Monday, January 2, 2017

Truth in the New Year

Sunrise, Jan 1, 2017

“… truth comes relentlessly packaged in ambiguity, inscrutability, polyvalence. The revealed truth is always continually hidden, and we are left to be amazed and chagrined.”     Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary; David’s Truth: In Israel’s Imagination and Memory, 2nd ed. Augsburg Fortress, 2000, p. 4.  
Of course, most all of us seldom meet truth on those grounds. As educated children of the 20th Century, we’ve been schooled for facts, indoctrinated with behaviorism and the scientific method. And so we’re programmed to see half-truth as whole in a semi-drugged dullness where knowledge is (fake) news headlines, the scores, the entertainment buzz. It’s much easier to sleepwalk as if we’re not missing and much less in search for the truth that sets us free. How much of our lives remain as if chained “before the law” of Kafka’s parable, as if unaware of the admission by quantum physicists about a hundred years ago that even the best of science yields uncertainty and indeterminacy. To live in that spectrum of light demands growing into a different knowing, one that extends to a further dimension of love.

The year 2016 delivered a wake-up call, and yet already the dawn of the new year shows how easy to remain half-asleep. For living wide-awake in polyvalent truth is just too damn hard. We hear our voices pledging “one nation… justice for all”; and it hurts, if we are honest and awake, with a sharpened feeling of our failure to make this true.
But let’s not start off yet more cynical and disillusioned, let’s not seek yet more distraction from truth, and especially let’s not take out our anger, fear, and sadness on ourselves and others. Although the potential is much underdeveloped, we are wired for truth, for truth that contains “ambiguity, inscrutability, polyvalence.” We just have to accept our own incompleteness, tell true stories, live passionately and compassionately, love and walk on. 

My favorite story has a refrain about “the sense you are born with.” The narrative enacts meaning for this sense along the lines of evolutionary adaptation but more with the difficulties produced by prescriptive directions because such substitute-truth cannot adequately guide in a world that's constantly changing both at the inner and outer levels. Instead of asking for and giving information that presumes predictability of recipes, we need models of goodness that also release each individual toward his and her unique authenticity. I’m increasingly convinced that our “born-with” comes in moral sense and that this kind of knowing is cultivated through good stories.

Higher on the same page as the earlier quotation from Brueggemann, he develops the meaning and purpose of a good story:
“Currently we say the truth is polyvalent. That is, it moves in a variety of directions and cannot be reduced to a single formulation. That rich, varied discernment is obvious as we consider the various pieces of literature that come from different hands in different contexts for different purposes. Each of them touches a dimension of this ‘larger-than-life’ person who is surely not larger than truth. But this same polyvalent tendency is also evident in each particular narrative, because the person of David is inscrutable. And therefore the narrative must always be a bit unsure. But that is what makes a good story.”
In other words, we are just hard wired for faith, not for facts. But being wired or wireless doesn’t guarantee 24/7 access. High-level functioning on faith takes hard work. We forget. We can easily recite “one nation… justice for all” and forget that the forefathers framed the nation in a context troubled by terrible presumptions of unequal rights and oppression (e.g., “The Founding Fathers and Slavery”; “The Women’s Crusade").

Truth pulls us ahead. Our cognitive, ethical, emotional, and even physical development comes through a continuous pursuit of truth, not the possession of it, and definitely not the presumption of having it, not using it to dominate other humans and not desecrating our non-human relations. We won’t advance toward truth by testing for facts. The unknown is approached not by exact knowledge alone but needs the extra help that comes in the courage of “as if.”

Good stories nurture the realm of likeness. Perhaps this dimension is entered and experienced best through parable, the narratives of all types that carry an along-side. Recall or find a favorite parable-type story, like the “Good Samaritan,” or King David’s confrontation by Nathan (II Samuel 12), or a compelling selection from Coleman Barks’ on Rumi’s teaching stories. Notice the way this kind of discourse prompts a second track, an “along-side” that promises to release a person from literal, exact-reproduction expectation or recipe-matching of the external authority. Polyvalence of the multiple tracks of truth holds the possibility of finding one’s own camel, the means of transport across the desert toward the water of life. 

The multivalent, even revolutionary (see especially Crossan’s work, e.g., On Parable) and certainly ethical, dimensionality of parable supports our way into the truth of the unknown. God the Truth extends into the unseen, not limited to that known by human senses of normal eyesight, hearing, taste and touch. In order to believe beyond the material world, good stories reach into metaphysical knowing where by faith we imagine the taste of the divine water of life, we feel the cool everflowing rivers of justice, and we experience union with the beloved.