Monthly Archives: July 2011
Nathaniel was smart guy. He’d read a few things and so obviously he was an expert. You just had to ask him and he’d tell you the answer. He didn’t have to bother with a lot of information; he’d just take the first exit. That way he didn’t have to think too hard about new things. It’s quite a good method for living life without needing to deal with change – someone tells you something you didn’t know and all you have to do is dismiss it with, “I can’t believe how really stupid you are to believe that rubbish!” and folks leave you alone. You can go back to your video game and let life pass you by.
We don’t have the details to say with certainty what they saw so our best answer is a guess (don’t knock it, some of us got through high school doing that!) Now while it’s true they didn’t say exactly what they saw, their actions tell us beyond all doubt that they found what they were looking for. That allows us to extrapolate and make wild assumptions from the little that we know. They were looking for a leader for their long overdue grass-roots rebellion against the Roman oppressors and their own self-serving politicians. Romans don’t rank high on the list of oppressors today so drop that bit and we have a present-day list. We could be looking for the same sort of person they were seeking. Give or take a few items and our lists could be the same! Let’s try!
They had followed John and now they came looking for a person who could rescue them from political and national mess. They had certain expectations about what this rescuer would be and what he would do. For example, he would need to beat up the Romans and toss them out of the nation (or maybe better still, make them into slaves so payback could be extracted from them.) He would need to be smart enough to put the scum-bag political animals in their place and strong enough to make them at the very least pay back everything they’d stolen – the graft payments could be put into the government coffers giving everyone years of tax breaks! He would be a strong leader who was able to bring the very best out in people, encouraging the wisest ones to do their part in leading the nation back to strength and significance. He would care about the people and ensure their needs were met, he would address the glaring inconsistencies and inequalities of the justice system, he would liberate the people, fix broken lives, bring retribution where it was needed . . . If this list is beginning to sound a lot like someone we could use today it might be that we too are looking for a rescuer! Things don’t seem to change much where people are concerned. Read the rest of this entry
Recently a magician agreed to be studied by scientists. They were puzzled as to how he could fool people with one of those “3 sliding cups, guess which one the object is under” routines. What had the scientists particularly puzzled was his ability to consistently confuse his audience and fool them into making wrong choices. His success rate was significantly higher than they predicted it should be and so they asked if he would cooperate with them in trying to determine how he did so well. As a rule magicians don’t like this sort of attention and perhaps he had apprehensions about performing in front of rational, analytical beings such as scientists. As it turned out he had nothing to fear; the scientists were also easily fooled. Applying all their logic and even using cameras didn’t help them grasp why his trick was so successful. Being scientists they knew it couldn’t be “magic” so they really needed an alternative explanation.
Hours of study and piles of observations left them confused until someone had the bright idea of tracking the eye movements of the audience. Sure enough, they soon realized that they had been studying the wrong thing! Attempting to intently follow the magicians hand movements was what they intended to do. Tracking their own eye movements revealed that despite their best intentions, they were not fully focused on his hands at all. Their attention was actually being broken because their eyes were being drawn to look at the magician’s face. They intended to look at one thing but the distraction was just enough to ensure that they missed seeing what they were looking for. Apparently intentions and realities don’t always match. Besides knowing what to look for, they also needed to ignore what they were not looking for. But they were up against an inbuilt, strongly reinforced default. Humans learn early in life to look at faces as part of assessing people and situations. We find it hard to break that default even when we realize it’s a hindrance to what we want to do.
We do the same in life. Experience teaches us some hard lessons and we learn to be on our guard. We are so busy looking for dangers and humiliations to avoid, seeking out the reassurance we feel we need, that we miss what is actually happening around us. We find it difficult to accept some of the things we see and find ourselves explaining away or even dismissing outright things that are actually happening. Worse still, we may bring a world-view of faith to a reality we don’t quite grasp and the outcome is confusion and misunderstanding. Not at all what we had in mind!
Taking things a little further, not everything we think we see is actually there (as the magician’s audience discovered.) There’s well documented accounts of eye-witnesses who will positively state what they saw even though their brains have “made up” missing pieces. Scientists have shown folks movies of an event, skipped the critical action and smoothly transitioned to the conclusion of the event. The “witnesses” are able to explain “exactly what happened” even though in reality they did not see it at all. Some of the statements of what they saw can be wild but the witnesses are not deliberately lying. Their brains have helped them by extrapolating a series of events and supplying an explanation for what happened. They think they saw it all. World-view can be like that. We see what we want to see and supply the pieces we are missing. It can get confusing when people with strongly differing world-views observe the same series of events. We are not aware of the pieces we have supplied. We have no intention to distort reality and firmly believe we “saw what we say we saw.”
So this presents us with two challenges: knowing what to look for, and filtering out what we did not in fact “see.” When we know what to look for we also know what we are not looking for and what are pointless distractions. Confronting these twin challenges will focus our grip on reality and so our ability to influence and shape our world. Ignoring and underestimating them leaves us confused, out of touch with reality and largely irrelevant to those who are around us.
John the Baptist had a big impact on his community. People were sick of the struggle of life and they were fed up with being continually oppressed and ripped off in the name of government. Their views and needs were being ignored and the political and social leaders were so busy lining their own pockets they didn’t have time or interest to devote to community needs. Life was tough and most people were living from day to day, inches above the poverty line. They knew things weren’t right but what could they do? Their world-view included the understanding that God would send them a ruler who would lead them back to prosperity and restore their good fortunes. They didn’t know exactly how this would happen but they did know they needed it to happen real soon. Some insurrectionists played to the expectation and found they had a ready following but the oppressors succeeded in putting them down. John turned up and began saying things like, “Get ready, he’s coming!” and folks got real excited. They were looking for something but weren’t sure what it was. They were willing to join his insurrection as soon as it came. They wanted answers. John talked to them about being ready and they went along with that in large numbers.
One day John was standing with two of his followers when he saw Jesus walking by. He said, “Look, it’s the lamb of God.” The two followers picked up on John’s comment and decided to follow Jesus to see if they could understand what John meant. When Jesus realized they were following him he forced them to focus their thoughts by asking them, “What do you want?’ To us their answer may seem a bit contrived, “Teacher, we want to see where you live.” Let’s give them credit; you can tell only so much from what a person says, but you can tell much more if you can see how they live. They’d been following John and although they knew he was genuine, they also knew that he wasn’t the solution they had been waiting for. Jesus made them an offer they just couldn’t refuse, “Come and you will see.” They did just that. They spent that day with him. They watched his interactions with people, they focused on how he operated and they saw him in action as he interacted with people and situations throughout that day. What they saw convinced them that they had found the special person they had been looking for and they decided then and there to become his followers. They didn’t know everything about this Jesus but they did like what they saw. They did not see some of the things they might have expected but they knew they were looking in the right place. The rest would become obvious as they learned more. They had the first important steps in place – they knew what to focus on and they knew the importance of matching their perceptions to the events they saw. What they saw would transform them.
The competition was for $10,000 and all the competitors had to do was some simple little stuff like cut their way out of a tank full of water while they held their breath and used little hand tools they’d made, escape by digging under or scaling over a series of 10 foot fences, and the easiest one of all was to hang upside down for an hour while they figured out how to open six safes which held parts of the gun they would assemble to shoot the rope holding their feet. So it was nothing very challenging or out of the ordinary. Life feels like this for some of us everyday. But one of the competitors had lost an eye years ago. He’d compensated by body- building so the kids who had made fun of him growing up were now very careful to be his friends and limit themselves to only saying nice things about him. It’s good to be surrounded by sensible people who give you respect. However, only having one eye produced interesting side-effects like finding it hard to judge distances and worst of all, when you get something in your eye there is no back-up. He got something in his eye and no matter how much energy he exerted from that point, he was unable to focus enough of it to complete the tasks. Kudos for competing and doing so well! He showed guts and real grit. But that vision thing really matters and there’s no substitute.
Ted Williams earned his place in the baseball hall of fame by hitting baseballs more than anyone else. He set the record at .406 and just to make the point, he was still hitting .388 sixteen years later. Unlike hanging upside down for an hour and then firing a gun you just assembled at your own feet, this super-hitting of baseballs is serious business. Everyone’s been puzzled about how he did it so well. I know the answer! It was on cable last week so
it must be authoritative and reliable. Apparently Ted’s problem was that he didn’t see things like other folks do. He had eyes and he used them the same way we do but he didn’t see what we see. The presenter claimed that Ted had 20/10 vision which must be an upgrade from 20/20 or 20/whatever it is that the rest of us suffer from. Cutting through the intricate scientific explanations, the argument goes that Ted could see stuff that was further away more clearly and this gave him more time to react. Combine more time with creative techniques and impressive eye/hand coordination, a carefully tuned and balanced bat of the correct weight and voila, super-hitter. Did we mention long hours of practice, total focus, hours of training (they didn’t have the help of steroids back in those days so they had to do it the old-fashioned way), turning up at games, facing the scariest pitchers you can imagine (all bent on taking you out in the worst possible way) and . . . anyway, we have the idea. What he saw affected what he did and how well he did it. If he’d been blind he would have needed to make his name in some other activity.
We talk about having vision and making an impact in life on other people. We’re not sure exactly what that means but it sounds good so we talk about it. When some folks talk about their vision for life they string a lot of nice sounding words together but their lives look a lot like everyone else’s and they aren’t doing anything different. Perhaps they visited dilbert.com for some words and phrases that sound impressive but that’s not vision. When the blind lead the blind the outcome is inevitable. People with vision actually see what is around them and that affects what they do. It changes their lives. There’s a fascinating account of a guy who was born blind. Folks weren’t inclined to help him much so he was forced to beg to keep body and soul together. He got by but his life wasn’t going in a fantastic direction; it was hard work this begging. One day Jesus walked past him and noticed him. The yucky part is that he spat in the dirt and made some mud to put on the blind guy’s eyes, then told him to go wash it off. Maybe if you are blind you are not so fussy about how your mud is prepared but the guy went and washed it off. His problem was soon revealed when he realized he could do something he’d never done before – see. We think of this a being such a natural thing but we forget that this guy had never seen before. He was trained to count steps and feel walls, he was used to having to rely on others to point him in the right direction and help him find things. He’d never seen his mother before (imagine if he didn’t like what he saw!). Everything was new to him. The way he’d learned to “see” the world was now being challenged in every possible way. He was into mental overload. Old ways would have to be forgotten and he would have to learn new ways. Or he could shut his eyes and carry on life as before, avoiding the uncertainty and fear of too much information. Better the familiar than the unknown! No vision was a problem he’d learned to solve as best he could. No one would expect much from him because he was blind. Maybe it would be better to stay that way and keep dealing with low expectations. We know that the “right” answer is that you are supposed to be able to see and use your eyes but we’re also familiar with the saying, “There is none so blind as he who will not see.” There are some things we’d rather not see. There are things we’d rather not know. So the guy had a choice, he could take this gift of vision and run with it or he could try to lose it and return to “normal.” Running with it was going to irrevocably change his life. Nothing would ever be the same again. New responsibilities, new opportunities, new understanding and a whole new order were rushing his way. What to do? Old habits die hard and most of us do our level best to avoid change. Maybe if we are honest for a split second we might admit that there are things in our lives that we prefer to not see or see only a little. Suppose for a moment that we suddenly saw that we have been called and empowered to change the world into a better place; the ramifications are enormous! We would be immediately challenged to change radically the way we live and the things we do. Our priorities and habits would be forced to change. No more excuses for under-performance or for merely goofing off. When we can see, our world-view changes and our lifestyle is required to change with it. Everything we have learned is up for reinterpretation and reconsideration. Vision makes all the difference. No one who claims to have had a spiritual revelation wants to admit they have no vision – that would be one of those oxymoron things since to receive a revelation implies we have the ability to actually see it. But if there is no change in behavior the choices are simple: a) they did not see anything and are still blind; b) they did see something but prefer to avoid the change they are now capable of; or c) it’s all a bunch of pretty words designed to win social acceptance in the club. If they really saw something they would not be able to avoid being changed by it. The blind man saw and embraced the changes sight brought. What do we see?
Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. Sir Cecil Beaton
You can read the account of the blind man in the Bible in the book of John chapter 9. There’s no doubt he could see and his life was irrevocably changed.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners,
recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Here’s part of what Jesus said he came to earth to do. Assuming for a moment that his followers were expected to continue that work , it seems that Christianity is missing the mark and failing to engage people on real life levels, the levels that actually matter. The trend in many churches is to provide lifestyle support to help people survive the rigors of life. In the process we neglect the essential process and demands of transformation. Jesus didn’t come to make us feel better about ourselves; he came to make us whole. The concept of reaching out to provide support for people in need is excellent and valid but only so long as it embodies the power of the gospel for transformation. Without the transformation our best efforts merely serve to prolong the sickness. It’s hard to see how maintaining someone indefinitely on life support can be perceived as “setting them free.” It’s more like providing them with a life-sentence of misery. If that is what we offer as freedom we shouldn’t be surprised if folk prefer to be sick without our help.
But we are more subtle than that, we use faith as the justification for doing what we’ve always done. This avoids the frightening prospect of change and allows us to hide behind all those saints through the ages who “can’t possibly have been wrong.” Now let’s be clear that it is not our job to judge what others have done. We can spot the obvious mistakes so we don’t repeat them, but we are not the judges. We look back to such things as crusades and inquisitions in puzzlement about what they were thinking. We see their efforts as misguided and damaging; we realize they didn’t achieve great accomplishments by such actions and the echoes of the chaos they produced still reverberate today.Observation: don’t do what they did.
But that begs the question, “What are we doing instead?” It seems, particularly in recent years, that Christians have largely retreated from doing anything more than focus on keeping up with the pace of life. It is easier to do what we’ve always done without challenging ourselves with annoying questions like, “Why?” Somehow we’ve succeeded in inverting faith so that it becomes the justification for adopting some peculiar church culture which actually prevents us from reaching those who are outside of it. Being self-contained, we have no need for power or transformation in our own lives since we are muddling through just fine without all that messy stuff. Faith can be used to keep the lid on things rather than being the motivating force which drives us into transformative action. Conformity to others and the preservation of what we have matter more than taking the risk of discovering what we can become. Church becomes a meaningless social activity more like a concert to attend than a crucible for developing faith. We prefer to take insight captive before it can damage the status quo rather than running the risk of letting it loose. We imitate what others are doing (or not doing) rather than risk innovating to find ways to follow the trail of life in front of us. At this point we all begin to nod agreement and picture a church we don’t attend that behaves like this. Not so fast! This is not an issue of style of church or age of congregation or denomination / non-denomination . . . It’s an attitude of gospel containment and it shows up in all types of churches – even fast growing contemporary ones.
We avoid considering the impact of faith on our lifestyle and instead make faith conform to our lifestyle. Political correctness, the avoidance of extreme Christianity and lack of judgment on social issues leaves us supporting a club which has no genuine distinctives. At that point the value and appeal of our faith becomes irrelevant to our society and they forget about us. We have become harmless religious people who have no views worth hearing.
What would Jesus do? That was a real popular question for a while until we realized that we actually had no clue what Jesus would do. We could read what he once did but that was then and this is now. Life got a bit uncomfortable while we wrestled with that question and it was only when we realized that no one was particularly clear on the answer that the pressure came off. We were all thrashing around looking for convincing answers until we realized no one had any idea what Jesus would do. That gave us the way of escape. We could induce guilt in all around us by loudly asking the question and then, drawing ourselves up to the full heights of superiority, we could nod knowingly at the feeble confusion of our victims. Like we really knew! It worked so long as we could be the ones asking the question. Bumper stickers worked great for this – we got to leave the puzzled people behind. Our reckless acts of road rage left people behind us wondering what Jesus would have done if he had followers like us. Oh, wait a moment, he does!
When all else fails, we can fall back on the standby phrase, “Jesus is the answer.” Now all we have to do is figure out what question he is the answer to.
If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success. John D. Rockefeller
Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to. Alan Keightley
Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Paul
Short answer, essence! Johnny Cash used to sing a song about “A Boy named Sue.” The parents of a boy named him Sue and forced him to make (repeatedly) a choice: he could learn to value himself for who he was, sticking up for himself while he lived a distinctive life, or he could passively submit to the inevitable tirade of bullying and mockery from those who were too insecure to run the risk of being his friend. Submission would inevitably destroy his self-esteem and his ability to influence others. It was an “either / or” choice he would have to make in every situation throughout his life. It was an issue of survival as well as of destiny. Like it or not, he would change every situation he entered for better or for worse.
Cite: 1) to arouse, summon
2) to quote
3) to mention by way of proof
4) to stir to action
Simon: The disciple who was willing to rock the boat! He even got out of one in a storm – oh sure, it didn’t pan out so well but no one else had the courage to do anything more than sit there feeling sick and hanging on for dear life. He was the guy who saw stuff others missed and he was given amazing insights. He was one that Jesus trusted deeply, so deeply that he entrusted Simon with great responsibility in the formation of the group of believers. Simon had two names: Simon meaning hearing; and Peter meaning rock. When he met Jesus for the first time, Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Peter.” You are / you will be – but what makes the difference? Simon – you are the one who hears and that ability to hear will give you great opportunities and a huge advantage in life. Peter – you will become a rock, a bastion of stability for those around you, they will be able to build on you. The problem lay in the process needed to make this happen. Throughout the gospels, Simon’s actions were impulsive and unstable and in the book of Acts he had moments of breakthrough interspersed with vacillation driven by his uncontrolled fear of what others thought about him. Not so rocklike. His struggle was that he saw what others didn’t see yet he lacked the self-confidence and leadership skills to consistently apply what he saw to what he did. Apparently he didn’t have a problem with hearing and gaining insight – he knew the truth and what was required of him. His problem came in working out how to do it, especially when others would be likely to disapprove. So, he sat by the High Priest’s fire applying all his communication skills to the task at hand – convincing them he never even knew Jesus; the same Jesus he was going to fight to the death to defend a few hours earlier. Or how about the time mentioned in Galatians where he was happily mixing with the Gentiles until the enforcers from Jerusalem showed up (can you believe that Paul publicly challenged him over his hypocrisy?) Now let’s not get all mixed up over this; if we had been there we would know that these were huge struggles for Simon. He didn’t have any pattern to follow, his insight brought him into continuing conflict with those who couldn’t see what he saw, and he couldn’t rely on others to leap to his defense. The more he vacillated the less they were willing to stand up for him. We don’t want to appoint ourselves as his jury panel, sitting in harsh judgment on him. Right from the beginning Jesus said it would be a process of becoming “the rock.” And so it was.
His problem isn’t unique and it isn’t new. People today still struggle with what to do with the revelation they have. We know we have answers but we’re too frightened and unsure of ourselves to put them to work. We know when things aren’t right and we know we should do something about it but instead we look away and slip back into the ranks of the hypocrites. Always hearing but never being the foundation so that others can build on us. Leonard Sweet uses the concept of “marching off the map” to stress to us that we are often expected to go into unfamiliar territory. That’s what disciples are expected to do. The ancient maps often showed dragons and terrifying dangers when the cartographers ran out of facts. Only a fool would willingly go where there was no map! We live in a society that needs answers and we have those answers. We live among people who are hurting and wishing for a better deal in life and we have the means to help them. We too are in the process of being transformed from being merely hearers into the bastions of stability God wants us to become. We are the present day Simons, what will we do with what we have?
Now let’s put it together, to get where he needed to go, to become what he was destined to be, Simon needed to be stirred into action. When he was stirred, change happened and lives were utterly transformed. When he wasn’t stirred the “system” closed around him and “business as usual” took over. People suffered, the work of God suffered, no one was helped, no one was fooled, but there were no dragons! Mediocrity demands we be free from dragons. Irrelevance is best served when we slink away from challenges. How can you say we did nothing when we were faithfully doing what we’d always done (regardless of its effectiveness?)
He was in his last year before retirement and he knew every word by rote of the statistics course he had written and used for 40 years. He would stand with his eyes closed leaning against the whiteboard, reciting every word. Some of his students could read for themselves so they decided to skip class, some had no idea what statistics was about so they came to class and passed notes, read up for other classes, studied for other finals, or just hung out and had a good time. The professor must have peeped a little; he was later heard to remark that he didn’t know what was wrong with students today, “they won’t sit and listen like they used to.” To avoid the humiliation of ending his career in abject defeat he must have applied some mysterious statistical formula – the whole class passed his course without needing to sit a final examination. None of them understood any thing about statistics. He’d faithfully turned up at class for 40 years but he’d learned to shut his eyes. Effective or debilitating?
We need to Cite the Simon in each one of us! Hearing puts us on the path of becoming.
“After practicing dentistry for almost 40 years I’ve decided I can’t get it right so I’m retiring!” said my friend Norm (who was in reality a great dentist). Sometimes we feel like that and we are not joking about it like Norm was. We think of ourselves as the people with “the answers to life.” We think, “It must be true because we have the true faith that everyone else needs to accept.” In our saner moments we are sometimes forced to admit that we don’t have all the answers but we do have more questions than most people. Too often our actions produce the opposite of what we intended. In those honest moments it is time to join the dots.
Think for a moment about Simon, the one they called Peter. He struggled to piece together the provocative insights of Jesus in the context of his life and times. Sometimes he was right, sometimes wrong. He fought the other disciples – sometimes he was right, sometimes he was wrong. Perhaps the act of struggling is the most important part – is the judgment greater for those who never really engage the conflicts of faith than it is for those who wrestle with the realities of active faith and “get it wrong?”
This site doesn’t aim to produce “right answers.” It seeks to expose and legitimize the struggles, fostering healthy outcomes. Innovation and inspiration belong together . It promotes the pursuit of discipleship which engages with contemporary culture to produce an expression of Christianity which is vital and healthy. Comfort and conformity are no substitute for being intentionally real.