Notes from your WebWeaver
A time for truth
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
Jesus, as quoted in the Gospel of John 8:32
"There is nothing so powerful as truth - and often
nothing so strange."
Well, that may have been the sentiment of Daniel Webster,
the great American statesman, lawyer, and orator, but these days it begins
to look like it's the lies to hold power, and telling the truth can get you
in trouble. Just ask some of the whistle-blowers in Washington. Just heed
the warnings from Washington that any criticism of U.S. policy may well be
seen as disloyalty, even treason.
But maybe it's time for us - all of us - to start trying
to tell the truth. It won't be easy for most of us. We're just not used to
We've gotten so used to lies that they are destroying the
delicate social fabric that binds us together as a nation, as a global
community ... and even as a church. It's time for a change.
The lies come from those famous "highest sources" in
Washington, and from leaders of other nations as they cooperate (for reasons
of their own) with our leaders. And the habit of untruthfulness seems to be
part of what finally drove the Presbytery of Western North Carolina to
withdraw its validation of the ministry of the Rev. Parker Williamson with
the Presbyterian Lay Committee and the Layman. (But it seems we're
so used to untruthfulness ... and it's so hard to consider it an offense ...
that the stated reasons for not validating his ministry dealt with other
But wait a minute here. Is it enough to fling charges of
lying only against those with whom we disagree? If our current president has
established an impressive record for deception, let's remember that his
predecessor was no champion truth-teller. (Though the things he worked hard
to cover up were of considerably less consequence than the lies of the
present administration. They didn't cost us taxpayers as much, either.)
If Parker Williamson has used untruthful statements and
has distorted reality by his "interpretation" of events and issues, he is
not entirely alone. If anything is to be done toward the healing of our
church, it might well begin with our joint confession that we all are guilty
of concealing truth, distorting reality, and just plain making things up -
almost always for what we consider very good reasons.
Why do we lie? Well, there's no end of reasons:
Sometimes we tell untruths because we are mistaken. If you
ask me what time it is an my watch is slow, I may tell you an untruth simply
by mistake. Something to be avoided, certainly, but not a lie.
Then sometimes we tell lies out of simple decency - those
famous "white lies." Whether it's telling someone they look just fine when
they really don't, or telling a patient he or she will be OK when sometimes
we know they won't - untruths like this maybe be necessary and appropriate,
because they're motivated by concern for the other - compassion, if you will
- rather than for our own self-interest.
But then again there are the big juicy, heavy-duty lies we
tell precisely for our own self-interest: distorting reality to convince
people of the rightness of our point of view (making up evidence, as for
invading a country), to conceal our own faults and failures (denying things
we've done with White House interns), or simply shaping the "facts" on a
resumé to improve our chances of getting a job.
OK, we've all done it. My first memory of telling a lie is
still vivid. I was in second grade, I think. When I got to school one
morning my teacher asked for a paper I was supposed to bring from home, and
I was appalled to realize I had forgotten to give it to my mother to fill
out. (Certainly not the last time I forgot something!) I made up some excuse
- something better than "My dog ate it," I hope! But my teacher very gently
suggested that I walk home during lunch hour to get it. (This was long, long
ago, when kids walked to school.) So I trudged home and had to dig the paper
out of wherever I'd left it, and give it to my mother, admitting what had
happened. I trudged back to school weighed down with the awareness of having
done something far more serious than forgetting a paper, when I lied about
I remember even more vividly a couple years later, when
two boys in my neighborhood had been picking on me on the walk home from
school. Then one day they invited to walk with them. We talked about this or
that - and I felt so happy about being accepted. Then they stopped
along the way. One of them kept talking, and suddenly he gave me a push so I
fell back ward over the other guy who had knelt down behind me. It hurt - on
my butt, but even more in my heart, because my trust had been betrayed by
that simple deception.
Lying is something we've all done, and we'll all had it
done to us. We know it hurts us as individuals, and even more it tears the
delicate threads that keep us together in some kind of community. So maybe
it's time to think seriously about telling the truth.
But to borrow a line from Pontius Pilate, "what is truth?"
The Mennonites, for whom truth-telling is tied up with
their refusal to take an oath, offer a profoundly simple definition: "In the
biblical languages, truth is related to faithfulness - faithfulness to the
facts (speaking truth) as well as faithfulness in relationships (being
true). Speaking the truth in love in the Christian community shows our
commitment to right relationships as well as to accurate speech." (Mennonite
Confession of Faith, commentary on article 20.)
So truthfulness means being faithful - both to the facts
and to our relationships in community. We will let our words be shaped by
our best perception of what are the "real facts," and by our commitments to
one another (and compassion for one another) in community.
That's very different from the idea that "speaking the
truth" means declaring whatever doctrines or ideologies we hold to be true.
Too often (as we are seeing in Washington and in our churches) people seem
to feel they have told the truth when they have stated a few propositions
that support the ideological commitments they have already made. "Facts be
damned" seems to be the attitude, for the "facts" are simply tools to
bolster whatever religious or political ideology needs to be realized. Lying
seems justified when it is for the sake of "Truth" with a capital "T."
But perhaps we (all of us) need to learn a little
humility. We can learn from the sciences that it's helpful to humble
ourselves before the facts as best we can see them. And it's wise to be
humble, too, as we recognize that we never have a lock on all the facts, let
alone the "truth" behind them.
Finally, our faith teaches us that there's an element of
mystery in all truth. As we learn to respect that mystery, we will grow in
our truthfulness - and in our tolerance of others whose "truth" may be very
different from our own.
In that humility, we might again become a more whole and
more healthy community of faith.
We'd like to hear what you think --
send a note
and we'll share it here.
The first comments follow:
on "A Time for Truth" [3-4-04]
received a number of comments about our recent
thoughts on truth-telling, including one thoughtful one which the author
ask not to be published, and one which was anonymous, and in line with our
custom, we will not publish it unless the author asks for a special
But the others are interesting:
RE: Truth telling
a note from Brian Jordan
Cogent and fantastic piece. The lack of focus
on core ideals such as Truth, Love and Honor is exactly what calls into
question the fabric of the community of which we are all a part. Our loss of
focus and the failure of each of us to demand of our leaders to be treated
with the respect expected in a relationship is exactly why we suffer under a
national malaise and produce succeeding generations that are each more
cynical than the last.
There are ways to right the course and Doug
you are right on target. It starts at home with each of us testifying to the
power of the ideal in each of our lives and relationships.
Denominationally, we too must continue
unabated in our crusade to shed the light of truth into the darkness of
Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters do
that which Christ beckons all of us to do - they profess the truth of their
own hearts. Yet, our denomination refuses to set them free to lead worship
and follow the Light of the call that echoes in their very being.
In this way, we are denominationally
legislating against the Truth, against Love, and without an Honor that is
incumbent on each of us to bear as a child of God.
Yes, lets go forth with the Truth -
ensuring that the ideal - itself - is not corrupted by personal
interpretations of morality that fly in the face of Her Love. With Truth as
our Compass, Love as our Guide and clothed in Honor there is little we
The Truth will set you free. Amen.
I for one, appreciate not only the content
of the article, but the spirit with which it was written. The mystery of
truth, indeed. And the need for humility. From our President on down. From
the least to the greatest (as was said of Nineveh in the great parable from
Jonah). Maybe God will be gracious, after all our dust and ashes.
Honorably Retired, Monmouth Presbytery, NJ
In this day and age, it seems
to me that once again Christians should look to the old adage,' What would
Jesus do.' I don't believe that he ever told a lie, that too then should be
Rebecca Cambier-Hewlett RN
Your attempt to link Parker
Williamson and the Presbyterian Lay Committee to "lying" is despicable. You
know, or ought to know if you've done your homework, that on many occasions
the Presbyterian Layman has been examined by individuals, committees and
judicatories that are, shall we say, not in sympathy with what it is
publishing, and in no instance (save one minor misstatement that was
immediately corrected) has any instance of inaccuracy or "lying" been
You can be sure it would have been widely
reported had any variances from the truth been discovered in these witch
But with your article you perpetuate the
convenient fiction which is, itself, a "lie." Sort of like the old saw that,
"If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes truth."
Shame on you!!
Warren B. Howe, MD
Bellingham, WA 98226
Please send your
and we'll share them here.
|The Layman says we're a "special interest
so what should be our interests?
A few weeks ago
The Layman Online did us the honor of labeling the Witherspoon
Society as a "special-interest group." We were cited especially for having
"vilified" the Presbytery of San Diego - or at least its adoption of
Tenets and Reformed Distinctives" for use in directing the preparation
and examination of candidates for ministry.
We're in good company, though. Former Moderator
Herbert Valentine sent an e-mail note
adding his critical views of the San Diego effort to enforce a new
orthodoxy, and we posted it along with a through
commentary by Witherspoon Issues
Analyst Gene TeSelle.
here for more responses.
First I was bemused at being accused of vilification by
real experts, but that led me to think about what it means to be a
"special-interest group." That term is used in church politics, as in
secular politics, as a condemnation (a vilification, perhaps?) - and for
good reason. To be involved in a political process working only for one's
own limited interests is to ignore the wider needs of the whole group. The
examples that come to mind are overwhelming: the giant corporations that
manipulate the U.S. government - even into war - for their own profits;
church organizations whose primary commitment is not to the church, but to
their own vision of a purer, more righteous church in accordance with their
own narrow definitions. (See for instance
from San Diego.)
So what about Witherspoon; are we just another special
interest group? Well, yes, there's truth in that. We too play a role in the
political processes of our Presbyterian Church on the basis of our own
particular commitments to the church's mission to seek justice, and build
peace, and move our church toward a more open and inclusive way of being the
church. And indeed, we're sometimes in danger of forgetting other aspects of
the church's life and mission in the world. But we try to remember that we
are not the whole church, and we don't have the whole truth. We have our
vocation, if you will, within the wider mission of the church. And we try to
fulfill that mission as faithfully - and as creatively, and courageously
(for it does take a bit of courage these days!) - as we can.
So tell us your interests!
But speaking of special interests, and of a defined
mission within our church, I'd like to invite you, our members, to ponder a
question: What should be the particular focus (or foci, if you don't want to
be too narrow!) of our mission in these difficult days? Our
Executive Committee will be meeting in September for three days of visioning
and planning. It would help us greatly to hear from you about things to
which we should pay attention: issues, theological ideas, ways of working
both locally and nationally, projects - what can you suggest as we
plan for the coming year, and the years beyond?
Just send an e-mail note to
email@example.com, or a letter to
Doug King, 1418 Clarendon Drive, Wayzata, MN 55391. I promise I'll pass
everything along to the whole group as soon as I can!
Please let us hear from you!
justice can teach us about being ambassadors for the reconciling
Christ ... and vice versa
This essay, in slightly different form, constitutes
the "Editor's Spot" in the Spring 2002 issue of Network
News, which will soon be in the mail to Witherspoon members, and
to all commissioners and advisory delegates to the 214th
The topic of restorative justice will be on the
Assembly agenda, in the form of a resolution and report on the topic,
which will be referred to Committee 12, on National Issues. You can
full set of material for that committee in pdf format; it's item
4, pages 6 through 10 of the document. A more complete
20-page discussion of the Biblical and theological foundations of
restorative justice, along with contemporary realities, can also be
downloaded. They're well worth looking at.
|For more resources -- from
around the world -- on restorative justice
If you want more information on the subject of
restorative justice, you may want to check out a very helpful
(not to mention somewhat massive) index
of web sites dealing with restorative justice. It includes
sites representing organizations around the world, some
church-related, some government or academic in their
sponsorship, others apparently independent.
Whatever you'd like to learn about the theory
or the practice of restorative justice around the world, you
should find it here!
The theme of the 214th General Assembly
reminds us that we are called to be "ambassadors for Christ" -
for the reconciling Christ whom Paul proclaims in 2
Corinthians. One Bible study prepared on the theme seems to claim that
reconciliation is something that can be accomplished only by Christ, and
leaves us the role of merely proclaiming what has already happened.
Two things lead me to suggest another view: That the
Christian calling is not simply to proclaim reconciliation, but to work
First, it seems to me that any ambassador from one
nation to another is expected to do far more than simply proclaim the
views of his or her nation to another nation. The ambassador works at
developing understanding, and seeks creative ways to resolve differences
between the two nations. Perhaps the terrible events in Israel/Palestine
today are due in part to a failure of good ambassadorial efforts from
the United States and others. Merely proclaiming is not enough. There
must be active efforts to resolve conflicts.
And second, I look at this question in light of my own
experience over the past few years in a community justice program in the
county where I live in Minnesota. I signed on as a volunteer mediator in
the county's victim-offender conferencing program, went through a
lengthy training period, and have been awed to see what reconciliation
can mean in the trenches of everyday suburban crime.
The program brings offenders together with their
victims to seek ways to undo some of the damage that has been done by an
act of vandalism, perhaps, or even a more serious felony-class act of
theft or assault. I have been moved to see so many victims show real
concern for the people (often teenagers, but not always) who have
damaged their property, or threatened them, or even harmed them
Of course it doesn't always work that way. I met with
one victim whose carefully-tended front yard had been torn up by a
car-load of joy-riding boys; he began our meeting by declaring, "I
don't want justice. I want blood!" That case didn't get very far.
But restorative justice can work -
|when both parties are willing to listen
respectfully to each other, without interrupting or blaming or
|when the offender is willing to take
responsibility, express regret, apologize, and find some way to make
up for the harm that has been done;|
|when the victims are willing the share their
feelings of pain, fear, anxiety, resentment ... without aiming a
load of hostility at the person who caused those feelings.|
Then amazing things happen: One couple had been approached on a dark
street one night and threatened with a gun by a couple boys out looking
for something to do. The gun was an air-gun, but the couple didn't know
that, and were truly thinking they would be killed. The two boys were
remorseful, and said so in their mumbling way. Then slowly the two
victims realized that one of the boys had recently lost his sister in an
auto accident, and that part of his attitude reflected his rage over her
death. Then the victims could tell how upsetting the incident had been
to them, because one of their own daughters had recently died. Suddenly
we two mediators were watching two victims and two offenders sitting
together as if the rest of us weren't in the room - sharing pain that
went far deeper than anyone had known was there. And the victims began
searching with the two boys for ways they - the "victims"! -
might really help them change the direction of their lives. It was a
shared project, not a confrontation but a joint venture in starting life
So when we talk about restorative justice in this 214th
General Assembly, let's be aware of what miracles can happen when people
are willing to listen, to respect one another, to stop blaming, and to
seek together the kind of true justice that can restore life - that can
make reconciliation a reality.
Yes, reconciliation is indeed a gift. But it is also a
calling, a ministry, a mission. Let's not simply proclaim it; let's do
it. In our society. In our conflicted and violent world. And, yes, even
in our church.
Is it really a matter of "conservative
rage" in contest with "liberal guilt"?
A recent op-ed
essay in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (Sunday, January 21,
2001) reviewed the very different ways Democrats and Republicans have
dealt with recent political events.
The writer suggests that conservatives tend to think
and act on the basis of a world view in which things are clearly divided
between good and evil, black and white. They suffer from no self-doubt,
but are motivated by an honest rage at the evils they deplore.
Liberals, on the other hand (the left one,
presumably), see the world as a more complex matter of varying shades of
grey. They see themselves as less than pure, but they nevertheless
struggle to make the world a better place. They favor tolerance and
In case you haven't caught on, this is not a purely
unbiased view of our political climate. But it raises some good
questions for us, both about our national life and about the right-left
tensions of the Presbyterian Church.
So what do you think?? Your WebWeaver invites your
comments, which may be as critical of the author (David Morris, of
Minneapolis, who is vice president of the Institute for Local
Self-Reliance) as you wish. I will assume, unless you state otherwise,
that you would like your comments to be shared here. Please include your
name with your note.
So let's talk! Please
send a note.
The most ambiguous night of the
December 23, 2000
I've always been struck, and often moved, by the line
in "O Little Town of Bethlehem" that says that in that
backwater place, on that night so long ago, "the hopes and fears of
all the years are met in thee tonight."
Though we do our best to cover it up, Christmas is
surely a time of fear as well as of hope. Awe and wonder, dread in the
dark night, the shepherds' fear of the angels ... all these are updated
for us as we watch children's eagerness mix with panic when they wait in
line to climb on Santa's lap at the mall.
Our culture today, like any culture in any age, does
what it can to tame that wild night. We make it into a time to celebrate
a "jolly old elf" with twinkling lights and mistletoe (but no
longer at office parties!). Or in more steadfastly religious circles, we
shrink God's wild Christmas venture into a cool, apparently rational
doctrine of incarnation.
But this is indeed a time when we're flung headlong
into God's wild irrational love, as we tell again the story (not a
doctrine, a story -- with all the depth and breadth and mystery
and ambiguity that only a good story can convey) of God's getting right
into our human skin, of all heaven's breaking loose in the singing of
angels and the dancing of stars.
What does this wild night say to us in these days, as
we face the troubles of our nation, our world, our church?
To me it say that maybe we are letting ourselves be
troubled, as Mary was troubled, with good reason. But we're troubled
about the wrong things.
Many of us are anxious to defend the purity of our
faith, in the form of rationally defined doctrines and statements of
belief. And this season reminds us that the awesome mystery of God
shines in the dark night, glowing far beyond the dim rational formulas
that we've concocted to make sense of a God who stretches far beyond our
Many of us are struggling against the continuing reign
of injustice and prejudice and oppression in the world, and in our
church. And the dark night that we remember in this season -- and the
countless dark nights and days that followed -- remind us that pain and
evil are woven through all of life, and we're never going to make them
go away. And that we are not alone in the eternal struggle to overcome
Many of us are seeking restlessly, relentlessly for
our own happiness -- maybe personal fulfillment or wealth, or power, or
even some kind of salvation. And the babe born that dark night grew up
to teach us, and to show us in his own living and dying, that real life
comes to those who live for something beyond themselves and their own
private interests. Real life comes to those -- and through
those -- who are willing to give up their lives, even for their enemies.
So what kind of greeting can we share with one another
at this Christmas time?
Merry Christmas doesn't quite reflect the radical
depth of what we're remembering and even celebrating.
May peace be within us and among us in this troubled
May peace be a leaven working through our conflicted
churches and nations and world.
May we grow silent before the wonder of a love that
touches and transforms all of us.
May we be given eyes to see the light shining in the darkness.
May we gain the courage to follow that light down whatever surprising
and wondrous ways it may lead us.
May peace -- a true, just peace -- be with us all in
this Christmas time.
From your WebWeaver,
here for a couple earlier essays from your WebWeaver
ratified (or not) by the presbyteries
A number of the most important actions of the 219th
General Assembly are now being sent to the presbyteries for their
action, to confirm or reject them as amendments to the PC(USA) Book
We're providing resources to help inform the
reflection and debate, along with updates on the voting.
Our three areas of primary interest are:
which would remove the current ban on
lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender persons being considered as
possible candidates for ordination as elder or ministers.|
which would add the Belhar Confession to our Book of
10-1, which would adopt the new Form of Government
that was approved by the Assembly. |
If you like what
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Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New
York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive
New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the
Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian
Church in Flushing, NY.
John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive
A Presbyterian minister, currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!