Some of you are aware of the recent dust-up regarding NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. He recently presented a significantly inaccurate recounting of his own personal involvement in a dramatic and potentially perilous helicopter event which took place in 2003 while he was on a news assignment in the Middle East. He has since recanted the inaccuracies, stating that he conflated the actual facts of the event with his own, more distant, involvement in it. I do not presume to judge either Mr. Williams’ explanation of his inaccuracies, or his motives. I hope he rebounds from all this, and does well. But I do understand why he has come under such scrutiny and critique. He is a teller of the news. And people want their news from someone whom they can trust to tell ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’
And I want to say to you that this is just as necessary a quality – and even more so, I would think – in those of us who are called to share the news of Jesus. And that brings me to my own Brian Williams sort of moment … which was called to my attention this week by the request from a friend for access to my gospel tract based on the story of St. Valentine. Some of you will remember that we used to make hardcopies of it available at this time of year, and that it was also posted on the blog. But I had to explain to my friend that I have taken it down. And one of the main reasons was that I had presented Valentine’s story inaccurately.
The basic facts I shared were indeed, based in the historic traditions of St. Valentine. But, in the interest of writing a good story, and of making Valentine come across as heroic and gospel-centered as possible, I am afraid I embellished the story a bit ... assigning Ephesians 5.32 kinds of motives to Valentine's stand for marriage which are simply not in the historical record, as far as I can tell. I also may have overstated the cruelty of the emperor with which Valentine was at odds, which I guess made for a more exciting story, too.
I did all of this, not out of an intentional purpose to bend the facts and be misleading, but I think because I got carried away with telling a good story, and spinning it for the gospel. But much of it was my story -- which is, I am afraid, why I got carried away in the telling of it. So the pride of telling a good story, not so much a desire to mislead, was my downfall. But either way, it was sin ... and it led to an embellished account of Valentine which, after review, I did not think worthy of the Lord.
So, whether or not Brian Williams’s inaccuracies came to pass in the same way as mine, I sympathize with him. At least for my part, the desire for a good story trumped the mandate for a completely accurate one. And for that, I apologize to you who read and used that Valentine’s story. I ask your forgiveness, and your prayers that I will learn from such a failure.
And I also encourage you to turn the mirror of Brian Williams and myself upon yourself, too. Is it possible that, in our desires to tell good stories … we may sometimes be embellishers of the truth? And if so, will people trust us when we are speaking of the Truth, namely Jesus? And is it possible that we could even embellish our own stories of conversion to Him … to make our pasts appear just a little more bleak, and thus our salvation just a little more dramatic? Beware of that! God doesn’t need our good stories! The truth, taken into the hand of the Holy Spirit, is powerful enough to capture the attention and change the heart of even our dullest hearers! So let’s focus on telling it!
Yes, let us look for stories, like that of St. Valentine, that may help us illustrate the truth. But in our great desire to tell of the Truth, let’s not fail to tell the truth.