This week I learned a fascinating statistic. Most of us can discern a truth from a lie 54 percent of the time. That’s terrible isn’t it? It’s only slightly better than spinning a penny and guessing which way it lands—heads or tails?
One reason we only achieve a 54 percent success rate, is because most of us do a really bad job of reading body language—or so people who study such things tell us. The majority of liars, we’re talking scam artists, tax evaders, cheaters, may speak a lie, but their body language betrays them. And we ignore those cues. CEO’s , though, (that is, people who cut deals and negotiate for a living), and probably CIA and FBI agents too, do a much better job than the rest of us. They have learned to read those body language cues. These folks have a 90 plus percent success rate for discerning truths from fabrications. It’s a valuable skill, don’t you think?
What are some of the cues we habitually miss? You remember John Edwards who ran for president until he dropped out, having been accused of fathering a child out of wedlock? He gave a recorded interview in which he said these words while making these head movements:(shaking head) “Of course, I will gladly take the paternity test.” See how his head movements gave him away? John Edwards actually fought taking the paternity test. And much later, it was proved that he HAD fathered the child.
Other body language give-aways: someone whose gaze is a little too steady; someone who points his feet toward the door—like he’s ready to flee; someone who has jerky body movements—they don’t flow naturally-- Someone who lowers his or her voice to almost a whisper.
Reading body language maybe gets us to 75 percent accuracy in separating lies from truth, but experts tell us that there is something else at play when we accept lies as truth. People who get taken in by a liar, WANT to believe the lie. It takes two active participants, the liar and the lied to, to give a lie power. So for instance, Bernie Maddoff was only able to succeed in bilking people of millions of dollars, because those bilked people wanted to believe that he could get them a high return on their investments. (NOTE: This information on lying is taken from A Ted Talk by Pamela Meyer entitled "How to Spot a Liar.")
It MAY be that Christians get taken in by liars more than other people, because we want to believe the best about people—which makes us naïve, maybe, but also good hearted. It’s a fair trade-off, I think.
Whether or not we can accurately discern the truth, though—we who are Christians or who are religious of any stripe, hold a high regard for the truth, don’t we? We ourselves may tell the occasional white lie, but when it comes to the important stuff, we strive to tell it like it is. We hold to a religious moral code that requires that we tell the truth. It’s in our 10 commandments—commandments that are subscribed to not only by Christians but by Jews and Muslims, too. Thou shalt not bear false witness. Buddhists don’t hold to a set of commandments or rules, per se, but those who follow a Buddhist path practice what are called Precepts. The fourth Buddhist precept is this, “I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.”
I will go further than that, though. We, who are religious, are truth seekers. We entertain questions like who or what is God? Why are we here? Why does evil exist? There are actually people out there who glide merrily through life never really struggling for answers to such lofty questions. Not to criticize, though—it may be that they, not us, have chosen the better way. They just shrug their shoulders and say, “We are born, one day we’ll die, in-between times, we will have some fun, and we’ll have some heartaches. That’s the way it is. Get over it!”
Lofty, existential questions like “what is the meaning of life?” present a burden to religious types like us, don’t they?
For good or for ill, then, we who are sitting in this sanctuary, crave the truth. We pick at largely unanswerable questions as if they are scabs on our souls. We agree with the theologian who said: “There is so much baloney all the time. You know, the performance of political speech, of speeches you see on the news, doesn’t it often feel to you like there should be a thought bubble over [these peoples’ heads] that says, “What I really would say if I could say it, is….” (Krista Tippett) Yes? (raise hand). We abhor shallowness in both speech and lifestyle.
Years ago, I had a dream—it was of a spiritual nature. In the dream, I was floating in space. I couldn’t SEE anything, but I knew that I was with God and we were in conversation. I don’t remember God’s voice, sorry. Wouldn’t it be great to know what God’s voice sounds like? I guess you could say we were communicating by mental telepathy. Anyway, in the dream, God relayed everything to me—the purpose of life, how things work, from the micro to the macro. What happens when we die. What are souls. My response was awe, which is what you would expect, but also, “Of course! It’s all so simple! I knew all of this. How could I have forgotten?” And then of course, when I woke up I couldn’t remember one blessed thing that God had told me. Still the dream was an assurance that there IS a rhyme and a reason to everything. That has been a comfort to me. It would have been a supreme joy, though, to have the answers to my existential questions—or would it?
Paul was a burdened soul—seeking after the truth, I think, even though he realized he couldn’t know it all. In 1 Corinthians 13, verse 12, the Apostle Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[a] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Paul doesn’t tell us why we don’t know everything now, but Jesus does. In our scripture reading for today, Jesus tells us that the reason we don’t have the whole truth is because we can’t bear it—or at least can’t bear it--yet. So while not knowing the full truth is burdensome, knowing the whole truth would be an even greater burden? Could that possibly be right?
You remember the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Nazis abscond with the Ark of the Covenant, but when they open it and peek inside, a ghostly image spews out—which could be the holy spirit, or maybe the spirit of truth that Jesus mentions in our reading. Remember in the movie, at first the Nazis’ faces read pure joy, then that joy turns to terror, and finally their faces melt. Yikes! Is that what would happen to us, if we were presented with more truth than we could bear?
A friend of mine, her name is Nancy, and her husband, decided to get a divorce. She worried about telling her mother. Her mother was a widow who lived nearby and was an integral part of Nancy’s and her husband’s married life. Nancy gathered her courage.. She dropped by her mother’s home one evening and as they sat on the sofa, just the two of them, Nancy shared her sad news. Her mother seemed to take it well. No tears. But then, as the discussion wound down, Nancy’s mother said, “I guess I should go home now.” Nancy said, “But Mom, you ARE home.”
Nancy’s mother suddenly, was not “right.” In a panic, Nancy drove her to the emergency room. It turns out that Nancy’s mother was suffering from dis-associative amnesia—caused by emotional shock. Nancy told me, “That’s not the worst part, though. Because she did not remember what I told her about the divorce, the next day,I had to give my mother the bad news again.”
So maybe if God shared with us all truths, we too would suffer dis-associative amnesia—that, or maybe we have it now! Think about that! For sure though, it is probably a very good thing that God has not yet shared with us all truth. Truth is power. and humans abuse power, so we would abuse the truth. Just look what we did with E = MC squared. We built a bomb; and then we used it.
We are currently in the season of truth-telling, Bet you didn’t know that, Late May and June are truth telling months. Every year this time, people who are famous, or accomplished in some area, stand up before a class of graduates, and impart to them the truth--the kind of truth that comes from experience, which is different from the kind of truth you receive in a classroom—the truth these famous, or accomplished people impart is truth learned from experience. It is called wisdom.
Wisdom is not necessarily religious in nature, but this week, as I listened to some commencement speakers on You Tube, I thought they definitely sounded like preachers. So for instance, I listened to Stephen Colbert’s commencement speech at Northwestern University, which he delivered in 2011. Northwestern was Stephen Colbert’s almost-Alma Mater. I say almost-Alma Mater, because instead of receiving a diploma, when he opened the pleather folder he had been presented during graduation exercises, there was no fake parchment inside, like you would expect. Instead, there was a piece of yellow, lined, legal paper. Scrawled on that yellow, lined, legal paper, were two words, “See Me.” It was signed by the Dean. Turns out Stephen Colbert had earned an incomplete in one of his classes, so he actually hadn’t graduated—and he never did. Although I guess Stephen Colbert has done alright without the degree!
In his speech, Stephen Colbert talked not so much about truth-seeking, and certainly not about racking up degrees. What he talked about was love and service. Experience has led him to believe that love and service are what will get you farthest in life—and will bring you the most happiness. There is GREAT wisdom in that, don’t you think? Actually, in the several commencement speeches I listened to on line, love and service was the theme. Love and service—that pretty much sums up a lot of scripture, too, doesn’t it? Love one another. Do unto others. Biggies in scripture.
Here is a partial truth for you: All truth is incomplete—only God has all truth and God is not sharing all truth with us at this time, be it because our faces would melt, or we might contract dis-associative amnesia! Still it is part of our religious and Christian nature to seek the truth. The wisest among us will seek the truth even as we love and serve others. Amen