Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Truth will make you free.

It is always good to find one of your seminary classmates online that has brought a new aspect to your understanding of faith or church. Today it is Eric Law, the founder of Kaleidoscope Ministries in California. Eric is Chinese American and has a wonderfully eastern perspective on matters of faith, art, leadership and equality.

I remember commenting how difficult it was to use chopsticks while sitting at the refectory table at EDS. (Boston Chinese restaurants do not provide knives and forks.) Eric laughed and said he remembered when at the age of 6 or 7 having to learn how to use a knife and fork (in the British manner) in at a fancy restaurant without embarrassing himself or his family. He said he sat there and thought how totally illogical knives and forks were. Eric was wonderfully out of step at seminary, always able to step outside of the “we always have done it that way before”. He was from my diocese,  an engineering graduate from Cornell, a sculptor and artist, a talented musician and poet. I am so glad he has been able to cobble all of these wonderful talents, compassion and intelligence to serve the whole of the Church.

Today he once again gives me a different viewpoint:

Spirit of Truth

The Chinese word for truthful or genuine, 真 (zhēn) consists of the two ideograms 十 (shí) and 目 (mù). 十 is the number ten while 目 represents the eye. The number ten symbolizes completeness or wholeness. Discerning the truth requires that we look at an issue or event in a wholistic way, perhaps through 10 different eyes, 10 difference perspectives.

The Hebrew word for truth, emet, is composed of the three letters, א-alef, מ-mem, ת-tav - the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The composition of the word may signify that in order for something to be true, it must start at the beginning, continue to the middle, and complete at the end. There is no half truth in the Hebrew emet.

The Chinese and Hebrew essence of truth point to a comprehensive inclusive approach to discerning the truth. This “spirit of truth” is difficult for the world to receive. We live in a world conditioned by the paradigm of either-or thinking – something is either true or false (remember all the true/false tests you took in school?). Many prefer the simplistic and often adversary approach to truth – it is easier to define the truth by proving that the others lie (remember the “You lie!” outburst of a U.S. senator during the President’s state of the union address?) It is easier to claim my own experience as the only truth and not listen to other’s perspectives. The spirit of truth calls us to attempt to understand the multiple points of views. This truth-discerning process is always complex and messy.

I know that I have tended to look at the world in either/or or black/white. When I was younger, I needed that dichotomy to see the edges of my own boundaries, the explicit understanding of what was right or wrong to order my own behavior. But as experience has given me ‘case studies’ in life, I have become clearer that the grey in life is much more prevalent than the black and white. What is truth for some is not truth for another. And no matter what I do, it cannot change that person’s truth until something powerfully changes it.  And it too me a long time to learn that.  I wanted TRUTH to be something so clear and so 'stand-alone' that everyone could point to it.  But that isn't reality.

I noticed on another Facebook article today the testimony of a man who had lobbied against same-sex marriage all over the US and Europe  finally coming to the place where he not only could accept it, but has become a spokesperson for it. It was his ‘experience’ of people in same-sex relationships that brought the change in him. It was where he could see the benefits of loving same-sex parents and talk with them and their children that he was turned from the ‘truth he had learned’ to the truth he had experienced.

I constantly have to revise my understanding of issues that I would like to declare as right or wrong simply because I have met people who are struggling with the issues. Whether it is divorce, just war, stem-cell research or other momentous ethical dilemmas, no dogmatic pronouncement can completely encapsulate a certain topic. This does not mean that I have no values. Quite the contrary! It means I must bring ALL my values to bear on a case-by-case basis. It makes me bring compassion into my judgments. It means I have to make decisions for myself and not for others. It tells me how I need to live MY life, not how OTHERS must live theirs. It means I have to look with 10 eyes at an issue before making a decision. I must be willing center my experiences in the midst of the community. And most of all, I have to THINK. I cannot blithely wander through life unwilling to address major issues or unwilling to tackle the ethical or political matters of my time. It takes work to live a Christian life. It takes being available to people and embracing a wakeful way of living. Now, I am beginning to understand what it means ‘be wakeful and watchful”. It is an attitude of being willing to embrace the wholeness of life that Christ invites us into. Truth does make us free to work hard.


Fran said...

This is beautifully put - both from your classmate Eric's words to your own words. You have articulated something that I have (and continue to) struggle with. I truly thank you for what you have given so richly today.

Muthah+ said...

Thanks, Fran. Both Eric and I were teethed at the source of 'Situation Ethics'. Joseph Fletcher had taught at ETS before our time. Sadly 'Situation Ethics' has become the catch word for those who would provide a law and order mentality to ethics and moral action. Joseph Fletcher's ethics was a thinking person's moral system that was based in the love of God and God's love for us. I get so disgusted with TV evangelists who speak of 'situation ethics' without ever having read Joe's works.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Muthah for this article. It is great to see Eric's picture again. He is indeed a very talented and wonderful person. Weren't we one of the most unique foursome ever to be ordained together by Ned Cole...haha!