We’ve had a lot of memorable weeks lately, whether for good or far from satisfactory. We had almost gotten used to it until the election kicked things up a notch, and it rose from there. Tuesday was almost unbearable. But then, Wednesday, it seemed like whatever the cloud cover of the sky, whatever the temperature, whatever the extremely high figures of COVID-19 victims, it seemed like there was sunshine, warmth, and a resurgence of hope, beginning early in the morning but peaking about 12:45 pm. The sight of an African-Asian female and a white-haired man standing on the platform in turn, and, with hands on religious texts, swearing oaths to serve the people of this country, uphold, protect, and defend the Constitution. Suddenly it was easier to breathe – and to hope.
We heard a lot about truth in the words of various speakers, including the newly-sworn-in President of the United States. He didn’t give a sermon, nor did he give a disorganized, self-congratulatory praise-fest. He spoke simply and honestly, talking to the hundreds watching in person and millions via video, radio, and delayed feed. He swore to us, the people of this country and the world, that he would do the best he possibly could to be a president for all of us.
Before the inauguration, President Biden and his family attended Mass at a church where they had worshipped over the years of his political life in Washington. It wasn’t a show of attending church but rather a real desire to be present in that sacred space, most probably after having made a good confession and preparation to receive the Sacrament. He probably wasn’t the first incoming president to act similarly, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Anglican. Still, it was reassuring and served as a signal that this president took faith seriously.
The word I heard most clearly from his inaugural address was the word “Truth.” Over the past few years, that word has become almost a joke. When we swear an oath: “I swear (or affirm) that the evidence I am about to give will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth (oath only: So help me God),” we think about the convictions of people who have not told the truth under oath, usually with a prison sentence as punishment. Judges, justices, senators, congressional members, and others swear an oath to tell the truth and preserve, protect, and defend the country, the Constitution, or both. In all cases, truth is paramount.
“Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, ‘If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free'” (John 8:31-2). We hear the last part of that passage quite often, but many don’t recognize the source or that Jesus said it to Jewish believers. To the Jews, Torah is truth. We know that the Pentateuch (and the accompanying Tanakh) is the story of the people of God from the beginning of time. Many Christians accept these writings as 100% factual, but the Jews never considered them in the same way. They aren’t facts but rather have profound truths that go beyond mere stories or sayings. Truth matters – whether it is truth in facts, transparency in communications, teachings, or anything else.
I think Jesus would have enjoyed the saying attributed to Mark Twain, “If you tell the truth you never have to remember anything.” Many times over the past few years, we’ve heard something only to have it retracted or declared a fabrication of the media (or some other group) within a short period. Repeat a lie often enough, and people will begin to believe it, no matter how improbable it seems. Eventually, that repeated lie will take on a life of its own – which can be injurious or even fatal. Jesus and Mark Twain encouraged honesty and transparency as a preventative for untruth and potential disaster.
I have a much lighter feeling about this country and hope for a better future than I had a few days ago. A man standing on a podium on a sunny but windy day spoke words that rang with truth and conviction, something we haven’t heard in a long time. We need the optimism, determination, and belief we heard on Wednesday. Maybe it will be as contagious as COVID-19 but in a life-sustaining and positive way. Perhaps too, we might be able to believe what we are told and be unified rather than splintered. I think Jesus would honestly like that.
Image: John 8-32, Uvalde, Texas. Author Billy Hathorn, (2011). Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.