“There is no other: The Struggle in Shifting Perspectives” (Sermon 1 of 3)

 

Proper 8, Year B

Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Mark 5:21-43

July 1, 2018

 

There is no “other”:

The Struggle in Shifting Perspectives

Sermon 1 of 3

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The View from 14,000 feet…

 

The highest paved road in North America goes to the summit of Mt. Evans, at about 14,260 feet.  When we were driving back to Denver from Snowmass last week, I had the bright idea to drive up there.  We had time, and we were going to pass the exit in Idaho Springs—which is at 7,500 feet.

I wanted to go up, and I did all I could to pump my family up for this great adventure: “Imagine what it will be like to see from up there!  Imagine the different view!” I kept telling them.  We turned off the highway to the park station entrance, and we started circling slowly up the mountain.  At about 12,000 feet, there is a stopping point with wonderful Bristle Cone Pine trees that are well over a thousand years old.  We walked around for a while, looking at these trees.  The bathrooms were gross, but we hopped back in the car: “Come on!” I said, “let’s keep going!”  I was really curious about the perspective from 14,000 feet.

We crossed the tree line and drove beside snow packs, reaching about 12,800 feet where Summit Lake sits.  There were folks there resting and hiking.  We kept going.  The road itself was really buckled in places, and there were no guard rails.  Not one guard rail.

We kept going slowly up, at about 5 miles an hour.  There were folks on motorcycles and even bicycles!  When I met another car I had to slow down and slide over.  I didn’t dare look over the edge of the road at the drop off.

When we crossed 13,000 feet, I was nervous—and silent.  I concentrated on the ten foot section of road in front of me and kept pushing upward.  When we reached 14,000 feet, we could look up and see the observatory at the summit, about two hundred feet above us after another couple switchbacks.  I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and my heart was racing.

“That’s it,” I told Lisa.  “I’m not feeling well.  That’s all I can do.”  I really wanted to see what it looked like at 14,000 feet, and I had reached it—and drug my family along for the ride—although I failed to reach the summit.  Something in me wanted to experience this shift in perspective, but I encountered such resistance.  So, I did what I thought was normal: I stopped and put on my blinker when I saw there was a small place to pull over.  Right on the edge, with no guard rail.  I executed a perfect three-point turn right there at 14,000 feet, taking the chance to look out toward Denver as I pulled the car forward to the edge.

I could see the curve of the earth, and we could see the sky turn that darker shade of blue in the atmosphere.  There weren’t many clouds, so we could see forever.  I think to Ohio, but I’m not sure!

It was terrifying and absolutely incredible—such shifts in perspective usually are, aren’t they?  I knew, on some level, that changing my perspective was going to push me outside my comfort zone, but I didn’t know how much.

We drove back down to Idaho Springs and stopped at a gas station.  I just stood there a while and looked back at the highway that led up to the summit.

It is not easy to change our field of vision, to shift our perspective, but, to be bold, this is what the Gospel of Christ calls us to do: to open our hearts to be transformed by the grace of God, to stop grasping, to consent to the Spirit’s movement, to trust in God’s guidance rather than our own grasping agendas.  To see the world through the eyes of God’s love in Christ rather than the eyes of our own ego nature.  We lock ourselves in to one way of seeing, one lens, and this causes suffering in our lives.  We experience this suffering daily now.  Sides.  Parties.  Agendas.  Fears.  Yelling.  Talking heads.

For these next three Sundays, this is what we are going to explore together: the dynamics of shifting perspectives as understood by our practice of faith.  If you thought “political sermons” made you uncomfortable, just you wait to see what more is asked of us as followers of Jesus.

In today’s Gospel lesson, there is a story within a story within a story.  Jesus goes to “the other side,” we notice, which should make us wonder from the outset.  He encounters a religious leader whose daughter is dying.  The agenda is set, and the group heads off to bring healing to this struggling child.

But they are interrupted by an outcast, by a woman who has struggled not only with a physical illness but with social objectification and alienation as well.  She is an “other” who is suspect and rejected.  This risk taker reaches out to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, trusting in her heart that this proximity, this closeness, will heal her.  And it does.

And notice what happens, even when Jesus stops and wonders what is going on—because he feels the power, the exchange of healing energy—the disciples and the crowd cut him off while he is speaking with the woman.  They pay her no mind whatsoever.  She is an obstacle to their agenda—however noble a plan of healing they have.  Healing is right in front of their faces, and they cut Jesus off as he engages with this rejected woman.  Sit with that a minute.

Their perspective is so constricted that they fail to see the healing and divine power right in front of them.

I have been thinking a lot about the struggle in shifting perspectives, the discomfort in changing our field of vision.  Every day I hear from folks who are afraid, because they are experiencing the tension in our culture in their bodies and souls.  We can all feel it, this pressure, this struggle between fear and hope, between anxiety and embrace, between narcissism and greed on one hand and dreams and spaciousness on the other.

I am thinking about shifts in perspective these days, and so much of the conversation that I experience is superficial:  folks staying on the level of competing party platforms and ideologies.  This camp and tribe mentality.  My “side” is right, while your “side” is wrong.  It seems like we think if we can just yell enough or post enough articles on Facebook then “the other side” is just going to sit up one day and say, “well goodness me, I can’t believe I have been so wrong.”  But I don’t expect our egos will let us do that so easily.  My sister and I yelled at each other for the sixteen years we lived together, and we were never convinced of anything—other than “the other” was stupid.

Last Sunday evening at the first Contemplative Summer School, we looked at this quote by Richard Rohr that summarizes so much of this struggle in shifting perspectives: “The greatest barrier to the next level of conscience or consciousness is our comfort and control at the one we are at now.”[1]  That’s worth meditating on.

This tribe mentality that is fed by the mass media is superficial, this language and image of sides and parties, and this is not the level we are called to dwell in, to live from, when we reflect on the Gospel’s call to shift perspective.

Our practice of faith invites us into a space of consciousness and transformation, which is the realm of the heart.  We are invited to connect our minds and our hearts, as the mystics and sages tell us, to realize our tendency for egoic grasping and control—and to lean back into a more vulnerable place within us.  To live in our bodies and not just our heads, to become more aware of our common humanity and our connection to the planet.

I want to get at the root of how we are called to shift our perspective, and today’s Gospel lays it out for us with this encounter between Jesus and the rejected woman, the “otherized” person.  Here is what I think is the ultimate shift in perspective that lies at the heart of our faith: There is no “other.”[2]

There is no “other.”  This is how radical I think the Gospel of Jesus Christ is, and it asks far more from us than any mere adherence to a superficial party platform.

There is no “other.”  There is no separation between us and each other, not at the essential level of things, not at the level of how God sees the world.

I think of William Blake’s words:

“If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through the narrow chinks of his cavern.”[3]

There is no “other.”  I could proof text you until I was blue in the face, but that stays on the level of the head and doesn’t soak into the heart.  And only at the level of the spiritual heart do we experience the deep transformation promised by the Spirit.

Jesus didn’t see the alienated woman as an “other.”  The disciples and the crowd did.  Jesus saw her as who she really was: a human being, a being, a holder of the breath of God of infinite worth and dignity.  It was the “other” people who were blind to what was in front of their own eyes.  Jesus could see it clear as day.  On the essential level, there is no strict separation.  The “separation” persists because of our sinful persistence in grasping and control.

I don’t know if you agree with me, but I think the heart of our struggle, the persistent rock we keep tripping over, is our failure to move beyond the illusion of “the other.”  With people: a seemingly endless parade of categories of people whom we will place in boxes, internment camps, economic categories, or tent cities.  We also see it with the tension in moving away from a white, patriarchal worldview and the way women, people of color, our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and other minorities are treated.  With the planet itself: this warped refusal to realize our connectedness with the planet and our responsibility to care for creation.  We see it in the way we feel we have a right to consume endlessly without any sense of responsibility toward those who come after us.  We blame, categorize, manipulate, scapegoat, and compete.

Jesus heals, and he invites us to share in this healing ministry.  That is what it means to be a Christian, my friends.

“The greatest barrier to the next level of conscience or consciousness is our comfort and control at the one we are at now,” as Fr. Richard says.  I think this is absolutely true: our tendency to seek comfort and to retain control.

As Christians—indeed with all people of faith and compassion—we must pay attention to the pain and suffering in the world today.  This fear-based, nationalistic impulse we see around the world appears absolutely obsessed with strengthening boundaries—of many types—while the Gospel of Christ appears to be absolutely obsessed with crossing them—and calling our hearts to live out of our essential oneness.  As people who dare to call Jesus Lord, we would do well to remember that and at least wonder how our practice of faith calls us to live in the world.  Wonder, I believe, is the first step on the path of transformation.

Some have not agreed with what I have said and written, and they have told me, “This is the real world.  This is the way the world is.”  They are right, but doesn’t that miss the point?  Isn’t the point of “being a Christian” to reflect on how God desires the world to be and to take our part in helping give birth to that dream?

I’ll pick up here next week…

[1] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2014), 113.

[2] I think of so many here: Raimon Panikkar and his rich reflections on advaita, a non-dual perspective, and his language of a cosmotheandric reality.  I think of Thich Nhat Hanh and his rich writings on Interbeing, from a Buddhist perspective.  And, I think of so many texts from our Christian Scriptures.  Also, I am thankful for Matthew Wright, colleague and friend and Episcopal priest in New York, for his recent article on Charles William’s work around coinherence.

[3] William Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” from 1793.

 

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