Sunday, March 22, 2015

Lent Five: Escaping Blindness

In the days leading up to his crucifixion, Jesus repeatedly healed the blind and spoke out emphatically about another form of blindness. Matthew 23 records the most extended discussion, a series of seven
Jesus Heals the Blind Man,
unknown Ethiopian artist
“woes” directed at spiritually blind leaders. He says repeatedly “Woe to you, blind guides,” “blind fools”,”blind men”:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.  You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.(Matthew 23:23-28)
Those blind leaders were the ones who, days later, hurried Jesus toward the cross.

And ever since, blind leaders have insisted on obedience to peripheral issues, indulged their own desire for power, presented a righteous front while neglecting the more important matters: justice, mercy, love of God and neighbor.

Part of the goal of Lent is to shed the habits of heart that hold us in spiritual blindness. Yet often, we are helpless to see those habits that blind us, and too often our leaders do little to help us.

I think of the slave owners whose churches endorsed their self-righteous possession of fellow human beings.

And grieve at our own silence at the human rights issues of our day.

Pastor/author/counselor Paul Tripp, reflecting on spiritual blindness, wrote:
We can be physically blind and live quite well. But when we are spiritually blind, we cannot live as God intended… Physically blind people are always aware of their deficit and spend much of their lives learning to live with its limitations.
But the Bible says that we can be spiritually blind and yet think that we see quite well. We even get offended when people act as if they see us better than we see ourselves! The reality of spiritual blindness has important implications for the Christian community.The Hebrews passage [Heb. 3:13] clearly teaches that personal insight is the product of community. I need you in order to really see and know myself. Otherwise, I will listen to my own arguments, believe my own lies, and buy into my own delusions.
My self-perception is as accurate as a carnival mirror. If I am going to see myself clearly, I need you to hold the mirror of God’s Word in front of me.
I need to wake up in the morning and say, “God, I am a person in desperate need of help. Please send helpers my way and give me the humility to receive the help you have provided.” And I need to pray further, “Lord, make me willing to help someone see himself as you see him today. (Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, 2002, 53-54)
I thought of Tripp’s comments when I saw the Franklin Graham’s Facebook post that has been reposted from page to page this week:

How is it possible for someone who considers himself a spiritual leader to be so stunningly, painfully, grievously blind?

Did he read the testimony about police dogs attacking unarmed citizens, including a 14 year old boy?? Did he read the part about the police holding a gun to the head of a 19 year old man, arresting him for sitting in his own car, cooling off after playing baseball?

Did he read the report at all?

If not, why would he offer such comments, knowing as a leader they'll be repeated and reposted, knowing they'll contribute fuel and pain to an already simmering stew of anger?

Or is he so blind he doesn't think it matters?

Certainly he’s not alone. As our news sources become more and more polarized, our conversations more and more divisive, it becomes harder and harder to escape our own blindness.

Which is why it’s more and more essential that we seek out others to help us see what we’d prefer to ignore.

I fear we live in a time of great blindness - not so much on the part of those who claim no faith perspective and belittle the Christian church, but on the part of those within, those who speak most confidently on behalf of God.

A friend recently posted a link to this article: Why White People Freak Out When They're Called Out about Race.

It recounts the firestorm that erupted when a white Princeton male student was asked to “check his privilege,” and describes the way the white majority community insists on managing the conversation about race. Robin DiAngelo, a professor of multicutural education, explains:
In my workshops, one of the things I like to ask white people is, “What are the rules for how people of color should give us feedback about our racism? What are the rules, where did you get them, and whom do they serve?” Usually those questions alone make the point.
It’s like if you’re standing on my head and I say, “Get off my head,” and you respond, “Well, you need to tell me nicely.” . . .
When I’m doing a workshop, I’ll often ask the people of color in the room, somewhat facetiously, “How often have you given white people feedback about our inevitable and often unconscious racist patterns and had that go well for you?” And they laugh.
Because it just doesn’t go well. And so one time I asked, “What would your daily life be like if you could just simply give us feedback, have us receive it graciously, reflect on it and work to change the behavior? What would your life be like?”
And this one man of color looked at me and said, “It would be revolutionary.”

This should be the entry level of Christian discourse, the common expression of love for neighbor: gracious listening, genuine reflection, honest attempt to change our own offensive behavior.

Yet it's so rare, so unheard of, it would be revolutionary.

In the way Jesus himself was revolutionary.

This goes beyond the issue of race.

What would happen if women could offer feedback on the pain they’ve experienced in being shut out, shut down, and have that received graciously?

What would happen if those held in poverty could offer feedback about the systems that demean and deny them, and have that feedback heard and prayerfully considered?

What if Christians could sit and listen about ways we’ve judged, misrepresented, dismissed those who don’t share our faith? What if we could receve criticism graciously, offer thanks for the honest feedback, then respond in love to change our offensive behavior?

In 2 Peter 1, Paul advised habits that could lead toward spiritual sight:
Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. (2 Peter 1:5-9)
Real conversation, the revolutionary kind described above, would require real self-control, mutual affection, perseverance, love.

Those attributes are in short supply among our leaders, our news sources, our faith communities, ourselves.

So here are some Lenten practices to consider:

1. Acknowledge the risk of spiritual blindness: “God, I am a person in desperate need of help. Please send helpers my way and give me the humility to receive the help you have provided.”

2, Turn off the news sources that make us most comfortable, that fuel and excuse our blindness, and search out the full story, as close to the source as possible.

An Open Letter to Franklin Graham, Lisa Sharon Harper
3. On the question of Ferguson, read the Department of Justice report on the Ferguson police, or a reasonably impartial summar. And then read and consider the open letter toFranklin Graham (and yes, be assured, concerned faith leaders have written him, met with him, asked him to consider the impact of his words. He's demonstrated a stunning lack of interest).

4. Invite conversation with someone of differing race, religion, political expression, gender, age demographic, and ask for insight about experiences of injustice, oppression, pain. Practice listening graciously, exercise self-control, explore and consider other points of view. Pray for revolutionary conversations.
From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory,
and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want
of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.
(The Great Litany, Book of Common Prayer)

This is the sixth in a Lenten series.

Other Lenten posts:


From 2013:

From 2012:
     Looking toward Lent
     Lenten Sorrow : Lament and Nacham
     Lenten Silence: Charash, Be Still