Life really is all about perspective, isn’t it?
The way we view the world is so deeply informed by our circumstances, perceptions, associations and experiences that we really don’t even notice it. It just is. We define everything by our perspective. That’s why there is always tension and conflict in life…we are individuals with different perspectives trying to live in community. But it’s also why we see such beauty in diversity. The same differences in perspective that cause tension and conflict are also the things that make communities work. We need each other’s perspectives. It’s a very yin-and-yang sort of thing.
Yesterday I got one of those all-too-rare opportunities to have my perspective changed. And the truth is, at first, my instinct was to resist it. Because it infringed on my own perspective. It challenged the way I wanted to see myself and the world around me.
An acquaintance who is a pastor in a little country church not far from where I live was going to be out of town for a few days, and he asked if I could cover yesterday’s sermon for him. I happily agreed, partly because I feel like God has been calling me to speak publicly more and more lately and to share some of the insights he’s been giving me through study and conversation. But I have to admit, there’s also a little bit of an ego trip attached to that…and so there was another part of me that took the offer just because I like to be in front of a crowd.
Now, I hope I don’t have such delusions of grandeur that I thought, at least consciously, that I could somehow deliver a 15-minute sermon that was going to make this little country church suddenly want to grow into another Willow Creek or Saddleback. But as the service started, I couldn’t help but feel a little out of place. I’m no city boy by any stretch of the imagination, but I began to identify with some of the “city folk” who occasionally wandered into Mayberry in the old black-and-white episodes of the Andy Griffith Show. A feeling of smugness began to wrap around me.
But if we’re open to it, sometimes God’s spirit will correct us in those moments. And even as I found myself thinking I was somehow too sophisticated for all this, I heard that still, small voice in the back of my head, telling me to just see the beauty in the simplicity of it all.
The church where I regularly worship, participate in leadership, teach and sometimes preach is not a large church by anyone’s definition. On a busy Sunday we might see 250 or 300 people in worship and Sunday School. But compared to the 40 or 50 people at this little country church, it is massive. And that was my mistake… was trying to compare it to my prejudiced context. To my own experience. My own perspective.
And in the instant of that realization, my perspective changed.
And in my new perspective, I began to see that this was not a simple, backward country church. It was a beautiful collection of authentic, genuine, humble people who knew exactly who they were as a community. There was no pretense, no hiding behind masks of status or position. There was an overwhelming sense of confidence in their identity. And instead of feeling smug and sophisticated, I began to find myself longing for that kind of confidence, for that sense of knowing exactly who you are and what you are about.
So often we succumb to the temptation to want to force our perspectives on others. To make them see the world as we do. To somehow manipulate people into fitting into the imaginary roles we have created for them as mere characters in a life story we think is all about us. And what we miss is the opportunity to be changed by their perspective. To step out of our own limited scope of vision and see things from a different angle. To let God cast us into the roles he planned for us as part of his story.
We Christians talk a lot about humbling ourselves before God. But what I’m starting to learn, often the hard way, is that sometimes that means humbling ourselves before each other. Being willing to put our own perspectives aside and see things through a different lens. To understand that God speaks to all of us in an endless variety of unique voices and circumstances and experiences, and to see the beauty even in the voices we can’t hear or the experiences we don’t understand.
The little country church life is not one I would choose for myself. But I hope I never ever find myself looking down my nose at it. I hope to be humbled by the beauty and authenticity of it, and to let those kinds of perspectives give me a broader view of this story that we’re all a part of and that none of us is the central character in.