When asked about his experience attending a Christian college, a seminary friend told me how on the first day of his freshman year, attended a religion class. He introduced himself to the guy next to him, who then asked him, “how do you define Truth?”
I did not grow up in an evangelical milieu, nor did I attend a Christian college. The idea of greeting someone I didn’t know and asking him or her about “Truth” seemed entirely foreign to me. Yet, over a dozen years later, this story is the first thing I thought about when asked to write about “Truth.” To be honest, it seems as if “Truth” is part of a coded language I don’t understand. It goes with the rapture and homeschooling – something that evangelicals talk about but doesn’t weigh particularly heavily on my mind. I hope admitting this does not elicit gasps of apostasy. I suppose, I’m just telling the truth about my experiences with attempting to talk about and/or define “the Truth.”
My sense is that being asked about “the Truth” is a litmus test for one’s faith – a test that until now has eluded me. Like no matter what I might say, I have the sneaking suspicion that I’m going to answer incorrectly. To tell the truth, I have put off writing this reflection for weeks.
And yet, if you would ask me about my faith in Jesus, I could write an essay that resembled a love letter and it might never end. So how do I believe in the Truth of Jesus and yet am not sure how to define Truth? Personally, I’ve always appreciated the story of the man who has been blind from birth from John 9:1-34.
Jesus heals a blind man. His neighbors and those who had seen him beg understandably want to know how this happened. They ask him, “How then were your eyes opened?”
The man tells them his story. “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
Without any fanfare or philosophy, he tells the truth of his experience. And yet, the people continue to question. They involve the Pharisees who ask the man yet again how he received his sight. He answers again with the same story. They ask his parents about the matter, who refer it back to their son.
And so again they ask: “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
This story mirrors my own truth – I have witnessed the healing power of Jesus in my own life and in the lives of those around me. I can tell you story after story of such transformation. That, for me, feels like Truth.
But how does this Truth actually work? Like the blind man, I do not know. All I know is that I used to be broken and now I am more whole. I used to be bitter, depressed and angry, and now I am far more joyous, hopefully and loving.
Preachers like to say that we are Christ’s hands and feet. God has no other physical body than that of God’s people – and we are the ones who offer God’s healing to those around us. Through the faithful acts of God’s people, I experience the gift of God’s grace. Through engaging in the community of God’s people, my capacity for faith deepens and I am (hopefully!) growing my ability to live the life that Jesus would live if he were living my life.
I am privileged to work as a chaplain with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Since coming on the job, I have learned more about Truth than ever before. The bravest thing our people do is raise their right hand and take an oath to protect the life and property of the city of New York. When someone in our city cries out for help, the dedicated EMTS, paramedics and firefighters respond immediately. In those moments, they do not have luxury of philosophical debates about the definition of Truth. Instead, they are on a relentless mission – searching for life and saving it.
Like the man born blind who received his sight, the people I work with tend to tell it like it is. For many, words are not their love language. They show their love for God and neighbor by their actions. Perhaps it’s in these life and death moments when we come face to face with Truth. Everything falls away, and we are left with our own mortality reflected back in the face of a fellow human being.
It is not without a cost – running in when others run out means experiencing trauma, again and again. It involves being present when life is at its most broken, painful moments. It can take a toll on a person’s mind and soul.
One such person told me about some of his experiences. In the process, he gave me the gift of his truth. In the midst of our conversation, he leaned in, paused for a moment and said: “you know Reverend, we’re all f*$#@d up around here. But we’re all f*$#@d up together.”
I love my job, and I long to do it well. Like most of us, I yearn to offer wise words – especially in the most painful moments. I pray that I might be as close to Jesus for the people I meet – to offer acts of love and words of healing comfort. But none of the words I can offer come close to the Truth spoken by this firefighter.
Indeed, we are all broken in this life. Pain is a universal experience. And yet, the hope comes not from being alone. We don’t experience grace in our individual lives. We experience it most when we are in community with others.
The Truth is that we are all broken, and we are broken together. In his suffering and death, Jesus experiences the full depth of the pain of being human. He joins us in our pain, in the pain of living and dying.
I may not be able to define “The Truth” for you. But I can tell you about it. The Truth is that we are all broken, but that God understands our pain, is with us in that pain and that we are all broken together.
The Rev. Ann Kansfield is a UCC minister serving as co-pastor of the Greenpoint Reformed Church and as chaplain to the FDNY. She tries to tell the truth at all times, especially to her wife Jennifer and their children John and Grace. Occasionally she is too blunt.