What is truth?
Is it real, or merely a social construct of the human mind? Do we live in a world of many more than fifty shades of grey, or is there such a thing as absolute, concrete truth, impervious to relativity? And, if such truth does in fact exist, where should we look for it? How should we even know when we’ve found it?
Do you know the truth? Do I?
It turns out that Pontius Pilate’s fateful question still echoes through the ages. Here we are, two thousand years later, still depleting our days desperately trying to answer it. Many of us, those with any semblance of religious, political, or scientific beliefs, think we have much, if not all, of the truth. Others, conversely, argue that either truth doesn’t exist, or that none will ever ascertain it, and thus the pursuit of truth is but chasing after the wind. Ironically, those who say there is no absolute truth make this statement as if it itself is absolute truth, thereby refuting their claim.
Furthermore, in today’s sociopolitical climate, truth seems to have been rendered irrelevant at best, and mutable at worst. With warring political factions each proclaiming that their truth is true, and with misinformation, alternative facts, and fake news filling much of truth’s original bandwidth, truth seems to have been relegated to the antique bin. If you can simply create your own truth, one that conveniently agrees with your points of view, why search for a truth that might prove more disruptive to your worldview?
Ask any artist, and they’ll tell you that black and white paint, when mixed together, make grey. It would be easy to concede that truth works in much the same way.
Growing up, my sister Rahel and I had a slippery relationship with the truth. To this day, we still recall certain stories and their details differently, but we do agree upon this: We each lied to get the other in trouble. Not one or two times. A lot.
One instance that stands out in my mind began in the midst of a friendly one-on-one basketball game in front of our family’s garage. I had the ball. I went up for a layup. She made contact with my arm. I solemnly swear on that basketball. I know my truth. So, of course, I called a foul, certain that my call was the correct one.
It turned out that my sister’s truth was different than mine. “All ball,” she said. “Impossible,” I retorted, pointing to the still-invisible welt that was sure to develop on my forearm as a result of her devastating blow.
Our argument over the truth escalated from there. Rahel, two and a half years older and still bigger and stronger than me at the time (truthfully, she’s still stronger), finally exclaimed, “You want a foul? I’ll show you a foul,” as she used her formidable size advantage to tackle me and grind my face into the concrete.
Her truth beat my truth. Until, that is, we went inside to face a higher truth: the judgment and wrath of our parents. Though we were both in the wrong, and though we had both distorted the truth to gain an advantage, mine was the bloody face. Thus, in the end, my truth was victorious, and Rahel was sent to her room.
Though I knew it not at the time, this was not the first war started over a disagreement about the truth. Sadly, this story has repeated itself throughout human history in much larger, much more deleterious ways.
Our truth is more truthy than your truth. The very existence of your truth threatens our truth. Therefore, we will fight you until there is only one truth left. May the best truth win.
Conceit begets conceit. Hate begets hate. Violence begets violence. War after war, atrocity after atrocity, and genocide after genocide, and still, we are no closer to deciding who has the ultimate truth. Muslim versus Jew. Catholic versus Protestant. Christians crusading across Muslim and American lands. The Inquisition. ISIS. Buddhists of the 969 Movement. Even secular, godless society has gotten in on the fight, as Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, and others have killed tens of millions in the name of Communism, of race, of political ideology.
Could it be that we have made truth in our image? That the second we think we know the truth is the second we stop looking for it, and instead start fighting for it?
Perhaps truth is not a stale collection of rules and precepts to be disagreed upon. Perhaps it’s not a precious group of doctrines worth starting countless wars over. Truth, I believe, is a person, a person who is also God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” he said. He meant it.
“What is truth?” Pilate asked. Little did he know that the Answer to his question was standing before him, bloodied and beaten.
I would posit that the endless quest for truth throughout the ages, from Plato to Socrates to Descartes to Nietzsche to you and me, has been, at its core, whether consciously or subconsciously, the search for the Truth himself.
Author and pastor Shawn Brace, a longtime friend, put it this way on Twitter: “My safety does not come from having a perfect knowledge of the truth. My safety comes from knowing Him who is the Truth.”
When we know the Truth, the Truth will set us free. Free to grow. Free to learn. Free to be wrong.
When we know the Truth, we are free to love those we disagree with, not shun them. When we know the Truth, we live lives of compassion and purpose the way he did, not existences hell-bent on preserving a doctrine or belief from contamination.
When we know the Truth, we know that we are forgiven when we inevitably fail. Accepted exactly as we are. Loved more than we could ever comprehend.
When we know the Truth, we live lives of joyous expectation, barely able to contain our excitement at what God will do in and through us next. When we know the Truth, we finally begin to understand that God’s love for us is in no way contingent upon right living, right doctrine, and right theology, as much as he wants all of these things for us.
We give up our need to be right and embrace our need to be loved.
I believe that the single biggest cause of unbelief in the world today is that we the church strive so hard to know, share, and enforce what we believe to be the truth without ourselves knowing the Truth.
You see, Jesus cuts through our clamorous craving to be correct, through our insatiable thirst to complicate the simple truth of the Gospel. Love God, love people, he succinctly states in Matthew 22. “These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”
Yes, there is a place for theological discussion, for hermeneutics, for exegesis. The Spirit of Truth indeed longs to guide us into all truth. Wouldn’t you want to know as much as you can about this God who offers us a love so recklessly lavish? But, if these important truth-seeking exercises don’t point us to love the least of these, the most different of these, the most heretical of these, then we can count them all as rubbish. “If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day… but I don’t love, I’m nothing,” Paul declares.
I would venture an educated guess that not once in the history of the church has a well-meaning believer convinced another of any doctrine or precept, large or small, through coercion, anger, ostracism, hatred, or aggression. There is one, and only one, means by which hearts and minds are changed. That means is love. We can still speak the truth, yes; but that truth must be spoken in love, the way the Truth himself spoke to prostitutes, lepers, tax collectors, Pharisees, and Gentiles alike. The way the Truth speaks to broken people like you and me.
When he speaks, The Truth calls us to know him, not to understand everything. To fall in love with him, not to ostracize those who don’t. To grow in relationship with him, not to simply increase in knowledge.
The Truth stands in front of us, on trial. Will we, like Pilate, wash our hands and turn away? Or will we humbly lay down our pontificating pride and recognize that he is the Answer to every question, every doubt, every need?
Do you know the Truth? Do I?
Because when we know the Truth, the Truth will set us free.
This article was originally published in Spectrum Magazine.
I hate snow.
There, I said it.
All you Oregonians who gasp in awe and wonder at the first falling snowflake, who Instagram every second of their children and/or pets frolicking in the pristine whiteness that so seldom blankets this part of the globe, can have it. Take it all. Snow is the actual worst.
Before you judge me, go live in Michigan for twenty-one years like I did. Go enter a childhood of unpaid indentured servitude, chopping wood behind the house in subzero temperatures because your parents had a wood-burning stove, and told you that wood and labor are free, while electricity is not. Go grow up in a flat state where the most fun that can be had in the snow is sledding down a 20-foot pile of it in the Walmart parking lot. Go get an education in an area where they might close schools if two or more feet of snow fall overnight. If you’re lucky.
Almost seventeen years ago, I moved to Portland, in large part to escape the snow. (The waterfalls, mountains, and ruggedly beautiful coastline played a sizable part in my decision, as well.) Portland, thanks to its low elevation and maritime climate, gets far less snow than other cities at its same latitude. Typically, Stumptown will see a dusting of snow a morning or two per winter, and that’s it. In addition, Portland graciously allows me to enjoy snow when I feel like it, and not when I don’t. I do love snowboarding, and here, I can drive to Mt. Hood in an hour, have my winter fun, and then return to warmer climes, all in a few short hours.
Snow can be fun, as long as I can enjoy it on my terms. I don’t appreciate it when it shows up, unannounced and unwelcomed, much like ringworm, warts, or mothers-in-law.
Alas, here I sit, suffering through Portland’s most significant snowfall since 2008.
As I write these words, I have just returned to Oregon from spending two months at my (snow-free) home in Puerto Vallarta. Though I was working while I was there, I came back to a snow-capped mountain of items on my plate: meeting with clients, taking care of repairs at my rental houses, vetting new tenants at three of those houses, hiring a new cleaner for my Airbnb, preparing for another TV segment, training bartenders at a new restaurant, and much, much more. These items require the ability to drive: all over Portland, and to Vancouver, Redmond, and The Dalles.
The incoming snowstorm took a look at my agenda and said “nah.”
Right now, I can’t even get to my house in The Dalles where my coats and boots are stored, because Interstate 84 is closed due to the inclement weather. My car is snowed in, and like most Portlanders, I don’t own a shovel, so even driving to a store to buy a jacket would be a monumental undertaking. Without snow gear, I can’t even attempt to adequately appreciate the abominable arctic atrocities al fresco.
I’m not alone. Snowpocalypse 2021 has effectively brought the Portland metropolitan area to its knees. The city lacks the infrastructure to deal with snowstorms, due to their infrequency; as a result, most roads will remain unplowed for the duration of the storm. Throw in some freezing rain, and you have the makings of a disaster. Most, if not all, businesses are closed. Public transit has been completely shut down. Hundreds of thousands are still without power. The governor of Oregon has even declared a state of emergency.
I used to love snow days as a kid. Now, not so much.
What happened to the child in me that used to relish those rare opportunities to trade classes and homework in for the simple joy of building a snow fort and pelting my unsuspecting sister in the face with an unstoppable arsenal of snowballs?
In a nutshell, life. Life happened. Life came, life saw, life conquered.
As we grow older, we take on more than wrinkles. We take on responsibilities. Stresses. Obligations. (All of these lead to said wrinkles, but I digress.)
We of the 21st century have come to expect our lives to be well-oiled machines. For appointments to be kept, deadlines to be met. For us to be able to go anywhere we need to, accomplish whatever we have to, meet with whomever we are supposed to.
Until, that is, a snow day strikes.
For many, if not most, of us, our work never stops. Our phones provide us with constant, cloying connectivity, and so even during our days off, we are checking our email, responding to clients, chasing leads.
The truth is, we need time off. Our minds need it. Our bodies need it. Perhaps most importantly, our souls need it.
Yesterday, the power at my Gresham house went out. For 11 hours. I had already begrudgingly come to terms with enduring a snow day, come to terms with the fact that I would have to reschedule a lot of appointments over the weekend. But I wasn’t prepared for 11 hours of no wi-fi, a dying cell phone, and a dead laptop. Temperatures plummeting into the 40s inside the house didn’t help, either. I curled up, spent, inside four blankets and proceeded to feel sorry for myself.
It wasn’t even the impending hypothermia that dismayed me the most. It was my inability to be productive. To do. It wasn’t enough for me to just be, even for a few short hours.
What have I become? An entitled, 21st-century American? Apparently so. Eleven hours in conditions that would have been deemed luxurious by the majority of human history almost did me in.
Truth be told, I have lived my life in a hurry for so long that I don’t know how to exist in any other mode. I’ve rarely been able to locate the pause button on my inner remote. When something dramatic, like falling off a volcano, or a pandemic, or even a snowstorm brings my life to a temporary halt, I feel useless. Helpless. My self-worth is far too often based on what I do, not on who I am.
God foresaw our innate need for a pause button, one that gets pressed on the regular. For a break from the insanity we cluelessly pass off as real life. He created space in time, a Sabbath. He wrote it into Creation, into his ten commands. He created a period in which we were free to ignore work and set aside deadlines. A period in which we were free to commune with him and with the ones we love. A weekly snow day, if you will. This break was meant to be a gift, not a burden. But, like all of God’s greatest gifts, well-meaning believers Jewish and Christian alike turned it into exactly what he didn’t intend.
Even if you’re not religious, it’s hard to argue with the wisdom of taking a break.
Stephen Covey, the late author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, stressed the importance of self-renewal. His seventh habit was none other than “sharpening the saw,” or a dedication to rest, exercise, play, and personal exploration, arguing that only this dedication can enable and empower us to properly execute the other six habits.
“Without this renewal,” wrote Covey, “the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish.” You can renew and revitalize yourself through rest and relaxation, he intoned, “or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything.”
In other words, we all need snow days. Even those of us who live in Puerto Vallarta.
When we take the snow days, the breaks, the sabbaticals, the sabbaths, the vacations that our souls so desperately need, we find that we are actually more productive when the time comes to get back to work. Study after study corroborates this fact. Not only that, but when we take time to prioritize our relationships (both vertical and horizontal), our physical health, and our emotional well-being, we recognize work for what it is: simply one part of a healthy, balanced life, not an all-consuming fire demanding all of our attention, energy, and time.
If those ever-so-trustworthy meteorologists prove correct, this snow will melt tonight and tomorrow. Life will resume at the speed I have grown accustomed to. Once the tallest drifts melt in a couple days, all tangible evidence of this winter storm will disappear.
Our desperate need for snow days, though, isn’t going anywhere.
Find your pause button. Use it. Think you’re too busy? Think again. Maybe you, like me, often have an overinflated sense of the importance of your responsibilities. You’re never too busy to place value on your loved ones, your health, your sanity, and your soul.
Grab a blanket. A good book. Light a fire. Raise that warm mug of hot chocolate to your lips and savor a snow day, whether you asked for it or not.
Your soul will thank you.