Remember when you were a kid and someone said, “Tell the truth! Straight in the eye!” The premise being that no one could lie looking his or her accuser directly in the face. The idea has some merit. Although we also have the term, “bald-faced liar” meaning they can look you in the eye and still lie.
As Holy Week approaches, I have been reading some devotionals on the Passion of Christ. One author I read was talking about Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Pilate is trying to find out just who Jesus really is and if Jesus deserves to die. In the course of cross-examining Jesus, Pilate asks the question — “What is truth?” Pilate’s question was coming from his experience with Imperial Rome — a place of corruption, bribery, lying, assassinations. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” We really don’t know much about Pontus Pilate after he appears in history at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, but one source says he killed himself at the order of the Emperor Caligula sometime after 36 BCE. His search for truth ended.
All of history is a search for truth. Every nation has to struggle with the truth of its own history. While the U.S. has accomplished much in science, literature and the arts, living standards and international relations, we are at a moment when we have to stop and have the discussion among ourselves —“What is our truth?”
That question is on my mind after seeing the movie “The United States versus Billie Holiday”, a drama about the life of the Jazz singer. She came from a time and place in our history where to be black and poor and a woman meant you were never going to have an opportunity to stand straight and tall and discover your own truth. As a famous jazz singer, one of her signature songs was “Strange fruit.” Written by Lewis Allen (Abel Meeropot) in 1937, the song is about the lynchings in the South during the days of “Jim Crow”. “Jim Crow” was an attempt by white supremacists to return to the pre-Civil War South and slavery. Because she would sing this song, the U.S. Government tried to keep her quiet saying the song “stirred people up”. She was harassed to the end of her life. The one hundred years after the Civil War was a time when people of color were harrassed for speaking and voting. This fight continues. Today (March 8) we are remembering the 56th anniversary of the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, and the violence which followed. Legislatures around the country, now in session, are attempting to make voting more difficult for people of color and minority groups. Native American reservations are facing restrictions from state legislatures. We in Montana are not exempt from voter suppression and blocking the rights of people we don’t agree with. In many other regions, roadblocks of various kinds mean people of color and sexual orientation are being legislated out of the right to make decisions that affect them and this country.
What is truth? How are we going to teach our nation’s history to the next generation? We are proud of the men and women who shaped this nation, defining words like freedom and liberty. We recognize those who step forward and are active in working to make things better for everyone today. We can be proud of men and women of every religion, color, creed and gender orientation who stand up to be counted. We have much to share with the world about living together in community. That is why it is so important to answer this question: How are we telling our truth? How we answer this question will shape our story for generations to come.