Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tunnel Vision

When I was little, used to imagine that it would be great fun to have things happen that adults said weren't actually fun. For instance, I always thought it would be great to break a bone and be on crutches. Maybe that sounds silly, but it seemed like having a cast that people could sign would be fun. Walking on crutches - fun! Right? I have managed to so far escape from any bone breakage, but I have been on crutches - not so fun, as it turns out. Perspective. Maturity. Reality.

Another thing I wanted to happen: I wanted my town to experience a flood. I pictured in my mind rowing down the streets in boats. Floating around town. Swimming in the house. Great fun. Well, tonight I spent hours trying to pack up my finished parsonage basement so that the cleaners could come tomorrow to check out the water damage from heavy rains after heavy rains here in New York. The carpets, less than three years old, are probably going to have to go. Most of my stuff is fine, but a few things here and there will have to be tossed out. And of course there is the inconvenience of it all. I have a busy weekend, and I don't have time to take care of all this right now. And it's too hot. And now I have all these phone calls to make. What a pain! And last week, when area flooding caused roads to be out in many directions, I had to spend almost double time on the road to get to places. Flooding - not so fun, as it turns out.

Of course, given the devastating hurricane season in the Gulf region last year, flooding and its consequences are in the public eye. Having traveled to the area on a VIM team myself, I saw firsthand the destruction and devastation. So I can put things in perspective - I am blessed, because I'm losing my carpets, not my home. I'm blessed because my floor is wet, but my walls are not. I'm blessed because the cleaners will be here tomorrow, not months from now. I'm blessed because my community is not wiped out. Still, as I looked over possessions that have to be dried out, I wondered - why is it that we so often have to experience things for ourselves before we get a sense of deep empathy and compassion? Why can we not see what things are important unless we are immediately affected?

Speaking of pet peeves, another pet peeve of mine is when celebrities take up charity causes only after they are personally affected by them. Can't they be passionate about cancer research without having cancer themselves? I know that's hyper-critical of me. I know I'm the same way. But we need to get over ourselves, and widen our field of vision. In a time when we hear report after report about climate changes and weather patterns that might have to do with global warming, still the administration seems uninterested. I wonder, what will it take? Will Bush be uninterested until his own immediate family is somehow affected? Because it seems to me that if we're not sure about global warming, we'd better be on the safe side, and make changes. Because being wrong with the other opinion will find us in bigger trouble eventually.

In a recent promotional campaign from Yahoo! Answers, experts ask questions that the public can answer. Stephen Hawking has asked "How can the human race survive the next hundred years? In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?" Over 20,000 people have responded so far, with answers ranging from "we can't" to religious responses to philosophical rants. His questions seem timely as headlines bring news of escalating violence in Israel/Palestine/Lebanon and threats of violence elsewhere. Scary stuff.

My own answer to Hawking? We need to expand our vision. We must develop the ability to understand others without having the exact same experiences they have. We must be able to think about the consequences of our actions for others. I guess that's a pretty simple answer, but obviously harder than it seems to put into action. One of my favorite Greek words in the gospels is splanchnizomai. It is translated usually as 'to have compassion', like in the frequent cases where Jesus has compassion on the crowds of people. It literally means to "feel bowels of pity" - it is a physical, gut reaction of the insides - your stomach literally turning over in compassion. That's the what Jesus feels when he sees us. That's his sense of vision.

What do you see? How do you see?
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