“Truth or Trash”

August 31, 2014


Robin McGonigle

University Congregational Church

Aug. 31, 2014


“Truth or Trash?”

Proverbs 1:1-10


I received an email recently telling me to be careful about flashing my lights at cars with their bright lights on because they could be gang members and if I flashed my lights at them, they would shoot me.  I put that email in the same folder I put the one about the men laying under cars and slicing women’s ankles as they got in the car… and the email about Madalyn Murry O’Hare sponsoring a bill to keep prayer out of schools.  I put them in the hoax file.


There’s a lot of trash out there and the internet has helped people spread more half-truths and fear around.  So, let’s have a little fun and you tell me what is truth and what is trash:

  1.  Donkeys kill more people annually than plane crashes (true)
  2. KFC has changed from “Kentucky Fried Chicken” to KFC because they don’t use “real” chicken anymore.  (trash)
  3. The first owner of the Marlboro Company died of lung cancer (true)
  4. In ancient Egypt, priest plucked EVERY hair from their bodies, including eyebrows & eyelashes (true)
  5. Hypodermic needles with heroine, AIDs virus, and other yucky stuff are in McDonald’s play areas, telephone booths and lurking about everywhere just waiting for someone to poke and infect.  (trash)
  6. Mosquito repellents don’t repel.  They hide you.  The spray blocks mosquito’s sensors so they don’t know you’re there.  (true)


Here we are, a supposedly evolved society and we not only allow, but perpetuate, this trash.  Why?  Are we that gullible?


I think there are a number of reasons we believe stupid stuff.  One reason is what I’ve already mentioned – that they tap into our inner emotion and our fear and so we believe them in order not to be vulnerable.  That’s probably the case with the story of men underneath cars waiting for a woman to walk by so that he can slice her ankles with a knife and render her helpless.  A whole lot of parents have sent that email to their daughters who are away at college or living as adults in another city.  We’d like to protect them from evil people.  So that particular hoax plays on our fear of vulnerability.  We believe it because we’re afraid not to.


Another reason we like to believe things that aren’t necessarily true is to convince ourselves that other people somehow deserve their misfortune.  It’s easy to put people who are different than us down in order to keep the line between us more clearly defined.  If I think all homeless people are lazy or mentally ill, or some-such label, it’s easier for me to trick myself into believing that I will never be homeless.  If I can place attributes onto another, it makes it easier to devalue and displace them so that their lives don’t look like mine.  And so, we believe trash about others in order to make ourselves safe and exempt from the pain we see in their lives. 


There are other reasons we fall for mental trash.  Increasingly, we want others to do our thinking for us.  It really is easier! The access to information is unlimited today and it is easy to become overwhelmed.  I’ve caught myself on more than one occasion saying, “I don’t want to know the details… just give me the bottom line.”  Usually, it’s because I’m overflowing with too much information, or I’m in a rush.  I just can’t do more.  So the path of least resistance is the most attractive one.  Yet, it only takes a bit of time to go to a reliable person or a reliable source and ask for the truth.


The problem is that there are some things we need to know; some things we ought to know; and some things simply worth knowing.  It seems to me that matters of faith fall in all three categories.  Yet, how many people do you know who let someone else do their religious thinking for them?  There are people willing to die because a religious leader told them they would receive some fantastic reward in the afterlife for doing themselves in.  Look at history and you’ll find people in almost every major religious tradition willing to die for the cause.  Were they being faithful or just allowing someone else to think for them?


Unfortunately, it’s not simply a thing in our past.  There are a number of people and churches in our own city where it is the acceptable (and even recommended) thing to do to allow someone else to do all the religious reading, thinking, and speaking for the masses.


However, the scripture admonishes us to be wise.  In fact, wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and reason are listed as gifts given to humanity by God.  The traditional word for today is a reminder to seek truth and God’s wisdom as we live every day.


These are the wise sayings of Solomon, David’s son, Israel’s king – Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right, to understand what life means and where it’s going;  A manual for living, for learning what’s right and just and fair;  To teach the inexperienced the ropes and give our young people a grasp on reality.  There’s something here also for seasoned men and women,  still a thing or two for the experienced to learn – Fresh wisdom to probe and penetrate, the rhymes and reasons of wise men and women. Start with God – the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.  Pay close attention, friend, to what your father tells you; never forget what you learned at your mother’s knee.  Wear their counsel like flowers in your hair, like rings on your fingers.  Dear friend, if bad companions tempt you, don’t go along with them.                                                                                     Proverbs 1:1-10


Wisdom is the Biblical term for everyday living.  Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual condition we find ourselves.  It has virtually nothing to do with mere information or knowledge.  For example, a college degree is no proof of wisdom.  Instead, wisdom has to do with:

  • Becoming skillful in honoring our parents and raising our children,
  • Handling our money,
  • Conducting our lives morally,
  • Going to work and exercising leadership,
  • Treating friends kindly,
  • Eating and drinking healthfully,
  • Cultivating emotions within ourselves and attitudes toward others that make for peace.


Compare this list with the trash we often mistake for wisdom and knowledge.  If you are looking for a Biblical passage that will tell you more about daily choices and right living, I would urge you to read Proverbs.  It’s full of truth.  It teaches what is right and just and fair; what is moral and what is trash.  Instead of being vulnerable to the trash we talked about before, it suggests that the best place to be vulnerable is with God.


If we are wise, we will put priority on our knowledge of what is holy.  We won’t, carte blanch, accept what someone tells us to believe, even if that someone is a person we trust.  If we are wise, we will evaluate what we hear and what we say according to what is right, just, and fair.  We will check it out before we fall for it.


There is a story about a woman named Sarah, who was the church gossip and self-appointer arbiter of the church morals.  She kept sticking her nose into other people’s business.  Several residents were unappreciative of her activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence.


Sarah made a mistake, however, when she accused George, a new member of the church, of being an alcoholic after she saw his pickup truck parked in front of the town’s only bar one afternoon.  She commented to George and others that everyone seeing it there would know exactly what he was doing.  Why else would you park in front of a bar?


George, being a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and then just walked away.  He didn’t explain, defend, or deny.  He said nothing.  Later that evening, George quietly parked his pickup in front of Sarah’s house… and left it there all night.


Truly, as a pastor, I am amazed at some of the things people are willing to believe.  Here’s an example: the scripture that says “God will never give you more than you can handle.”?  Ever heard that one?  It isn’t a scripture.  The Bible doesn’t say that.  Yet, I’d venture to guess that more than half of Christians today think it is in the Bible.  Worse, they quote it to people in pain.


You simply can’t subject your faith and your beliefs to someone else’s whims, even if Bill Gates is giving away all of his money to those who put his picture on Facebook.  You can’t simply accept what someone tells you, even if it seems true.  Truth or trash… we’re probably better off reading the book of Proverbs and other good writing than spending quite so much time on the internet forwarding emails and playing on people’s fears.