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An apology offered and, equally important, received is a step towards reconciliation. –Margaret MacMillan

Greetings Gentle Reader.  As I noted as I concluded PART I, ‘Few things have been denied more often, and more variously, than human freedom.’ 

Consider ‘Fate’ – the Greek concept of ‘ananke’.  Fate is in the hands of the gods – an ancient concept (well, perhaps for some today a current concept).  With ‘progress’ it was attributed to divine (Calvin) or physical (Spinoza) determinism, or economic forces (Marx) or the experiences of early childhood (Freud) or genetic determinism (the neo-Darwinians). 

The Hebrew Bible (for us Christians and Muslims, ‘The Old Testament’) stresses that if our behavior is no more than the effects of causes over which we have no control, then we, indeed, inhabit a world that is tragically configured.  Against ‘Fate-Determinism’ the ‘Bible’ stresses faith – God’s Faith – in ‘Freedom’ [Freedom to… Freedom from… Freedom for…]. 

Given this, consider that ‘Repentance’ is the proof that we can freely choose and thus transform (transform = a fundamental change in character). 

For example.  In the ‘Joseph Story’ in Genesis the Judah who offers to sacrifice his freedom so that Benjamin can go free is not the same man he was two decades earlier.  IF, each of us (or enough of us) can change ourselves (think, for example, ‘Repent and Reconcile’) we can, indeed, change the world. 

Consider that the ‘Joseph Story’ tells the story of man’s faith in God – AND – more significantly it tells the story of God’s faith in man. 

The ‘Joseph Story’ brings Genesis to closure by demonstrating that sibling rivalry IS NOT a given in we human’s story.  We humans can transform, repent, reconcile and grow physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. 

Joseph’s brothers demonstrate that they have transformed when they concretely show that they are no longer willing to let Benjamin (the ‘Joseph-Substitute’) become enslaved (physically and spiritually).  And, Joseph, by his act of reconciliation demonstrates that he is not captive of his being sold into slavery (his past) and he is not captive to ‘resentment’ (an ‘eye for an eye’).  Joseph’s statement: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good,’ demonstrates the power of a religious vision that can then reframe history (remember, Gentle Reader, the root of ‘religion’ is ‘religio’ which means ‘to rebind, to make whole, to heal’). 

‘Freedom,’ in a real sense, includes the freedom to reshape our understanding of the past and provides us the opportunity to heal from our legacy of inflicting pain upon one another (and from doing violence to ourselves). 

For me, this could not be more significant in the context of the sibling rivalry between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Truly, the past does not dictate nor predict the future.  ‘Repentance and Reconciliation’ are available to us siblings.  We three siblings have the opportunity to love one another as our God loves us.  We have the freedom to choose.  God is patient.  God is hopeful.  God is merciful.  God models for us, His children. 

In PART III we will revisit the ‘Joseph Story’ and, perhaps, learn more. 

Repentance and Reconciliation are decisions that you take in your heart. –Ingrid Betancourt

Forgiveness is easy, repentance – true change of character – is difficult. –Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

For a number of months now, Gentle Reader, I have been immersing myself in the Book of Genesis.  There are a number of powerful themes contained in this Book and perhaps the most powerful and impactful is the theme of Sibling Rivalry

The first, as you might know, is the rivalry between Cain and Abel.  Because of their rivalry we humans could be in a greater world of hurt than we are, for ‘Hope’ and ‘Repentance & Reconciliation’ would not be available to us.  There are, in Genesis, three powerful sibling rivalries that over time demonstrated the power of ‘Hope,’ ‘Repentance & Reconciliation’.  These three also provide us a guide, a guide that we, today, might choose to follow.  Like most ‘Guides’ this one is simple but not simplistic for it requires ‘true change of character’ – a ‘transformation.’ 

The first occurs between Isaac and Ishmael and ‘Repentance & Reconciliation’ are implied.  Their story merely speaks of them standing together at Abraham’s funeral.  Then with Esau and Jacob, the brothers meet and embrace as friends and then part and go their separate ways.  ‘Repentance & Reconciliation’ is more than implied.  Finally, with Joseph and his brothers the path of ‘Repentance & Reconciliation’ is made very clear indeed – it is also ups the ante and restores ‘Hope.’

Consider, Gentle Reader, in the ‘Joseph Story’ the issue is not ‘FORGIVNESS.’  Remember, Joseph forgives his brothers without their asking for it, without their apology (a request for forgiveness), and well before he reveals who he is (the brother they sold into slavery). 

The challenge here is ‘Repentance’.  As Rabbi Sacks reminds us ‘Forgiveness is easy, repentance – true change of character – is difficult.’  It is ‘Repentance’ – moral growth – that the ‘Joseph Story’ challenges us to embrace. 

‘The People of the Book’ (Jews, Christians & Muslims) believe that our God – the God of Abraham – created us in His image and in doing so has graced us with ‘Free Will’.  We have the freedom to choose the ‘good’ and we have the freedom to choose the ‘evil.’ 

Consider the early chapters of Genesis.  We can feel God’s pain and disappointment.  Adam and Eve are followed by Cain who is followed by the ‘People of the Flood.  Even with all of this to-do God never considers taking our ‘Free Will’ – our ‘Freedom to Choose’ – away from us.  The God of Freedom desires that we, his ‘children’ freely desire and freely choose to love Him and one another and that we freely choose to worship Him.  Furthermore, only a being with ‘freedom to choose’ is a true ‘Other’ and thus the ‘freedom to choose’ plus the honoring of the ‘differences of the other’ are central to God’s ‘Divine Plan.’ 

Consider this, Gentle Reader: Fewer things have been denied by we humans to our sibling humans than ‘Human Freedom’ in all of its forms (think: Freedom to… Freedom from… Freedom for…). 

Do not judge your fellow until you have been in his place. –Mishnah

‘No way!  I am not going to talk to that person!  No Way!’  As a thought-partner to others, I cannot even begin to count the number of times during the past 48 years I have heard these words passionately pronounced (nearly verbatim with each utterance which is weird in itself).  I know it is difficult for you to believe Gentle Reader but I have also spewed these words out into the world – more than a few times (but I digress – or do I). 

Recently these ‘No Way!’ words were offered up in response to my inquiry: ‘What might happen if you listened intently and receptively to…?’  The ‘No Way!’ statement quickly followed.  I paused. I continued. ‘What might happen if, instead of declaring or debating, you inquired in order to understand what matters to…?’  ‘What might happen if you sought to understand what … is looking for?’  ‘What might happen if you listened in order to discern the common ground upon which you both stand?’  Durning the following hour the gift we gave one another was, among other gifts, an excellent ‘searching conversation.’

A few hours later, as I was reflecting upon our good thinking experience some words from Ephesians emerged into my consciousness.  Here is the complete passage from Ephesians. 4:2. ‘With humility and gentleness, and with patience, support each other in love.’ [NJB]   

As many of us know, listening intently and receptively in order to understand is a gift to both the speaker and the one who is seeking to listen in this way.  We also seem to know that if we listen rooted in humility, gentleness, and patience while being motivated by a desire to support the other in love that our gift is magnified to the power of ten (if not more). 

So, why do I choose not to listen – moreover, not to listen in this way?  Well, for one thing, this type of listening takes time and I am a very busy person.  My life is a series of bytes (sound and time).  I am suffering from what Milan Kundera calls ‘Hurry Sickness.’  From an early age I was taught to defend and debate and be tenacious when it came to ‘my opinions.’  I was taught to ‘attack’ viewpoints that were contrary to mine.  I was taught to label, categorize and marginalize those who were not like me/us.  I was taught to listen in order to find a weakness and then to exploit the weakness.  I learned all of this well.  I have discovered that many others have also learned the same lessons as well, if not better than, I.

Consider that we are members of what Deborah Tannen calls the ‘argument culture.’  We debate more than we inquire.  One symptom of this is regularly demonstrated when our Congress meets.  As one congress-person recently said: ‘I was not elected to comprise. I was elected to take a strong stand and not give in.’ Given that our Founding Fathers were clear that a democracy must be rooted in compromise, this congress-person’s comment raises my anxiety.  Democracy thrives rooted in ‘moderation’and moderation requires an ‘Ephesian approach’ to listening.  Congress simply reflects our culture (it is we, the people, after all who hire these folks).  Robert K. Greenleaf asks: ‘Why is there so little listening?’  He also asks: ‘When I speak, how will my speaking improve on the silence?’ 

Truth is strong and sometime or other it will prevail. –Mary Astell

This morning, Gentle Reader, we will continue to explore the question: Does ‘Truth’ Really Matter?  Because of our love of ‘spinning’ – in this case, spinning the ‘Truth’ – we have become less trusting and more cynical (especially when we hear someone say: ‘Trust me, I am telling you the truth!’).  In PART I: I invited us to briefly consider three nutrients that feed our Cynicism when it comes to defining and embracing the concept ‘Truth’.  In PART I we briefly explored ‘Relativism.’  We continue today briefly exploring the two other nutrients: ‘Fundamentalism’ and ‘Scientific Truth.’ 

Fundamentalism.  ‘Relativism’ is fluid (to say the least) and ‘Fundamentalism’ is solid (a bit of an understatement).  The Dictionary is helpful: ‘Fundamentalism is a movement or an attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.’   Fundamentalism is the polar opposite of Relativism.  The fundamentalist’s stand: ‘There is ‘THE TRUTH’ and I have it – and if you do not believe ‘THE TRUTH’ then you do not have truth – at worst you are blasphemous.’ 

Our diverse, pluralistic society is not served well by fundamentalism – when it comes to having ‘THE TRUTH.’  With the relativist, when truth is defined so broadly that it becomes meaningless so it is with the fundamentalist: when truth is defined too narrowly it also becomes meaningless (if one believes that a diverse, pluralistic society is crucial in order for democracy to survive and thrive). 

Fundamentalism, that is. ‘surety,’ kills creativity, experimentation, searching and seeking – if I am ‘sure’ then why would I inquire or question or search?  Potential garden enriching differences (seeds, roots, shoots and plants) are not allowed to ‘come alive’ and serve the garden that is society.  Consider that relativism says, ‘there are no weeds’ and that fundamentalism says ‘I know the weeds – any truth that is not my truth or any inquiry into my truth (e.g. ‘doubt’) are the weeds.’  Given this polarity – Relativism & Fundamentalism – some strive to seek the truth through science: ‘Scientific Truth.’

Scientific Truth.  Scientific Truth enables us to see and understand ‘Cause-Effect’ relationships.  It enables us to ‘hold’ an idea (if not a truth) and ‘explore’ it (disconfirm it) at the same time.  It allows us to say: ‘if this…then this’ (we can predict somethings).  But alas, Scientific Truth is not all that we want it to be.  Consider how much fabrication there is of research data, or, for example, how many drug making companies withhold certain results in order to get their product to market.  How many folks deny Scientific Truth (‘proof’ if you will): Climate change, Evolution, and when human life begins are popular generators of angry debates and even deadly actions.  If the scientist, like the rest of us, is primarily motivated first by emotions then how ‘objective’ can the scientist really be?  Scientists, unlike relativists and fundamentalists are more ‘theory-driven’ than ‘truth-driven’ and hence are seeking ‘disconfirmation’ just as much as they are seeking ‘confirmation.’ 

‘Truth’ is not an easy concept for us contemporary folk; it continues to be – as it was for the ancient wisdom figures, a complex, if not elusive, concept.  ‘Truth’ is likely to continue to generate doubt, confusion, division (often rooted in ‘surety’), spin, lies, guilt-free killing, or worse, guilt-free genocide.  These responses alone might well mean that in deed ‘Truth does Matter!’ – It has always mattered and it will continue to matter.  Truth will continue to matter for it is one of the ‘pearls of great price’ that we humans are searching for.   

We swallow greedily any lie that flatters us, but we sip only little by little a truth we find bitter. –Denis Diderot

I am a firm believer in the people.  If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis.  The great point is to bring them the real facts. –Abraham Lincoln

Truth will not make you rich – it will, however, make you free.  It used to be that truth mattered.  Truth would set one ‘free to. . .’ and ‘free from. . .’  Today, rather than setting us free we spin truth to fit our view of the world (or people or religion or ethnic groups or politics or….).  Like God, we create truth in our own image.  So I am sitting here this morning wondering: ‘Truth – Does it Matter?’  Gentle Reader, I invite you to briefly explore this question with me.

In our country ‘spin’ washes over us more powerfully than a great tsunami; unlike a ‘real’ tsunami this ‘spin tsunami’ never ceases its relentless hammering upon our psychic shores.  One of the great ‘spins’ has to do with ‘truth.’  For example, within the past ten years how many high profile folks from politicians, to religious leaders, to sports figures, to business leaders, to health care professionals have looked us in the eye and with great solemnity declared ‘I am telling you the truth!’ – We then find that their definition of truth-telling did not fit with or even complement our definition (‘our’ = we individuals who listened to these folks).  Has ‘truth’ been compromised?  Has ‘truth’ lost its inherent integrity?  So here is, perhaps, one major root of our ‘truth-challenge’ – the definition itself: What is truth?  Who defines truth?  Whose definition will I accept (believe in, follow, trust, or die for)? 

Traditionally, ‘Truth’ was a powerful thread that held together the diverse fabric that made up a civil society.  Today, more than ever before, ‘Truth’ is a thin thread that many do not trust will hold anything together much less the fabric of our society.  As we know all too well, when we do not trust we nurture into life – and sustain the growth of – cynicism; cynics abound (not the ancient philosophical cynics who were skeptics).  Cynicism might be the dis-ease of our society.  Cynicism erodes and kills truth. 

What feeds Cynicism?  Of the many nutrients that feed Cynicism I invite us to consider three of them: Relativism, Fundamentalism, and ‘Scientific Truth.’ 

Relativism.  It seems that we are all affected by, if not influenced by, relativism.  A relativist will say ‘There is no absolute truth!’ – In making this statement the relativist offers us an ‘absolute truth’ (ah, the irony of it all).  There is no ‘Truth’ from which all other truths proceed or to which all other truths are measured.  ‘Your truth’ is legitimate as long as it does not interfere with my ‘truth’ or my ‘lifestyle’ or my ‘desires,’ or my ‘freedom’ (which often is license dressed up in sheep’s clothing).  At its healthiest, relativism supports ‘tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’ and ‘diversity.’  Relativism disintegrates when the relativist becomes outraged by another’s philosophy or another’s sense of the ‘truth’ – especially when another’s truth crashes headlong into the relativist’s truth (then tolerance and acceptance are the babies that are tossed out with the bath water).  Some of the most rigid and absolutist folks I have ever met have been folks that have espoused ‘relativism’ – especially when it came to defining ‘truth.’ 

There are two other nutrients that feed our Cynicism and we will briefly explore these next time or we won’t. . .it’s all relative you know.

Silence is the mother of truth. –Disraeli