Truth or Story?


Babies are born—every day, everywhere—full of promise.  Oh, wait, I’m starting to repeat myself.  Didn’t I just say that in another blog?

It’s true, though, so it bears repeating.  But on a lighter note than my last blog, today is the 27th anniversary of my becoming a mother.  And like almost every mom, on that day when my daughter was born, I might as well have been the only woman in the world who had ever given birth.

Never mind that as the nurse laid my baby girl on my chest for the first time, I could hear a woman grunting and groaning in the delivery room next to mine.  Never mind that I’d been listening to other mothers tell me horror stories of labor, delivery, and motherhood for nine months.  Never mind that I’d been given fair warning of sleepless nights, colicky infants, the anxiety of being a working mother.

It amuses me now that women told me I’d “forget all about the pain of childbirth” and in the next breath shared the gritty details of their own pain.  I’m certain they must have shared stories of joy with me.  But I don’t remember those.  And since we didn’t have timelines on social media back then, there’s no record of the funny stories, the stories of unbridled joy.  So I only remember the bridled stories—the ones that start with feet in the stirrups.

I do have a reminder from one of those women—an easy recipe for a busy mom day that a friend gave me on a note-card.  (Remember those days?  Before you kept your recipes in the Cloud?) The design on the card shows a mom holding a screaming baby, and the caption reads, “Being a mother is very educational….now I know why ferrets eat their young.”

I wonder if it will be any different for the young mothers I know now.  I love following them on social media as they offer snippets of their lives.  I empathize when they share challenges, but the stories I remember are those that touch my heart or make me laugh.

There’s the picture that needs no caption—my friend’s little boy lying on his tummy on a bookshelf, his fingers trailing along the cover of a book he isn’t yet able to read.

There’s another friend’s story of making banana bread from a recipe given to her by her son’s birth mother.

And there’s the friend who writes a few lines of dialogue in the style of a play script:

Dad: A thinking cap isn’t a real body part.

Son: Yes it is. Mine is in my pants.

Some day if they sit down at a computer to write their stories, they’ll have a wealth of notes and pictures to remind them of all the facts that were important enough to remember.  But even then, their children will probably say to them, “That’s not the way that happened.”  That is the nature of story.

Even now, when we have so much technology at our fingertips, recognizing the difference between story and truth isn’t an exact science.  I’m reminded of this yet again in the controversy over Dr. Reza Aslan’s recent book Zealot, in which he distinguishes between Jesus of the gospels and Jesus of history.  After converting to Christianity and being told by church leaders that the Bible is “true, literal and inerrant,” Dr. Aslan made it his life’s work to study the history of religions.  Of Jesus, the man from Nazareth, he says, “But in the end, he is the only Jesus that we can access by historical means.  Everything else is a matter of faith.”

I don’t understand why some of the people who share my faith feel threatened or outraged—why there is a perception that Christianity is under attack—when a scholar decides our faith is “a myth,” as Aslan pronounced it in one interview.  I can read research about the context of Jesus’ life and not necessarily draw the same conclusion as the researcher.  As Aslan admits in another interview, there are many scholars who read the same research and come to a different conclusion.  As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

Each time I learn something new about the stories of faith, I’m reminded that the God I believe in will always be bigger than we can understand.  Every faith that’s lasted—Christianity or Islam or any of the other faiths that sustain believers—has withstood thousands of years of questions and doubt.

It is impossible to “prove” the absence or the existence of God.  But it is possible to draw strength and wisdom from the stories—the human stories that have as many variations as there are storytellers.

I look forward to finishing Dr. Aslan’s book, just as I enjoy hearing the stories of his life that led him to devote himself to the study of religious history and revert to the Muslim faith of his father.  History and his story speak to me far more than the interviewers who question his right to speak the truth as he understands it.

I enjoy hearing him for some of the same reasons I love knowing both the facts and the stories of my friends’ lives—because they reveal truths of what’s important to them in the telling.

And I find the same kind of joy in reading what one of my pastors called “the stories of God for the people of God.”  What is the truth of the Jesus who answered religious leaders with wisdom greater than their cleverly crafted questions?  The truth of the Jesus who fought zealously for the poor?  The truth of the Jesus who saw himself as one with God?

The truth is that every fact of history, every understanding of context, every story I’ve read—and I’ve read many that challenge my view of the world—helps me test what I believe to be sure it’s worthy of my faith.

It’s a historical fact that 27 years ago today, I had enough faith to bring another life into the world’s story.  But knowing that history can’t begin to express how that little baby’s life has become a unique story of her own—and how, in the process, she has helped me glimpse the face of God.

Tell me the stories of your truths that transcend history.