Thursday, April 29, 2021

A Humble Perspective

As we talk about what it means to be the kind of persons who pray one another home, who actively seek God's best for those who come unclean into our sacred spaces, I can't help but recognize part of the journey that God has had me on for awhile. It's the journey of humility. 

It will surprise almost no one to learn that I have been called arrogant in my life. More often than I want to. I have been told, at times, that I am a person of limited perspective, usually in the moments when I'm pretty sure that I have the most insight into what is actually going on around me (or in me or through me or whatever). I am passionate about certain things, and sometimes, that passion crosses the line into over-confidence. 

Like most humans (all? humans), it's easy for me to believe that when I think I understand something, that is the universal answer for everyone. And it's easy for me to want others to reap the benefits of my learning and understanding. 

In other words, it's easy for me to think that if everyone else just knew what I knew, their lives would be better off. 

I don't believe I am alone in this. 

But in small, yet un-ignorable, ways, God keeps revealing to me that maybe that's not the case. That there's more to the world than what I know of it, even in those moments when I think I understand something outside of my own box. We could take just a couple of recent examples to illustrate this. So let's do it. 

Recently, there was a high-profile murder trial, portions of which were aired over the television and much of the rest of it, available online. I tuned into some of this, not out of particular interest in the case but rather, out of knowing that the verdict - whatever it would be - would have far-reaching implications for our society and culture as a whole, and it's important for us as persons of faith to be engaged in these sorts of things for that very reason: they shape our world. And if we are called to be world-shapers ourselves, we have to know how these forces work and what others are paying attention to. 

After watching for awhile, it became rather clear to me that there were some things there that needed to be considered, that would have to be thought about carefully. I knew that even one out of twelve jurors could put a hold on the entire process, even leading to a hung jury. They had to be absolutely unanimous in their understanding of the facts to convict. And listening to the arguments and the experts from both sides, I thought it was impossible. (Truly, I wonder how it's possible to get twelve persons to agree wholly on anything, but maybe that's part of my own bias.) And then, just hours into it, they came back with a conviction. 

At first, I was upset, then confused. Twelve persons, and not one of them had any doubt at all? It seemed fishy to me. There was something in me - something haughty - that wanted to go off the rails about it. But then, I thought about it some more. Twelve persons had not an inkling of doubt at all in a place where I thought doubt was reasonable. What did I miss? What do these twelve persons know - about the case, about the world, about our culture - that I'm missing? And I started to think that maybe I don't know everything. (I don't.) 

A second example comes out of that Bible I've been reading, the one I've been writing about on and off this year. It frustrates me; it really does. Recently, the 'expert commentator' has taken to writing out every single rhetorical question in the Hebrew Scripture and instead, replacing it with an affirmative statement. Instead of saying, "Are you not God in Heaven?" the translator has opted for, "Surely, you are God in Heaven." 

As someone who believes in questions, who values asking the hard things, and who appreciates language and its usage, this drives me batty. I think there is tremendous value in rhetorical questions. They invite us to ask ourselves before considering the answer. They tap into a deep place in our heart. I was downright angry that someone would take it upon themselves to edit out the questions of the Bible, particularly for a people who I believe need permission to ask the questions. (I've written about this before. We are a people too hesitant to ask God what we really want to know, as if questions somehow betray faith.) I think the rhetorical questions are valuable, and I don't know why we choose to say "Surely, you are..." when what the author really said, when what the fragile human heart really cried out, is, "Are you not....?" 

But then, I don't know. Something about weariness took over in my soul. Something about understanding what it's like to live in a place where you can't have one more question or it's going to break you, where you don't have time to be rhetorical about it - you need confident assurance now. Something about someone who was reading this passage and didn't need to wade through the rhetorical negative, didn't need to have to diagram a sentence to figure out what was being asked. Didn't need to have a question with no answer because that implied answer? It might be different altogether in a weary and world-worn heart. I realized there are persons who need that affirmative, just as my as my heart holds onto the rhetorical. 

And in that moment, I realized that if what I want, what I need, what I think is valuable, what I want to project onto everyone else, keeps one person from having that thread of hope that they need in a desperate moment, then I haven't made their life better. They haven't benefitted from my expert opinion. I may not have time, or opportunity, to convince them that the question is better. I may, in that moment of my insistence, lose their soul forever. And that's just not a price I'm willing to pay. 

I'm still passionate about things. A lot of things. I still think there is value in my perspective, that I see things that others maybe don't or can't. I still think there are some things that would make the world a better place if others could just see it the way that I see it. But I'm also coming, little by little, to know that there is such a fine line here. There is such a dangerous line here, between being a blessing to the world and being a burden to it. Between truly helping someone and accidentally holding them at arm's length from the hope they really need. 

I'm learning that even the things I am most certain about are not most certain for everyone and that there are things in this world that are outside of my perspective that I haven't seen yet. And I am investing myself in seeing them. I am investing myself in reflecting on those moments when I am most certain that I am right and asking instead what I'm missing. Because that's what's at the heart of the very thing that I said just a few paragraphs ago that is important - staying engaged with our world in a meaningful way. Understanding what's going on in culture and in society that influences how my brothers and sisters are living in their fleshly vessels. How I'm living in mine. 

And you know what? This is a better place to be. It really is. It is better to be learning all the time, to be open and curious and engaged, than to be right. The best teachers are the most invested learners, and if I ever want to really make a difference in the world, the truth remains: I must listen more than I speak. So...I'm working on it. 

And this changes the way that I see the world's mud.  

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