Blind spots

1024px-Car_side_mirror_sunsetWhen I was 16, my dad taught me to drive a car.

They say fewer American teenagers have a driver’s license now, but for me and my agemates, it was a rite of passage. I vividly recall heading with my dad to a rural road west of Rochester, NY. He pulled the Chevy to the right shoulder, parked, then switched seats with me. It was one thing to pass a 20 question, multiple-choice exam for a learner’s permit. Now, it was time for introductions: “Theory, meet practice.”

You’ve deduced that I acquitted myself well that day in June. After all, I’m typing this! Yet that experience was just the beginning of a months-long driving mentorship with my father. There were dozens of pieces of driving advice, good practices that over time have for me became good habits, second-nature.

One of those lessons endures: Watch out for the blind spot.  Seasoned drivers know that cars overtaking in the left lane disappear for a few seconds from your side-view mirror. If they’re in the blind spot – that invisible zone – you might slam into them when changing lanes.

Blind spots happen not only to drivers; they happen to believers. Acts 10 is a story of a blind spot. The religious narrative in which Peter and company were raised had shaped the way they viewed the world. In their day, there were only two categories of people: those who were chosen and those who were not. There was the People of God, aka the Jews, and those who were not the People of God, everyone else, the so-called Gentiles.

When Peter accepted Jesus as the anointed one of God, confessing him as “the Messiah, the son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16, NIV), he was acknowledging Jesus as the long-awaited deliverer of the Jewish people. But what Peter did not perceive – his blind spot, if you will – was that this Christ was more than a national Savior; he was the Savior of all humankind. It took a divine revelation on a rooftop in Joppa – a command to kill and eat animals which the Mosaic law called “unclean” – for God to correct his faulty vision.

Peter followed the messenger and arrived at the house of Cornelius, a God-fearing Gentile centurion. When Cornelius and his household decided to follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit fell upon them. Later in Acts 15:9, Peter testified to his incredulous brothers gathered at the Council of Jerusalem:

He made no distinction between us and them, but purified their deepest thoughts and desires through faith (CEB).

There was a longstanding way that they had interpreted Scripture which made it difficult for them to see something new that God wanted to do in the world. In short, they had a blind spot until the Holy Spirit in a disturbing vision performed worldview surgery on Peter.

In the same way, God has sometimes needed to correct my vision. He has used individuals to help me see what I could not see before. As a student at Eastern Nazarene College, Prof Helen Garretson taught abnormal psychology. She returned a report I’d written and deducted points for my use of  non-inclusive language. Before that day, I had no idea what the term “inclusive language” even meant! But she took the time to explain that speaking of the human race as “man” excluded half of human beings, while writing “humankind” or “humanity” included females and so empowered them, too. Honestly, at first I thought she was nitpicking; I resisted the change. Yet in conversations with my female classmates, I discovered that Prof Garretson was not alone in her viewpoint. Reluctantly, I changed how I used the English language and now have eyes for a gender equality issue to which before I had been oblivious.

1024px-Lasik_eye_surgery
Lasik surgery to correct faulty vision

Among evangelicals, tokenism is another blind spot. If there’s a gathering of church leaders with ten speakers, how often will the program include a 9:1 ratio of male to female speakers? We may be sensitive to how publicity brochures will look if they feature slick photos of all men, but rather than fixing the deeper systemic issue, do we avoid criticism by inviting the token woman? Never mind that qualified women whom our Universities and Seminaries have educated struggle to find even a small church where they can fulfill their pastoral calling.

Both of these examples speak to whether we really believe Galatians 3:28:

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (NIV).

Here in Kenya, tribalism is another manifestation of blind spots. In 2007, violence erupted following a nationwide election, resulting in the death of more than 5,000 victims. In a recent chapel service, our assistant chaplain directed us to join hands in prayer for peace. As I looked across the room at brothers and sisters with hands clasped in prayer, I no longer saw Kikuyus, Merus, Luyas, Luos, Kambas or Americans. Rather, we were simply worshipers of God, united in Christ and our desire for peace as we anticipate a new round of elections.

In the 19th century United States, we had our own more severe form of tribalism, a deep-seated hatred nurtured through two hundred years of slavery. Those of European descent had long indentured those forcibly removed from Africa. We as a people rationalized a great evil, even as Christian preachers cherry-picked Scripture verses to justify the servitude of black men, women, and children. Even the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution for purposes of representation to Congress counted a slave as only 3/5 of a human. God had to take our nation and its leaders up on a Joppa rooftop to perform painful worldview corrective surgery. Thousands of Civil War casualities shook us to our core, letting us finally see things in a new way. Old prejudices began to wither, a process that sadly is still far from complete.

As we think about blind spots, it pays to remember: Blind spots produce victims. Like the driver who changes lanes and crashes into the fellow motorist she couldn’t see, our blind spots can do serious damage. From the unplaced would-be female pastor who throws in the towel, to the grass that gets trampled when the proverbial African elephants fight, there is always a human price exacted. I wonder:

What other persistent blind spots might we as Christians have individually and collectively, blind spots that are taking a human toll?

Driving is a fine art. There are many lessons to learn to become a good driver; I’m thankful that my dad took the time to mentor me. Knowing there’s a blind spot in a side-view mirror still helps me avoid accidents. In the same way, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal our blind spots, doing for us what God did for Peter. May we like Peter not resist rooftop visions, always open to God ‘s corrective worldview surgery. Clearer vision is worth it.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

Image credits

Side-view mirror: The sunset viewed from a car’s side view mirror. |photographer=J RAWLS |photographer_location= |photographer_url=http://flickr.com/photos/94571281@N00 |flickr_url=http://flickr.com/photos/94571281@N00/13037170 |taken=2005-05-09 00:10:05 |reviewer=Tintazul }; via Wikimedia commons

Lasik eye surgery: By Peretz Partensky from San Francisco, USA (Lasik : Laser Eye Surgery) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Getting beyond the fear factor

Love-Is-Greater-Than-Fear-Sticker-(5143)Fear sells.

Check out any news website. How many of the stories use fear as a hook?

– Something sinister is in our food!

– Vaccines cause autism!

– A meteor will strike the Earth!

The message is loud-and-clear: Be very, very scared.

The problem with fear is that it destroys relationships. The first ruptured relationship was between humans and our Creator. Genesis 3 tells the story of God’s search for Adam in the garden. God asked: “Where are you?” Adam and Eve were hiding, and Adam answered:

“I heard you walking in the garden, so I hid. I was afraid because I was naked.”

Their sin – disobedience to God’s command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – produced fear. Fear in-turn led them to flee from God. Hiding symbolizes estrangement, absence of relationship.

Yet fear wreaks havoc not only on our relationship with God. It also prevents deep relationships with others. Some years ago, we spoke of our missionary work at a church located in a U.S. town where historically there has been high tension between blacks and whites. After the service, the pastor gave us directions back home.

“Make sure,” he said, “that you don’t turn right heading out of the parking lot. That will take you through a bad section of town.”

Once the pastor had gone, rebels that we are, we climbed in the car, pulled out of the parking lot and turned right. We soon found a chicken restaurant and had some dinner. Sure, we were the only white customers in the establishment; it mattered not one bit. The employees treated us kindly and with respect and the other customers smiled at us. There was no fear; we were welcome. The well-meaning pastor had given us fear-based directions. Instead, we chose otherwise and enjoyed a pleasant and safe dinner. In a way, I pitied the pastor. What relationships was he missing out on in that town because he could not get past the fear factor, a fear based upon the superficial characteristic of skin color?

The apostle John gives the remedy for the fear factor. It’s the love factor:

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18, NIV).

Paul writes: “Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13b). Service is the incubator in which love can grow. You may fear the homeless and want to walk past them, holding your wallet a bit tighter. But something happens when you volunteer at the rescue mission and find out that it’s not just “the homeless.” It’s George and Susan and Ralph and – suddenly – you begin to care.

Perfect love casts out fear.

“Religion of hate” is another popular phrase that instills fear. It allows us to “other” an entire swath of the Earth’s population, to write them off as infected with what can come across as a dangerous form of belief. But what happens when stereotypes are subjected to new information? “Aalim” (not his name) sat next to me on the plane. He was traveling home with some other high school students, checking out universities where he might attend. He told me that he liked the Oklahoma City Thunder (a city where I’ve lived before) and loved playing basketball. We talked about Kevin Durant and his amazing skills on the court. By the end of the flight, Aalim was no longer a faceless individual in a group. He was just a regular teenager, a basketball fan, an aspiring architect. Yes, I know what I’m told to think about “them.” It’s the same fear-based thinking that told me not to drive through “the bad part of town,” but how can I fear someone like Aalim when I get to know him even a little?

Perfect love casts out fear.

I’m part of the Wesleyan-Holiness stream of Christianity. We pride ourselves on the “optimism of grace,” a belief that God can do amazing things in the human heart, transforming our lives and making us like Jesus, filling us with love for God and neighbor. But when it comes to our knee-jerk response to current events, sometimes I wonder:

Do we have spiritual dyslexia? Is perfect fear driving out our love?

Do divisions in our families, communities and nation persist because we have allowed ourselves to be overcome by fear instead of getting down on our knees and giving our fears to God, serving the very ones we fear and thereby dispelling fear with love? What unquestioned prejudices passed down allow us with impunity to “other” our neighbors, building walls instead of bridges?

Fellow follower of Jesus, perfect love still drives out fear. Isn’t it high time we get beyond the fear factor?

———-

Image credit: Northern Sun