Truth you can see
Editor's note: This is part of a series of columns by the Dominican Sisters Conference that hopes to open Global Sisters Report's readership to a conversation on truth.
I've been struggling with the concept of truth for some time now. And in today's political climate, I'm not the only one. Truth seems to be such a dicey concept. Do you remember the dress that some saw as blue and black and others saw as gold and white? It surfaced back in February 2015 when a woman sent a picture of the dress to her daughter. They disagreed on the color of the dress so the daughter posted it on Facebook to get others' opinions. The picture went viral and thousands of people weighed in posting their opinion of the color. The actual dress was blue and black, but for some, their eyes processed the picture as gold and white. Their truth was that the dress was gold and white, but in reality it was not. Were the white-and-gold people giving alternate facts?
Or how about this situation? You are sitting down to dinner with your siblings when you start to talk about a family event that happened when you were children. Suddenly, you are thinking, "Were we at the same event?" because as each one relates his/her version of what happened, each one is different! Is everyone but you lying?
Truth can be so dependent on our experience. If you walk down the sidewalks in Manhattan, you can go for blocks without hearing English. There are so many languages spoken there. Before coming to New York, my truth was that non-English-speaking immigrants were scary; what were they saying? Perhaps, they didn't belong in the United States if they couldn't speak English. But later I met so many wonderful people who immigrated to the United States — including students, parents and teachers at our school — that my truth changed. The immigrants I knew were good and kind; friendly and hardworking; intelligent and warmhearted. For others, however, a negative experience of losing a job to foreigner or experiencing some violence may be their truth.
Truth, which is expected to be absolute, black or white, can also be confused by the concept that we all have a piece of the truth. It is hard to accept that religions very different from our own can also have 'the truth.' And yet, God has blessed us all with some understanding of the ultimate truth and how we are to live it out. Consider the Golden Rule. Every major religion has some version of "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12).
What is that ultimate truth? Is it a bunch of laws or dogma? Is it some things we believe because a leader says "Believe me?" For me, it boils down to God's hesed or steadfast love. Even for those who don't believe in God, the concept of love and commitment as a way to live one's life rings true. But how do we know what this love and commitment look like? It looks like Jesus. Jesus "is the image of the invisible God" declares St. Paul (Colossians 1:15). We know what God's love and commitment looks like in action because we see Jesus in action. We know the truth of how we are expected to live by watching how Jesus lived.
Truth becomes an action word in Jesus where we see a God who shows love through healing and teaching, inclusion, forgiveness, nonviolence and faithfulness. When we experience these qualities in ourselves or others, we experience God. This is my standard for knowing truth. When I see God, I see truth. Let's consider some examples:
A police officer reaches out to children in battered neighborhoods by jumping rope or rapping with them; families from warring faiths welcome each other into their homes for dinner; neighbors advocate for another neighbor being deported; women protest nonviolently for respect for all; victims of trafficking escape and rebuild their lives. God's inclusion, acceptance, healing, nonviolence, forgiveness in action. Truth in action.
But when politicians promote nuclear weapons, exclusion of refugees, hatred of the other, elimination of health care, denigration of women, all in the name of their alternative truth, efforts to arm all Americans (calling it "being safe") — this is not truth. Pitting black against blue, women against men, conservative against liberal, straight against gay is not truth. When you're right and I'm wrong, or I'm right and you're wrong, we are not living truth. This is not love or commitment. It is not truth. We may see things differently but we can still act with love and commitment.
It was said that St. Bonaventure found a way to separate truth from falsehood. "He made every truth a prayer to God and a praise of God" (35 Doctors of the Church, by Fr. Christopher Rengers). Any "truth" that did not praise God was not a truth. As we examine truth in our lives, our ministries, our nation, do we ask ourselves if they praise God? Maybe we should.
[Barbara Kane is a Dominican Sister of Peace. She is the director of the Dominican Learning Center, an adult literacy center serving individuals wanting to earn a GED or working to learn how to listen, speak, read or write English.]