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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Community of Truth"

"A Community of Truth"


In Proverbs of Ashes:  Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us, Rebecca Parker, addressing her own journey of healing, writes:

       I also had to find a community of truth.   When friends sent me to a

       support group for people struggling with their response to the 

       effects of alcohol on those they loved, I found a place of unmasked

       human presence.

       Because that group was one in which people didn't hide, I   

       began to learn not to hide.  It took a long time, but I gradually

       began to tell the truth about my life.  It was like learning

       to speak all over again.  The habits of hiding and denying

      were so old, I didn't know how to speak except in a way that

      was a kind of a lie.  I didn't know how to say, "I hurt.  I am afraid." 

      I only knew how to say,  "I'm fine.  Nothing is wrong.  Everything is great."

      (Brock and Parker, p. 214)


What is a "community of truth"?    According to Merriam-Webster a "community" is "a unified body of individuals", and "interacting population" with "a common characteristic or interest." (Merriam-Webster)  What would a community whose stated common characteristic is truth telling look like?  This is not, I think, truth with a capital "T", connoting an absolute certainty beyond the capacities of human finiteness.  According to Parker it is a community that does not require hiding and denying.  It demands a new language – or perhaps the reclaiming of an old, old language forgotten in the pull and tumble of human existence, a language that can express what is real inside and among us, our truths with a more modest lower case "t."  A "community of truth" needs listeners, those able to hear the hard, tragic , sharp, brutish edges of life and hold fast in community.   A "community of truth" requires a kind of mutuality born of an awareness of sharing in the human condition.   A "community of truth", I think, is based in the ancient art of story telling, in this case, our own tattered volume, including chapters of hurt, fear, anger, and grief.  A "community of truth" holds one another accountable in love.  A cheap love can embrace the "fine and great" and even a measure of woundedness.   A "community of truth" needs an expensive, extravagant love to encompass the hard, tragic, sharp, brutish edges of life as well as its joys and to remain vulnerable to hope and possibility.


What does this have to do with theological supervision?  That hinges on the goal of theological supervision.   I am not sure what exactly is meant by "training the next generation of leaders", a phrase we hear often enough, but it strikes me as timid.  What if, rather than settling for "training", we decided to risk mutual forming –perhaps trans-forming - by gathering and "practicing" being "communities of truth"?

In some ways this is easier than being the expert with "answers."  However, vulnerability does seem to be requisite - not unfettered disclosure - but a willingness to at times forthrightly "not know", to listen, to be as authentic as we can be at any given moment, to do our own hard, necessary, continual practice of  inner assessment.   There just may be more authority in this practice of authenticity than in having answers.


Come to think of it, in the Christian faith tradition, a "community of truth" sounds a lot like some descriptions of the "the Body of Christ."


Trudy Hawkins Stringer


Brock, Rita Nakashima., and Rebecca Ann. Parker. Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us. Boston: Beacon, 2001. Print.


"Community - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary." Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <>.



Trudy Hawkins Stringer
Assistant Professor of the Practice
Associate Director of Field Education
Vanderbilt University Divinity School
615 343 3962


  1. I just happened to watch "What I want my words to do to you" last night, a documentary about a writing workshop Eve Ensler led at a women's prison in New York. That circle of women writing/listening/responding and telling truth together was a community of truth unlike anything I've ever seen in a church.

  2. Trudy, this was a very insightful post--thank you for your words! tallu