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This is so good. It’s a long piece about Stephen Glass, one of the most notable and interesting of the many instances of journalistic liars of recent memory. He started out his career writing for The New Republic sometime in the 90s, and after a time it was discovered that he was making up almost everything he put on the page:

Glass made headlines in 1998 when he was fired by the New Republic for inventing characters, scenes, and entire articles for that magazine and several others. The tale of his downfall became a Hollywood film called Shattered Glass, which is largely accurate but still contains fabricated scenes about a fabricator. Glass’s notoriety peaked in 2003 when the film was released and he published The Fabulist, a fictionalized account of his saga that was widely panned. 

In spite of the movie, his life was a shambles. But he met someone who helped him put it back together, and then he did get a job doing law without actually having to be a lawyer, and then the author of the piece got in touch with him and had him come speak to his (the author’s) students. It did not go well:

Glass didn’t win over the crowd. The students later said they were impressed to meet him and glad to hear about the payments, but they felt he came off as introspective and a little meek. When I asked them in a survey if they would consider hiring him as a political fact-checker, most said they would not.

That day he told me about his wife, Julie Hilden, who had early onset Alzheimer’s disease. He didn’t mention that he was engaged in a new lie, one that he would later describe as “the biggest lie of all.”

She was sick, but didn’t want to talk about it:

Hilden was adamant that not only would she not discuss the disease, she wanted to pretend everything was normal and didn’t want friends to know. That put Glass in a predicament. For more than 15 years, he had worked hard to lead a truthful life. And now he was being forced to lie.

But this approach of “therapeutic fibbing” can be a helpful technique for Alzheimer’s patients because it allows them to avoid painful truths. Patients often don’t want or need to discuss the realities of their diagnosis, so it’s often better for caregivers to avoid the topic or redirect the conversation.

The practice can take a toll on caregivers, who have to keep lying to a loved one. For Glass it was excruciating. “Here I am lying again on some level, which I promised I wouldn’t do—and I’m lying in some ways to the person I love most,” he says. “But it was also an agreement that we had, which was that I would honor her desire to enjoy her life.” And so he lied—pretending with her that she didn’t have the degenerative disease and lying to friends about her condition as well.

Honestly, the piece is so moving and I commend it to you, even while I wander over to the lections for this morning, which, to my astonishment, represent a pairing of texts I have never seen but find could not be more suited. Jeremiah’s call by God is put right up against Jesus being rejected by his hometown and all the people who know him best. Do miracles for us like you did in Capernaum, they say, and Jesus says:

But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”  When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.

Wrath, of course, is not what many of us think we would experience when we meet Jesus in church or on the brow of the hill, or anywhere really. Rather, of course, Jesus is the sort of person who has the inclination and power to place some kind of glorious call on our lives just like Jeremiah had:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you….

Not to be called as a prophet probably, but for something really important and special. To be sure about it, the verse is carefully printed on coffee cups and little cards, or at least that first part of it is. We all know that God loves us. And yet, it is critical that the plans and inclinations of God Almighty stop there. You created me, God, for something super special, but please say very little about the rest of my life, except when I am feeling sad and confused and want a little boost, then I’ll rake in the plans and purposes verse.

What I love about the Sunday lections is that they really so often do help me see that the Bible is not about me, but about Jesus. Because, though that verse up there, ripped out of context, could be said to be about me in some sense (God certainly did know me before I was born) it is much much more about the one who laid aside his glory and came into the dust of our ruined estate. Indeed, is it possible, am I wrong in feeling like this next bit is a mashup between the Song of Zechariah and the Magnificat?

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.”

But I am wandering from the point, which is that Jesus, difficult person that he is, when he could have gone into his home-synagogue and said lovely things to all the people he had known since he was but a boy, things about how he had plans for them, that he would make everything lovely, instead provokes them, as we saw up there, to wrath. “Doubtless,” he castigates them, “you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” 

And that, in any age, no matter what kind of person you are, is really what you wish you could do. The human person wants a certain kind of help from God, the kind that lets you go on in the gentle glow of the kindly lie. Let me feel that I am going to be ok, even though both of us, thou and I, know that we are perishing, that we are bound to the dust, that there is nothing that we can do about it. Please, tell me that I’m lovely and fine.

We want healing, but not total healing. We want the truth, but not all of the truth. We want love, but not the sharp-edged truthful love of God that overthrows the plans that we have for ourselves. We can’t help it. It’s who we are. And so, as one, we gather up our strength to throw Jeremiah in a pit and Jesus off a cliff. And it would always be that way, except that finally, Jesus did go into the pit, he went down into the ground, planting his own body like a seed that would finally give life to our lying and dying world.

Your righteousness, O God,
    reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
    O God, who is like you?
 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.

Whatever kind of sick and poor and lying person you are, go to church! The true healer is there!

Photo by Joshua Hill on Unsplash

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