The Right Reverend Dr. Craig B. Anderson, Rector
HONESTY: Psalm 119:153-160; Leviticus 19:33-37; Luke 8:4-15
Welcome to the new Winter Term and, this being the beginning of the Advent season, welcome to a new year. I have one of my favorite saints helping me this morning, Saint Paul. You will see, in front of the sword of righteousness that Paul is holding, a script that says, “Speaking the truth in love” from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Such is the subject of my Convocation address this morning. I stood in this pulpit a little over four years ago to deliver my fall convocation address. The subject of that address was the same as this morning’s, “speaking the truth in love.” I used this prop, a woodcarving of Saint Paul, our patron saint, to help in that regard. Honesty has been a part of the School since its founding, but the particular need to talk about it has been heightened at various times when it becomes evident that we must speak the truth in love to one another if we are to be a community and if we are to be a School family.
At that time, four years ago, I went on to say, “No matter what a person might do that violates our rules here at the School, standards, or expectations as students or faculty or staff, there is the possibility of forgiveness. But that possibility is premised on our willingness to confess the fault, tell the truth, and accept the consequences of our actions.” I also said that there was nothing that could permanently separate members of the community from the School family, or from the love of God if persons would tell the truth, confess what they had done, and accept the responsibility for their actions. I also emphasized that, if individuals did not tell the truth, persisted in lies or were dishonest, that there was no place for them in this community. In short, zero tolerance for dishonesty, zero tolerance for cheating, zero tolerance for lying, given the fact that truthfulness is essential for our life together as a School—not just academic honesty, but truth in relations with one another. For truth is a prerequisite for trust and trust is foundational for any and all communities.
I then explored the meaning of truth and identified at least four different kinds of truth that should guide our life together, and I think they are worth noting again. First, I noted that propositional truth is the language of logicians, mathematicians, and scientists—the truth that comes from rigorous inquiry and requires verification and proof, the very stuff of our education here and something that has been emphasized in all education since the enlightenment. Such truth presupposes academic and intellectual honesty.
A second type of truth that I pointed to was truth as revelation—truth not so much grounded in reason, but truth that discloses itself or comes to us from insight, from intuition, and from imagination; truth that comes to us when we least expect it, truth that grabs and shapes us in ways that can be surprising and inspiring. The kind of truth that inspired Saint Andrew, that we remember today, the patron saint of Scotland—that truth required that he followed Jesus and became a disciple.
The third type of truth I identified was regulative truth—the truth that lawyers deal with, that has to do with rules and guidelines that derive from social compacts or contracts within society and that regulate our life together. Our rules and expectations of one another here at School serve as examples of how we experience regulative truth. We also heard an example of regulative truth in the lesson this morning from Leviticus, “you shall keep all of my statutes and all of my ordinances, and observe: I am the Lord.”
Finally, embodied truth—Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the way and I am the truth, and I am the life.” In addition to Jesus, we see such embodied truth in persons like Confucius, Buddha, Saint Paul, and contemporary religious leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, persons who strike us as being the very incarnation of truth, goodness, and honesty itself.
This morning, I would like to direct your attention to the second half of Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians and to us here at St. Paul’s School—to not only speak the truth, but also to speak it in love. In English, we miss the nuance of the Greek word for “speaking,” which literally means unveiling or that which is unveiled, and gets at the notion that speaking the truth includes such senses as apprehending the truth, living the truth, being true, not only in speech but even more in terms of an inward disposition. In short, speaking the truth, from the Greek, includes living the truth.
So the question before us this morning, as we begin this new term and concentrate on honesty and speaking the truth in love as one of the SPS virtues, is how do we live the truth? That question may sound a bit odd since we are not in the habit of thinking about living the truth or honesty as an action. And yet, it is an important question and central to not only Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and what he was trying to convey to them, but also to us here at St. Paul’s School.
First, living the truth requires that we do not reduce truth to any one of its four forms. Taken to the extreme, propositional truth, for example, can result in an unintended scientism, which sees truth as only that which can be verified or proven.
Second, and perhaps not as obvious, truth as revelation, sometimes seen as the opposite of propositional or scientific truth, requires verification and efficacy in our life together as community and as a family.
And third, we are all familiar with an over-emphasis on regulative truth, given the fact that we live in a most litigious age. Paul acknowledged that the law is important, but emphasized that the law cannot save us. He pointed to the need for grace, forgiveness, and new beginnings. Let me emphasize that as we begin this new term. The law will not save us, but it is important that we attempt to live by it.
Finally, embodied truth can result in an idolatry of a person, or a nation—an ever-present danger for us as a superpower. We are all too familiar with charismatic leaders who inspire individuals to do their very best, but we are also aware of charismatic figures who can, if misguided, lead groups and nations to disaster. History is replete with such examples.
The awareness of the four different types of truth helps us to be honest and to live truth through a recognition that there are many different truths that compete for our attention and that we need to be open to these different forms of truth as we live together as a community that strives to be honest. This is especially true here at St. Paul’s School, a very close and intense community where we search for intellectual certainty, spiritual clarity, role models, and adherence to not only the laws of the State of New Hampshire and our nation, but also the SPS Covenant that is the very embodiment of what we mean by living the truth.
Another aspect of what Paul is saying to the Ephesians is important for us. The context in which Paul writes to the Ephesians has to do with divisions among them. And so, Paul’s words about living the truth have to do with overcoming divisions born of partial truth or falsity in a recognition that truth finally unites. I think this is especially important for us here at the School, given the fact that we spend a good bit of time celebrating diversity. While the celebration of diversity is a good thing, we also need to celebrate unity. Unity presupposes diversity, and the celebration of diversity is not our final goal. The truth that Paul is pointing to, and that we need to be aware of, is that our celebration of diversity should lead us to recognize our common humanity and the shared values that we attempt to live for the up-building of our local and global community.
Now what does all of this have to do with living the truth as an aspect of love and an expression of honesty? The example of Jesus is helpful here. Jesus came not to establish a new religion, or to set forth a series of propositions, or to give a new set of laws and regulations. Rather, Jesus, when asked about his self-understanding, responded by inviting his critics to look at the works and the deeds that he had done—in short, the truth that he had lived, and the love that he had shared. He proclaimed and lived the truth of love, and he embodied honesty in action. In fact, Jesus stated that he was the way, the truth, and the life, and it was more important to follow his example than to debate the fine points of religious law, as was certainly the case in his day and has persisted within religious institutions today.
In essence, Jesus invited others to live truly and honestly by commanding them to live a life of love—”to love the lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself.” It is this commandment that is the basis for all of us at St. Paul’s School, all of our values, and is essentially what informs our School prayer as well.
But what sort of love? Jesus is not referring to romantic love, to eros; nor is he talking about brotherly affection; nor is he thinking about other forms of love, even caritas. Rather, Jesus is referring to agape, a love which is a response to God’s love for all of us and a love that is revealed as truth itself. Such love results in building up others and building up the life of the community rather than tearing it down. To quote from scripture, “Agape is patient and kind, agape is not jealous or boastful, agape is not arrogant or rude, agape does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong, but it rejoices in the right. Agape bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Agape never ends.”
[I Corinthians 13:4-7]
Paul is talking about a way of life, not simply a statement of truth, and agape is what he means when he talks about speaking and living the truth in love.
Living the truth as love builds on a theme that we explored together during our fall term—respect for all of God’s creation. It also serves as anticipatory of what we will examine in the spring term—courage—for love requires courage; living the truth requires courage … The courage to correct lies, to name deceit, and the courage to speak out and speak up when others remain silent; to live the truth when it would be much easier and more comfortable to live a lie. A frame from a recent B.C. comic strip by Johnny Hart makes the point very well in the form of a question, “When will you creeps ever learn that deceit repeated spells truth defeated?” A related insight by Henri Frederic Amiel helps, “truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be equally outraged by silence.”
It is often said, honesty is the best policy, but what I am enjoining us to consider as a School community is the need for us to think of truth as more than simply a policy. Rather, truth as something that we aspire to live together by loving one another. Such love presupposes honesty and is experienced as living the truth.
So, as we begin this new term and as we begin this Advent, I invite you not only to tell the truth, but also to live the truth and, in so doing, to love one another as God loves you.