“My Truth”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Print pagePDF pageEmail page

Those of us with time on our hands and a fading sense of present prospects are prone to gather wool, our idling thoughts wandering through dusty file cabinets in the musty basements of past memories. Occasionally a tattered picture falls out and we recall times in our lives when “things changed”. For me, an aimless afternoon in 6th grade threw open the door into an unknown room.

My 6th Grade class had three boys and four girls, farm kids all. One late spring afternoon, seemingly stretching into infinity, our teacher, a rare male teacher and oddly reminiscent of Ben Stein in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, surprised us with a rare resort to trivia. No doubt the struggle of riding herd on hormonally addled tweens had worn him out and he was anticipating “Miller Time”, back in town at the Union Bar.

I remember our answers. In our turn, we all answered right away, no question as to our favorites. The boys were unanimous, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” – the girls were in sync as well – “Poetry in Motion”. I remember my puzzlement at the time, a puzzlement shared next day at recess with my two friends – “We’ve never heard of “Poetry in Motion”, what radio station plays that?”

My 6th Grade, living on a farm in the 50’s & 60’s miles from a small town, was a culture of God and Country. Not only me, but all the boys of my acquaintance were country boys. We went to Sunday School, listened to Tex Ritter and the Sons of the Pioneers on the radio. We watched Gil Favor and Rowdy Yates drive cattle on TV, while Rob & Laura Petry slept in twin beds.

Surprisingly the girls in my neighborhood seemed to grow up in another world, even though they lived down the road in families just like mine. Sharing childhood stories with a wife who shares my age and background, I realize she grew up in that other world as well.

Time passes. While the days are often long, the years are short and some six decades have passed since that lazy afternoon. Some days, that long gone moment in 6th Grade is more real to me than this morning’s breakfast.

The days of young boys on the cusp of puberty listening to the sexless lyrics of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” are long gone. Watching my grandsons and granddaughters, I see the girls acquiring a worldly wisdom almost from the cradle while the boys are oddly innocent, persisting in their contests of urination length. It seems the sexes grow into their sinful selves on different timetables, but while I was allowed a blissful isolated innocence during my formative years, my grandsons are not so favored.

That long gone afternoon in 6th Grade opened the door to a new world and in only weeks, things had changed. Like our grandfathers returning from WWI, “How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree”. Listening to the radio while drying the dishes after dinner, Floyd Bigger’s Country Time on KNEB was out, but Teen Beat on KOLT rocked. I and my two friends could now tap our toes to Poetry in Motion as well as Palisade Park and Blue Navy. For me, the lyrics of “Poetry in Motion”, mildly suggestive of the growing difference – sweater wise, between middle school boys and girls came as a revelation.

“Poetry in motion, walkin’ by my side

Her lovely locomotion keeps my eyes open wide

Poetry in motion, see her gentle sway

A wave out on the ocean could never move that way”

Today’s middle schoolers are denied the opportunity to tap their toes to songs on the radio while drying supper dishes but they’re shorted on poetry as well, suggestive or otherwise. However just like my generation, popular music still explains even as it defines their world. But rather than Bobby Tillotson, their guide into the intricacies of the birds and bees is Meghan Trainor. She points out the same landmarks along the way as Bobby Tillotson but uses a very different road map:

“I could wear my Louis Vitton

But even with nothin’ on

Bet I made you look

Yeah I look good in my Versace dress – Take it off, baby

But I’m even hotter when my morning hair’s a mess”

Things are different. In the name of personal freedom, my generation has been engaged in removing the guardrails for a long time. The picture of “her lovely locomotion keeps my eyes open wide” has given way to “I look good in my Versace dress – Take it off baby”. Where once earlier generations traveled a well patrolled and safely maintained road into adult independence, tweens and teenagers now drive hopped up sports cars on poorly marked icy roads with hair pin curves. The results speak for themselves.

But both songs speak of sexual desire, the sine qua non of human existence. Without it, our species has no future. As the Book of Genesis in words both more circumspect and bold than either Johnny Tillotson or Meghan Trainor, puts it thus;

“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain . ..”

Sex is sex, whether growing up in the Bible Belt or in the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar. That is true of all the other drives that are part of our existence. We travel the road of our existence, as the writer of Hebrews puts it – “running with endurance the race that is set before us”.

It is the mark of our existence that those natures common to us may exalt us even as they complete us or they may simply demean us, degrading us into acts so foul even the beasts of the field recoil in disgust. Sex may lead us into a meaningful life of partnership with a soul mate, or seduce us into the pit of depravity.

It is also the mark of our existence that whether introvert or extrovert, people person or recluse, we run the race set before us alone. At the risk of going overboard on song lyrics, an old Kingston Trio folk song (The Reverend Mr. Black) captures the reality of humanity’s existence:

“I got to walk that lonesome valley

I got to walk it by myself

Oh, nobody else can walk it for me

I got to walk it by myself”

One of the most spectacular drives in a Colorado crammed full of them is the Million Dollar Highway – US Route 550 from Silverton to Ouray. The Million Dollar Highway travels the San Juan mountains, traversing three high mountain passes with steep grades and hairpin turns. Traveling north from the historic mountain town of Silverton, one finally arrives at Lookout Point on Red Mountain Pass. From there one looks down from this 11,000 ‘ elevation onto the town of Ouray – known as the America’s Switzerland. US Route 550 then descends in its most spectacular section, through the vertical walls of the narrow Uncompahgre Gorge to Ouray.

Like life, the Million Dollar Highway is not for the fainthearted, particularly in winter. But the road is wide, well maintained and possesses guardrails – a security blanket for our nervous nature as well as serving the more prosaic function of preventing skidding cars from precipitous falls over high cliffs. Only bad luck, inexperience or reckless driving will get the driver into very serious trouble despite the great dangers posed by the terrain.

Until one comes to Red Mountain Pass. The final section of road descending three thousand feet to Ouray has no guard rails to prevent a skidding car from going over the side into the canyon hundreds of feet below. Due to frequent avalanches and the need for plows to push snow over the side into the gorge, guardrails can’t be built. The road is also very narrow and steep as well as crooked. Granite markers alongside the road commemorating the snowplow drivers who went over the side are sobering reminders of what can happen. Traveling the road in winter on an icy surface is a white knuckle drive.

In many ways, the Million Dollar Highway is a metaphor for life. Bad luck, bad decisions, inexperience, a moments inattention can send us over a cliff. But a guardrail keeps us from the worst outcomes as well as providing a security blanket dampening the disabling anxiety of our minds. Having driven the Million Dollar Highway many times, I can tell you that a winter’s descent into Ouray is a very different experience than the securely guard railed section from Silverton to Red Mountain Pass.

Earlier, I said that sex is sex, whether in the Bible Belt or Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. True enough, but perhaps too simple, a simplicity obscuring important truths. We are the same people with the same natures and drives, whether in the Bible Belt or Babylon, but the cultures are different, the ground rules vary substantially. Sex is probably our most important drive, but it is also, like Uncompahgre Gorge, an existential hazard. Bad luck, bad decisions, inexperience, a moments inattention can ruin our lives, as well as those around us. Guardrails keep us safe.

As I ruminate on life as it is in 2023 and as it was in that 6th Grade classroom, I am struck by our present day’s loss of innocence. Spending time in the New Testament, I am struck by that same lack of innocence prevailing some two thousand years ago. Between then and now, that stretch of intervening time saw the emergence of a culture and world view that we know as Christendom.

Back then, an obscure itinerant Jewish Rabbi, one Jesus of Nazareth, spent three years teaching a new philosophy, a new system of ethics. His world, the world of the Roman Empire as well as virtually every other culture in every time and place, operated on an ethic of just retribution, repay like with like; an eye for an eye – a tooth for a tooth.

Instead, this Jesus taught something different. One of his followers, a despicable tax collector for the hated Romans named Levi, wrote down his words:

“Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. . .”

Obviously this kind of talk, if pursued seriously is just plain naïve, even stupid – an invitation to be used and abused. Someone spouting this nonsense could never be anything more than a homeless beggar, unless of course he found a rich patron anxious to nurture his inner child. But this Jesus could not be ignored. Even if his words were nonsense, the fact was – he could do miracles, heal people, feed crowds of thousands from nothing.

A people living on the other side of the world from this Jesus, the Japanese, have a saying; “the nail that sticks out gets hammered”. Jesus was indeed a nail sticking out, and in a short time he was duly hammered down.

That would have been the end of the matter. A properly functioning culture has ways of purging the foolish, the insane, those who preach the absurd. But a funny thing happened on the way to the wastebasket. His followers proclaimed Jesus’ resurrection from death and ascension into Heaven, spending their lives in the light of that belief even as they lived out his teaching. Those who did so began to be called “Christians”.

Within a century, Christians had become a significant minority within the Empire. Within three centuries, their faith had become the creed, their teachings the ethic of the Empire. Even as the Empire decayed and fell victim to younger, stronger more vigorous peoples, the faith and teachings of Jesus spread, growing ever stronger.

This faith and teaching was synchronistic as it grew, drawing on the secular acumen and traditions of both Athenian Greece and Jewish Jerusalem. Over the centuries it grew ever more powerful and sophisticated until today when that adopted child of a vanished Roman Empire is by far the most powerful culture in the world.

We call this culture, founded on the teachings of Jesus, fortified by the accumulated centuries of wisdom expounded by both Greek and Jew – Christendom. Our own nation, the United States, was founded on ideas and expectations peculiar to Christendom, a distillation guided by 17 centuries of practical experience.

Perhaps the most influential words ever written by men are the opening sentence of our Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson wrote these words in 1776:

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

To any other culture than that of Christendom, in any place or time, these words are nonsense, patently untrue. In any other culture outside Christendom, they are not even an attractive ideal. But these words, a neon sign illuminated by the radiance of Christ as the true Son of God, have been a bright and shining light to men and women around the world ever since. The words have continued to inspire, even though we fall short time and again. But whether realized in practice or not, these words are the foundational truths of our culture and our time, the first principles we return to.

Virtually any idea of righteous living, of right and wrong, in our country is an outgrowth of those words. Whether put forth by AOC or Bernie Sanders, by Donald Trump or Ron Santos, by Oprah Winfrey or Jordon Peterson, our yardstick for righteous action rests on the ideas and standards set by those words. And those words are peculiar to Christendom.

But Christendom has changed. Christendom is and always has been a cultural idea rather than a statement of faith. Over the centuries, many if not most within the culture are not Christians in the literal sense, that is, not those “born again” – identified as his true brothers by Jesus in the third chapter of John’s Gospel.  But all in Christendom live in the light of its precepts, knowing right from wrong, what is desirable conduct by those seeking to live a good life. Returning to the metaphor of the Million Dollar Road, Christendom has provided a well patrolled and maintained road supplied with a good supply of guardrails for those living inside its borders.

But as I mentioned earlier, my generation has been engaged in a life long effort to remove those guardrails. Young boys of my generation heard songs warning us that unless we lived a good life we would be doomed to an eternal hell of:

“. . chasing red-eyed cows ..

Their brands still on fire and hooves made of steel . . .

The riders faces gaunt, eyes blurred, shirts soaked with sweat

On horses snortin’ fire . . .

Tryin’ to catch the Devil’s herd, across these endless skies”

Even though we were young boys and the hormones were strong in us, the media shaping us exhorted us to rise above our sinful natures and live a life becoming a citizen of Christendom. The idea of a Hell ruled by a Devil was an accepted part of our world. Our much more worldly-wise classmates of the female persuasion understood their power but were advised by that same media to use it with caution and circumspection.

My grandsons in contrast will be shaped by voices accepting of their base natures and asking nothing more of them than indulgence. “Make sure you get permission before you engage in debauchery!” The ideas of Hell and the Devil have been carefully elided from their world, vestiges of patriarchal oppression. My granddaughters, as worldly wise as their grandmothers were, will be given no counsel of caution and circumspection; instead being urged to flaunt and celebrate their power even as they are encouraged to worship the idols of fashion, loaded guns in the hands of children lusting for the drappery of harlots.

“When I do my walk

I can guarantee your jaw will drop

Yeah, I look good in my Versace dress (Take it off baby)

But I’m hotter when my morning hair’s a mess”

The writer of Hebrews speaks of our life as “running with endurance the race that is set before us”. At the same time, he advises us that we will have more success in that long race if we “throw off the sins that so easily entangle us”. It is great if we possess the faith and strength of will to “throw off those sins” as well as the luck to avoid rolling snake eyes, but it helps to have guardrails through that dangerous canyon.

Old men, since the days of Adam, have groused about how the younger generation is degenerate, on the path to destruction. But times do change and somehow the younger generation goes on, the Christendom of the Emperor Constantine was different than that of Charlemagne. The crusading Christendom of Pope Urban II was different from that of Martin Luther, and the Christendom of Queen Elizabeth I was different from that of Elizabeth II.

Times do change but in our time something deeper has changed. Christendom has always been built on ideas, upon precepts, that are nonsense when considered in the cold light of reason. The pseudo-sciences of “studies” have attempted to prove the counterintuitive ideas of Christendom to be evolutionary advantages rather than invitations to thankless servitude, but these “scientific studies” are simply whistling past the graveyard by the tenure seeking sycophant.

Christendom grew from the shameful death of Jesus on the hill of Golgotha to the most powerful culture in history, not because its ideas were evolutionarily advantageous but because of who that Jesus was, the true Son of God, and the lives of the people who put their faith in Him, believing that He was who He said He was.

It is the Christ in Christendom that gives it power. Before his execution on that Judean hillside outside Jerusalem, Jesus was interviewed by its Roman Governor, the Procurator of Judea – Pontius Pilate. Pilate did not want to execute Jesus. It was both dangerous as well as inexpedient for him to acquiesce in Jesus’ death.

Pilate interviewed Jesus, seeking a way to avoid approving his death. Pilate asks why Jesus should die, isn’t there a way around this unpleasantness? Jesus answers him:

“I have come into the world that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Upon hearing these words, Pilate responds with words that echo every other culture in every other time. In the year 2023 Pilate’s words echo America, they echo a very large part of Christendom. Pilate answers Jesus with these words – “What is truth?”

At the very foundation of Christendom is the idea of truth, an eternal, unchanging truth unaffected by circumstances, by money or position, a truth sharper than any two edged sword.

Revisiting our Declaration of Independence and its vision: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,”. In the current day, we have grown very uncomfortable with the idea of truth. Along with the roadmap of sexuality supercharged by the status symbols offered by Megan Trainor, our children are growing up with the idea of “My Truth”, a truth different from everybody else’s “Truth”. How can “truths be self-evident” if everyone’s truth is different? As Jesus has been shown the door of America’s schools, his place has been taken by Pontius Pilate.

To see the extent of Pilate’s influence, we only have to look to our public life. One George Santos is now a member of the House of Representatives. Virtually everything Mr. Santos has said about his life is a lie, a lie so brazen and thin as to be dumbfounding. And yet he is a member in good standing of the Republican House majority. Both of our two recent Presidents are known for their lying natures. So much for Thomas Jefferson’s assumption of America’s citizens ability to recognize the “self evident truth”.

Central to the modern worldly dominance of Christendom has been that era of time known as The Enlightenment, the name given to that period of history where science, logic and reason took hold in the affairs of men. The Enlightenment was uniquely a feature of Christendom, something other cultures passed by. Science and technology grew out of The Enlightenment, as well as the idea of human rights. The words of Thomas Jefferson are an embodiment of the ideas spawned in The Enlightenment.

It was within Christendom that science and technology has been nurtured and grown. Could our time of technology have happened within any other cultural paradigm? One does not know with certainty but considering the worldwide record of human civilizations over at least 12,000 years, the empirical answer has to be a resounding – “NO!!”

Can science advance, or even exist, in the absence of “Truth”?  One has only to remember the example of Lysenkoism in the Soviet Union to see how science becomes political dogma when a commitment to the truth is lost.

But in time honored fashion, the child nurtured grows and seeks to supplant that which gave it life. Imagining ourselves masters of our domain, seemingly with existential power over our world we turn to “Science” for our direction. We are no longer children, in the grip of folktales and myths purporting to convey some mystical “Truth”, we are rational adult beings operating out of logic and reason. We will find “Truth” in “Science”.

Yet how can “Truth” be found in something whose very foundation is a lie? All science is founded on, derived from, the 1st Law of Thermodynamics which states that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, the foundation reality upon which rests 1 + 1 = 2. Yet look in the mirror. Obviously matter and energy were created, sometime, somewhere.

Of course, even if we ignore its obvious contradictions and soothe ourselves with the wonders wrought by engineers in the name of “Science” we fool ourselves. Science can be a valuable servant but is a dissolute and incontinent teacher who all too easily turns on us, creating a demon haunted nightmare. Dystopia is the word used to describe a future governed by scientists using logic and reason.

But logic and reason do not animate men – or women. We may use them to achieve our desires, or to camouflage our sins, but neither logic nor reason animate us. As recent events have shown, in the absence of “Truth”, “Science” is easily suborned to the will of those seeking to enslaving us, seeking to fetter us to their service even as they destroy our humanity.

Logic and reason are not what is in the human heart. Unless totally unaware of self, everyone knows that. A decade past, Selena Gomez had a chart-topping song about the human heart titled with a phrase so commonly used as to be positively banal; “The Heart Wants What the Heart Wants.”.

Twenty five hundred years ago, the prophet Jeremiah put a bit finer point on the desires of our heart;

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: Who can know it?”

The wisdom of cultures across time and space agree with Jeremiah’s sad conclusion. Two centuries after Jeremiah wrote those words, a Greek philosopher named Diogenes is remembered for his lifelong but fruitless search for a single honest man. Fifteen centuries before Jeremiah, the Patriarch Abraham bargained with God over the existence of righteous men in the doomed city of Sodom. So much for the logic and reason of “Science” as the locus of “Truth”.

In the absence of “Truth”, those of less whimsical faith and greater experience of the world seek “Truth’s” close cousin in the “Law”. Perhaps we may not know the “Truth”, but we have the facts and they can be measured against an impartial bar. Something approximating the “Truth” can be found in the “Law”. Both the Jews of Old Testament times and the Romans of both the Republic and Empire periods invested their cultures in this approach.

Having been a participant in numerous legal disputes, my experience is that facts are plastic things, the “Law” is a porous forest with innumerable thicketed paths and the truth has little bearing on its deliberations. The Jews and Romans found this to be their experience as well.

And then there is Christendom – a culture built on the foundation of “Truth” and that “Truth” embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle John puts it in the immortal preamble to his Gospel:

“The Word (Jesus Christ) became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

In his own words, also reported by that same John, this Jesus describes his mission as:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Christendom has been built on the solid foundation of “Truth”, a clear eyed look at the light filled reality of creation and nothing less. But the bricks of its structure have been mortared with the cement of love.

As human beings we are uncomfortable with the uncompromising hard edges of “Truth”. The warm fuzzy softness of love is so much easier to live with. As Christ and “Truth” are increasingly unwelcome in Christendom, love has been embraced with relief in near maniacal intensity.

We virtue signal our goodness by flaunting our love even as the darkness, once banished by the light of “Truth”, closes in once more. We love rescue dogs, the Earth, our Facebook friend’s new diet, etc. But in the absence of “Truth”, our ideas of love grow diffuse and much like “My Truth”, everyone has their own “My Love”.

But then Christendom was not built on “My Love” just as it was not built on “My Truth”. Love, its meaning and definition, is spoken of often in Scripture. But perhaps most telling for the purposes of this writing, is that of the Apostle Paul in the beautiful 13th Chapter of I Corinthians. In there Paul writes of the connection between “Love” and “Truth”:

“Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth”.

As “Truth” is removed from Christendom, how can “Love” remain? And if both “Love” and “Truth” are absent, how can Christendom survive?

2 Responses to ““My Truth””

  1. Jim Emery says:

    Always enjoy the Biblical references and tie-ins.
    We certainly haven’t been given the truth and accurate science from our governments as what we do get is their machinations endeavored to control and manipulate us.
    Good thought-provoking read!

  2. Russell G Kyncl says:

    Worthwhile thoughts as always. A point of historical trivia: Wesley Tuttle, who I believe was one of the lead voices in Sons of the Pioneers, was my grandmother Pluma Tuttle Drescher’s first cousin.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Email Updates

  • Categories

  • What I’m Reading

    What I’m Reading

    The Twelfth Department
    By William Ryan

    What happens when we forget, or never bothered to learn, what we believe in and why we believe? What happens when the emotional whirls of Facebook and Twitter are the depths of our understanding? Evil, great evil, is regularly found lurking in the unexamined depths of good intentions. Mathew Arnold put our present political climate in memorable words years ago:

    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night

    Novels, good stories, provide a lens to see life, including our beliefs, without camouflage. As an example, JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the finest Bible commentaries ever written. Progressive political ideals may lack in recent electoral success, but have undisputed possession of today’s moral high ground. And while death and taxes may be the only sure bets, the eventual victory of those holding the high ground have very good odds in any battle.
    And so fiction provides a look at eventual victories. There is no question that the outlines of today’s progressive agenda can be clearly seen in other times and places. William Ryan takes us to a time and place fondly imagined, idealized at the time, by the forefather’s of todays progressive leadership. In The Twelfth Department, we see a police captain in 1930’s Moscow. Captain Alexei Korolev is just a man trying to be a good father, a good citizen, a good police officer. In many ways Alexei is a fortunate man, with a good reputation and many more material advantages than the average citizen. But a high profile murder brings him into ambiguous circumstances. The tone of the book is respectful of life in Moscow, with no axes to grind. It is just a portrait of a man trying to do his job, bringing a gruesome killer to justice, among ordinary human beings seeking only to live normal lives in a progressive paradise.

  • Recent Comments