a sermon by Rev David Thompson
of The Experience in Sacramento
a URI Cooperation Circle
“The truth shall set you free” Jesus
“Let there be no compulsion in religion. Truth stands out.” Quran
“Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor tradition; nor rumor; nor what is in a scripture; nor surmise; nor axiom; nor specious reasoning; nor bias towards one’s beliefs; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ When you yourselves know: ‘These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.” Buddhism
Sometimes in life we come across something that if we managed to understand and handle well, we could change our personal history and the future of the whole world!
False narratives fit into that category. They are game changers that if we understood how they are used to our detriment, the whole course of world history and our personal lives could fundamentally change. They are stories that we tell ourselves and others that trap us into the non real.
- False narratives develop because we want to influence outcomes with our particular agenda.
- They are used to maintain power and dogma in religion and law.
- False narratives are used to interpret the constitution, to deny marriage to gays, to uphold apartheid and racial prejudice, to justify guns, to elect politicians or pull them down, to justify terrorism or the war on terror.
- On the personal level they are fantasies that make us think that we are living in the real world when we are not. We can interpret events in our lives such as divorce or being fired or rejected in love as a victim story that we tell over and over again to ourselves. What story are you telling yourself today?
Our core beliefs are so fundamental to our thinking that we just assume that they reflect reality. They become our identity. But they can also be false; stories we have believed, perhaps constructed by ourselves or others that have the same result; they bind us up. For instance we can take our own life and the lives of others in a car bomb – all for a false narrative erroneously based on a holy book.
Suicide car bombers are the result of false narratives.
Sometimes the police hear false narratives when they pull someone over for a traffic violation. I love the joke about a truck driver who was driving along on the freeway. A sign came up that read, “Low Bridge Ahead.” Before he knew it, the bridge was right ahead of him and he got stuck under the bridge. Cars were backed up for miles. Finally, a police car came up. The cop got out of his car and walked up to the truck driver, put his hands on his hips and said, “Got stuck, huh?”
The truck driver says, “No, I was delivering this bridge and ran out of gas.”
This past week we have seen a committee investigate the Ben Gazi affair. General Hayden gives us a clue as to why we embrace a false narrative. He says:
“I’ve been in these kinds of circumstances where if you’ve got a worldview, if you’ve got a narrative that you believe in, you try to make the facts presented to you fit the narrative,” Hayden said. “I fear there may have been some people in our government who kind of fell into that trap in the days after Benghazi, which is understandable and, frankly, forgivable, and then in the weeks after Benghazi, which is not understandable and is not forgivable.”
So what happens apparently is this. We start off with a narrative that we believe in and then try to fit the facts we receive into it. He says that that is understandable but after some time we get out of that mental trap into something else. The brain thinks about it, receives new information which does not fit with the original narrative and hopefully we open ourselves to the possibility that we could have been wrong.
But that doesn’t always happen.
Let’s face it, we stubbornly hold onto our corebeliefs. We laughingly say “Don’t confuse me with the facts!”
Like the delusional man who thought he was dead, but in reality he was very much alive. His false narrative became such a problem that his family finally paid for him to see a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist spent many laborious sessions trying to convince the man he was still alive.
Nothing seemed to work.
Finally the doctor tried one last approach. He took out his medical books and proceeded to show the patient that dead men don’t bleed. After hours of tedious study, the patient seemed convinced that dead men don’t bleed.
“Do you now agree that dead men don’t bleed?” the doctor asked.
“Yes, I do,” the patient replied.
“Very well, then,” the doctor said.
He took out a needle and pricked the patient’s finger. Out came a trickle of blood.
The doctor asked, “What does that tell you?”
“Oh my goodness!” the patient exclaimed as he stared incredulously at his finger … “Dead men do bleed!!”
It is so much easier to believe in something false than it is to doubt it, isn’t it? Why is that? What are we afraid of? Perhaps losing our self? Or losing heaven? or losing a loved one?
For instance I know a great number of people who want to believe that the Bible is the ‘Word of God’. It doesn’t matter how many problems you may raise up to this thesis, they will go on believing it to be true because to them it is an article of faith. They think that God will be angry with them if they allow any form of doubt to enter their minds.
When the Protestants left Catholicism they needed an authority to replace the Pope. The Bible became the substitute infallible authority and that is when it suddenly became the ‘Word of God’. But then came along the scholars who saw through this stratagem and started higher criticism of the Bible restoring it to what it once used to be- a library of books of varying degrees of spiritual usefulness. But the false narrative persists…
It is easy to demonstrate that the Bible is actually a library of 66 books some of which contradict each other as to basic facts, but that doesn’t seem to matter to believers. It is easier to believe than doubt. It doesn’t matter that Jesus disagreed with Scripture and changed the ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ law, these dear folks will argue that somehow it all works together as the Word of God. They say that God does not change God’s mind, but Jesus who they also believe in, is not stuck there. He rewrites Scripture where he believes it is wrong. How does he do this? He follows the law of love as an interpretive tool. Oh that his followers would do the same instead of spinning false narratives!
Yes we can hold onto a narrative and try to fit the facts into it but when they don’t fit after reflection or new information, it is time to open ourselves to the truth. For truth has this singular defining characteristic. It sets us free, always. Are you bound up today over some dogma or doctrine? Are you recognizing that it is a false narrative, yet you still want to believe it?
Take courage! The truth shall set you free. However hard it is to face the truth, choose the freedom! It’s better!
But it is not only when we do religion that we get stuck in a false narrative. There are false narratives all over the place. Take the NRA interpretation of the constitution for instance. This powerful narrative makes us unable to get background checks no matter however horrible a school mass shooting may be, this narrative says that guns don’t kill people, people kill people and the way to be safe is to have more guns. We need armed guards in our schools etc. This is supposedly based on the second Amendment.
Robert Parry says:
So, when Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz lectures fellow senators on the Second Amendment, he doesn’t include the preamble, “A well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State.” He only reads the rest: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Nor do the Tea Partiers note that, to Madison and the Framers, the term “bear Arms” meant to participate in a militia, not to have as many guns as you want.
He says; “The real history has gotten lost in a swamp of false narrative, the sort of ideological deceptions that have come to dominate the current American political scene and have given us an Orwellian present in which he “who controls the past” really does “control the future.”
In our personal lives we all have a tendency to tell ourselves stories. Stories are just fine if they are positive and truthful. But where so many of us go off the rails is when something bad happens to us and we begin to tell ourselves things like: “I will never be the same. I will never get over this. Nobody could ever love me. I am a failure. I will always be homeless. I’ll never get a job like the one I lost. I’m all washed up. I’m too old. These stories are part of the same phenomenon- false narratives.
Here are some common false narratives that we often believe in:
- We worship the false narrative that money and wealth will make us happy and take our meaning for life there. The result of that is this: We will never feel that we have enough.
- We worship the false narrative about our body and beauty and sexual attractiveness but after awhile we will always feel unattractive and as we age we will become increasingly discontent with our body.
- We worship the false narrative that power will give us control over the bad things that can happen to us. The result is that we think that we will need ever more power to numb our own fears. Ask Omar Kaddafi, Saddam Hussein or Assad. Or any control freak!
- We worship our minds and even when you get a PhD you will end up feeling like a fraud, afraid of being found out.
But false narratives are a curse that we can break open!
How do we do this as people of faith and trust in a Loving God?
Here are some false narrative busters;
- Ask questions. Who is telling the story? Why are they telling this story? Do they have an agenda? Is it in the interest of an institution’s survival? Beware!
- What are the real facts? Does the story represent them accurately or is it manipulative?
- Do your own research to get the facts as accurate as possible. As the Buddhists counsel rely on your own personal experience not on what others may tell you. Many a false narrative has been blown out of the water by one incontrovertible fact.
- Check your own assumptions before making conclusions. Best rule? Never assume anything! Nothing like a false assumption to get you into trouble, especially with a false narrative.
- Consistently choose the highest ideals; integrity, love, understanding, kindness, thoughtfulness and honesty. Never use a false narrative to score political or social points.
- Refuse to manipulate others through false narratives or distortions
- Refuse to be manipulated yourself
- Choose the way of peace not judgment
I want to close with a story which is amazing. It is about two stories told about exactly the same facts.
In 1968 the town of Cheyenne Oklahoma wanted to celebrate the centennial of the battle of Washita. It was a glorious victory according to the townspeople and the followers of the battle. They saw this as a celebration. But the townspeople also wanted the Cheyenne to participate.
The Cheyenne story was that this had been a deliberate attack on a peaceful village governed by a peace chief Black Kettle.
So when the townspeople approached the native Cheyenne, they responded “Celebrate? Celebrate the destruction of a peaceful village where women and children were killed? No thank-you!”
But the townspeople persisted.
In that tribe there were Peace chiefs- chiefs who were dedicated to nonviolence, and conflict resolution.
Lawrence Hart was both a Cheyenne peace chief and a Mennonite Christian, trained in conflict resolution.
The Peace Chiefs wrestled with the question and finally came up with a resolution. The bones of one of the Cheyenne killed in that attack were on display in the local museum. The peace Chiefs said that if they could be released for burial that they would participate in the centennial activities.
The town agreed to the conditions.
On the day of the celebration the Grandsons of the 7th Cavalry arrived from California. They called themselves the Grand Army of the Republic. Neither the town nor the Cheyenne knew they were coming. Dressed in authentic uniforms with real weapons they joined in on the mock attack on the village.
To Lawrence Hart the scene looked too real. Hatred for these men began to arise within him. His own children were in that village and would be shot down as rehearsed.
The attack was reenacted. Women and children were shot. Finally it was over and everyone returned to the museum. The Peace Chiefs were given a bronze coffin and they started to sing a Cheyenne song as a processional. It began to snow as it had so many years before. As they passed through the crowd a Cheyenne woman draped a very beautiful Pendleton blanket over the coffin. It was a gesture in keeping with the Cheyenne tradition.
Then to everyone’s dismay a command suddenly rang out. “Present arms!”
Lawrence heard the arms being handled. He didn’t want the Grandsons of the 7th to be there, but they were. He looked at the commander. How dare he salute a victim of his forefather’s action?
Lawrence’s competing story was beating in his veins and thundering in his mind.
He knew however that he was not responding like a Peace Chief.
So how was he to react?
The next part of the ceremony was that the blanket would be given away by the Peace Chiefs to someone in the crowd who would be honored by the Cheyenne people.
The Peace Chiefs suddenly announced that they would be giving the blanket to the commanding officer of the Grand Army of the Republic, Grandsons of the 7th cavalry. There was a gasp from the crowd.
The officer stepped forward drew his sword and saluted. As he replaced his sword, Lawrence placed the blanket over his shoulders.
One hundred years after the massacre of the Cheyenne by the 7th Cavalry the power of their story of glory, was suddenly broken by a blanket- a gesture of conciliation. The scene that followed was hard to describe… People broke down and cried. Cheyenne, townspeople and the grandsons of the 7th cried on one another’s shoulders. The spell of the false narrative was broken at last!
How do we break the spells of false narratives that have long been spun over us? How do we let go of being a victim- viewing reality through that filter?
Become a Peace Chief where you are.
Speak your truth.
Stand in your own dignity.
Demand to be heard in the interests of truth.
Claim what is rightfully yours.
Then when the opportunity comes, find your blanket. Put it on the shoulders of your enemies and weep with them!