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Faith and Values: Telling ‘it’ like it is can come with a cost

Paul Graves

“It” has many faces. “It” may be an object, or attitude, a grammar piece, or something else entirely. “It” may be easy to identify given how it is used, or the word may be mischievously disguised.

“He tells/I tell it like it is.” That phrase has been used a good deal in recent months as an aggressive statement by politicians and everyday people alike. The phrase has an angry, confrontational tone to it. In this context, I ask the question: What is “it”?

It appears that “truth” is the “it” people refer to. Someone speaks plainly, even boldly, about some matter, and the agreeing listener wants to believe he’s just heard the “truth.” Sometimes he does. Sometimes he hears only some assertion masquerading as the “truth.”

So let’s explore some things about truth. It’s way too big a concept to explore in 600 words. But truth is always worth looking for, even if we don’t find “it” easily. Since I’m writing as a Jesus follower, let’s begin with a famous quote by Jesus.

In John 8:31-32, Jesus tells his disciples “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” But watch out!

How we use that statement to bolster our belief that someone is speaking “the truth” may have nothing to do with Jesus.

In this passage, Jesus is talking specifically about his life being the truth of God in-the-flesh. No other truth but that. So what is that truth meant to free us from? To catch a glimpse of freedom through that truth, we need to get a much fuller sense of who Jesus is than we usually have.

But this search is often so far from “the truth” we try to pass off as true as our hypocritical actions/attitudes can take us. Sometimes we may think we are following the biblical Jesus, but we fool ourselves. Sometimes we know we aren’t following that Jesus, but try to fool others.

I think either of these options happens when we portray what we say or think as “THE truth,” when at best it is only a truth-piece – a sliver of the fuller truth. In this political season, we see a lot of partial truths, truth-pieces, being proclaimed as the whole truth. And too many of us fall for that ploy.

That’s when it is imperative that Jesus followers (others are invited also) would do well to go back to some of the essentials of what God’s full-life witness (Jesus) models for us. The basic summary of Jesus’ message is called the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 4:23-7:29).

It doesn’t take long to read, but it takes a lifetime to begin to authentically live out. Jesus didn’t present God’s “policies” for persons to debate as “the truth.” He did radically embrace God’s ethical challenge to live humbly, honestly, compassionately and courageously so we might live our lives for others.

When we attempt to live that truthful way, we are increasingly free from our fears, our efforts to manipulate others, our destructive angers, our need to intimidate others through words and actions. The truth that frees us is not truth as we see “it,” but truth as it is presented through Jesus and others who try to live his radical, even subversive, ethic.

Of course, Jesus was killed because he “told it like it is.” We’re pretty leery of that depth of truth. So we make up our own. Yet when we fabricate truth as we want it to be, we aren’t free at all.

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, can be contacted at

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