Seeing Through Progressive Lenses

Updated: Jun 20, 2019


My Dear One,


I’m officially old.


I noticed it was coming several months ago when I found myself moving small print around to find a range it ceased being blurry … and couldn’t find one. So I recently went to the optometrist where I got the rapid-fire, “Which is better, one or two?” as he flipped lenses around on me so fast I felt as if my mind was becoming as blurry as my eyesight.


This past week, I picked up my new pair of glasses and they are … bifocals. Or rather “progressive lenses” as we apparently call them today. In case you aren’t familiar with this term, these are bifocals that don’t have the sharp line in them but rather gracefully and indistinguishably blend down from one distance I can’t see well at to another distance I also can’t see well at.


It’s taking some adjusting. Rather than instantly making everything clear like my old single-focus lenses used to, these new glasses actually make everything blurry. I am struggling to find the right place in the lens to look for things at the right distance. Look up top for far away. Look middle for medium range. Look low for close up. Move the paper, your head or body as necessary. It’s all about finding the sweet spot for a given context.


This past Sunday before worship, I went down a set of stairs for the first time. It was there, looking at a series of barely perceptible terraces, I realized that looking down now routes my vision through the part of my lenses that sees things at arm’s length, not leg’s length. How do people do this?, I wondered.


Then, looking at the words as I led worship, I found that the altar book is further away than my focal length and so I needed to adjust to a middle part of the lens.


I won’t even get into what these things have done to my peripheral vision.


Honestly, it’s frustrating. Everywhere I look I’m catching things off guard, as if asking them to come into being before they are ready. Everything feels like it’s manifesting prematurely. But of course, I know it’s not that the world is out of focus. It’s me. And these lenses, though they are making it harder right now, will eventually make it easier to see.


“Give it a week or two,” people keep telling me. “You’ll adjust.”


This actually isn’t the first time I’ve had to adjust to the disorientation of seeing through progressive lenses.


I mentioned in last week’s WayPost that at times the teachings of my faith and the politics of the day have run crosswise. And sometimes that’s disorienting for me. And sometimes it’s even more disorienting for other people. After I sent that post, three people unsubscribed from this mailing list. I get it.


Born in the rural midwest I was raised in an area where racism, sexism, homophobia, and crass nationalism were a part of the air we breathed. At my first job as the cashier and full-service boy at the local filling station, the men would gather and I would hear their stories and comments. There was the foulmouthed mechanic who gave me all kinds of bad advice on how to “please women.” There was the old bachelor who called everyone he hated “gay.” There was the Grand Wizard of the local KKK chapter who would come by recruiting to protect ourselves against “the n***** influence.”


Thankfully, I never went down any of those roads. But, still, they had their effects. And sometimes you don’t know how far down a road you’ve actually gone until you are already there.


As I’ve aged, I’ve found that I tend to see the world through an increasingly progressive lens. I have less confidence that I can see everything clearly enough to pass judgment on others. I know that not everything is black and white but rather various shades of grey. I don’t presume that my own perspective should be trusted as the final and authoritative viewpoint.

I notice that sometimes when something isn’t clear, it's me who needs to move to bring it into proper focus.


Recently, someone was brave enough to tell me that my name around here is often coupled with the phrase “that liberal pastor.” Once you’ve been branded as “that liberal,” in deep red Texas, many people won’t listen to much else you have to say, even if “pastor” is the rest of your title.


The truth is, rather that blindly align and vote Democrat or Republican, I tend to vote the values of Jesus wherever I can find them on the ballot. I've found it on both sides. Sometimes I have to look harder than others.


This invariably means that I’m too liberal for some and too conservative for others. The middle can be a lonely place to be.


Though I chafe at times at the label “liberal,” I’m quite happy to embrace the label “progressive.” I am progressive. I am for progress. Where we are is not where we need to be. And it sure isn’t to be found somewhere in the past either. The kingdom of God is something that is still being made and its fulfillment is in the future. It is the duty of every generation to progress towards this future.


“Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.


As a progressive, I’m able to see things at different distances and appreciate the unique perspectives such a viewing brings. Though I am usually able to understand where someone with a differing viewpoint than me is coming from, and even honor their good intentions, I am fairly at home with my understanding of Jesus’ teachings about non-violence, the dignity of all people, and standing up for the weaker members of society. It is a shame that this makes me sound like a partisan. This should be the priority of all Christians, regardless of their political persuasion. Jesus was clearly for progress and he often pushed the social, religious and, yes, political envelopes of his day … and our own day as well.


following The Way is a spiritual resource, not a politics blog. I seek to write about life and faith as humbly, authentically and inquisitively as I can. I also seek to be an embodiment of the kinds of people I’ve known that I think the world needs more of:


  • people who respect a diversity of opinions expressed respectfully

  • people who acknowledge truth no matter what its source might be

  • people who believe that God speaks in love to, and is in love with, people of all faiths and of no faith

  • people who are willing to speak out against injustice, oppression and degradation of our brothers and sisters

  • people who are brave enough to put something of themselves on the line

  • people who are committed to living a life of love for the sake of others


My hunch is that over the coming year, as our public discourse tends to gear up around presidential elections, there will be plenty of opportunities to put us to the test. Can we face the challenges that are to come in a respectful, truthful, loving, willing, brave, committed way, following The Way of love? Will be willing to challenge hateful, derogatory speech that seeks to divide the family of God into “us” and “them,” into “worthy” and “unworthy,” into “winners” and “losers”?


I hope so. I hope that our commitment to loving God with all our Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength means that no matter the challenge, we will find the sources of perseverance we need to meet it. Especially over the coming year, I hope that following The Way will be one of those resources for you.


So, here we are, dear ones. We very well may not be able to see all things clearly. Admitting this isn’t a sign of weakness but of humility. As we age, we may even find things look increasingly blurred. The sharp distinctions we once perceived may give way to vaguer shapes and forms. But by God’s grace we do not have to see clearly, or pretend to the world that we do. All we have to do is to perceive the light and walk towards it, stumbling and uncertain as we may be at times.


“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

John 3:19-21


Some may say we are the blind leading the blind. But the good news is we aren’t leading. We are…


following The Way,

Rich


June 20th is World Refugee Day


“Every minute, 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror.”


Those of us who live in stable communities and countries cannot fathom trying to live life in the midst of constant threat of physical harm, hunger, or degradation to ourselves, our children and those we love. But it is upon us to speak up for the rights and human dignity of those who do, and those who seek to escape such horror. Today is World Refugee Day. Take a moment to educate yourself about the plight of our brothers and sisters who are living as refugees around the world:


UN Refugees: https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/world-refugee-day/

UK’s Refugee Week: https://refugeeweek.org.uk/about-us/

International Rescue Committee: https://www.rescue.org


Our Practice This Week


Take time to look at things from a different perspective. What do we have to learn from those with a different experience than our own?

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