What is True?

If you saw this past Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine, perhaps like me you were struck by the quote on the first page:


Printed in capital letters as it was, it came across not like the screaming of an all-caps email or text, but rather as something solidly incontrovertible. Representative John Lewis’s words, said in connection to the Smithsonian’s soon-to-open museum of African-American history and culture, are worthy of engraving in stone.

Does it seem that people are sometimes afraid of the truth though? I don’t mean the superficial truths about someone’s appearance or revelations that are somewhat embarrassing, but those deeper truths that involve the rights and wrongs of justice.  Moral truths that affect people lives in important ways.  The kinds of truth, in other words, that force us to face our fears and require us to change.

“The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution,” said one wise philosopher, Albus Dumbledore, to a young Harry Potter.  Is it the terrible part of truth that we fear?  The uncomfortable parts that keep us from maintaining a moral certainty of correctness? Of our superiority?  The stuff we try to sweep under the rug, sometimes with great (if temporary) success?

What better time is there than the height of a presidential election season to meditate on the word “truth”? Especially this election, with its accusations of secretiveness, outright lies, and manipulations of truth (a.k.a. polling!).  Am I right in my sense that the concept of truth is taking more of a beating than usual this time around?  That factual truths can be so easily proven in this day and age makes me wonder if we’re de-sensitized to lying.  Everyone lies after all.  But what about those things which can’t be verified with a quick Google search?

The etymology of the word “true” is telling.  Coming from a Middle English word for tree, trewe, from Old English trēowe, and Old High German triuwi, meaning faithful, it is also a word that is probably related to Sanskrit’s dāruṇa (hard) and dāru (wood).  Rootedness then is something that trees and beliefs have in common.

Before we name as true some of those deeply held beliefs which are firmly rooted in us, do remember that at one time people knew that the world was flat, that the sun revolved around the earth, that left-handed people were evil, that women are the property of men, that people of African descent are inferior.  These weren’t (and aren’t) casually held opinions.  These things were simply true. Holding too firmly to something that proves to be untrue sounds like a recipe for ridicule and disappointment.

If a truth has deep roots then maybe it can withstand the hollow lies people cling to.  What are some of the truths that we might allow to become deeply rooted in us? Truths that won’t open us to ridicule and disappointment.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu may have come closest to naming some basic truths in one of his oft-quoted sermons, and I can’t help but believe that the world would be a better place if we allowed these to take root in us:

Good is stronger than evil; Love is stronger than hate; Light is stronger than darkness; Life is stronger than death. Victory is ours, through him who loves us.

Worthy of engraving on our hearts. And if I may,  I’d like to add one more…truth is stronger than deception.


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Where I’ll be:

September 4 through November 20 – organist/choir director at Chevy Chase Presbyterian Church (1 Chevy Chase Circle, Washington, D.C.) while their Music Director is on sabbatical. http://www.chevychasepc.org

September 27 – organist and choir director for a service celebrating the institution of The Rev. Matthew Hanisian as Rector of St. Martin’s-in-the Field Episcopal Church, Severna Park, MD. 7:00 p.m.

October 5 – Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center, 6:00 p.m., I will be playing on a program with Furia Flamenco and Guillermo Christie.

Also in October, I will be playing for the High Holy Days (a first for me) for the Bethesda Jewish Congregation.

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This blog represents my attempt to put thoughts together on various things that seem to connect – in my mind anyway. More often than not new ideas first involve reaching back to what was and I can only hope that the prehistoric San cave painting at the top of this page inspires all kinds of new connections between old and new.

Feel free to pass this message along to anyone who might be interested. You can simply subscribe (look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the post) to get a reminder of new posts, or you can register with a user name and password in order to comment. If a community conversation comes out of this, all the better. We have so much to share and so much to be grateful for.


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