What is truth?

Today, about an hour ago as I wrote these words, I confess that I hit the wall. It was the umpteen-millionth spam email I had received (I bet you receive them too) from someone marketing some unsolicited business opportunity – in this case it was unsecured working capital lines of credit. The person’s name was “Pat” and the greeting was familiar, as if Pat and I were old friends — buddies from way back. “Hey Ted!” Pat said. “I’m just getting back to you about our conversation we had on February 11th regarding Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary Inc.’s new projects. We ran a D&B analysis and you scored 76 out of 80 which places you in the top tier in your industry, blah blah blah.” What Pat wants me to do is call now — NOW!!! — so I can get in on this gravy train.

Lord help me, I actually wrote a reply to Pat that I will not send, as satisfying as it might be. Here is what I wrote: “Hey Pat! How’s the family? How are your yoga lessons coming along? Played any golf lately? Great to hear from you, old buddy! But, seriously, you and I didn’t talk on February 11th — a Saturday. I get these little chatty come-ons several times a day, and I find them cheesy and dishonest and a terrible marketing ploy. Frankly, I don’t know, Pat (if that’s your real name), how you live with yourself. I encourage you to find an honest way to make a living.”

I’m not sure why this particular obnoxious email set me off so. Maybe it’s just that, in this coarsening culture which can be characterized by any number of words other than “authenticity,” I am tired of lies. I’m still thinking about the astonishing moment when, in the space of a couple of days, the former FBI director and the current president called each other liars. Only one of them was telling the truth; and if you’ll tell me what network you watch, I’ll hazard a guess as to which of those two persons you believed. In this world of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” I long and I yearn for leaders who tell the truth.

I certainly long and yearn for such leaders in the church — not just in our communion, but in the wider body. As a seminary president, I want our enterprise to be successful in recruiting, and then forming, leaders who will know and speak the Truth that sets us free. Sometimes I wonder how well we seminaries are doing with this noble project.

And then something happens like the ordination I participated in yesterday. A recent graduate, at the appropriate moment in the service, received two gifts which symbolized the way in which our laying on of hands had set her apart. One was a robe, and the other was a stole. Then she moved to the table set with the feast of Heaven, stretched out her arms as she looked at all of us, and began for the first time to lead the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. But just before she opened her mouth, I saw her face register the power of that moment. On the edge of tears, she powered through with strength that is simply a gift: “Friends, this is the joyful feast of the people of God. This is the table, not of the church, but of God. It is made ready for those who seek relationship with God. So come and make this journey … not because I invite you. God invites you. It is God’s desire that we gather here.”

That table has been around for a long time — a little more than 2,000 years. It welcomes us, and it also measures us, and sends us out into the world with a particular bold and holy take on things.

And that’s the Truth — what the world needs now, maybe more than ever.

Ted WardlawTheodore J. Wardlaw is president and professor of homiletics at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas.