I picked up my new glasses the other day. I like to hear responses about new things.
"I didn't know you wore glasses!"
"You always had such good vision when you were younger."
True. I remember some eye tests from my teenage years. My 20/10 vision was a badge of honor, especially as a baseball player who took pride in an ability to take a pitch and hit about anything in the strike zone or near it. If I was fooled into swinging I could at least foul it off. I wasn't much for power, but I hit a lot of singles and doubles, and could take a walk. I linked a lot of my success to my gift of vision. I worked hard and cared for that gift. I took a lot of batting practice. I ate a lot of carrots to give nutrients to my eyes. Eventually, I conquered some fears and developed an ability to reach base by getting hit by pitches--visualizing where the ball was going to hit my body gave me the judgment about whether being hit would hurt me. Just get on base, baby. Some of my most admired hitters were rumored to have better than 20/20 vision--Rod Carew and George Brett. Their vision gift allowed them to play the game of baseball at a high level.
After receiving my first pair of glasses last year, I've learned a few lessons about vision. Some of these reflections may apply to the Christian life, or to life in general. I tend to look at these kinds of things in light of Christian spirituality, but if you want to use the imagery for vocation or relationships, be my guest.
1. My ability to see has probably been deteriorating for years. Once the eye stops growing in teenage-early adult years (as I've been studying my eye condition, presbyopia) the lens loses elasticity, and the eye begins to lose its ability to focus. The brain is quick to pick up on this change, and the loss of focus may not be noticed for years. This development in my life makes me think of my own vocation and congregational vocation. I remember when I first started recognizing my focus problems, I said to myself, "But I have better than normal vision! I have 20/10 vision! Maybe I haven't been getting enough sleep, or I need to be more attentive to nutrition. But I have 20/10 vision. This isn't really happening to me. I'm special." If I continued to cling to that old identity, I could eventually put myself in danger, or maybe my family or someone else. I could miss out on seeing something important, or lose my zest for learning and living because reading became more challenging. Congregations often take on the identity of their youthful experience, when they were filled with boundless energy and their creativity flowed. Friendships were growing. Ministry programs teemed with both resources and insight. Lives changed. People were cared for. The building couldn't contain the excitement. Then the ability to see the world around them changes, and they maintain they still have better than average vision. "This isn't really happening to us." The congregation loses its elasticity, unable to make adjustments to the world around them. They become rigid and start making statement familiar to many involved in the church, "we've never done it that way before."
2. If I didn't embrace a new way to see the world around me, I would miss out on some of the things that God is revealing. My first pair of glasses last year were a disaster. I went to an optical dealer (who shall remain nameless) who set me up with a pair of glasses that not only did not fit, but a prescription that continued to give me headaches. I was told by both the professionals and by friends that I would get over the headaches, just hang in there. The technology was there to help me, but I also had to take some ownership of the change, find another path and professional and say, "this isn't working. I need to try something else." Now I have a pair of glasses that not only fits my head, but hasn't given me a headache in three days (along with a really big plus--my wife says they look good on me--that I look "distinguished," giving me that look that I'm looking good). Embracing what God is revealing in the world is linked to a personal and congregational fear of failure. Once personal or congregational life deteriorates over a period of time, then a fear of failure to see and try new things can be the next obstacle, exacerbating the deterioration. Once I embraced the idea of wearing glasses, then went through the hassle of getting them, and then they didn't work, I considered giving up. I didn't want to deal with the headaches. But I was driven to see better, beyond the pain, and I tried the experience again. I am pleased with the results and ready to move forward.
For a more amusing version for movie lovers, consider Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite--he spends most of the movie wondering what could have been and ruminating on the past, rather than looking toward the future. Rico is rigid about his understanding of the past, which inhibits his future.
I continue to return to the Baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark and how the voice of God and the identity of Jesus is continually expanding its revelation--to Jesus himself, his followers, and the world. Being stuck in a previous identity and fearing the work of the future inhibits participation in the ongoing and expanding revelation of the power of God. I know I don't see perfectly, but I know that God is revealing anew all the time. I want to see it, and I have to be flexible with my vision in order to participate in the revelation of God.