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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Truth and Honesty in the Pulpit

(This blog comes on the reflection of Rachel Held Evan's recent blog "Dear Pastors-Tell us the Truth" rachelheldevans.com A blog I appreciate very much.)

To tell the "truth" from the pulpit or the be "honest?" That is the question.

Because "truth" and "honesty" from the pulpit are not the same thing. When Rev. Held Evans asked what we want our pastors to be "honest" about it is not the same thing as what we want our pastors to be "truthful" about. We crave honesty, but we abhor truth. This is what made Jack Nicholson's line in "A Few Good Men" so powerful as a line, and one that has inured itself into our pop-culture lexicon...we really cannot handle the truth. He was being totally honest (which we can handle)...but truth? Not-so-much.

The reason why there are preachers in the first place is because we do not want to hear the truth. So a pastor telling the "truth" is sort of just angling for trouble, because we already know we don't want to hear it. We don't want to hear about our vulnerability, our culpability, our prejudices, our hatreds, our fears, and all the stuff that keeps us up at night, and well-drugged when awake. And people who are veterans of sermon-hearing and sermon-giving also pretty well know that God didn't make us this way... So to preach the "truth" from the pulpit is the height of narcissism...because it changes absolutely nothing.

But perhaps even Rev. Held Evans knows this because her question was what do we want from pastors in terms of "honesty?" She did not use "truth," even though that was her phrase in the blog. Why not? I suspect because she knows "truth" can never be preached (only lived), and honesty is the only sermon worth preaching or hearing about. Honesty can happen even in the most contrived story possible...think Jonah and his honesty and not wanting to do God's bidding...honesty can happen when a preacher admits that her or his sermon might not be the final word on this topic or event...honesty can happen when the preacher tells the congregation they probably don't want to hear the "truth"..."Honesty" is always possible, which is why it can be used as a synonym for "righteousness" in a way that "truth" never can.

In Christianity when we talk about "righteousness" we have some inkling of "honesty" in the back of our minds...we honestly want to follow God, we honestly want to be part of God's divine plan, we honestly wish we were better...but we are righteous precisely because our honesty knows we haven't been "true," or accepted the "truth." We need the righteousness God creates for us in Christ Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit in order for the truth to be made known--that we are not able--it seems-- of being true, telling the truth, or living truthfully...and that requires a huge amount of honesty to admit, and even more honesty to live through.

Especially if you preach for a living.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

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