Saturday, July 25, 2009

Truth (Chopping or Pointing)

A few weeks back I quoted Anne Lamott here, saying, "You don't always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it too."

That line has been doing a number of things in my heart these last few weeks.

I find myself thinking about a number of situations that I've been involved in over the last while.

About the moments when it seems that truth has been wielded only as a sword, meant to cut, to "do surgery", to separate flesh and bone. All worthy things in their own right, but only when done rightly, and with permission. I think particularly about the idea of surgery, and realize that a surgeon, no matter how right he is, no matter how much he knows that without surgery the patient will be unwell, cannot operate without the patient's permission. And I think about how I've encountered surgery as a spiritual metaphor, and wonder if perhaps we shouldn't pause as Christians to consider those on whom we're "operating" - to ask their permission before wielding sword or scalpel.

But I've found myself struck, too, by questions of my own.

I have a strong affinity for truth, and for justice. It's a part of who I am. It's something I learned from my dad. It's also something deeply ingrained within my being. And I've been known to speak with something less than caution and gentleness in the pursuit of truth or justice, especially when the place where they are lacking is something I feel deeply - something that creates brokenness, or causes anger to well up within me.

So I find myself asking if there are moments, in the midst of the same situations I was already thinking about, where I too, chopped instead of pointed. While it is never my heart to cause injury, have there been moments when I spoke with something other than a gentle love? Have there been moments, when, intentionally or not, my words caused injury? Were there moments when my words were heard as a striking blow, even if that was not the tone in which they were intended? Have I paused in the words I've spoken, written, emailed, or simply thought, to prayerfully let my words be tempered by grace and gentleness, so that they can point clearly and bring healing, rather than chopping and causing further wounds?

And, even if they were never spoken aloud, how many times has my heart wanted to chop at certain people or situations, certain that if truth could only be understood, all would be restored.

It's the spirit within me that matters, almost as much, if not more than the spirit without.

I tend to be fairly controlled in my speech. It's rare that I become angry enough these days to truly lash out. And yet, maybe it's the spirit in my heart that counts?

"You must have heard that our ancestors were told, 'You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.' But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone , you are in danger of the fires of hell." (Matthew 5:21-22)

Jesus took it that one step further, and made it about my heart. And that's the hard bit.

I came across a lyric from U2's latest single this morning via a link on facebook. And I wanted nothing so badly as to quote a line from the lyrics in a chopping sort of way to someone I know. To throw it at the person in a "why can't you understand this" fashion. "How can you stand next to the truth and not see it?" Bono sings.

And in that moment, as I read those lyrics, and thought about another question I'd been pondering yesterday, another set of someone else's words that I wanted to lob back at them, my heart was drawn back to Lamott's words, "You don't always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it too." And to Jesus' words in the sermon on the mount, which, in other versions suggest that anger or hatred hidden in your heart is equally sinful and damaging to committing murder. And to the words that follow the passage I quoted above, that talk about wherever it is possible being reconciled.

Just now, as I was pondering all of these thoughts, I was reading a different book by Anne Lamott, and was struck by another comment that rather deeply pertains to this pattern of thought. She writes, "I've known for years that resentments don't hurt the person we resent, but that they do hurt and even sometimes kill us. I'd been asking myself, Am I willing to try to give up a bit of this hatred?"

And so, I'm left with this. A confession that my heart is not always gentle, and that sometimes I want truth more than I want to be gentle and loving towards others. A desire for that heart to change. And a wondering how one goes forward when it has become clear that some things cannot be reconciled, but will end, and end painfully.


Jim said...

If we are really "in" Christ, and He, "in" us, then we must learn to realize thise aren't just words, but a Reality with Whom we connect "in our belly". I did a study once on that phrase in Matthew where Jesus speaks of the light of the body being in the eye. That term "single" actually translates in Hebrew (or Greek-I don't remember) to two different things entwined together to become one. If our spirit is, as we are told in the Bible, "the candle of the Lord", try thinking of you now, in Christ, as possessing two "wicks", your spirit and His. When those two flames merge, we are indeed all that He is and the Holy Ghost wields the sword through us; but such is not so at all times since, mostly, we walk not so immersed in such unison with His reality. It is a journey, a process wherein we learn when the water within is stirred and, in surrendering unto such flow, He moves the mountain. Peace, my friend....