Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘seeing’

Seeing Wholly

John 9:1-7

Roots1943KahloRoots, Frida Kahlo, 1943

How do we see ourselves? Is our view of ourselves accurate? How do our experiences, both good and bad, affect how we see ourselves?

How do we see others? How do our experiences, what we hear or read, affect how we see other people?

How can we see ourselves and others more holistically and honestly?

What does Jesus teach us about this?

In this John story, we once again find a character encountering Jesus of Nazareth. Previously it was Nicodemus and then a Samaritan woman at a well. Now we have a person who supposedly had been blind from birth. A couple of things to note here. First, the Greek word that is translated “man” in English could be a mistake. The Greek word in question here, anthropon, does not refer to a male, but to a human being. This would not be a stretch to consider, because in many Gospel stories the characters encountering Jesus are not specifically gendered in Greek, so as to allow for all of us to identify with the characters. It’s unfortunate the most translations don’t use “person” or “human being” but we will. A person was blind from birth.

Blindness is also something to not take literally, necessarily. Blindness was a metaphor for not seeing people or the world wholly. Consider, however, that in Jesus’ time someone who was “blind from birth” was considered to be a “sinner” by religious people, and that possibly the sins/mistakes of that person’s parents were passed on. Even Jesus’ own disciples tried to moralize the situation, asking whose fault it was that this person was born blind. Who was to blame?

Do you see how this story is relevant? A person is given an identity by other people and called a sinner because of being born something from birth. Then people say that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and blame the parents, then the parents blame the circumstances or God, and in the end, the person is left with a pretty messed up perspective and an identity crisis.

So what does Jesus do? Jesus spits on the ground and mixes saliva with mud. Back to the symbols of water and spirit. Saliva is living water, which is also spirit. These are the born from above ingredients. Plus, mud represents the earth and probably hearkens back to the Genesis creation story in the Torah. That would make sense if you consider that John’s Gospel alludes to Genesis quite frequently.

Back to the story. Jesus tells the blind person to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. So the blind person does so, eyes full of mud and saliva. The person comes back seeing.

Should be a huge celebration, right? Not so fast. The story continues on and the neighbors are not too accepting. They remember the person as blind, as a sinner. And now, this person sees? They also knew this human as a beggar. Aha. Even though the person keeps on saying: I am me—I am that person you knew! They don’t buy it. Consider that the now “seeing” person uses Ego eimi, the I AM Greek version of the divine name of YHWH used in Exodus, I am who I am. The person was now born from above, made up of water and spirit. This is how the person saw newly and wholly. Eyes were opened. Positive and personal identity claimed.

So I want to return to the questions asked at the very beginning:

How do we see ourselves? Is our view of ourselves accurate? How do our experiences, both good and bad, affect how we see ourselves?
How do we see others? How do our experiences, what we hear or read, affect how we see other people?

How can we see ourselves and others more holistically and honestly?

See. Yes, we need to see—ourselves and others, as human beings, as creatures made of water and spirit. We need to see each other. Personally, we are not the mistakes our predecessors or parents made. We are not the genders people or society assign to us. We are not the religious dogma we were raised with. We are not the sexual orientation others tell us we are. We are not the school we went to, the town or city or area we grew up in, we are not any of the categories that people assign to us. Instead, we are water mixed with spirit, connected to the good earth. We can all journey to the pool of Siloam together to see that we are beautifully, uniquely, and wonderfully made.

And along the way, We need to see others and stop assuming that someone is this or that based on those restrictive, linear categories. We need to hear someone say I am who I am and we need to celebrate it, accept it, and love that person as is. Identity is important for our health and wholeness.

What are you seeing in all this? What do you think?

Seeing People

Luke 16:19-31

 Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”  ― Confucius

Last time I talked a bit about empathy—how it can be defined and how in most people it is an innate quality, though something we have to cultivate and choose to do. We’ll keep going with that theme, but we are going to explore a side of empathy that, for the sake of this discussion, I’ll call “seeing.”

Now what do I mean by seeing?

Well, seeing a person is seeing them as they are—not judging their experience or trying to talk them out of what they feel, but seeing them as they are—even if accepting them and what they feel makes you uncomfortable. This has been on my mind A LOT recently. Maybe it has for you, too. I mean, if your eyes and ears are open, you have been noticing that there are a ton of people in the United States who are hurting, mourning, suffering. Many of them are Black. Why is this happening? Why were two more Black men’s lives taken away this past week? Their names were Keith Lamont Scott and Terence Crutcher. Why? I’m left with that burning question as my heart mourns with Charlotte and Tulsa. What’s going on with us right now?

I certainly don’t have all answers. I certainly do not understand what it’s like to be Black in America. I can only listen to what my Black friends and colleagues say; I can only sit with them in their anger, sadness, and fear. I can only see them. I can only see them. We all should decide to do this—to see them. We should stop trying to tell them how to feel or what to say or how to protest. If Kolin Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback, wants to take a knee during the national anthem to call attention to this issue, he should do it.

kolinkaepernick

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, middle, kneels during the national anthem before the team’s NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

And if others want to stand with a fist raised, they should do it. They have a right to express what they feel.

And we have responsibility to SEE them.

We can reduce these issues so quickly to be about other things like patriotism and politics, but if you take the time to get the facts straight, and to truly see those who are protesting, you will discover that they are being more “patriotic” than I will ever be. They are protesting because no one is listening and nothing is changing. Kaepernick is meeting with police officers and lawmakers to try to open up a dialogue. We must see this. And we also must see the people of Charlotte, who have been protesting for days now, because they are angry, sad, and scared.

Friends, this isn’t about politics or patriotism. This is about people. We need to see this.

I’ve been asking why there are still far too many white people who refuse to even acknowledge the plight of Black people in the U.S. For a while, I couldn’t make sense of it. Why counteract BlackLivesMatter and the protests that challenge the overuse of police force and the killing of unarmed civilians? Why tweet or post in a scolding, condescending way, telling Black people to settle down, protest a certain way, or to get over it? I couldn’t understand. But I think now I do. Because they are choosing not to see. It would be uncomfortable for them to see, because then they would have to admit the uncomfortable truth that racism is systemic, a real, everyday thing for Black people, and they would have to admit that even police officers can be racist. That’s uncomfortable to admit in the country that many of us claim to be the best country in the world. Isn’t it? So they choose not to see the people in Charlotte and Tulsa and elsewhere.

Just like the rich man refusing to see Lazarus. See, Jesus of Nazareth told lots of stories, and sometimes his stories had really, really strong messages. This is one of those cases. The rich man chose not to see Lazarus and his suffering, even though Lazarus was right on his doorstep. To the rich man, Lazarus should just be quiet and also grateful that he got any scraps at all and that the dog licked his sores. Don’t complain, Lazarus. It would be way to uncomfortable for the rich man to see Lazarus, because then he might have to do something. Help him. Get him to a doctor. Find him some real food. Become his friend.

As everyone does, the two people in this story die. But don’t jump to the conclusion that Lazarus goes to heaven and the rich man to hell. That’s not what the story says. Lazarus ends up in the lap of Abraham, akin to the reign of God. The rich man goes to Hades, the idea of Sheol [a place of isolation and desolation even on earth] in Jewish tradition. Now, the ironic twist. For the first time in his life, the rich man acknowledges that Lazarus exists. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool the rich man’s tongue. So, in other words, the rich man only acknowledges Lazarus because he’s now suffering. But it’s not possible. The chasm is too wide between were Lazarus is and where the rich man is.

It’s a harsh story, maybe, but I actually think It’s right on the money. Pun intended. The rich man refused to see Lazarus, but God most certainly did see Lazarus. He is named in the story, and the rich man is not. Now you may hear this today and think: “Well, I’m not the rich man, because I’m not wealthy, I don’t have poor people begging outside my property.” But look closer, please, and see with me.

Yes, any of us who refuses to see people—to accept them as they are and to sit with them in their grief, sadness, anger, or fear—we are the rich man. And we are in torment. Because we lose our God-given humanity when we don’t see people as people.

So see the man who has always identified as a woman, and who is considering surgery and asks you to call her she; see the person who asks you to use non-gender specific pronouns. See the Black woman who is angry over the loss of her son and protesting on the streets, asking for justice. See the Black teen who is scared to say or do anything on the street whenever a police officer is near; see the police officers who are meeting with people like Colin Kaepernick and protecting BlacklivesMatter protestors; see those who suffer and let them make you uncomfortable, because the world can be a painful place to live. It can also be beautiful, and it is beautiful when we truly see each other, when we decide to see the beauty in everyone and see them as equals.

The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me;
My eye and God’s eye are one eye,
One seeing, one knowing, One love.
–Meister Eckhart, Sermons of Meister Eckhar

Calling Out and Seeing

Mark 10:46-52

Have you ever been shushed?

You know what I mean.
Has anyone ever told you be quiet, to silence your voice, bite your tongue, or even worse—

Shut up!

shush

Sure you have.

All of us at one point or another are silenced.
Sometimes, we think it happens mostly to kids. You know, the annoying boy kicking your seat on the airplane and saying “Noooooooooooooo” like a siren to his mom.

Shut up!

Or the little girl incessantly singing the same song over and over again from Frozen.

Shut up!

Or the three-month-old baby who finds it convenient to cry loudly every night at 3am. And then again at 5am.

Oh…..just shut it!

But it doesn’t just happen to kids, now does it? Teenagers get shushed too. I remember, and I still see it. A junior high student raises her hand without being called on and asks a question about the current homework assignment, not really assigning blame to the teacher, but simply challenging its validity and whether or not it’s busy work.

shushyou

Or, the four teens who request to meet with their church’s board to remark on the drab, boring, and unwelcoming worship service, lack of service projects, and lack of young people in general?

Oh, just shut your trap!

But for adults, it applies, too. How many of you have sat in meeting with an idea or a question, only to be told to be quiet? Or maybe you were just completely ignored?

Have you wanted to say something true [but also uncomfortable], only to be silenced by your own family or friends?

And how many men and women, living on the streets of our cities and towns, have spoken or even cried out, only they are never heard? How many black voices, in our cities, towns, and suburbs, only wishing for people to acknowledge the pain and discrimination they have felt, are silenced  [BlackLivesMatter]? How many children, youth, and adult voices are silenced when war breaks out and homes are burned and families displaced? How many farmers and migrant workers, who toil in the land and pick fruits and vegetables, are silenced when they speak out against the unfair treatment they receive? How many battered women, who have been abused and trapped, when they cry out to their families, friends, colleagues, and churches—how many of them are heard?

It’s true, isn’t it?

We silence voices all the time.
And we all get shushed.

That’s why I will argue that Bartimaues’ story is worth checking out.
Bartimaues is called the son of Timaeus. Okay, time to analyze that.
At first glance, it’s easy.

Bar-Timaues.

Bar is like son in Aramaic.
It’s like the Mac in MacDonald.

And there’s the Greek Timaues, which means someone to honor.
So…son of Timaues, someone to honor, right?

But…..

Mark’s Gospel is writing to a Greek audience.
Why would he combine Aramaic with Greek, and by the way, when you do that in this case, it’s redundant.

So what if????

What if the second part of Bartimaeus is not Greek but instead derived from a Hebrew word, טמא (tame)?

Puzzled male shrugging wearing lab coatWell, then everything changes.
Tame means unclean.[1]

Aha!
So, consistent with Mark’s story, could it be that Bartimaeus is a name that means “son of the unclean?”
Why does this matter, you ask?
Because the Gospels rarely name people who are healed. And this story is not just in Mark—it’s in Matthew and Luke, too. But the blind man is not named in the other two. Mark’s Gospel, however, goes out of the way to make sure we remember and hear this name:

Bartimaues, son of the unclean.

That sticks with me—say the name.
Say out loud the names of people who are voiceless.
Don’t be silent. And stop silencing people.

Say their names.

And then notice what Bartimaeus does. He calls out to Jesus.
No one can keep him silent.
People tried to, but to no avail.
He cried out even louder: have mercy on me!

Jesus stood still. And then he called to Bartimaues.

We don’t know who it was who told Bartimaeus to shush up; but we do know that Jesus instructed people to call out to Bartimaues.

Take heart, get up, he is calling you.

Bartimaues didn’t hesitate to cry out; neither did he hesitate to spring up and throw off his cloak. Throwing off one’s cloak was a sign in the Gospels of someone deciding to follow the way of abundant life and mercy.
And contrary to an earlier story, in which a rich man came to Jesus and asked Jesus for the keys to eternal life, Jesus asked Bartimaeus:

What can I do for you?
And Bartimaues said: let me see again.
And he regained his sight and went on the way.
Seeing in the Gospels is also a sign that a person had turned things around, woken up, experienced an enlightened moment.

What a story, right?

I asked early on, have you ever been shushed?
I know that you answered in the affirmative.

So, I think the challenge is clear.
Will you cry out?

Will you cry out in honesty, say what needs to be said [no matter how difficult], will you speak the truth when it’s unpopular and when others shush you? Will you?

Secondly, will you stop silencing others? I mean it. Will you stop silencing others? Don’t try to filter people’s thoughts or responses. Look, I understand tactfulness. I get political correctness. And of course–words that are meant to hurt or disparage another human being have no point to them. I get that. But too often we are silent or we silence others, just because we think it’s the “nice” thing to do.

But really it’s the comfortable thing to do.
There’s nothing nice about it. If you have something truthful to say, say it. If someone needs to express him/herself, even when it’s difficult stuff to hear, let them say it.

Let them cry out.
And you should cry out, too.

Why?
Because the response is clear.
God is not interested in well-parsed words aimed to pacify or avoid confrontation.

God is interested in honesty.
When we call out, and when we allow others to call out, good things happen.
Healing happens.
Names of people forgotten and ignored are recognized and said out loud.

And when you cry out, you are called to.
Whatever you’re going through, you are being called to.
Your name [and life] matter.

You matter.

So don’t be silent when it matters; when justice is absent.
Don’t shush others when they have something to say or do.
Don’t be afraid to be honest.
And expect mercy; expect guidance for your path; expect wholeness; accept healing.

[1] Spiros Zodhiates (The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary).

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