Friday, August 11, 2006

Scent of a Truth

Dearest Son,

I have been thinking about our last conversation. We, I think, did achieve a level of interaction that is not always attained. I wish we had more time together for such talks without interruption. But even our phones provided interruption for us, now that I think about it. We would say something wholly profound, there would be a pregnant pause, then a tin-man’s voice with news of the disconnection, or worse than that, a period of being unsure and the hopeful but prescient “can you hear me now?”

What is truth and how can we know it? You could study for a degree in philosophy, but I fear that is not how you will find an answer to this question. You will find more good questions and perspectives if you want to do that, but not an answer. For this answer, you do not study; you stalk.

When your grandparents were much younger (I was in third grade), they decided to leave the Lutheran church that they attended. In those days, or should I say, in their lives, leaving this church was like leaving home. They had attended that church since their infancy. Their parents, both sets, were part of that church, brother, friends, aunts, friends of parents. They had sung in the choir, participated in the services, taught Sunday school, led in vacation Bible school. They were respected there, for Pete’s sake. But now, in their soulish stalking, they felt they should leave that church and find a different one.

I don’t remember all the machinations. I do remember the day the trigger was pulled, though even that is vague. A visiting minister came to the pulpit of the church in this conservative old town. He, probably a recent graduate of some forward-looking seminary, was armed with a sermon whose punch line was, “God is a grunt.” I do remember that, not from hearing him say it, but from my parents’ reactions and discussions afterward, for hours, in the foyer of the fellowship hall, not with this visiting wraith, who, I am sure was whisked away for dinner at Taylor’s Restaurant, but with one friend and then another who could not, or could, understand my parents’ sense of the “last straw” in regard to this sermon, and a church that seemed to be slipping away from “sound moorings.”

Little did my parents know, that the young minister was probably not being heretical. I doubt that he was trying to communicate any Nietzchesque thoughts about the non-existence or deadness of God, but was more likely trying to suggest the fallibility of human understanding and our inability to see spiritual truths in any way but obliquely. He may have been trying to point out that language, our greatest human invention, is flawed, and little more than a series of grunts and clicks designed to put outward form, however, inadequate, to our inner lives.

Nonetheless, my parents did leave that church in the heat and ardor of their spiritual pursuit.

When I was in college, studying social work, I had my first experience with a teacher who designed his courses in such a way that everything related to process rather than conclusion. I was adrift. I could not figure this out, quick as I was to excel at learning in a rote and prescribed manner. This was a new thing and I was not ready. “What is the answer?” I wanted to know.

I’m still like that I suppose, and I’m like my mother enough to get angry in the face of those issues that, to me, are the lines in the sand that I will not step over.

But let’s get back to your hunt, for you too, want to know, want to find. I cannot tell you where to find your prey, or how exactly to do it. I will tell you how I began and that you must be ready for this search to be a process, not one with the answers laid out before you. Truth is elusive, not because of the inadequacy of truth, I think, but because of the limitation of the human being and mind. Of course there are truths that are less elusive. 2+2=4 appears to be fairly solid. Falling bodies accelerate at 32 ft per sec/per sec until they reach maximum velocity of about 135 miles per hour for a human body (hopefully equipped with parachute and rip cord to bring that speed down to 12 miles per hour prior to impact.)

But the truths we are talking about. Those that intersect with the spiritual realm are quite vaporous at times. I say vaporous, not non-existent. So you start, where you can start. You go into the woods. And here is how you do that. You set up the presuppositions. You say, “if God exists, then. . .” Later, you say, “if God does not exist, then. . .” As you study the conclusions you match them with your actual observations of the world. Is the world, as you know it more like the world you would expect if there were a God, than if there were not a God?

You know already what I have concluded, generally, as a result of this exercise in my life. But you must pursue these thoughts for yourself, not in a vacuum but as honestly as possible. Not in a vacuum, because you do have many good resources at your disposal. I recommend seeking out the advice of good people. What kind of people are good people? Well, I happen to have a survey available for you to consider if you need to identify their characteristics.

I was listening to an interview with Toni Morrison the other day. On the subject of good and evil she said, “Being good is more complicated an idea than being or doing evil. Evil gets more play, but evil is a sham, screaming like a petulant child.” That is one of the kinds of clues you look for in the course of your search. Look for patterns related to good and truth. Don’t just look to smart people. Smart is a grunt. Look for people who say stupid things but who know how to do good. That is a track. Look for love and lovers and people who can love without reward. That is a fingerprint. Look for that which is not power driven or materialist driven, that is scat, and you just might be onto something; you’re on the trail.

I love you son. Do not tire of this even when it is deeper than you can go and further than you can see.



ms. d. said...

what wise advice...i hope i get a letter like that from you sometime in my life! :) miss you guys!

brd said...

Dear ms. d.,

I promise to write such a letter. I cannot promise wise advice, but I will speak my mind. You, like my son, et al, are always free to ignore totally all that I say, knowing that I love you guys, and if for no other reason, just because you listen politely to my ravings. I will write the letter to ms. d. if she promises to give me an art photo to post along with it.