A beautiful young woman named Emily just came into the shop from Nashville. She is in Montreat for a Christian Youth Leadership Conference and is walking around town before she heads home, She is interested in buying a pair of Jewish sabbath candlesticks. Puzzled, I asked her whether she was Jewish.
“No,” she answered. “I am just interested in Judaism, and in fact I am interested in world religions.”
From there we began a fascinating discussion of religion and Truth.
Emily grew up in a Fundamentalist family and has been educated in Christian schools where the idea of Truth came word-for-word from the Bible. Following the tenets of Christianity was the only path to salvation, and those who didn’t follow the same path were “wrong.” Somehow, though, her world view has exploded, and she believes that we have to learn to understand each other or we are doomed.
Fundamentalism is also at the root of extreme beliefs of those of other faiths. In American Dervish, by Ayan Akhtar, a successful Pakistani pharmacist living in the US, holds fast to his fundamentalist beliefs, using passages from the Koran to justify his hatred of Jews and Christians as well as condoning and even praising the actions of Hitler. When further passages appear to contradict these beliefs, he finds a way to twist those words to reinforce the “truth” of his previous sentiment.
The whole idea of truth is so slippery. I observe that the climate is changing, but somehow this has become a loaded conversation revolving around faith, sacrilege, and the powerlessness of humans. In A Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes talks about truth as the story we tell ourselves about our own lives. In the novel, the main character thinks he understands his life and his relationships with the important people in his life. Finally, he learns that he has been wrong in so many ways, and that his own life, which he had regarded as measured, has been fearful and unproductive.
And “truth” is just a word with many meanings. My dear friend Tony Bing lost his ability to find the right words right before he died. His daughter Alison was by his bedside when Tony looked at her sternly and demanded, “I want The Truth.”
Alison scanned her memory for lies she might have gotten away with, and couldn’t come up with anything for a death bed confession. She told Tony she didn’t understand, and he just repeated himself several times. Finally, frustrated, he pointed to the television remote across the room, and said again, “The truth.”
So what does any of this have to do with running, or indeed in patronizing, a small shop in Black Mountain? It’s a question of what I choose to sell and what you choose to buy. I select items to sell because I find them beautiful and/or intriguing. You buy something because you believe it to be wonderful and worthy of your spending your hard-earned money on. But many people walk into this store and look askance at my goods and leave empty-handed. Everyone is right.
My friend Julie Bresnan has exquisite taste and has what I consider an intrinsic sense of what is beautiful and what looks great with something else. Her home is elegant. She is thinking about selling her vacation home and is worried that it might be a difficult process. I assured her that the house would sell fast because of the magnificent way she has decorated it. She laughed and said, “You think that because we have similar taste. Someone else coming in might hate it.” Taste, then, is a truth that we hold fast to, even when it is “bad!”
So while I am sure that it is the truth that every item in my store is beautiful, I understand that not everyone will agree with me. As you know from being in Chifferobe, I will continue to stock the store with stuff that I like. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. It’s the truth.