Labelling and love

good samaritanWalter Brueegemann, one of the most influential contemporary theologians put his finger on a key issue for Christians — labelling others. “To beat each other up with labels like capitalism or communism or socialism is simply a waste of time.”  [I’d add LGBTQ, atheistic humanism and all political labels to that list!] Labels get in the way of what Jesus was trying to get across to us — what Brueegemann calls “neighbourliness.” He wrote “The discussion needs to start with what it means to be made in the image of God. The confession of the Christian faith is that all of God’s human creatures are made in the image of God. That means they are to be treated with dignity, offered maintenance and security, as is necessary. . . The only thing that will change people’s minds about this is getting to know people who are (different than you are).”

 But what if  (the labelled group) is out to subvert my way of life and harm my children and family?

Labelling, which flows out of fear is incompatible with being a neighbour. Suspending your use of labels and taking risks is what it means to love one’s neighbour. That is the essence of Jesus’s parable about the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan, an outsider and not an accepted religious practitioner, took the risk to rescue and care for the man who had been beaten by robbers even though he didn’t know the man. St Paul summarized the importance of this parable for Christians: “Love your neighbour as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.” (Romans 13: 9-10)

There is an epidemic of labelling in the media and on the Internet, which flows into our conversations and even our beliefs. We need to guard against being infected by this. Labelling has no place in the Christian community!

Is my religion my hobby?

hobbyI had a coffee today with Graham J. an old friend of mine, who is a believer in Zen Buddhism. He said he recently decided to take his Zen beliefs much more seriously. I asked him if his Zen beliefs were a hobby or a way of life? (Graham knows me quite well  and likes or at least tolerates my habit of asking provocative questions in order to learn more deeply about any subject.)  My hobby is Duplicate Bridge; I take it seriously and my partner and I analyse our performance and try to learn how to play better so we can win more often. But I don’t see Bridge as being very important compared to many other aspects of my life. It isn’t my ‘way of life.’

We discussed this question for awhile. Graham suggested that his desire was to live all aspects of his ordinary life more mindfully. His Zen Master taught him living mindfully required three steps: Clear your mind; Understand the situation; Act.  His way of making Zen his way of life was to practice these three steps diligently, starting with meditating each morning on his day and preparing to live mindfully.

What about me?

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. In the Catholic Church Lent is a special time to ‘repent’ and think about your life as a Christian. I don’t think that it was accidental that Graham and I had this conversation on the second day of Lent; God arranged it and sent his grace into our conversation to shape it for His purposes. When I asked Graham whether his belief was only his hobby I was actually asking myself that same provocative question. I’d like to say that I was able to quickly say that I treat my Christian belief as a way of life not a hobby but I have an uncomfortable feeling that there’s too much ‘hobby’ in my practice and not enough ‘way of life.’  And my discomfort is grace again working in me.

I won’t do an examination of conscience here in my blog. I do suggest that you ask yourself the question ‘Is my religion my hobby?’ and listen very carefully to what God has to say to you. One good result of this exercise is that you will come to appreciate God’s mercy and forgiveness a whole lot better.

A. Why Change? — The Gap

“Something spiritual is starting to stir in this country (Australia).” But, wrote Erica Battle in the Sydney Sun-Herald, “On the last published census 64% of Australians nominated adherence to the Christian faith, yet only about 9% attend church weekly.” Why do so many people sense a spiritual dimension in life but do not seem to carry this over into religious commitment? Do they even perceive a gap between their beliefs and actions? There are two perspectives from which we can answer these questions: the human perspective and the God perspective

The human perspective

This perspective uses the social, cultural and religious dimensions of the human situation in the 21st century. It looks at why groups of people hold the beliefs that they do, and what motivates them to behave in certain ways. To net out these findings (from the western, developed world context):

  • People value their individuality, especially their right to make personal choices, much more highly than membership in any group, sometimes even including their own family.
  • Trust in all groups, including religious denominations has eroded significantly.
  • People get their opinions of religion and church from encounters and conversations with others and the media.

Using these three findings it is easy to see why people can say they are Christian but don’t attend church. They weigh up things in their individual consciences  and see no strong reason for faithful membership in a church. The church itself doesn’t provide information about or influence this choice very strongly.

The God perspective

This perspective views each individual human person’s unique situation. It looks at how each person grows and deals with the stresses of life, trying to find meaning and purpose in their life. Let me ‘play God’ and net out my idea about His perspective:

  • I created a deep hunger for knowing God into each person.
  • I love each person and continually communicate myself to them.
  • During their life, each person develops ther own unique ways to avoid this deep hunger and my love, to live as they wish.
  • But there are moments  when they ask questions they can’t answer — “Where is God?” “What is my purpose in life?”

From this God perspective, the gap between people who call themselves Christians and those who attend church makes sense. It happens because many people don’t find the experience of ‘church’ relevant to helping them answer these important questions. How can that be?  Christian churches claim to be able to authoritatively provide these answers, speaking for God, using the Bible. As a movie character once put it so succinctly: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Why is church attendance at your local church too low?

I have given you my theory for why attendance at most Christian churches is declining.  I point the finger at the churches not at individual Christians. People have always acted the way I described in the God perspective. What has changed is the way churches communicate the answers to important questions that people ask. My challenge to each local church is to develop your own theory about declining church attendance and its root causes — and act on your analysis.  If you come up with the same theory as I have, look closely at all the ways you communicate with people, both inside your church and outside. Christian churches have the content but it’s not being heard. Figure out why. This is one good step toward transforming your local church.

The map is not the territory

When Martha my teacher / coach taught me the rudiments of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), she gave me a model for how the human mind works. Whether or not you agree with this model, you must admit that some of its ideas are quite provocative:

  • Our memories and emotions profoundly influence our behaviours
  • The way we use language shapes our thinking
  • A good deal of what happens in our mind is unconscious

One of the ideas that Martha emphasised was “The map is not the territory.” By this she meant that each person lives in a world that touches on but is not the same as “what is” or external reality. All of us filter out aspects of reality — generalize, delete and distort what comes into our senses into something that fits our model of the world. We create our own “map” of reality — our unique mental model — so we can follow it and live more easily. It is a constant temptation to believe that our “map” is 100% accurate and actually is identical with the territory of “what is” or reality. That is simply not possible. The human mind is built to work like this — as a “mapping” or pattern recognition device simplifying reality — and we cannot escape being human. What does this have to do with living in a “grace filled world?”

The Christian “map” and God’s “territory”

Christians are human — and therefore must have a map of the world to function.  Christians also believe they live in God’s Kingdom and depend on God’s grace in a profound way to find their  way into and around the Kingdom. How do we put these two ideas together? It seems to me that there are two basic alternatives:

  1. Christians must create a different kind of “map” for themselves which includes aspects of the Kingdom (at least as far as it can be experienced in this world). In other words, through the normal human growth processes, Christians encounter God in other Christians, the Bible, etc and use their freedom to create a Christian “map” to follow.
  2. God must intervene and inject some special features into the Christian “map” to help us find our way into and then around the Kingdom. This alternative means that God gives humans gifts of insight and other graces to expand their “map” This alternative says that supernatural forces add to or even override the normal human growth processes.

Putting it this way, it seems to me that God would never override human freedom even to achieve a good end — a human mental model (“map”) that includes the Kingdom. No matter how much we Christians would like to depend on God to steer us through the world with some special infallible “map” we are no different then any other human being. We must build our own map to include God’s Kingdom, or it won’t be there when we need it. This reality creates an urgency for Christians to form their “map”  — their mental model for the world and the Kingdom — according to God’s reality.

Creating a Christian “map”

How do we create our Christian “map” of reality? By using and combining three different sources as we grow in our faith — our own efforts, those of the church, and those of God. We must have all three — else we begin to run the risk that our Christian “map” will be just our own construction and not reflect God’s reality. These three sources work in many ways; I will highlight one way for each source to give you an idea of what I believe growth in faith means.

  •  Our own efforts. Basically this means we take our growth as Christians seriously, and “work out our salvation in fear and trembling.” Human growth takes effort; everyone knows that. Education, physical wellness and fitness, even spiritual meditation all require an individual to spend time and energy on growth. “No pain, no gain.” If a Christian never reads, reflects or prays they are unlikely to create a mature “map” of the world and the Kingdom.
  • The church. Over and above what an individual Christian does, the church is a primary factor in Christian growth. If a local church neglects the growth of its congregation, then the “maps” of its members will be immature and possibly even wrong. Christian education, sacraments, liturgy and fellowship are essential to every Christian’s growth. There is no wisdom in the statement “I am Christian but I don’t go to church.” Yes, you might have been baptised but you also may still be a Christian “infant” as far as your Christian “map” of the world and the Kingdom are concerned.
  • God’s grace. Notwithstanding the first two sources, no Christian can create a valid “map” of the Kingdom without God’s involvement. Even Jesus withdrew periodically to be with the Father. Why? The answer is that the Christian “map” is mysterious and alive. It is not simply the way the human mind processes data and recognises patterns (although it is that too). The Christian “map” is more like a relationship than a model, handbook or guide.  This relationship transforms the “map” we humanly construct because our “coach” (not an NLP guru like Martha) is there with us . We are not alone, using our map to navigate the world and the Kingdom. “God is my co-pilot” might be a reasonable image, helping us as we create and use our “map” to grow and guide our lives toward an often unseen purpose. Prayer is the common way we experience God and mature as Christians.

The point of this post — and my entire Grace Filled World blog — is to awaken Christians (including myself!) to the serious task of taking responsibility for our growth in the faith.

Christmas as metaphor

The human mind works like this. Very basically, we see something and compare it against what we know and then we automatically know how to think and act. For example, we see an angry face and automatically prepare to ‘fight or flee’ — Scientists have shown that even infants can recognise what a face is, and whether it’s angry.

This demonstrates that our mind and language are fundamentally metaphorical. We see and describe the world by saying, “Oh that is just like something I have seen before. That is an angry face.” Seeing the world like this, in terms of metaphors, works at the deepest level of our mind, the unconscious and automatic level. We don’t reason very often and question whether that object we see really is an angry face which our mind has categorised. As George Lakoff says, “. . .the hidden hand of the unconscious mind uses metaphor to define our unconscious metaphysics . . .” [In Philosophy in the Flesh] Not only do we see faces and other objects automatically; our all-encompassing worldview is also formed by metaphor. This includes Christmas, whether we are Christians or athiests.

The Christmas season uses two conlicting metaphors

We like to say that our modern world has lost the true meaning of Christmas. Santa Claus and his bag full of gifts (comfortably supporting the need to shop to keep our economy growing and healthy) has taken over as the predominant metaphor from the Christ child laying in the manger. I doubt that this only happened recently. In fact, since the earliest days of the church, there was a common metaphor for the world, and that was whatever political/economic idea dominated in a particular age. The Roman metaphor was the great city of Rome and its grandeur. The Holy Roman Empire replaced that with the great church and its grandeur. Thus,  the modern metaphor of the great society creating global economic wellbeing follows a long line of similar metaphors. The infant God in a manger metaphor has always struggled against the dominant metaphor of the times.

The thing about metaphors is that you need to ‘unpack’ them to understand their deeper significance. What do the metaphor of Santa Claus and the metaphor of the infant God mean?

Santa Claus is a happy old man giving gifts to children who have been good. The metaphor means that, if we are good, the gifts will come to us. In our economic system, if we are well-off, we are usually seen as good. We are encouraged to give gifts to the less well-off at Christmas. This is not usually associated with Santa Claus, however, but with Saint Nicholas, who gave gifts to all children, rich and poor alike, without regard to whether they were good or bad.

The infant God in the manger metaphor is more difficult for humankind to unravel. In fact, even Jesus’ mother probably didn’t understand the significance of this puzzling act of God. The angels had to explain it: “I bring you news of great joy that will be for all people.” The infant God is a great gift that brings joy and peace to all mankind. Exactly what this gift is remains subtle and largely hidden. God doesn’t enter the world like a hero or Santa Claus. God’s gift of Himself at Christmas, and His choice to do that in Bethlehem in a manger, keeps on giving because we can’t unravel the mystery of the infant God metaphor! The infant God metaphor is always in conflict with the dominant economic/political metaphor.

Christmas is a time for going back to the 1st grade in school

Can you remember when you were in the first grade? Probably not. What I remember is that I didn’t understand anything — about reading, nunbers, how to get along with the Sisters, or how to be a “success.” I was basically a sponge, waiting to soak up the water of education. [Another metaphor] If I had arrived at the first grade already full of ‘stuff’ I wouldn’t have been ready to learn. That’s what usually  happens at Christmas. We already know what the Bethlehem story means.

Still, when we see the infant Jesus, we experience some conflict with the dominant symbols of our commercialised world. This is a signal that there is some learning at hand. Our task is to make room “in the inn” (our already filled sponge) for the “news of great joy.” If we have been through thirty or forty Christmases (or many more in my case), making room is difficult.  Over the years, we have filled our sponge with our own explanations about the infant God in the manger. For me to learn what this gift means, I can only try to stop thinking and return to my innocent state of readiness, like the 1st grade. “Be still and know that I am God.” [Psalm 46:10] The mystery of the infant God in a manger is there, waiting for us to be ready to receive the good news of news of great joy. Try emptying your mind of all your accustomed stories about Jesus and Bethlehem and wait for God to come.

“Making sense of it all” Part 1

When I was in high school, my cousin Leo and I would occasionally get into ‘philosophical’ debates late at night. “What is nothing?” “Why does something exist?”  and so on. We were pushing the limits of what we knew, spreading our mental wings, trying to make sense of it all.  Later, as an adult, I met people who, after some crisis or disaster, asked the same types of questions. “Is there any way to make sense of this?” “How can a good God let this happen?” They struggled to make sense of a tsunami or 9/11 or a tragic death of a child.

“Making sense of it all” describes the ultimate growth challenge for every human being.  Erik Erikson, a pioneer in human development, described the stages of growth we all go through, with the final stage before death being “Integrity versus Despair.”  If we fail to “make sense of it all” our life may seem useless, and we may end up alone and in despair. My cousin and I were learning a process we would need later on in life.  I want to share a few thoughts about the challenges of “making sense of it all” in the 21st century because the process is much harder now than it was 50 years ago when I was a young man.

The process of “making sense”

Who, exactly, is it that makes sense of everything? Is it some ‘guru’ or teacher or minister who explains the meaning of life to us? No, we instinctively know that we have to do this process ourselves. But what part of us, the complex being that we are, does this? Antony Storr, a noted Psychiatrist, wrote a book called The Integity of the Personality. Is it our personality that makes sense, or is there other some part of us that is deeper than our personality, which does that? Some philosophers and theologians call this a “person” or our “soul.” Whatever part we decide is in charge of making sense, there is still the question of how this process works. The phrase itself gives us a clue — we must actively “make” sense; it isn’t infused or given to us. We may want some magical authority to explain everything but the more we seek such authorities, the more we learn that they don’t have the answers we seek. Christians realise that this limit to our understanding is what it means to be human. We believe that the ultimate explanation for everything lies in God, which we will never know in this life. That does not say that we Christians are exempt from the challenge of “Integrity versus Despair.” It says that we are more comfortable with not understanding everything, as we wrestle with and grow our personal wisdom and integrity.

The process of “making sense” is lifelong and iterative yet unrecognised by most people. Our ‘worldview’ largely takes shape hidden from our view, starting at birth, perhaps even in the womb. We are a social being so we make sense in conversations and interactions with others. But, these conversations are always inadequate. The Theologian Karl Rahner describes this: “The abyss of existence opens up in front of us . . . mystery in its incomprehensibility is what is self-evident in human life.”  In his view, the process of making sense and creating a worldview that explains everything is impossible. Still, every human has this built-in desire and tries to make sense, to a greater or lesser extent, throughout their life.

Why this process is more difficult now

I read an interesting book a few years ago called Villages. The author spent many years living in primitive villages, studying how they worked as communities. The interesting thing to him was how radically different than cities villages were. Villages have many more enduring connections among people, which transmit how village people think about life, what their values are, and so on. Cities have many fewer deep connections and essentially no agreed worldview or consensus about life. As the world’s population  becomes increasingly urbanized, and experiences more and more shallow connections due to globalization, travel, the expansion of knowledge, social networking over the Internet, and so on, many people are experiencing an explosion of diverse ideas about every topic imaginable, without any community support in finding a worldview. Making sense is a far greater challenge because of this. Furthermore, we have far less trust in traditions and institutions in our ‘post-modern’ culture — so there are no authorities to help us make sense of life. This includes the church for many people! Whereas fifty years ago, many churchgoers trusted their pastor or the heirarchy, the vast majority of Christians today don’t depend on religious professionals to make sense of their lives. In Part 2 of this post, I will discuss why this is true and why Christians should be delighted that, in the age we now live in,  more and more of us are beginning to recognise that, ultimately, we are responsible for making sense of God’s purpose for our life. That is not to say that Christians don’t need to belong to a church. We do, but we need one that, like a village, actively helps us make sense of our lives.

Sometimes not thinking is better than thinking

Descartes said, famously, “I think therefore I am.” But 400 years later we make distinctions between thinking, feeling and experiencing. So, is thinking the quintessential human act? This is a very deep and perplexing philosophical question — and philosophers use thinking to analyze thinking, an obvious tautology.

I went on a retreat this weekend, led by Father Greg Homeming OCD, a Carmelite priest. He cast some new (and old) light on this perplexing question. In the 16th century a Spanish priest, John of the Cross, used a different approach to describe what it means to be human. He used appetites and desires to explain different human experiences, including thinking but also others. An appetite is just what it sounds like — for example, the capacity to recognise and respond to the desire for food. We have many appetites, which lead to different desires: The appetite of curiosity, which leads to the desire to know, and thus to thinking. The appetite to love others, which leads to the desire to care for someone. And so on.

All appetites are good because they are built into us as human beings. But the desires that arise from these natural appetites, says John of the Cross, can be ‘disordered.’ A good example is the desire for food, which can become obsessive, leading to various disorders like obesity and anorexia. The question is, how do we give ‘order’ to our desires? John’s view is that desires must be ordered to serve God’s purposes for us, as a human and as a unique person. In other words, John has a view of what a human being is — we are enfleshed spirits ‘made in the image and likeness of God.’ As such John sees God as establishing the principles we ought to follow in giving order to our desires.

In practical terms this means discerning when one of our desires blocks our freedom to make good choices. When the desire for food becomes disordered we can no longer make good choices about eating. Worse, the compulsion to eat begins to interfere with the rest of our desires and all the choices we make in our life. We live to eat and everything else in our life begins to be dominated by this ‘addiction.’  This includes our higher spiritual appetites as well, like the desire to know God and follow His purposes for us. This is why John says that we need to do some work on our dis-ordered desires in order to be able to have more freedom to pursue the spiritual appetites and desires that are also in our hearts.

If you are still with me, you are probably saying, “OK. Makes sense. But how do I know if my desires are ‘disordered’ — I’m not an addict — and how do I change my desires if they are disordered?”  Father Greg said something pretty simple but also profound. “Just assume that you are like every other human being and that some of your appetites and desires are disordered and keeping you from being free to relate more closely to God.” That made a lot of sense to me. I have often thought that I’d like to relate to God more closely, and even started down some path of increased prayer and spiritual practices — only to find that my usual life kept interfering and ultimately snuffed out this higher desire. Something is obviously going wrong. As St Paul said, “Why do I do the things I don’t want to do, and not do the things I want?” The answer lies in these disordered desires that take away from my freedom to know and follow God!

So how can we change this? Again Father Greg had a simple yet powerful answer. “Be aware when you desire something. What you desire may be perfectly OK, like a cup of coffee. But, just to strenghten your general control over your desires, say no or defer that particular cup of coffee.”  Simple practices like this —  not doing things that you want, or doing things that you don’t want to do —  will begin to give you more freedom in all your choices, especially the freedom to relate to and follow God. That, of course is the age-old wisdom of self-denial, stated in down-to-earth, practical terms.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” [Mark 8:34] And Jesus also said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:30] The hope that Father Greg gave me was that, by simple, incremental steps of saying “no” to or deferring something I desire, I can increase my strength and freedom to follow Jesus.

I also recognized this weekend that one of my disordered desires is the desire to know — constantly feeding my appetite of curiosity, rather than actually experiencing the life that God is putting in front of me daily. God sends grace to us so that we can live more abundantly. But because I am living so much in my head, I am not  living abundantly, particularly when it comes to relating to and serving others.  I need to remember what the Zen Buddhist Master said, when asked by his pupil how to follow the right way, “Chop wood; carry water.” Do what is in front of me. Discipline my desires, especially my desire to know more and more. Be aware of God’s constant presence and pray.  “Be still, and know that I am God.”  [Psalm 46:10]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As St Paul said,

 

Seeing with Jesus’ Eyes

“Our learning to see with Jesus’ eyes will eventually result in us desiring with Jesus’ heart — which is to say, our receiving the mind of Christ, which is how we discover the mind of God.” [James Alison in On Being Liked]

There is a chain of reasoning associated with this statement that each of us needs to ponder.

  1. Do we want to learn to see with Jesus’ eyes? Grace puts the desire in every human being’s heart but it doesn’t automatically ‘program’ us. That is our choice, using  God’s other great gift of human freedom.
  2. Once we say yes, however incoherently, to this first question we are faced with finding a new way to learn how to see with different eyes. Our minds are programmed to see in a certain way and our teachers see with the same eyes, and teach us to see like they see. Jesus’ is the only one who can teach us to see with his eyes and mind. How do we learn to listen to his teaching? This generally happens once we choose to become Christians, but that is only the first step in a journey of learning.
  3. Human beings learn from others within a cultural context. The best way to learn from Jesus is within a Christian culture. The only place that such cultures exist are in local Christian communities and even these may largely see with secular eyes, not Jesus’ eyes. So, do we search for the ‘right’ church or do we become part of a local church and help make it the ‘right’ church that sees with Jesus’ eyes? The Spirit leads us on this journey but my general sense is that we must follow Jesus’ example and ‘heal the sick’ right where we are. That means transforming the local church where the Spirit has led us.

What is seeing with Jesus’ eyes like? Alison says that Jesus’ eyes are ‘clear, limpid, non-accusing,  non-persecuted.’ These are all metaphors but if we unpack them , it may give us a picture of what this Christian Ideal is like in our experience. Once we begin to understand, then the desire to see like Jesus does will awaken and grow within us.

The Bible tells stories about how Jesus saw. In modern terms, he not only taught but modeled seeing as God sees. I will use the story of the woman caught in adultery [John 8:3- 11] to illustrate how we can use the Bible to unpack the metaphors for seeing that Alison uses.

Jesus’ eyes are clear

Jesus sees the woman standing in front of him, and the whole scene in the temple clearly. We might think that this is some kind of divine capability and he saw into her heart and the hearts of the teachers of the law. If we believe that, we probably give up and tell ourselves “I could never see like that.”  But imagine that Jesus simply sees the terror and guilt in the woman’s eyes, and the anger in the teachers’ eyes. And he sees all this taking place in the temple dedicated to God. We can do that kind of seeing if we simply notice what is going on. Having clear eyes like Jesus means our eyes are not clouded with non-essentials, and are focused on what is there in front of us, in the moment.

Jesus’ eyes are limpid

Limpid is an unusual word. It means transparent, translucent, serene, peaceful. As Jesus clearly saw the drama of the scene in front of him, he didn’t get caught up in the emotion that infected everyone. He didn’t automatically side with the woman nor did he engage in a debate with the teachers (though he could have easily done that).  He simply ‘bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.’ We usually think he is writing divine messages to the teachers or something like that.  But imagine he was just disconnecting himself from all the emotion and conflict surrounding him, allowing his serenity to become obvious to everyone. We could hope to practice limpid seeing in that manner, first imitating Jesus’ serenity then actually realizing  it in all situations.

Jesus’ eyes are non-accusing

The story explicitly says that Jesus refused to blame the woman or hold her responsible for her actions. We normally interpret that as Jesus overlooking the worman’s sin in order to teach the officials a lesson. But what if he genuinely liked this woman and did not accuse her of anything? What if God sees the woman and likes her, no matter what? What if Jesus (and God) say, “She is a creature and creatures do these things. What’s not to like? If I’m looking for perfect people to like, I won’t find anyone.” Seeing in a non-accusing way like this is very hard for us. We (and our churches) have standards for ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ people. We don’t generally like people who are very different than our standards for ‘good’ people. We may ‘forgive’ them and overlook their ‘sins’ but our seeing is still not Jesus’ seeing. We can only pray for God’s grace to give us this type of seeing.

Jesus’ eyes are non-persecuted

Persecute is another seldom used word (although we do persecute others all the time). When we berate someone, pester them or worse, abuse them, we are persecuting them. Jesus didn’t lecture the woman and simply advised her to “Go now and leave your life of sin.” More importantly, he didn’t berate or abuse the teachers who were misrepresenting God. He simply said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” His way of seeing the situation touched them and they all walked away. You’d like to think that they began to understand God’s way of seeing. At least we can begin to learn how to see like God ourselves.

Seeing with Jesus’ eyes means seeing in all these ways at once. Jesus’ way of seeing is based on liking ourself and others. As Alison puts it, “Because God likes us he wants us to get out of our addiction to the ersatz (phony, commonplace, conventional, culturally conditioned) so as to become free and happy.” The place to start liking, it seems to me, is liking all other Christians! If we are evangelical, liking the catholics. If we are catholic, liking the evangelicals. Not getting hung up about our differences but liking our diversity. Once we have mastered that situation, we can attempt liking others who are different than we are, who have different sins than we do, who may even wish us ill. We learn that liking in our local church, as it engages with the surrounding local communiity and the world. That’s why we must belong to a Christian community, and to transform it — to learn to see with Jesus’ eyes.

Change starts with a mindset

There are two opposed mindsets and viewpoints about the world in general:

  1. Disengaged Viewpoint. The world? I don’t pay any attention to it. It is, always has been and always will be filled with problems.  There aren’t any reliable facts about problems and there certainly aren’t any global solutions. The best you can do is make your own little part of the world as secure and comfortable as you can, for yourself and your family, and keep your head down.
  2. Engaged Viewpoint. It’s important to know about the world. After all, I’m part of it. The world has enormous problems and all of us have an obligation to do something about them, beyond just making ourselves and our families secure and comfortable. Even if I can only do something small, it may help make things better on a larger scale.

Christians with the Disengaged Viewpoint quote certain of Jesus’ sayings to strengthen their position. Their position is commonly called a “judging” view, where the world will be judged and destroyed in a final judgment.

  • “You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.” [John 15:19]
  • “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.” [Matthew 13:41]

Christians with the Engaged Viewpoint quote other verses to strengthen their position. Their position is commonly called the “Incarnational” view, which says that Jesus became man to transform the world, which is the will of the Father.

  • “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” [John 3:16-17]
  • “As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” [John17:18]

I am an advocate of the Incarnational view.  My purpose is not to debate the Bible or theology but to enable Christians to transform themselves and their local church, to increase their ‘saltiness’ so that they can more effectively participate in Jesus’ work of transforming the world.「あこや本真珠≪グッドクオリティ花珠真珠≫パールネックレス ホワイトピンク系 7.5-8.0 AAA ラウンド」≪花珠鑑別書付≫(アコヤ本真珠・花珠ネックレス)[真珠 パール ネックレス][CO][n
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