(Implications of Acquired Monocular Vision is a medical term for the loss of vision in one eye)
Since I first went on Facebook (which Facebook tells me was about nine years ago), one thing has never changed: my profile picture. Well, that is not necessarily true. In honor of the Chicago Cub’s historic and ultimately victorious post-season, I changed my one-eyed profile picture (which features my right eye—it’s my good side), to someone else’s eye that has been transformed to reflect the Cubs logo instead of my plain, boring puke-green eye.
But, even with that small Cubs-inspired change, the one-eye remains.
In the sixth grade, I was caught at school doing something that sent teachers and parents into a tizzy. Yes, I did attempt to wear lipstick and say it was chapstick. Yes, I did kiss a boy behind the green heater behind the school. But, those things were nothing compared to what I was caught doing. From my front row seat, I was caught….squinting at the board. My mother freaked. After a few visits to the eye doctor where I struggled to decipher familiar letters of the alphabet followed by a tear-filled, vanity-induced meltdown where I passionately declared that glasses would indeed “ruin my life,” I was handed the solution to my squinting problem: a pair of bizarre gel-like discs to shove INTO my open eyes. It was a creepy proposal and involved an extensive amount of blinking, but when I finally got them on, everything changed.
I’ll never forget what it felt like for things to come into focus. I remember once I got the contacts in and we were driving home, I could not stop talking about how beautiful everything was—the colors, the shapes, the startling clarity of it all. As the weeks went on, I was struck and comforted by the fact that my head didn’t seem to hurt anymore.
I think a lot about seeing. One of my favorite verses has always been the one from 1 Corinthians “for now we see through a glass darkly, but then we will see face to face.” This was one of those little verses that came to me later in my faith journey. It’s funny how that happens. In my private Christian school and my heavily churched existence as a pastor’s daughter, I was forced to memorize 1 Corinthians 13—you know, the “love is” chapter—but only through verse 7. For some reason there was an encouragement to memorize 1-7 and then skip down to verse 13.
Verses 8-12 are my favorite: 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known..
I grew up in the evangelical era of certainty. There wasn’t a whole lot of room in Wheaton, IL or at my small Bible church for questions, disagreements, differing perspectives, or if there was “room” for those things in our community, it wasn’t exactly encouraged. Christians were Republicans, women weren’t pastors (definitely not SENIOR pastors) and you shouldn’t drink because, as the old joke goes, “drinking leads to sex and sex leads to dancing.” It was like footloose…except without the cool one-shouldered tops. There was really one way to look at things, which could be summed up in a phrase which I actually heard in real life, “the Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” As I have gotten older and the world and people have gotten more complicated, my one-eyed Facebook profile picture has served as a reminder that not only do I see through a glass darkly, I see with one eye and that eye sees through a glass darkly. My seeing is grossly inadequate and incomplete. My one eye reminds me to speak (especially on the impersonal platform of facebook) in a way that reflects my “one-eyed-ness”, that I don’t see the whole picture and have all of the answers.
I need help to see. Every morning I wake up and until those slimy little circles are placed onto my corneas, the world is a blurred mess. I can kind of make out what things are in my familiar world, but if I were to walk outside with no contacts or glasses (I do now have a pair of glasses and no, my life was not completely ruined), I would not be able to see my neighbor and know it was her, or catch the beauty of all of these startling “mid-winter blossoms” that are popping up all over Seattle, and actually might not even recognize my own child from a distance. If I were to get in a car things would get really bad. I would be a danger to myself and to others—unable to read the signs or might not be able to tell how far away a car was from hitting me or how far away I was from hitting another car or a person walking across the street.
But seeing is more than just images coming into focus. There is a level of understanding that we attach to those images. I need help to see on ALL levels of seeing. The understanding that I have attached to images is based on several different factors: my context, what I’ve been exposed to, culture, experience, tradition, reason…just to name a few.
I’ve always been intrigued by Rorschach and his inkblots–the multiplicity of images that can be seen by different people in the same inked design. Is it a face or a vase? Well…it depends on what you see. Therefore the answer is “both…and”…an answer that we as humans, and particularly we as Christians, seem increasingly uncomfortable with. It seems that we have equated our monotheistic religion with a mono-interpretation of that religion and its text: the Bible. We see with one eye—an eye that looks through the smudged glass of our own privilege, our fear, our greed, our arrogance, our certainty about which we cannot be certain. The way that I “see” is privileged, it’s white, it is female, it is American, it sees through grief and pain that I’ve been through personally, it sees as a mother, as a wife. I can only see as ME. In this way, I can become something of a one-eyed monster…everything is about ME and the “way I see it.” UNLESS…I’m in relationship with YOU. You tell me what it is like to be YOU. Tell me what you see from where you are located in your unique context, with your unique experiences in your particular culture. This has huge implications in knowing and understanding people and being in relationship with them in general, but the theological impact of this is staggering.
The renowned missiologist Andrew Walls paints a picture of this as a “human auditorium, specifically as it relates to how we interpret what has happened in Jesus:
“We can only see, and it is essential that we do see, the Jesus Act in the theatre in relation to the play of life as a whole and in terms of the area of the stage we can see. That is, it is necessary that we hear the Gospel under, and in relation to, the conditions of our experiences and relationships, our environment and society—our culture in fact. Others seated elsewhere in the world theatre will see the same action, hear the same words; but their seating will enable them to see parts of the stage that we do not and will obscure some things which may seem to us crystal clear.”
We need to talk to others in the theatre to see what they see and be able to describe what it is that we see in this “Jesus Act.”
Let me just say that this is terrifying to me, especially now. I will admit that I have not wanted to talk with people who agree with this current President on most if not all issues and particularly how they have woven together the Jesus Act with American nationalism and partisan politics. My sight has changed over the years as I’ve been in different denominational traditions, gone to seminary, traveled, lived in different states with profoundly different political and theological “vibes,” if you will. I’ve been honored to hear people’s stories, to cry with them and move from simply “I see you” or “I hear you” to “I feel you”—where my heart has rejoiced with those who rejoice and mourned with those who mourn. Because of those stories, my perspective has widened on those things that seem secondary, those things that are debatable and subject to interpretation—things where biblical cases can be made on both sides of an issue.
But right now, I have no idea what I’m seeing in terms of a Christian landscape. This isn’t about pre-millenialism or Paul’s use of the word κεφαλη (kephale), or or even the whole inerrancy debate. I always thought that even though there are contentious debates, that there was a center—rooted in the person and work and life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That no matter what we believed about “secondary” issues, we would all come together where it really counted—around race, around the dignity of persons because we all bear the image of God, around the stewardship and care of the environment, around the welcome of the stranger because we were once strangers and Christ welcomed us, around love and all that the part of 1st Corinthians 13 that I had to memorize tells me that love is. I thought we would come together around a God whose very nature and essence IS LOVE.
As a pastor (well, almost) I feel a ton of pressure to see…to make sense of what is happening in our world. But right now I have no idea what I’m looking at. Right now I can’t even recognize Christianity—it feels like I woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of one of my kids asking me to come and help them, and I can’t find my glasses, don’t have my contacts in and am groping around in the dark afraid that I might run headfirst into the wall or door frame, or worse, get attacked by some intruder that I think it a coatrack or something. It is a sickening feeling, but usually only lasts for a little bit until I can get close enough where I can see a bit clearer or I finally find those pesky glasses. This current disorientation isn’t going away.
As someone who sees with one eye—through dirty and sometimes even deeply distorted glass, particularly when it comes to seeing others, I realize that I have work to do. I admit that I have no idea how to speak out against injustice, racism, sexism and everything else that is de-humanizing, while not doing the very same dehumanizing of people with whom I disagree. Yet, speak out we must. What might it look like to speak out against something in a posture of learning? It almost seems like an oxymoron. But only if we think of speaking out as telling people “how it is” instead of asking them “how is it?” where they are and being open to hearing the answer. What might it look like to follow up with some “salty questions”—a phrase my seminary President used in his Commencement speech to us—because the world doesn’t need saccharine sweet answers to its ills, nor does it need bitter diatribes. The world needs salty questions—the kind of questions that Jesus asked: “Do you want to be made well?” “What do you want me to do for you?” “Why are you so afraid?”
In Mark 8, Jesus heals a blind man in seemingly two stages. He puts his hand on the man’s eyes and asks, “Can you see anything?” The man can’t really make out what he sees—people perhaps, but he says they look like trees that are walking. Jesus then places his hands on the man’s eyes again and his sight is fully restored. I can’t help but think that we are all in that first stage—we need Jesus and we need each other to see. I hope that you’ll reach out to those around you, those across the street, in the red or blue state next door or even a country all the way across the globe and find out what they see. It is scary, messy, risky, unfamiliar, kind of gross, but totally worth it—a little like wearing contacts.