do you see who i see?

A young, red-headed boy is seated in a wheelchair. A well-dressed adult male is facing him, bowing awkwardly in an attempt to bring himself to eye level with the boy. We hear their conversation:

Man: My brother, you know, he’s like you.
Boy: (excitedly) He likes motorcycles?
Man: No . . . I meant . . . He has what you have.
Boy: (obviously hurt) That’s my disease. That’s not me.

This young man better get used to it. His disease is neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder for which there is currently no cure. There’s no need to mention his name (Lawrence), since he’ll always be “the guy in the wheelchair.” We do it all the time.

The woman with the limp (not Karen).
The bald man (not Joe).
The Indian woman (not Shirley).
The rich businessman (not Bob).
The homeless woman (not Lisa).
The gay guy (not Michael).

Those of us who’ve been around a while learned long ago that, to most people, we’ll never be simply Pat, Bill, Jenn, Charlie, or Amy. We will always be known primarily by our physical appearance, our jobs, and our societal transgressions.

The blind woman.
The guy with the scarred face.
The black man.
The teacher.
The gal who works at the convenience store.
The guy who did time for a felony..

Many Christians (say they) believe that Christ (or God) is present within each one of us. They quote from the scriptures (John 1:6-9),

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light (Christ), that all men through him might believe. He (John) was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light (Christ), which lights every man (and woman) that comes into the world.

Centuries later, John of the Cross, explained this concept in a truly succinct manner,

To understand this union of which we speak, know that God is present in substance in each soul, even that of the greatest sinner in the world. (The Ascent of Mount Carmel, bk.2, chap. 5)

In other world religions, I have encountered a similar understanding. I have read in Buddhist writings of the Inner Buddha or the Buddha Within. The Dalai Lama is frequently quoted explaining that all sentient beings have the seed of the Buddha within them.

Can it possibly be that when we look into the face of another person, we are seeing the seed and presence of God? Can it possibly be that there is not an exception? Can it possibly be that this holds true for:

  • the sick and the fit?
  • vegetarians and meat eaters?
  • Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims?
  • Republicans and Democrats?
  • male and female?
  • old and young?
  • saints and rapists?
  • Catholic and Protestant?
  • presidents and prostitutes?

If the Christian scriptures and John of the Cross have it right, as I believe they do, the answer has to be an unequivocal yes. We absolutely have to train ourselves to look into our neighbors’ eyes and see God. Only then can we experience what Jesus spoke of as the sum of all the law and the prophets.

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Can we even begin to imagine what could happen (in ourselves and in our world) if we start training ourselves to look beyond appearances, professions, and misdeeds? Scraping away that first outer layer, we will begin to see Shirley, Mike, Lisa, and Bob. And then, looking even more deeply, we will see the Divine.

I feel like I’m making some slow and weak progress in seeing beyond the outer layers in others. My greatest impediment is my inability or unwillingness to see beyond my own outer layers. It seems like it’s easier to forgive others than it is to forgive oneself. It also seems that forgiving and accepting oneself, acknowledging the seed of God in one’s own soul is a prerequisite to experiencing God in others.

I have quite a few acquaintances connected to religious communities in which the participants practice distinctive dress. One of these acquaintances once explained how he was approached by a stranger with a pointed question, “Are you Amish?”

His reply came simply and without hesitation, “No, I’m David.”

I think he’s on the right track.

Notes

  • The opening dialogue is from the television series, The Guardian (2001), Season 1, Episode 3.
  • John of the Cross actually wrote, “Para entender, pues, cuál sea esta unión de que vamos tratando, es de saber que Dios, en cualquiera alma, aunque sea la del mayor pecador del mundo, mora y asiste sustancialmente.”

© panthera2, 2012.

what’s your letter?

Poor Hester Prynne.

Like most American high school students, I struggled through Hawthorne’s classic, trying to understand the complexities of humanity, handicapped by my mere 16 years of life experience. And only now, with over 40 additional years to my credit, some of it’s beginning to make a little more sense.

Hester’s community responds to her adultery by forcing her to wear a scarlet A as a badge of shame, a symbol of her sin.

I’ve been wondering how it would be for all of us to wear placards advertising our flaws and secret sins.

  • E for Extortion. Taking advantage of anyone poorer or less powerful than ourselves.
  • D for Dishonesty. Deliberately deceiving another person for our own gain.
  • N for Neglect. Seeing hurt and needs in others and responding by looking the other way.
  • C for Control. Using power (financial or physical) to control other people.
  • G for Gluttony. Consuming more than our fair share of limited resources.
  • M for Murder. Destroying the life or reputation of another person.
  • T for Theft. Taking and/or possessing that which is not rightfully ours.

And, of course, A for Adultery. Unfaithfulness to one’s spouse in thought, word, or deed. (This is just a sampling. Feel free to add your own special sins. You know what they are.)

When I was just a child, someone explained to me that when you point your finger at another person, there are three fingers pointing back at yourself.

Recognizing our own sin increases our strength, our humility, and our empathy for others. A failure to recognize one’s own sin is living a lie.

Generally speaking, we’re far too busy shaking our heads and wagging our tongues over the sins of others. We convince ourselves that our sins are not nearly so egregious as are our neighbor’s.

And why do you behold the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but fail to consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you say to your brother, Let me pull out the speck out of your eye; and, behold, a beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then shall you see clearly to cast out the speck out of your brother’s eye.

© panthera2, 2012.

in the name of god?

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch teaches his daughter one of the most critical lessons any of us could ever hope to master.

If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

I don’t claim to have mastered this simple trick, but two movies I saw in the past two days have forced me into making some progress.

For My Father (2008) is set in Tel Aviv. Terek, a young Palestinian man, is a suicide bomber with a mission to detonate in a crowded marketplace to restore his father’s honor. Before seeing this film, I could never have condoned such an act of destruction. After seeing this film, I still cannot. But I do have a little better understanding of the Palestinian “point of view.” I also have a little better understanding of the Israeli “point of view.” For My Father does an excellent job of helping us see through the eyes of real people on both sides of this horrible conflict.

The War Within (2005) is set mainly in New York City. Hassan, a Pakistani student, is mistakenly arrested (and tortured) because he is suspected of being a terrorist. Burning with anger over the injustice, Hassan becomes deeply devoted to his religious faith and joins a New York-based terrorist cell intent on detonating bombs in Manhattan. Before seeing this film, I could never have condoned such an act of destruction. After seeing this film, I still cannot. But I do have a little better understanding of the radical Islamist “point of view.” I also have a little better understanding of the U.S. government’s “point of view.” The War Within does an excellent job of helping us see through the eyes of real people.

What disturbs me the most, however, is the way we humans commit so much violence and killing with divine approval.

In God We Trust
Insha’Allah
In Jesus’ Name

Violence will always be with us. We will never cease hurting one another. But I cannot accept our killing each other and bringing pain into others’ lives in the name of God. I cannot bring myself to honor and worship a God who promotes our destroying one another.

It seems to me that none of us have a monopoly on violence (just as none of us have a monopoly on non-violence and compassion).

  • How many Muslims did the Christians kill in the Crusades?
  • Did the Muslims of the Ottoman Empire really massacre 1.5 million Armenian Christians in the early 1900s?
  • Did 200,000 Muslims really die at the hands of Christian Serbs and Croats in the 1990s?
  • Is it true that the Nazis (mostly Christian) exterminated 6 million Jews in the 20th century?
  • Did Christian churches in the U.S. and Germany actually bless the bombs (and the soldiers) that killed their fellow Christians?

Just a sampling. Enough to know that we all have blood on our hands.

The forecast is not good. Doesn’t look like things will be clearing up in the foreseeable future.

Maybe we can’t stop it, but just maybe we can slow things down just a little by applying Atticus’ “simple trick”  in our own little, insignificant, individual lives. Just maybe. A little.

© panthera2, 2012.