Everything I Looked At
by Lori Heine
A lot of grandparents had certain things they’d say to us all the time. Whenever they visited, we expected to hear them. Some were obnoxious, like “I’ve got your nose!” or “Pull my finger!” Others were funnier, or at least less tedious.
My grandfather liked to say, “Do you know what I saw today?” Of course I was supposed to ask what. To which he would grin and reply, “Everything I looked at!”
I thought this was rather silly, in an endearing sort of way. And after he passed away, I just tucked it into my mental album of fond memories and forgot about it. Then, in one of the PBS specials featuring Dr. Wayne Dyer, I heard something that brought it right back to me. He said, “When you change the things you look at, the things you look at change.”
The self-help guru awakened me to a very important concept. That I was largely responsible for my view of the world, because I saw, for the most part, what I chose to see. This led me to realize that when I spoke about any subject or other person, I was inevitably revealing just as much about myself (or more) than I was about them.
We all tend to see what we want to see—because that’s what we look at. The fact that none of us is omniscient, so there’s a very limited amount that we can see, fails to make many of us any humbler. We like to think we know more than we do. And we have an unfortunate tendency to make judgments about things we never bother to look at, without ever troubling ourselves to find out if they’re true.
The number one subject upon which people tend to think this way is religious faith. Those of us who are people of faith hear proof of this all the time. It seems that everybody has an opinion about the Christian faith. Even those who’ve never made the effort to find out whether their opinions have any basis in fact.
This makes witnessing for Christ a real challenge. We try to share our faith with others, only to find out that they’re sure they are already experts. Perhaps most common are those who inform us that all Christians are fanatical, ignorant, intolerant bigots. When we point out that we’re not like that, they imply that we are somehow far outside the norm.
The implication boils down to this: that because we’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or straight allies of LGBT’s, we’re not like most Christians. It further hints that as Christians we are, somehow, less real. That of course we’re not fanatical, ignorant, intolerant or bigoted, because we can’t be. Even though fanaticism, intolerance, ignorance and bigotry are common to the human condition—which means that since we’re as human as everyone else, we’re as prone to these faults as anyone.
We are Christians, however, because in spite of the fact that so many other people in the church are fault-ridden, we realize that they don’t define our faith. When we look at the church, we don’t merely see those who are prejudiced or self-righteous—those who may reject us. We also see all the kind, loving and generous people who accept us for who we are and treat us as their brothers and sisters in Christ. We see everything, and everyone, we look at. And the people and things we look at give us all the reasons we need to persevere in our faith.
When I’m witnessing, for example, to a lesbian who has rejected my faith, and she tells me she can’t accept Christ because of those mean Christians who won’t accept her, I ask her why it is that she can see those people, but not the people who would welcome her with open arms. How come those who would run her out of a congregation are so visible to her, but those who would stand up for her, and put their own reputations on the line to defend her, are invisible? I tell her that she sees everything she looks at. And that ultimately, she is responsible for what she chooses to look at—so she’s responsible for what she sees.
Our faith has not endured for twenty-one centuries, through every imaginable trial, because of those who failed to follow in Christ’s footsteps. There have been many of these people over the years. There very well may have been many more of them than there have been of those who have faithfully followed Our Lord. But yet the church keeps marching on.
“You are the salt of the earth,” Jesus tells His followers in Matthew 5:13. “But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
The Christians who fail to walk in His footsteps are salt that has lost its saltiness. When we taste un-salty salt (or if we do, though I myself have never had that experience), none of us say, “I refuse to believe that salt—any of it, anywhere in the world—can ever be salty.” We know it would be silly to do that, because if there were no such thing as salty salt, we’d have no standard by which we might judge when it has no flavor. It’s no less ridiculous for people to claim that the Christian faith is worthless because there are some who fail to live up to its standards. Those standards would never have survived for twenty-one hundred years unless, consistently over time, a significant number of people had met them.
Perhaps the best way we can witness to those who don’t share our faith is by pointing out the people who meet its standards—thereby proving those standards’ worth. Jesus was very realistic about the fact that far from everyone who claimed to be His would truly belong to Him. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” He says in Matthew 7:32, “but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Had He said, instead, that absolutely everyone who claimed to follow Him would meet to perfection the standard He set, then—and only then—would people be justified in rejecting the faith because of these failures. Those who point to the disgraceful examples, as if they were the only ones, are merely building a straw man to knock down. That says far less about the disgraces than it does about them. They are seeing only what they look at.
Jesus knew this. He very well may have had it in mind when, in the first two verses of Matthew Chapter 7, He said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
In the Twelve-Step Program, we have another way of putting that. We say, “Whenever you point a finger at someone else, there are four more pointing back at you.” This also means, however, that when we’re pointing at that other person because he or she is such a kind and loving soul (forgetting for just a moment that our mothers probably told us it wasn’t polite to point), those four fingers that are pointing back at us are making us look kind and loving, too.
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:14-16. “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
And that, of course, is the very best way we can witness to others about our faith. Some won’t look at us, but others will. And when they do, Christ’s own light is what they’ll see.
© 2017 Lori Heine
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