I keep reading on facebook and other places lately a great deal of questioning about the validity and veracity of stories. Did the "deer crossing" lady really exist? Did the story about the man who gave the robber his coat, too, really happen? Did the story about the homeless people returning hugs really happen? And finally, even, did Jesus really exist? People are very concerned about the reality of these stories, or rather, their historicity. People are also concerned about the historicity of things other people actually still remember. Did the Holocaust really happen? Did the moon landing really happen? Are these things real? Are they historically accurate?
Personally, I think all of these things really did happen, they really are historical events. But to me the bigger question is not "Did this really happen?" but rather, "Is it true?" And to me, these are VERY different questions. A friend and fellow pastor has said to me on more than one occasion, "I don't know if it happened, but I know it is true." Again, while I believe the above things did historically occur, it doesn't really matter. What matters is the truth they give us. The deer lady crossing gives us the truth that humans are sometimes silly, sometimes miss the obvious, sometimes not always brilliant and sometimes in our blind spots we make ourselves look ridiculous (but also can bring great joy in the form of deep laughter to many others). Who cares if it was real or not? I don't. It gave me a great laugh, and that's what mattered to me. The man who gave the robber his coat shows us the truth that sometimes kindness can make a real difference in the life of another human being, especially when that other human being is not deserving of that kindness. Taking the risk of greeting meanness with love does sometimes change people in radical ways and has the potential of changing the world. That truth shows itself again and again. It just doesn't matter if this particular example of it is historical or not. The truth of the homeless people returning hugs while the people who have a lot of "stuff" won't is that it is often the people who have the least who are willing to give the most. This too is a truth that shows itself again and again in the world. Did this particular example really happen? Who cares! We need to be reminded of its truth regardless. The same with all of the other examples. People can do horrible things, like the holocaust. People can do amazing things, like the moon landing. And yes, God comes to be with us and shows us a path of love and healing and radical peace. God brings resurrection out of death when we look for it, when we choose to participate in it, when we keep our eyes open to see it. Do I believe it was historical? Yes. But it doesn't matter to me as much as the fact that it is TRUE.
I think we get so caught up in the question of historicity that I fear we miss the meanings in these events. We miss the deep truths of the stories. We miss what they have to teach us and show us about life, about humanity, about what is possible and what must be confronted and changed, about the very nature of God. I would almost rather we all decided these stories weren't true so we could stop arguing about their historicity and get back to the fact that every one of these stories has meanings that can deepen and enrich and teach and lead us fully into the life God wants for us. When we are so focused on whether they are historical or not, we miss the messages God gives us through these awesome events; through the beautiful, the horrible, the precious and amazing, the warnings of what can happen and what can be, and the possibilities of what we can do with God and with one another.
Look beyond what happened or didn't happen.
Instead look for truth.
Our stories, historical or not, are full of truths. Thanks be.