The pizzeria was full, so we headed for one of the outside tables, to enjoy the evening breeze and the company outside, while waiting for a bite to eat. At the next table, the youngster of about four years of age looked at me and then hid his face, whispering something in his mom’s ear. A moment later, as we talked, his mom told me what he had said earlier, when he first saw me. “Look Mommy! It’s that man!” His mom wondered what he meant by “that man” and asked him about it. “You know. That man from the stage at the church!” We kidded about it for a little while, but the conversation started the wheels in my brain to turning.
The funny thing about the boy’s description of me is not that he is wrong. Most of the time when he sees me, I am standing on the stage at my church, leading or participating in a song service. The really amusing aspect of his statement is that his dad is the pastor, with whom I share the stage there. In fact, he spends a bit more time on the stage than do I. But, I dare say, if you would ask the young fellow who his dad is, he would have considerably more to say about his daddy than “that man from the stage…”
I chuckle as I think about the lack of scope in his young brain, remembering a person only in one place. To his inexperienced mind, it might be possible that I actually live on the stage at the church. Well, he never sees me anyplace else, so why should he have any other expectation? After the lights are turned off, perhaps the people on the stage simply find a comfortable spot to await the next service, never leaving their roost on the stage, always in the place where he remembers them. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it brings with it some pointed questions–questions which touch fairly close to home.
My mind wanders to “Watership Down”, a novel written by Richard Adams, which I have read and re-read a number of times. It is a fanciful, if not very cheery, account of a ragtag group of rabbits who flee their warren to escape a coming disaster, finding their way eventually, through many dangers, to a relatively safe place called Watership Down. At one point the author describes, in detail, the down in the moonlight, reminding us that our natural thought patterns don’t make it easy for us to visualize a place in the darkness, but only in the daylight. We believe daylight to be the natural condition of a place, not thinking that it is in darkness for nearly as many hours. “We are not conscious of daylight as that which displaces darkness. Daylight, even when the sun is clear of clouds, seems to us simply the natural condition of the earth and air.” The fact remains, however, that darkness is a natural condition of any place. Simply because we don’t think of it that way does not mean it is not a facet of the place also.
I’m wondering tonight about how many people we fit neatly into a box, simply because we have always observed them in that box before. A man utters words which I believe to be offensive, therefore he is offensive. A mother snaps harshly at her child in the music store and I determine that she is a poor parent to that child. I observe a man in a state of inebriation and assume that he is not a responsible human being, but is simply a drunk. The homeless person is nothing more than just that–homeless. No family, no feelings, and no worth to either me or society. It seems clear that I am missing something here, doesn’t it?
There is much more to me than my ability to sing on the stage at church. Yet, from that dear little child’s perspective, I am “that man from the stage”. In reality, the offensive man probably has many other thoughts besides the ones that offend me. The snapping mother also feeds and clothes her child and protects him or her from the dangers of the world. The drunk is only that way when he drinks too much, but it is likely that he works and has a family, and possibly even believes in the same God as I. The homeless person undoubtedly thinks and cries and laughs, and is embarrassed at his or her circumstances. If I don’t see this, if I don’t consider the whole person, I am as naive as the little boy. But, his viewpoint is caused by lack of experience; mine is caused by purposeful ignorance. There is a difference.
Even though it seems a bit unnecessary, I will remind the reader that our viewpoint of our Creator is often just as myopic. We see only the facet which we have experienced, doing our best to impress that aspect of our God on every other person we speak to. Whether we believe Him to be Judge, Savior, Shepherd, Healer, Protector, Provider, or a host of other things which He certainly is, we focus on our experience and don’t seek out all of those other things which He wants to be to us.
The reason the boy at the pizzeria doesn’t see his father in the same light in which he sees me is that he has a different relationship to his dad. He knows his dad; he just knows of me. The knowing makes a world of difference. And, as he spends time with his dad, his knowledge becomes more and more well rounded. That’s the way it should be for us in our everyday relationships, too. Instead of snap judgments, we need to be personally invested in the lives of those around us. I’m confident that our perspective will change as our involvement does too.
This man on the stage thinks it’s about time that he go to his home and get a little rest. A bed, after all, will be much more comfortable than sleeping on a hard pew in that big, empty church.
“My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
(Job 42:5,6 NIV)
“There is none so blind as he who will not see.”
(Old proverb, first quoted in 1714 by Thomas Chalkley~Quaker missionary/preacher~ 1675-1741)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012 All Rights Reserved.