Forty Days Revisited, Day 3—You Shall Know the Truth

And that truth will make you free. John 8:32

I’ve been thinking a lot about truth lately. It would seem that, unfortunately, truth is hard to come by these days. I’ve not seen so much blatant lying demonstrated and paraded publicly than I have in my life as I’ve seen in recent years. I mean it’s one thing to know “the truth,” but too often “the truth” is really someone’s truth that may, in fact, be quite different from another person’s truth.

Recently, I sent a group of people to an intensive workshop on how to recognize and interrupt racism when they see it. Part of the workshop involved exploring key events in the history of the United States with a particular focus on how racism is deeply embedded in the history of the country. Upon their return from the first of three two-day sessions, one of the participants said to me, “How did I not know this stuff? Why was I never taught the true history of the United States?” I replied to her that that’s how systems work. They provide a sanitized version of “the truth” that paints some events and people in the best possible light and obscure or distort voices of those whose experiences in the “settling” of this country were vastly different than is written in modern day, state-approved history books.

Having thus been exposed to the reality that much of what was taught to them in their high school U.S. history classes was critically inaccurate, they have been forced to consider that the foundations of what they thought they believed and knew were largely exaggerations and sometimes downright fabrications to what actually happened. And for everyone who wakes up to this reality—I mean really wakes up—there are hundreds, thousands, probably even millions and tens of millions who are, and wish to remain, comfortably asleep to the “truth.”

There’s that classic line from the movie “A Few Good Men,” when Tom Cruise’s character shouts at Jack Nicholson’s, “I want the truth!” To which Jack Nicholson’s character shouts back with equal heat, “You can’t handle the truth!” And so it is for many of us. The truth is too painful, so it is much easier to ignore it, or stick one’s fingers in their ears and say, “La la la la la,” really loudly to drown it out. And yet Jesus was reported to have said, “They will know the truth…”

For real? They don’t want to know the truth. And they seem to forget the second part of the equation: and that truth will make them free. The implication is that by choosing to avoid the truth, people are in a type of bondage that keeps them from living their best life. When that bondage is multiplied by tens of millions of people living in an altered state of reality, then that collective unconsciousness explains why the country and the world would appear to be in the state they’re in.

I have recently begun reading (actually listening to) a number of books by historians who provide a different narrative, and perhaps a different truth. I got about halfway through one particular text before I had to stop listening. I was overtaken by deep sorrow and not insignificant anger at the way untruths have been woven into the histories that we all are taught in school. It was particularly painful to recognize how those untruths have affected the way I and millions of others have been forced to live our lives in the shadow.

During these 40 days, we have the opportunity to engage in deep introspection about the nature and truth of suffering, confronting the real truths that we haven’t perhaps faced before, neither as individuals or communities. After the end of apartheid in South Africa, the entire country went through a deep period of “truth telling,” in which people who had been victimized by state-supported violence shared their experiences, their truths, with the people who had perpetrated the violence. The aim was to move through the truth—ugly and unvarnished—toward a place of forgiveness and reconciliation. What would it be like if we did that here in the U.S.? Communities across our nation would be transformed, indeed, the whole nation would be. What would that be like?

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”

We are not always ready for the truth, and sometimes can take it only small doses. To look at the totality of the true would be overwhelming.  But for the chance at true forgiveness and reconciliation, I’d be willing to listen and learn. How about you?

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