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Living In Truth



We need some reinforcements up here now, one officer told dispatch. They’re starting to pull the gates down. They’re throwing metal poles at us. As I approached the melee, I could hear the dull thud of stun grenades and see their bright flashes. It’s us versus the cops! A man yelled… A makeshift gallows stood near a statue of Ulysses S Grant. People paused to climb the structure’s wooden steps and take pictures of the Capitol framed within an oval noose…Supporters were using barricades as ladders to scale the balustrades and cutting through the fabric with knives. Officers blocked an opening…but they were outnumbered and obviously intimidated as the mob pressed against them, screaming threats and insults, pelting them with cans and bottles.”


This is a slice of the account of journalist Luke Mogelson in his book, The Storm is Here, of the near taking of Capitol Hill in Washington by Trump supporters on January 6, 2021, seeking to overturn the result of the US presidential election by force.


When this century began, there was lots of trendy talk about the wisdom of crowds. The internet was making us smarter together as we pooled our knowledge and insight. The market was humming, the combination of millions of economic decisions by producers and consumers highlighting scarcity before it was efficiently met. That was before the market crashed in 2008 and social media turned the internet into a cesspool. We talk a lot less about the wisdom of crowds now. We are starting to side with Nietzsche, who first talked about the madness of crowds.


There are historic ebbs and flows of optimism and pessimism about human nature. Right now it feels pessimistic. That might change in time, but we cannot get away from the sense that, in the midst of much kindness, there is nevertheless something profoundly wrong with the human condition; something not right with God. It is easy to point the finger at others, but we share these failings, and Jesus was especially hard on those who tried to deflect the blame.


The philosopher, Victor Klemperer, studied the Joseph Goebbels propaganda machine carefully. Klemperer was disturbed by how easily decent minded people were taken in by the Nazi machine. It was not simply the threat of violence; it was the abuse of language. Klemperer noted two particular propaganda tactics:


Lies are presented as facts


Phrases are repeated endlessly until they become plausible


This is pretty much how the internet works. And it is also the strategy of rabble rousing politicians not just in 1943 but in 2023.


It’s sometimes said that the people that turned on Jesus hours before his crucifixion were the same ones who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, suggesting how fickle human nature is. We can’t know that for sure, but the ugliness of these scenes show us how weak and cruel people can be when some are pulling the strings.


After his brief conversation with Jesus, Luke says Pilate came out to the crowd with a suggested compromise: he would have Jesus flogged and then released. But the crowd wanted more blood and pain than that; they wanted Jesus dead. It’s said of social media today that its algorithms guide people to more extreme positions than the ones they first hold. In Jerusalem that first Good Friday, a handful of people guided the rest of the crowd to the extremity. The fate of God’s Son decided by an infinitesimally small slice of the whole human race, and yet a slice representative of our weakness and moral cowardice.


People can think they are doing the work of God in the most unsettling of ways, and not just in the first century. Having broken into the Senate chamber in Congress on January 6, the journalist Luke Mogelson recounts how the people, having punched, kicked and tasered their way in, then stood in prayer, thanking Jesus for enabling them.


It is easy to point the finger. It is harder to see when we get it wrong. We don’t know what moral courage we would have if it came to it. It’s why we should honour the dissidents of our generation who have spoken truth to power: whether in Soviet Russia, Pinochet’s Chile or apartheid South Africa. But there are building bricks we can put in place in our daily lives that help us to live how God wants us to.


The Czech dissident Vaclav Havel talked about the need to live in truth. It could have come from the New Testament itself. Ours is an era that blurs the truth and the lie when it suits. That if you are shameless enough, your shamelessness will convince others. And if you tell the lie often enough, you will even come to believe it yourself, which is especially handy. We’ve all seen it in others. But do we see it in ourselves? One of the most important things we can do for God in this world is to tell honest stories about our lives. Honest stories liberate others to tell their own without having to spin it. And truthful stories walk us unfailingly to the cross.


Because at that cross, our ego and its deceptions are crucified with Christ. They die with the man who alone has the purity to redeem those lies. Christians spend a surprising amount of time striving to be something God has already made them. At Calvary, we died with Christ. And now we are raised with him to live in truth. Our daily task is to walk in it.



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