Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Matters of Perspective

Perspective is funny thing. One perspective sees two faces looking at each other while another sees a vase. Two different perspectives and the result couldn't be any different. When we take the time to look at any situation a bit longer we are able to see a new perspective and maybe even understand a different viewpoint.

Depending on which side of the separation wall you are standing on, your perspective is the difference between being an aggressor or a defender. Perspective will call one nation "liberators" or an "occupying force". Perspective causes some to label a program "entitlements" while others label it "an obligation" to the poor.

In the past few weeks I have had a reoccurring conversation about the Christian status of the United States. Some argue we may still be labeled a "Christian Nation" while others admit this title no longer applies. The answer is likely different depending on where you live. Perhaps as different as a "blue" state or a "red" state but the point for me is how does this perspective change how I live?

If we are a Christian nation then it seems I have an obligation to fight to keep the nation on that track. If we are not a Christian nation then I must view my life as "salt and light" in a world in need of both flavor and illumination. When Jesus told His followers they were the "salt of the earth" it was in the context of a world that was not yet Christian. He understood that His followers would be different and therefore their stories would unfold under the tapestry of a pluralistic and often adversarial world. The more "Christian" the empire became, the less Jesus' followers had to be "salty".

Most of our communities are far from being well flavored with the hope and peace that comes from God and are once again in need of some "Christian saltiness". I have changed my perspective from existing in a Christian culture to being an alien in a foreign land. Like missionaries, we cannot expect our culture to bend for us, we must learn to add salt and light to the world in which we live. This of course does not mean that we embrace all our culture embraces but it does mean that we approach our culture with a true desire to bring the love of Jesus to the "world" that God so loves.

So how can we be salt and light and be "in the world" but not "of the world"?

1. Don't compromise your own faith. Remaining true to Biblical living applies to you and those who follow Scripture but it does not necessarily mean to fight to have your culture embrace Biblical values. Certainly most people would embrace Biblical values of love, grace, and forgiveness but it is unreasonable to expect our culture to embrace all aspects of Biblical living. Begin with a commitment to personally live the ways of Jesus in a world that does not share that perspective.

2. Build bridges, not barriers. The default for human nature is to fight to have all people embrace our personal perspectives. Though I believe some lifestyles such as following Jesus are beneficial for everyone, I must work to build bridges based on mutual respect and understanding if I ever want my perspective to be heard. When we go through life trying to convince everyone that we are right and others are wrong, we are building barriers that will forever prevent the real message of Jesus from being heard.
One day I came home from work and found my wife having tea with two Mormon missionaries. My wife told them that she was secure in her faith and was not interested in debating theology but she was interested in having tea and company so she welcomed them in. No one converted that day but a bridge was built and a barrier was broken.
I still hold onto a note written to me from a gay friend of mine. In it he says, "Thank you for not judging me or condemning me but rather taking time to get to know me for who I am. You changed my perspective on Jesus and allowed me to open up to the God who loves me." To me, bridges are way more beautiful than barriers.

3. Choose your battles. Which battles are worth fighting as a Christian? There are any number of worthwhile battles and I do not impose my values on anyone else but above all, I urge all followers of Jesus to focus on representing Christ well. The truth is Christians are known for all the things we oppose and less about all the great things we are for. Christians do more in the world for adoption, foster care, feeding the homeless, helping the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and fighting for the oppressed than any other group in the world. Sometimes this message is lost in the noise of the other battles that we fight.

When all is said and done the goal is to represent Jesus in a world in need of the hope and love Jesus brings. If you see your country as a Christian nation or anything but a Christian nation, you have the privilege of helping others see the real Jesus. No matter what perspective you are looking from, Jesus will make the view better.

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