How can we teach our children the truth?
A group of parents were pondering that question several years ago in a parish where I served as rector. They seemed at their wits’ end trying to teach their children true and false in a world that bombards us with thousands of messages every day, each one giving us a different perspective. Just look at the magazine, newspaper and internet ads, or the TV and radio commercials, and you begin to realize that in this day and age, everyone has a version of the truth. In fact, there is no one truth, but multiple and often competing “truths” that vie for our loyalty.
Heather and I often enjoy turning to the American cable news networks to hear how they report a story. It’s fascinating: the same news story will be reported three different ways depending on whether you are listening to Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. It’s the same story-but different versions.
Welcome to the world of postmodernism, where there is no one correct answer or single authority. In postmodernism, all explanations of reality are constructs; there is no objective truth. Pluralism and relativism are celebrated. Learning is endless. All systems, including church systems, are viewed as alienating and repressive. All authority is suspect. Reality is kaleidoscopic, organic, multicultural and chaotic.
Postmodernism is the world of anyone born after 1976. Tell a young person, “This is the truth” and you are likely to hear the response, “But who says? And anyway, that’s only your opinion!”
I still remember watching the evening news as a young boy with my father. Each night, after Walter Cronkite closed his broadcast with, “And that’s the way it is,” my father would ask me, “What do you think the other guy’s point of view would be?” Night after night, my dad pointed out the possibility of another perspective, of a different way of interpreting reality. I am sure it was his questions that prodded me into becoming a lawyer.
In law school, I learned that no one account represents an absolute truth. All reporting, all narration of events, all court testimony is, by definition, a retelling of the story, a conscious selection of facts to include some things and omit others. It’s not that there is any intention to deceive; in most cases there is not. It’s just that every statement of the facts is shaped through the person’s lens of experience, based upon what is important to the narrator.
But you don’t have to be a lawyer to be shaped by postmodernism. Everyone is influenced by postmodernism because it now saturates our culture. Anyone surfing the internet realizes the way situations can morph and be interpreted differently, but no less correctly, by different web sites. And if we want an “answer” to any question, all we have to do is surf the web and we will get hundreds or even thousands of answers- all purporting to be the “truth” even when many of the answers contradict one another other.
So, in this kind of postmodern world where there are multiple truths and everyone claims to be an authority, how do we Christians communicate truth to our children?
We can start by recognizing that Jesus Christ is the truth. In Christianity, truth is not a doctrine or creed or set of propositional statements. Truth is a person. To know the truth is to know Jesus. He is embodied truth: truth in the flesh, or as the Church puts it, truth incarnate. When we walk in the way of Jesus, when we follow Jesus, when we love and serve Jesus, we are living in the truth- his truth-the only truth that ultimately matters.
As parents, this has profound implications on how we communicate truth to our children. We teach truth by example. Psychologists tell us that children learn more by the eye than the ear, and so our conduct needs to be consistent with our counsel. The values we hold dear, they will hold dear; the beliefs we cherish, they will cherish- if they see genuine authenticity in our lifestyle.
“Example is not the best teacher; it is the only teacher,” said Albert Schweitzer. He was right. If our children see us love and adore Jesus, they will love and adore Jesus. If our children see us praying, they will learn to pray. If they see us regularly attending worship, they will learn the importance of worship. If they see our devotion in receiving Holy Communion, they will begin to value the sacrament. If they see that our Christian faith and values impact the way we live, then that faith and those values will begin to shape their lives. Simply put, if we are the models of what we believe by how we behave, then they will copy what we are.
In today’s postmodern world, truth can no longer be taught like memorized answers from a church catechism. Truth needs to be taught personally. It needs to be embodied in us just as we believe that Jesus is embodied truth. Our reasoning and our lecturing, our admonitions and advice, all this our children may not understand, but they can sense what guides us, directs us, motivates us and impels us to live for something greater than ourselves. In other words, our children will begin to know the truth when they see it in us. So if you want to communicate the truth to your children, live it out and they will learn it.
During the 1930s, Chicago was a crime-ridden city run by bootleggers and gangsters. No gangster was more notorious than Al Capone. Labeled by the FBI as Public Enemy Number 1, Al Capone was head of the most ruthless organized crime syndicate in the United States. Yet, he always managed to stay out of jail, in part because he employed one of the smartest and most effective lawyers in Chicago.
“Easy Eddie” prospered as Al Capone’s attorney. He lived a lucrative lifestyle that included a huge mansion occupying an entire city block. It never occurred to him that all his wealth depended on keeping America’s most notorious criminal out of jail. For Eddie, it was simply business.
Yet Eddie was more than a clever lawyer who happened to work for a gangster. He was also a devoted family man. He loved his wife and son. In fact, nothing was too good for his boy, and Eddie saw to it that he had the best of everything: clothes, toys, education and cars as he got older. And not only did he give his son material things, he tried to teach him right and wrong. He wanted his boy to be a better man than he knew himself to be.
As time passed, Eddie realized that with all his wealth, there were still two things he could not give his son: a good name and an honest life. So one day, Eddie made his toughest decision. He decided to go to the authorities and testify against Al Capone. His testimony became the key piece of evidence that finally sent Capone to prison.
Eddie’s decision came at a very high price. In the gangster world, no mercy was ever shown to anyone who turned disloyal. A couple of months after his testimony against Capone, Eddie died in a blaze of gunfire on a lonely Chicago street.
But the story does not end there. Fast-forward to the South Pacific during World War II. Stationed on the U.S. aircraft carrier, Lexington, was a young Lieutenant Commander named Butch O’Hare, who was a fighter pilot.
One day, O’Hare’s squadron was sent on a mission. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until he was already airborne that he checked his fuel gauge and realized that someone had forgotten to top off his fuel tank. It meant that he wouldn’t have enough fuel to complete the mission and make it back to his ship. So, his squadron leader told him to return to the carrier immediately.
Reluctantly, he dropped out of formation and headed back to the fleet. As he was returning to the Lexington, he saw in the distance a squadron of Japanese aircraft coming toward the American fleet. Since the other fighters were gone, the ships in the fleet were all but defenseless.
Butch did the only thing it seemed possible for him to do. To divert the Japanese planes from the fleet, he flew straight into their formation, firing his guns and damaging as many as he could until all his ammunition was gone. Then, he continued his attack, diving at the other planes, hoping to clip a wing or tail, and damage their ability to fly. He actually managed to down five enemy aircraft before the Japanese fighters took off, and Butch made it back to the Lexington.
Butch O’Hare’s act of heroism became instant news. Movie theaters around the nation showed newsreels from the gun-camera mounted on O’Hare’s plane. Butch was invited to the White House by President Franklin Roosevelt, where he received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the first naval aviator ever to do so. He was a national hero. One year later, Butch was killed in aerial combat, at the age of 29.
His hometown of Chicago honored him by naming their airport after him. The next time you fly through O’Hare International Airport, you might stop at Terminals 1 and 2 and see Butch’s memorial and his Medal of Honor. And you might reflect on the fact that Butch O’Hare was Easy Eddie’s son. (1)
The Rev. Dr. Gary Nicolosi is the rector at St. James Westminster Anglican Church in London,
Text – Proverbs 1:8-19
1. The Eddie and Butch O’Hare stories circulate on the internet. This version was sent to me by a parishioner. Source unknown