Monday, May 19, 2008

The Truth of Wood and Iron

A poem that just had to get written.

May 18, 2008, Trinity Sunday, in the wee hours. I've been involved in a lot of on-line theological wrangling, much of it done in a good spirit to constructive ends, but some of it has appeared mean-spirited and seems to be wielded harshly in order to cause pain. Truth is not always true, but is sometimes the vehicle of a greater lie. . . .

The Truth of Wood and Iron

Wood, good wood, true and real,
cut with care from the living growth,
that brings tall beauty to the hills,
and cools the air and shades the earth,
until it is needed.

Iron, honest and true,
dug from the cool depths of earth,
brought forth from rock with fervent fire,
and formed with the beauty of purpose.

Truth, honest reality just as it is,
formed into purpose by true honest labor,
and used for a purpose by true honest men,
according to what they have been told
is the true and right and lawful thing they should do.

And of truth, by truth, a thing is done,
and truth Himself is nailed to that wood,
and on that wood is hung,
and dies.

For truth, real truth without the One who made it,
without the guidance of the inner revelation,
without the purpose for which truth is made,
so often shows itself a source of danger,
an enemy to every goodness, every beauty,
and a source of ugliness and pain.

For truth, real truth, without the balm of love,
becomes a club with which to show one's power,
with which to beat one's adversaries down,
and to prove to all that may behold,
that the wielder of the truth deserves to reign,
and those others must be trampled down.

And like the truthful wood and iron,
the truth I wield, though it be proven right,
may be used for wrong,
and like the wood and iron of the Savior's death,
bring death, and pain,
and, taking truth, turn it into lie.


-------ed pacht

12 comments:

amo said...

Well said; edifying. Brings I Corinthians 13 to mind. Thank you.

Sandra McColl said...

Could one say that truth that is not spoken in love falls short of being truth?

Anonymous said...

Sandra: "Truth" refers to objective reality. When my doctor tells me I am overweight or my wife tells me I have halitosis, it is irrelevant whether they do so "in a loving way" or not. I am coming to suspect that the real antonym of truth is not falsehood, but sentimentality. It is one thing to say that truth "ought" to be spoken in love, but to say that it is "falls short of" being truth is to open a very wide door to subjectivism and relativism.
I am becoming a little suspicious of this word "mean-spirited." This is one of those judgmental terms where the principle of motes and beams may rightly be invoked.
Laurence K. Wells

poetreader said...

Truth may indeed be seen as objective reality, but that begs the question. Ultimately truth is the expression of the mind of God, and insofar as it expresses anything else falls short of real truth. Jesus said, "I am ... the truth."

If objective reality is expressed without love, or, worse yet, used as a weapon to do harm, then it is not expressive of the mind of God, and therefore does indeed fall short of truth in the fullest sense.

This line of thought in itself is not intended to be used as a club to beat on others with, but, at least primarily, as a reminder to watch out for the beam in our own eyes.

I have a rule of thumb that I frequently (not as often as should be, alas) apply to myself. I ask myself, "In what way am I being mean-spirited? In what way am I misusing truth?" If I find nothing to charge myself with, then it becomes clear that I am lying to myself. We all do that. We need to dig deeper, to find out where our own attitudes convert beautiful truth into a lie, and we need to be changed.

As anyone who reads my posts will know, I relish a strong discussion over principles, and can be forceful in expressing my opinions. That can be a good thing indeed,but, if there is any way that my attitude falls short of 1 Cor 13 (cited by Amo above), then I am useless or worse, and even objective truth has the effect, at least sometimes, of a lie.

ed

Anonymous said...

Ed, No one is going to argue with your central (almost gratuitous)point, that the truth should always be spoken and written with love.

But you are swimming into some dangerous waters. Sandra has summed up your poem succinctly, and (I think) accurately. The Law of love for God and neighbor must not be sentimentalized into subjectivity.

How many times has error gone unchallenged because everyone
wanted just to be nice (confusing
niceness with love). I find nothing in 1 Cor 13 about being nice; indeed, Paul's charismatic readers probably felt he wasn't nice in the least.

I wonder where you are headed with the assertion that "ultimately truth is the expression of the mind of God." When I read "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor" (Rom 11:33) or "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways my ways, says the Lord" (Isaiah 55:8), I wonder if you are leading me into some sort of scepticism, in which "truth" (an expression of God's mind) becomes ultimately unknowable.

You write "truth may be seen as objective reality." I would assert truth MUST be so understood, or else we have Griswold's "my truth and your truth." Without objective truth, it becomes impossible to say what Agape really is, and we are left with only limp-wristed "niceness." I recall a learned Benedictine priest who faced a Protestant audience and told them
"Sometimes one must be a little cruel in order to be very very kind." And as I reflect on my personal life experience, the people who loved me most were those who were not reluctant to tell me that I was full of crap.
Laurence K. Wells

poetreader said...

You miss my point, Father.
Of course truth must include objective reality, but objective reality alone does not come up to the level of truth. Real objective facts can be, and often are, used to do harm, and thus to promote the lie that doing such harm is justified. I know this from bitter experience, both as recipient and as perpetrator.

Truth as an expression of the mind of God starts with objective reality or it doesn't start, but it doesn't become Truth until it is infused with the One who IS Truth.

If you see subjectivism in what I'm saying and have been saying, you've chosen to ignore the definiteness (sometimes over-definitiveness) with which I habitually speak. I have to constantly correct my course so as not to misuse truth. To repeat what I said above:

"I have a rule of thumb that I frequently (not as often as should be, alas) apply to myself. I ask myself, "In what way am I being mean-spirited? In what way am I misusing truth?" If I find nothing to charge myself with, then it becomes clear that I am lying to myself. We all do that. We need to dig deeper, to find out where our own attitudes convert beautiful truth into a lie, and we need to be changed."

I said nothing anywhere about "niceness" and feel that your statements implying that I did are a complete distortion of my point. Love often is tough. St. Paul was no mealy-mouthed shrinking violet -- nor am I. Love required strong words sometimes. Theological discussion that doesn't get heated was probably not really worth having in the first place.

My point was and is that each one of us, starting with me, MUST, not should, but MUST make every effort to banish every intent other than love from that discourse, and MUST be ready to repent and change if he err from that course even the smallest amount.

I need constant examination of my own discourse, and constant repentance and amendment, if I am really to be expressing the truth of God -- and so do we all.

It's not up to me to judge how well you or anyone else is accomplishing that -- not until I tend to the beam in my own eye. The one thing I need to recognize is that the beam is there. I don't really want to be carrying onthis kind of conversation ad infinitum, but I will keep calling myself and the rest of us back to the mind of Christ (Ph.2:5ff), without which we cannot rreally present His Truth.

and I agree with your learned Benedictine friend.

ed

Sandra McColl said...

Just to make it clear: I do NOT subscribe to the 'nice' heresy and I'm pretty horribly unsentimental. But when we're talking of the truth that matters concerning eternal things (Fr Wells' halitosis will pass away . . .), if we do so without love, and use our knowledge of the truth as a means of scoring points against our neighbour, we do the truth a disservice and do not truly proclaim it. And I'm not saying that the truth even when spoken in love isn't going to be offensive to some people. They didn't crucify Jesus because he told them what they wanted to hear.

Anonymous said...

Did Sandra summarize your poem accurately? If so, then I grasped your point very well.

Could you break this down for us:
"but it doesn't become Truth until it is infused with the One who IS Truth."
Laurence K. Wells

Alice C. Linsley said...

The One who is Truth is the single reality, what St. Paul calls the Pleroma.

I enjoyed your poem, Ed.

poetreader said...

Yes she did (close anyway),
and, no you didn't, in the light of your comment, not even nearly.

Truth (in the sense of facts) without love is not truth at all.
Truth used with unloving purpose is being used to promoite a lie and is therefore a lie.

However, "Love" without propositional truth is the denial of all that is really loving, and therefore not love at all.

As the old pop song said, "You can't have one without the other."

I can have every proposition of the Creeds exactly correct, but if I don't have love, I have nothing -- I'm not even really a believer.

If I spout all kinds of platitudes about love, but do not accept the propositions of the Creeds, likewise I have nothing, and am not a believer.

Neither real faith in the creeds nor the grace of real unemotional tough love comes without the infusion of God's presence into our lives.

Sandra's latest comment is right on.

ed

Sandra McColl said...

Thanks for the endorsement, Ed.

And the Word Verification for this post is 'coiatikl'--is that some sort of meso-American curse?

poetreader said...

actually it's something one does to amuse a Japanese goldfish.

alternate spelling: koi-a-tickle

ed