You Can’t Handle the Truth

You Can’t Handle the Truth August 26, 2011

Some people have a loose relationship with the truth. I get that. Now me, I was born with this pesky built-in truth-telling device that makes it dang near impossible for me to lie.  I would fail a lie detector test in 2 seconds flat. If i even catch myself wandering from the truth, my heartrate goes up, i get naseous, i feel the beginnings of canker sores… and these are for the little white lies. Like when somebody asks me “can you tell I’ve gained weight?” or “aren’t my kids the  cutest things you’ve ever seen?”

Now, i can spin. I can speak or write a fluent bit of bs that makes my truth come across in any color or light that i want it to. I can pretty much say, of course I can tell that you’ve gained 80 pounds in a way that makes it sound like a compliment. But an out and out lie? Can’t do it.

I get that sometimes lies have to be told. And I’m glad that somebody else besides me has to tell them. But the lies that have to be told…well, they are usually in response to something. And hopefully, a means to an end that will ultimately do more good than harm.

What i don’t get are the lies that come out of nowhere–dramatic stories cooked up to elicit a response (often from a minister) or to impress or… you know what? I don’t know what for. I have never understood what leads a grown-up person to just make something up and tell it true, like a toddler who has not yet learned the difference in fibbing and pretend. There’s a line somewhere between, I am a monkey today and no, i’m not the one who painted the bathroom with toothpaste… Awareness of that line is a developmental milestone, a major step on the path to learning right from wrong, not to mention being able to use one’s creative energies for good and not for ill.

And really, some grown-ups are waking up this very minute and deciding to be a monkey today. Again.

I know this because my built-in truth-telling device—which is its own sort of downfall, believe me–is also a lie detector. At a recent retreat with my church leaders, we played this awesome game called “Fact or Crap.” It’s pretty much a boxed up version of 2 truths and a lie, or BS. Someone reads a random and totally obscure statement that most normal people could not possibly know, and the players have to decide if it is–that’s right–fact or crap. I say it’s awesome because i dominated at it. I know when I smell a rat, and i know who is a monkey, and i ALWAYS know who painted the bathrom with toothpaste (hear that kids? always…)

Perhaps it’s because, in my profession, I get lied to alot. But really, I’ve had this awareness since i was a kid. (YOU won the McDonald’s dream house? yeah, that’s crap, i would have seen that on tv…You’re moving to Hollywood and you’re going to be on the Cosby Show? Fine then, I’ll just go ask your mom…)  I knew people like this in high school. Ran into them in college. That inner device always on high alert, beep beep beep…crap crap crap…

As a minister, it’s hard to know what to do when someone is handing you the crap card. I know that there are any number of personality disorders, mental illnesses, and emotional traumas that lead people to fabricate personal fiction out of thin air. But as a minister, I am not trained to diagnose or treat any of these things (though believe me, the temptation to do so is real…)

The irony is, the reason i get lied to alot is that people seem to think ministers, by trade, are required to believe anything they tell us. On the contrary, pathological peeps, let me tell you this… most of us can spot it a mile away. And we can’t help you.

What i DO try to do, from a pastoral perspective, is discern why the person might be feeling the need to fib. Do they want money? Attention? A kind of human connection that they don’t know how to make in healthier ways? Sometimes it’s all of the above. In any case, I try to find a way of meeting that need, without responding to the lie. I try to give them what they really need, without buying into the made-up part or encouraging them to dwell there.

Yes, that is as tricky as it sounds. For instance, to the person with a made up illness, I by-pass asking about the details (I mean, they’re not going to want me to come to the hospital. there is no hospital) but find some round about way of connecting them with people. For the person with the made-up [VERY long] story of how they came to be stranded in Phoenix, I give them the gas card, or food card, but make it clear that I did not give it to them because of their great [crap] story… I gave it to them because the church had it to give, and because Jesus asked us to.

That last part is important.

There is no red-letter text for dealing with pathological liars. But I figure, pretend it’s leprosy and the directive is clear. Touch. Bless. Restore to community. It’s all we can do. And over the beep-beep-beep-crap-crap-crap chaos going off in my head, I have to believe that, ultimately,  it is enough.

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  • I think it is curious that truth-telling is rather under emphasized in Scripture. I mean, yes, you shall not bear false witness. But, are there stories about heroes or villains being caught in a lie? Heck, the snake in the garden gets in trouble for telling the truth. Similarly, the devil tempts Jesus with things that are true–or at least for purposes of the Gospel story assumed true.

    I have come to see truth-telling as a matter of pride. I am an adult. I am in charge of myself, and there are simply not situations in which I am so ashamed of my conduct that I need to make up a story about it. I think lying is a real symptom of feeling unworthy or powerless. Surely, Jesus teaches that we all are worthy and that we are not powerless.

    • not to mention the whole lawyer-ing thing. if you tell a lie, you purgor yourself!

  • Lorie Vaughn

    I am surprised to learn that ministers get lied to. Lots of people need attention & have probably lived a life that required “drama” to get that attention. Others are probably ashamed of their “truths”. Loved this post, keep up the great work!

    • i agree, lorie. I think people who make up elaborate lies have very painful truths and would rather live in the fiction. sadly, facebook and other social media often make it easier for people to do that. you can create a whole fabricated life–with pics and everything!–and publish the made up person you wish you were. all this is a good sermon about the false self, and the God who loves the real us, no matter what.

  • Mandye Yates

    Love it, Erin! Very well said!!

    • thank! hey congrats on your new call. i was so excited to hear that news!