, I think there is enough strength in the school of thought that would also argue that when a cloud of illusion becomes big enough, it will eventually lack the substance to sustain the lie and it collapses.. While that may seem like a likely scenario of simple karma, i.e., what goes around comes around, we don’t live in a vacuum. People in leadership positions can entice and then destroy millions with their delusions.

Yeah, I know, what else is new. A lot, actually. We are living in a wolf in sheep’s clothing kind of time that Jesus talked about. The uncanny and diabolical way in which what is truly good is being painted as bad, and the truly insane are being portrayed as almost messianic is as shocking to me as inspired. Never in a trillion years, (hyperbole inserted here just to show they can still exist in all this insanity) would I ever have believed, in my worst dystopian nightmare in a world in which many in the public eye enthusiastically spew such misguided and diabolical nonsense. Give me the four horseman of the apocalypse anytime, at least they are recognizable.

Like I mentioned before, truth is tough. As enticing as lies can be, our world will never be sustained by them. Regardless of what you believe, unless those beliefs can be held up to the light of truth they will never be real. You have to do the work, you have to decide if your perceived reality is all it is cracked up to be…if not, it’s time for a change.

 

And the Truth will set you Free

LiesThe truth will set you free…what is that supposed to mean?  Sure, talk to anyone who has lived a lie, held onto a lie or perpetuates one against someone else, it does take it’s toll, and eventually the truth comes out.  And it’s never just one lie; lies multiply until they coalesce into substantial matter that obliterates the many to sustain itself.  Lies make people seem larger than life, and create the illusion that can make the truth seem somehow less than, well, true. I was watching a documentary on HBO: “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief” and I realized just how powerful lies can be.

What I found most surprising is that the people being interviewed seemed reasonable, intelligent, and well, normal.  Having never been a in a cult (crazy town doesn’t count), I just couldn’t understand how they could be, well, so stupid.  Clearly L Ron Hubbard was mentally ill, even he thought so…and David Miscavige is an almost textbook narcissistic sociopath.  Why do the intelligent follow him?  When the documentary insinuated that the “church” may hold too much dirt on many of their more wealthy members, I thought that this was a perfect example of how intrusive lies can be and how they really can imprison a person.  I give credit to and pray for those who finally came forward to tell the truth. From what it sounds like, the Church of Scientology didn’t make it easy for them.  They were harassed, their reputations tarnished, they were cut off from their families, all because they wouldn’t sustain the lies and would no longer be controlled.

I think that is why Jesus honed in on the truth so much.  In the gospel of John, Jesus makes the above quote.  He does it in the context of refusing to condemn a woman caught in adultary.  When he declared that the one who hasn’t sinned throw the first stone, everyone walked away…so he didn’t condemn her either, and went on to say, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The Pharisees attacked his veracity and demanded verification. Rather than listen and soak in the wisdom of what just happened, they yell “Prove it”  And he did, but there was a steep price to pay.  He had all the power, which is why he didn’t have to use it, but to those who exist in lies, it’s terrifying. He gave his life to empower mine. Now I have his power, if I remain in his word, as he instructed.  The truth isn’t always easy or glamorous, but it certainly is freeing.