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Toward Wholeness Blog

"this ad is bulls*&%$" - the challenge of knowing truth in this era and why it matters

A mutual friend was watching the super bowl with a group of people who aren't Christ followers. He shared that when the ad about Jesus washing the feet of people who are hurting and/or living on the margins came up, he watched a couple of his friends immediately get on their phones to find the source of the ad. That took him to this website, and he then told the whole group that the ad was "bulls*&%$" because the donors and producers of it also fund what he called a ‘hate group.’ And just like that, the message of the gospel is neatly tucked away in a corner, sequestered off as manipulative propaganda unworthy of consideration. The possibility that this historic Jesus was compassionate, crossed social divides, broke down dividing walls, and led people to wholeness isn't even considered. The message is dismissed preemptively, based entirely on the alleged deficiencies of the messenger.

This tiny exchange at a super bowl party can, if we sit with it a moment, help us understand a major challenge of the 21st century, and how to live as people of hope in the midst of a tribal, angry, divided world (and church) Here are the key takeaways:

We live in a post-modern, post-truth world. I shared a series here a long time ago about epistemology, which is a fancy word for trying to answer the question: "How do we know something is true?” It didn't receive much traction than (much to my dismay), but the topic is more important than ever. In a post modern world all truth claims are suspect. While there are many reasons for this, one of the main ones is because people assume that the messenger is usually trying to sell something or recruit you into a movement. Truth claims, then, are seen not as declarations of reality, but as propaganda for movements and companies.

How we got here is beyond the scope this piece, but one of the many reasons is in plain sight: we're lied to all the time. The 20th century contains an ash heap of lies from Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Nixon (“I am not a crook”), Clinton (“I did not have sex with that woman”), Bush (“the fact that we can't find the weapons of mass destruction proves they're well hidden”), not to mention tobacco companies, soft drink companies, fast food companies, shoe companies, et. al. We've created discernment filters, out of necessity, because we're swimming in an ocean of lies.

Those filters create instincts for us to "shoot the messenger." When someone lies frequently, the capacity to trust anything he says (without further verification) becomes impossible. So we stop listening. Then, like the guy who cried wolf one too many times, when there actually is a wolf at the door, we don't believe him.

When this 'deconstructing of truth claims' becomes our habit, we soon come to the point where we no longer consider the truth claim on its own merits at all. All that matters is "who said it?" If you're conservative and its MSNBC, "it's a lie." If you liberal and its Newsmax, or Fox, "it's a lie." We react like this we because we've come to believe that everything is propaganda. Here's part of the big deception in this concept though: We don't actually believe everything is propaganda. We only believe the other side is propaganda. We've created a moral high ground for ourselves by granting credibility to the truth sources of our choosing, and then we follow them, almost blindly.

I recently read a book about the rise of Hitler. The author was a child in the 30's and her parents taught her that "Hitler would never lie," while her grandfather, much to her dismay and confusion, called him "...a lying %$#!" Grandpa believed none of what he said, even if it was true. Mom believed everything he said, even though most of it was deceit intended to incite fear and blind loyalty. “Consider the source” was their only criteria for credibility. And that, dear friends, is a surefire recipe for disaster.

That's the mindset of the person at the super-bowl party, saying in essence, "Look! We don't have to consider these truth claims because the people peddling them are hypocrites." Perhaps. Still, what about the truth claim itself; that Jesus crossed social divides and served outcasts and hurting people? That claim will die on the vine, summarily rejected because of the messenger.

I see this all the time. In this case it's liberal "cancel culture.” I've also spoken with people who hate the phrase "black lives matter" because of purported flaws they find in the BLM organization. Ah, but the shirt is simply saying "black lives matter” as in: subject - verb - object. A truth claim. It's a statement, and people dismiss it by association with something they don't like. Christians do the same thing when it comes to doctrinal truth. "Oh... Richard Rohr said that? Don't you know that he's.... " and then they speak about his universalism, or Catholicism, or view on this or that, as if to say, "I don't need to consider what he's saying about subject X because I don't agree with him on Y or Z"

Do you see where this is going? We're only agreeing with those who reinforce what we already believe. That's a surefire recipe for tribalism and, ultimately, mass deception, because some day the right leader will come along who will reinforce a large group of people's prejudices, fears, and anger, and they'll empower him to create a reich, and democracy will go up in flames. It's happened before. It can happen again.

Paul wrote to Timothy that "in the last days people will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They will reject the truth and chase after myths." So what do you want to hear and believe? That Taylor Swift is Satan? That climate change is a hoax...or painfully real? That Jesus rose from the dead...or never existed? That the election was rigged? That Joe Biden is dead and a hologram is in the oval office?

Just step right up and pick your truth, because it's all there, all for sale.

What's a thoughtful person to do? How, in this ocean of lies, can we find truth that’s rock solid?

The answer could fill a book, but when I boil it down in my own life, I return over and over again to this simple truth that Jesus taught us: "you shall know them by their fruits"

What does that mean? My answer is embedded in this IF/THEN declaration

It means that IF a set of values, or a speech, or a book, or a video you watch leads you down a path that causes you to:

  1. neglect people on the margins

  2. hoard your stuff and build walls around your world in order to protect yourself at the expense of community

  3. celebrate and cheer 'name calling'

  4. fear, despise, or neglect the 'other' so that they become your enemy in your mind and heart

  5. destroy the earth with callous disregard for the consequences of subsequent generations

  6. separate sexual intimacy from covenant commitment

  7. normalize injustice, or dishonesty, in the name of some supposed greater good

... and a few dozen other things that are 100% contrary to the ways of God as revealed in Scripture,

THEN you're likely buying into a lie. The sooner you're able to identify the lie, turn around, and head toward truth, the freer, wiser, and more aligned with your creator you'll be.

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I think you would agree, but it wasn't clearly stated, that the messenger DOES matter somewhat. If the messenger is a hypocrite, we’re less likely to believe and deservedly so. The group that used to run He Gets Us, the Servant Foundation, has ties to things that non-Christians (and some Christians) dismiss as contradicting the values Jesus is claimed to have. (He Gets Us has now been turned over to a new foundation, about which little is yet known.) It’s not just because of political ideology but because the ad comes from people who seem like hypocrites. (See also: spending $17M on an ad instead of on ministry.)

Jesus taught by doing. He told the disciples to go and do…


Richard, I've read some negative comments online from friends, even a pastor or two and it grieves me. I've reflected on Romans 5:8 "...But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Working with the ad, we don't have to clean up before Jesus - or His followers - will wash our feet and show love.


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

“…we've come to believe that everything is propaganda. Here's part of the big deception in this concept though: We don't actually believe everything is propaganda. We only believe the other side is propaganda.” This summarizes the era we live in so well. Postmodernism has given us a lens to critique our beliefs in a meaningful way, but combined with social media algorithms, it's also become an unfortunate part of the echo chamber.


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great lead-in example, and mention of some slippery paths. Most of us are always living in this fluidity, maybe not even realizing we're ignoring an opportunity to model Christ, or sometimes that we've turned our backs on our values. We can easily get caught up in today's divides, missing out on our true calling as creators, doers, leaders.

Your reminder to re-center around Jesus must be a daily thing, so that we can be people who heal, bridge, empathize, provide, build up.


Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

As always, spot on Richard!

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