False Positive – and the potential cost of losing trust

Do not fret because of those who are evil
    or be envious of those who do wrong;
 for like the grass they will soon wither,
    like green plants they will soon die away.

 Trust in the Lord and do good;
    dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Psalm 37

Today I am taking a detour away from the “Love and Mercy” theme this third week of Advent. Instead, I want to talk a little about our struggle with truth. Something happened this week that put a spotlight on how important it is that we have access to good information, and that we have tools at our disposal to verify when we are unsure.

It started with the fact that my parents and – by association – I, had been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID. This was last week. Immediately, we all tested, using test kits produced by Ellume.

When we, in turn, tested positive (see A Little Peace and Grace to go with my Covid), it set off a cascade of inconvenient and costly consequences.

  • My dad’s caregivers could not come over the weekend;
  • I could not attend church;
  • People I had close contact with had to isolate and test;
  • I had to isolate from Rebekah and wear a mask in my own home;
  • My mother could not go to her important follow-up from eye surgery;
  • I missed an important brunch meeting with a preacher friend;
  • Our daughter cancelled her Christmas trip to Wake Forest (I haven’t been with her or the grandchildren since July…)

And those are just the highlights.

The reason I’m sharing this is that the information we had was false. First, we all remained asymptomatic. Then we heard that many of the Ellume test kits had been recalled for false positives. Finally, yesterday afternoon, I went to CVS for a test and our suspicions were confirmed – my Ellume test had been a false positive. Today I’m taking my parents in for new tests too.

Truth Matters!

My point here is that we live in a world where accurate, actionable information is critically important. If we take actions (see bullet points above) based on faulty information then there is a cascade of consequence and cost.

  • The testing error was just that, an error – not a lie or a manipulation. But it serves as a useful illustration as to how consequential the wrong information can be, and how harmful deliberate misinformation is.

Today, in the toxic social/political/religious climate we inhabit, much of the information people swear by, and even stake their lives on is not only inaccurate it is knowingly deceitful – carefully packaged and distributed misinformation and outright lies.

Deceit is wrong, of course, but we – as consumers of information – also have a responsibility to ask questions, to seek confirmation, to verify, to weigh various sources, and to put aside what we want to be true in favor of what actually is.

We have to understand that there are consequences when we both swallow and circulate untruth. We have to move beyond the desire for short-term political gain, and craft a future where we have not destroyed the thin fabric of trust that literally holds this democracy together. Trust simply doesn’t rebuild as easily as it is torn down.

Another story:

Here’s the thing about trust, and I will use a real story (names and place changed to protect the guilty):

My friend Duke – in Atlanta – was working hard to rebuild his marriage, and things were going fairly well. Then he did something stupid that brought the past into the present again. A month later he complained: “That was a month ago, surely she should trust me again by now?”

“It takes about thirty seconds to destroy trust,” I said; “but it can take thirty weeks or thirty months and sometimes thirty years to build it back. It’s on you now. Be consistent and be truthful, but the restoration of trust will take time.”

The damage being done to America by deliberate deception will not be repaired overnight. There is no short-term political gain worth such risk to our future.

Jesus said, “the truth will set you free.” He could also have said this: “Lies and deception imprison the soul and destroy hope too.”

 Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teaching. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

They responded, “We are Abraham’s children; we’ve never been anyone’s slaves. How can you say that we will be set free?”

Jesus answered, “I assure you that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave isn’t a permanent member of the household, but a son is. Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free…”

John 8:31-36



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