Focus on the Family

New Eyes

byEd Chinn

My Dad once knew a man who could "see" oil underground. He was not crazy and his unique gift was repeatedly tested and verified. In fact, various oil company operations in South Central Kansas considered him quite reliable.

Obviously, there are many levels and dimensions of sight. For example, my cat will lie in my lap when I am reading. He sees the black marks on the white page, but he doesn't see what I see. I may step into the cockpit of a 747, but I would have no greater understanding of the vast electronic panels than my cat has of the written page.

"What do you see?" is one of the life's most important questions.

The actual physiology of sight – light passing through the cornea, pupil and lens and then striking the retina – is only a small part of how we see. We cannot interpret the light and patterns of our environment without the symphony of all our faculties. Everything we see passes through the filters of our life experiences, emotional and physical health, beliefs, fears, yearnings, education, special training and attitudes.

That is why various people can look at anything – a computer chip, an explosion or a baby sonogram – and have vastly different interpretations of what they see.

Was Blind, but Now I See

John Newton's timeless hymn, "Amazing Grace," contains one of the greatest and most famous lyrical lines in history: "was blind, but now I see." Those six simple words describe the mysterious transforming power of God's revealed truth. That is what happens when God's revelation brings a new way of seeing. By comparison, we can only honestly say "I was blind."

That "blindness to sight" process might arrive through illness, injury, grief or even exterior phenomena – like being struck by lightning or taking a bullet in the brain. Whatever the catalyst, from that moment on people see life differently. It is like finding "Superman" eyes; they can see right through various distractions or issues and bore into truth which remains hidden to others.

I recently endured my own was-blind-but now-I-see experience. When it was over, I saw my wife through new eyes.

God's "eye surgery" lasted about two hours in the pre-dawn darkness of March 6, 2008. After my wife Joanne's long and very serious illness, I became certain that she was dying. Based on what I knew, I became convinced that she was slipping into the last stages of organ failure.

Because of my certainty of her imminent death – which, thank God, was an illusion – the way I viewed her passed through a radical transformation. And, the way I viewed myself experienced even greater change; I saw clearly how I had failed to cherish, support, and nurture her as God intended. Although we have a wonderful marriage, God pulled me up to a much higher standard of maleness, fatherhood and "husbandry" – His!

Obviously, I had to repent.

The Higher View

God's eye surgery not only changed the way I see and relate to my wife, but it also raised another "what do you see" issue: Why can we not see people as they really are before they die? Our view of the living – friends, family, neighbors, and even public figures – always seems to be a mixed bag of thoughts and judgments. But, the moment they die, our view of them – as revealed in funerals – becomes profoundly gracious and much higher.

So, is it possible to ascend to that higher view before they die?

Perhaps the larger question is how do we find the higher view – or "new eyes" – on life in general? In Isaiah 55:9, God said, "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways…"

Very often, what we see is a matter of elevation. When we get tangled in the underbrush of deep valleys we end up feeling threatened or overwhelmed by very small issues. I am always amazed at how different everything looks simply by climbing to higher ground – physically, spiritually, relationally, emotionally and in many other ways.

And, that is true regardless of the specific issues. For example, many Christians feel threatened by political and social issues. Of course, we should be civic-minded, responsible and prayerful. But, we should always approach the public arena from a victorious position, not a fearful or despairing one. After all, the ultimate outcome is not tentative or fragile.

In fact, the Psalmist said that God sits in the heavens, "laughing" at the futile strategies against Him and His people! (Psalms 2: 1 – 4) Part of the reason He laughs is that He is sitting in a high and unassailable place. And, He invites us to sit there with Him.

In the series which follows, we will examine together some of the crucial areas and challenges of life. We will look at things like our own familial relationships – spouses, parents, children, siblings, co-workers and neighbors.

We will examine ways to view our own heritage – even the uncle who was a horse thief – in a more positive way.

And, yes, we will look at how to victoriously navigate the political and social issues of our time.

You are invited to write to me – edchinn@mac.com – to ask questions, share your own experiences or challenge what I've said. Perhaps our "conversation" will help all of us to gain new eyes.

When we're finished, you may not be able to see oil underground, but perhaps you will see the buried treasure lying just below the surface of your life.


The Power of Your Story

Some people love stories as long as they belong to someone else. They are simply too scandalized by their own life and heritage.

byEd Chinn

Many people consider Ernest Hemingway to be the gold standard for fiction. One of the distinctives of his writing is simple and clear prose. Friends, who knew how much he despised flabby and florid writing, once challenged him to write a story using only six words.

He accepted the challenge and wrote “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

If you have a pulse, those six words should stop you in your tracks. You have just been arrested by the power of story.

Producers and Curators

A story is a like a seed. It carries a power which is mysterious, potent and continuing. When it falls into the ground of a human mind, it takes on a life of its own. That’s why the classic stories – from “The Prodigal Son” to “Treasure Island” – have been told in every culture and time since their first telling.

It’s not even essential to fully understand the stories. Their power is not dependent on us anyway. Family stories should just be told well and often and, thereby, planted in the soil of family culture.

Eugene Peterson says “we live in a world impoverished of story; so it is not surprising that many of us have picked up the bad habit of extracting ‘truths’ from the stories we read: we summarize ‘principles’ that we can use in a variety of settings at our discretion; we distill a ‘moral’ that we can use as a slogan on a poster or as a motto on our desk.”[1]

I think part of what Peterson is telling us is: When it comes to stories, we have the choice to become either a producer or a curator. Producers clean the story up, polish it and shape it into something – a song, a play, a novel or a sermon – which will satisfy a market or a need. In other words, they turn it into a product. So, they extract or emphasize what will serve that purpose.

On the other hand, curators have a much greater depth of respect for the story and knowledge of its true value. They know the story is not a product. They also know it has no responsibility to us; we have a responsibility to it! Curators want to preserve it exactly as they found it. And, they care about its safety and survival.

So, for them, the challenge is to just find the right setting to display it. They are focused on passing it on intact to future generations.

I encourage everyone to respect their stories. Handle them carefully and lovingly. Don’t paint or polish them. Don’t turn them into outlines or sermon notes. Just as Jesus did, let them do their own work and deliver their own lessons.

What About Your Stories?

Some people love stories…as long as they belong to someone else. They are simply too scandalized by their own life and heritage. They may be totally ashamed of the family culture of alcoholism, gambling, debt, drugs, illicit sex or other transgressions.

But, we cannot choose our family stories anymore than we can choose our ancestors.

Our family stories carry the imprint of God’s destiny and love. When we back up and look at the whole panorama of our ancestors’ lives – including the sin and shame – we can often discover the threads of our life’s tapestry. We can see the shimmering cords of love and protection which run through our history.

For example, my maternal grandfather was a moonshiner. As a result of his clandestine career, he spent time with law enforcement officers and as a “guest” in their facilities. Naturally that was traumatizing to his family.

The whole family moved (suddenly and in the middle of the night) from Missouri to Kansas. The complete story of this quick relocation is murky, but apparently had something to do with Grandpa avoiding prosecution.

After they were settled in Kansas, their daughter, Mary, met a new friend. And that girl had an older brother named Jack. Eventually, Mary and Jack met. They were married in 1944. I was their first child.

So, a man fleeing the law is a crucial part of my biography. This story sure isn’t scandalous to me; I love it and celebrate it – I wouldn’t be here if grandpa hadn’t been “called” to the moonshine business (and quickly called to jump across the nearest state line).

Is it possible that God has a different view of family and heritage than we do? Could that be why the Bible contains some very nasty stories – like adultery and murder – in the lineage of Jesus?

Sometimes people allow shame or ignorance or even political correctness to “improve” or “air brush” family stories. But doing so can rob the story of its unique gift to the future. I know for a fact that “the real story” carries enormous power on future generations.

My grandpa’s story may have appeared as “sin” or “a crime” to those who were immediately impacted by it. But, over time and in the hands of a loving God, the story has become a prized family heirloom.

Keep Faith with the Story

I do not like most modern formulas for telling stories. They tend to be too cold, mechanical, rigid, controlling or product-driven. They focus on issues like the audience, the message you want to leave, what the storyteller wants the audience to do and the importance of having “a beginning, a middle and an end,” etc.

All of those may be fine, but they are “producer” issues.

A curator approaches a story differently:

  1.  Know the story.

    If there are audio or video tapes of the ancestral stories being told, watch or listen to them over and over. If you can find newspaper articles or other written records, make copies and read them over and over. And keep them in protected places.

    Ask the living participants to tell you the stories. Ask them again. Next year, ask them to tell it again. Listen to the way they tell it, watch what happens in their eyes and to their mouths when the story comes out. How has the story changed since you heard it last? Why did it change?

  2. Love the story.

    Even if the story contains details of darkness or corruption, try to see it from a higher vantage point. What was God accomplishing through that story? How was your own life assisted, improved or even made possible by that story?

    Love the whole story – honor God and your ancestors by learning to love it. Don’t react to the negative aspects of the story. Again, remember the genealogies recorded in the gospels. Apparently God didn’t flinch at any details of his own canonized family stories.

  3. Tell the story.

    Don’t tell the story you wish had happened or that contemporary society would prefer. And don’t tell a sermonized version. Keep faith with the real story. Moses told the story of the great father of faith – Abraham – offering his own wife, Sarah, sexually to Pharaoh. A religious mind might have expunged that from the “holy book.” But Moses kept faith with the story.

Your story is a conduit of the marvelous spiritual “estate” which flows down to you across the centuries. Protect it from the ravages of time and culture; tell it exactly as it was given to you.

Release its power to others in, and beyond, your own time.

Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@mac.com). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.




[1] Eugene H. Peterson, Eat This Book (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2006), p. 48


Career vs. Faith

Our concept of "career" is a fairly recent invention and is generally understood as a self-defined and directed investment.

byEd Chinn

I was born dead.

My mother was rushed to the hospital in labor and seriously ill. Her doctor told Dad that the baby, their first, was already dead and that Mom might not survive.

And, just as he predicted, after delivery a nurse came out and confirmed that I was indeed dead. The doctor quickly tossed me aside in order to save my mother's life. According to reliable witnesses, I was 20 minutes without breath. One attending nurse said that "something kept telling me to work with that baby." She did, even though Doctor Black ordered her to "leave that dead baby alone and help me with Mrs. Chinn."

Later, out in the waiting room, Dad heard a baby's cry. Knowing that his son was dead, he assumed another baby had just been born. No one has ever offered a clear explanation for how I, reportedly dead for 20 minutes, came back to life.

For much of my life, Ephesians 2:1 has carried a deep resonance for me. "As for you, you were dead . . ." (NIV) I grew up with a powerful awareness that my life did not belong to me.

How Do You See Your Lifework?

Any brush with death tends to give "new eyes" for viewing life. Many people who have passed through car wrecks, wars, serious illness or major surgeries have come out the other end with radically changed views of life. And, most people cannot stand at the grave of loved ones without facing the big issues.

In such mortality moments, one's lifework is one of the first issues to get reshuffled or redefined. After facing their own or a loved one's death, many people have walked away from lucrative professions in order to serve the poor, the oppressed, young people, terminal patients, those who are spiritually lost or confused or even animals.

Our concept of "career" is a fairly recent invention and is generally understood as a self-defined and directed investment of one's energies throughout the primary earning years. Webster's 1828 Dictionary carries no mention of career as a profession or lifework. But, it does present a word which covers "vocation; profession; trade; usual occupation or employment." That word is "calling."

Consider the enormous chasm between "calling" and "career." To view our profession or occupation as a calling suggests that Someone called us. Is it possible that the One who gave us life also gave us a purpose which predates and transcends our own life? Could that assignment be larger than me and my interests? What a soaring and majestic idea! I think that is a large part of what David contemplated in Psalm 8:

When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers,

The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained;

What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?

And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him?

Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God,

And dost crown him with glory and majesty!

Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands;

Thou hast put all things under his feet… (NASB)

The same One who created the expanse of the universe also "calls" us to work beside Him in caring for His creation. If we really "see" that, it might blow our socks off our feet and our head off our shoulders.

Compared to that panoramic call, the idea of "career" is miniscule and claustrophobic! We can work beside the Creator and Ruler of the universe…or we can make a lot of money, become famous, retire at 46, travel and spend money and "Time Magazine" will print our obituary. Now, let's see; which path should I take?

Our Pattern for Life on Earth

Why were you born?

That is probably the most compelling and relentless question in all of life. Through nothing that we did or deserved, we were each – literally – a one-in-a-million being. The odds of that sperm uniting with that egg were the longest shot "conceivable." Finally, after nine months of incubated growth and development, we were each pushed through a wondrous and mysterious canal into life, then nurtured and raised into maturity.

Why?

As a Christian, I must look at the perfect Model of my faith – Jesus – for what to do with that question. He, too, was squeezed out of a human womb and grew up in much the same way as everyone else. So, how did He, our Master and Model, "see" and respond to the "Why?"

The more we know anything, the easier and simpler we can say it. And, He answered the great "why" question in seven one-syllable words: "I have come to do Thy will." (Hebrews 10:9 NASB). That grand summary of His life on earth also applies to why every person was born and what they are to do with their time on earth.

Those who clearly "see" that issue may end up designing buildings or bridges, comforting the dying, inventing or refining new technologies, pastoring, creating wealth, writing songs, teaching, raising cattle, defending the powerless, farming the ground, enforcing laws or drilling for oil (others may do those same things, but from totally different motivations and objectives).

Some historical figures who seemed to connect with their calling were named Moses, Mary, Paul, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Churchill, Solzhenitsyn, Mother Teresa, and, sure, Peyton Manning (some would argue that Muhammad Ali also had a fine sense of calling: He said, "Grass grows, birds fly, waves pound the sand. I beat people up.").

Lift Up Your Eyes

The great issue of "eyesight" is more a matter of whom – rather than how or what – we see. Our surrounding culture insists that we see ourselves at the expense of all others. That was the underlying premise of television series "Seinfeld." Most Western cultures and countries are "Seinfeld Nation." They teach people to promote themselves and their comforts and obsessions even at the loss of civilization and the future.

Narcissism – the almost-erotic scrutiny and indulgence of one's personal comfort, appearance, preferences and pampering – constitutes the crisis of our times.

It cripples economies, governments, culture, education, health care, religion and every other area of life. Throughout most of history, adults knew that life was not about them. Today, most people gaze continually into their own reflection. And, they design careers for the purpose of magnifying their own reflection.

That kind of indulgence is as perverse as a snake swallowing its tail. Even a reasonable intelligence knows this cannot end well.

When the "Father of our faith," Abraham, became overwhelmed with life on earth, God told him "life up your eyes and look…" (Genesis 13:14). In other words, the answer would never be found in Abraham or anything in his environment. He had to go back to the source of his "calling." Up there.

In somewhat the same way, the author of Hebrews wrote that the only way to run the race assigned to us is to "fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith."

Lifting up our eyes – away from ourselves and our own surroundings – is the only way to find a new way of seeing and fulfilling our purpose on earth.


Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@mac.com). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


The Kingdom of God

Before we can treat someone as they should be, we have to see them as they should be.

byEd Chinn

In the book, "Same Kind of Different as Me," a wealthy and beautiful Texan named Deborah Hall is drawn into a magnificent obsession of helping Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth.

Her husband recalls that the first time they visited the rundown facility in a bad part of town, Deborah stopped him in the parking lot. "Ron, before we go in, I want to tell you something…I picture this place differently than it is now…No vagrants, no trash in the gutters, just a beautiful place where these people can know God loves them…"

Deborah went on to tell Ron that she saw the place in a dream, "I saw this place changed. It was beautiful…with the flowers and everything. It was crystal clear, like I was standing right here and it was the future already."[1]

What Do You See?

"What do you see?" is one of life's greatest questions. It hangs in the atmosphere every time you look at your spouse, any family member or friend, your church, your community or any other entity in your orbits of life and activity.

Goethe famously said, "If you treat a man as he is, he will remain what he is. If you treat him as he should be, he will become what he should be." Obviously, before we can treat someone as they should be, we have to see them as they should be. We have to see past all the externals – skin, hair, clothing, language, body shape, sounds, odors and attitudes. All those features have been picked up on their journey. Like the dust and smells of the road, these weary travelers have picked up things which strike the five senses. But if we get distracted by them, we will not see who they really are.

This even applies to those whom we have known long and well. It is too easy to see your own children primarily by their choices of music, friends, body piercings, speech patterns, etc. And, too many men and women have exhausted views of their spouses.

It is too easy for us to see our community according to the existing socio-economic boundaries. We speak of places like "that public housing project," "south of the tracks," "those gated communities out by the lake" or "skid row" as though they are fixed assignments.

But in the story above, Deborah Hall didn't see with her eyes. She saw past economic determinism to see God's plans for the neighborhood. She was operating in "the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1).

That is a choice we all have when we gaze at anything or anyone on earth. We can see what exists now or we can see through the eyes of faith. We can see the inevitable results of human effort or we can see God's new world which is (and has long been) coming toward us (Revelation 21).

River of Illusions

Throughout all of human history and in every civilization, the centers of power have always had vested interests in controlling what people see. And, that means that they create and maintain strong illusions.

For example, the news industry (TV, radio, print, and Internet news outlets) foster illusions of chaos ("Is Your Identity Safe? Be sure to watch our special report at 10:00"). The imagery of breakdown drives viewers to rely on the news media for pathways to safety. All political parties exploit (or create) impressions of vanishing or endangered natural resources -- like clean water and air, healthy food, and safe communities -- in order to deliver votes. And, the "sexuality industry" has a vested interest in helping people to see threats to their freedom, the horrors of women being slaughtered in "back alleys," and even the normal slowing of male virility as reversible. That way of seeing is essential to the billions of dollars spent annually on abortion, ED drugs, new insemination procedures, etc.

In their recent book, Common Ground, Bob Beckel and Cal Thomas argue that very strong interests are also heavily invested in an illusion of polarization. They write, ". . . conflict sells, and if harmony broke out, newspaper sales would drop and ratings, especially on cable TV, would decline sharply. . . "The extremists on both sides need each other. If one side were to win, the other would go out of business." [2]

As Americans move into the final weeks of any presidential campaign, the illusion of polarization will rise to flood stage. We are all taught to see the other ideas, agendas, movements, leaders as the personification of evil. And, that keeps us from "seeing" the world according to God's "plans for the neighborhood."

In other words, when we ingest attitudes and perspectives from the power centers, it becomes very easy to believe that conflict and chaos are the natural and inevitable state of the universe.

Sprinklers and Thunderstorms

Several years ago, in the midst of a hot and dry summer, I worked very hard one afternoon to get our lawn watered. I jerked hoses and oscillating sprinklers around the yard, trying to get just the right coverage.

Just as I was sure I had finally achieved maximum efficiency, I would see water splashing across a twelve-inch band of driveway or sidewalk. So, I'd finesse the hose a little more to avoid wasting any water.

A few minutes later, I was upstairs in our home when I heard a great boom of thunder. Very quickly, the rain started. I ran to the window and gazed out over the yard and neighborhood. What I saw was a revelation . . . water poured from the sky onto roofs, streets, driveways, cars and sidewalks. In an extravagant waste, water was cascading into our cul-de-sac and down our broad and long asphalt driveway.

Apparently, God "sees" the world much different than I do and He is far more generous than I am.

In Matthew 5:44-45, Jesus said:

". . .love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

These are some of the most radical words ever spoken. Jesus invited all of us to come up higher, away from the suffocating claustrophobia of polarization, chaos and conflict. He invites everyone into the fresh, wide-open breezes of His plans for earth.

Every day of our life, God sends dazzling demonstrations of his generous attitude. He causes sunlight to spill, splash and surge full and luxuriously across the entire earth. He orders rain to go out and water crops, increase water tables and clean the atmosphere for everybody! Incredibly, He does it without apparent regard for the values or belief systems of those needing sunshine or rain.

That is why we can step out into the sun or rain each morning and see it as an example of God's attitude toward our family, neighbors, community and the earth. That should release us to live in "the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen" for everything which we touch, taste, smell, hear and see every day.


Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@mac.com). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.



[1] Ron Hall and Denver Moore, Same Kind of Different as Me (Nashville; Thomas Nelson, 2006) p. 83

[2] Cal Thomas and Bob Beckel, Common Ground (William Morrow; New York, NY; 2007) p. 69 & 81.


Viewing Relationships Through New Eyes

The raging narcissism in American society tends to see every human as property. The prevailing cultural view teaches me to measure every person according to their value or their threat to me.

byEd Chinn

One of the reasons abortion is such a grinding and horrendous offence is the issue of ownership. The “right to choose” assumes that one person owns another and, therefore, has the authority to make choices about that person’s life. We can even kill them if they get too burdensome, sick or inconvenient.

In fact, the raging narcissism in American society tends to see every human as property. The prevailing cultural view teaches me to measure every person according to their value or their threat to me. That view leads men to view woman as sexual objects, business executives to see employees as units of production, pastors to consider visitors as potential members, teenagers to look at their parents as cops, etc. Of course, those perspectives are not universally true. But our reduction of people to mere extensions of our self-interest has grossly perverted the way we see human beings.

Who Are These People?

One evening in 1988, when our children ranged from 15- to 21-one years olds, we pulled off I-30 in Texarkana to eat dinner. As we sat at the table, for some reason I suddenly saw my children unlike I had ever seen them before. It was almost like an out-of-body experience. As they and their mother ate, talked and laughed together, I gazed at Eddie, Paul and Amy with brand-new eyes.

In that restaurant, I was consumed by a question: “Who are these people?” In that moment, I did not see them as “my” kids. Rather, I saw them as fully-formed children of God. And I wondered what He had in mind when He created them. What did He see in their future? How was He preparing them for life? Was He asking something of me in relationship to that?

I have admittedly slipped back into my “old eyes” from time to time, but I’ve never really seen them the same way again. From that night, I became acutely aware of the fact that they belonged to God before I ever knew them. He was their Father before I was. And He would always be their Father whether I was around or not.

Seeing them that way brought me to a new level of respect for them and for their personal relationship to the Lord. I clearly saw that some things about Eddie, Paul and Amy were simply none of my business. I had no right to treat them as my possessions. Their value had almost nothing to do with what they could do for me.

All of that came back to me in a fresh way recently when Joanne passed through a harrowing health crisis. God and circumstances revealed that I once again needed “new eyes” for viewing my family.

After trying and failing to register concerns with me, our children contacted our pastor to ask for his help. This time, the issue was not how I viewed them, but that I was seeing Joanne as my wife and not as their mother. These adults, in their 30s and 40s, had full rights to be included in the steps and decisions faced in Joanne’s journey. Her role as their mother deserved more consideration than I was extending.

My mind had slipped into an unconscious assumption that Joanne was my wife before they were born and, although we were very close to them and their spouses and children, we had a life apart from them. So, Joanne and I – mainly I – made decisions about treatment options, hospital and financial details and support systems without consulting them.

Yes, I changed again. I’ve wondered how often my eyesight will need further adjustments in the future!

Buttons

The great Bible scholar and preacher Ern Baxter once said life is best lived in the same way we button a shirt. If you get the top button in the right place, all the others will follow very naturally. But, if you get the top button in the wrong hole, none of the others will find their right place.

God is the first button. When we relate to Him properly, all human relationships fall in place.

That means that the way I view my wife, our children, extended family, neighbors, coworkers and people in the community must start with their Creator. I have no right to view them for their value or their threat to me. He created them and has placed them in society and relationships as it pleases Him. So, I first have to deal with Him. He takes His own very personally and very seriously (even if His own are also known as “my” wife, child, brother, mother, neighbor, etc.). My respect of Him orders the way I think about and treat them.

Respect

Years ago, an African-American friend gave me a life-altering “eye exam.” In a moment of deep and difficult candor, he said, “White people are obsessed with understanding black people. But, as a black man, I want your respect. And, I don’t care if you ever understand me.”

When I heard his words, I realized that he spoke for every human on the planet. People must know that they are respected. If our respect is continent on understanding and agreement, then we are only giving conditional approval. But, that is not respect. In fact, it is profoundly disrespectful of their Creator.

Much political debate seems to revolve around the issue of “change.” More specifically, it comes down to the tension between love (or patriotism) and change. For example, do we love the planet or do we want to change it? Do we love America or do we want to “improve” her? Do we appreciate and admire the military or do we feel the need to “modernize” its mission so that it conforms to our philosophy? Do we love people the way they are or do they need to be changed? The list goes on.

Some of that debate probably reflects the end of an era. But some of it reflects a lack of respect for God. Some assume that they “see” better than He does. Therefore, they believe they have a better understanding of how to manage a planet or a country than He does. What stunning “audacity!”

We all have a choice: we can love people or we can try to change them. When humans work at changing people, the result is inevitably dehumanizing. Whether the changers are motivated by sales, sex or religion, the message comes through loud and clear: My respect requires you to change.

Like so much in life, what and how we “see” is a primary issue. When men see women as God’s daughters, they make the very wise decision to respect and not seduce them. When employers see their workers as children of the Lord, they refuse to exploit them. When religious leaders see people as belonging to the Lord, they see them as far more than their mere giving potential.

Every relationship is a gift from God. We can receive and cherish and enjoy them. But, the only way to do that is to see – and never forget – that they are His, not ours.

Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@mac.com). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.


Walking Through Life With New Eyes

When I read the stories of Jesus' life on earth, He so often comes across as walking in clear and simple vision.

byEd Chinn

We live in very complicated times. Our brains are bombarded by data, opinions, viewpoints and images.

The enormous volume of details and the various patterns of information tend to prevent us from just walking through life with a straight-ahead simplicity. But when I read the stories of Jesus’ life on earth, He so often comes across as walking in clear and simple vision.

That uncluttered view seems key to His stopping to help the “earthlings” with their problems.

Modern life is a screaming centrifuge; it spins us away from a quiet and peaceful center. I’ve so often noticed that many people are simply not here…in this moment. They are already into next week, or they are talking to someone in Tokyo, or teleconferencing or buried inside their Blackberry. But, they are not engaged in present reality.

Because of these factors, we are sometimes unable to really see the people and situations right in front of our eyes. Do you think it is possible to return to a way of life which would allow us to see again?

A Farm in France

In 1944, a Kansas, farm-raised pilot named Dale Dieterich flew his bomber across German-occupied France on a routine mission. Gazing at the farms passing below, he suddenly noticed a lone tree in the middle of a plowed field. Strangely, all the rows of plowed earth were straight. Anyone familiar with farming would know the tractor turns around the tree would produce a “bend” in the lines.

He nosed his bomber into a gentle dive and dropped a bomb on the tree. The terrific explosion revealed that Dieterich had blown up a camouflaged ammunition depot. The story was told in various publications at the time.

Obviously, there is seeing and then there is…seeing. The actual physical process of sight is only a small part of how we see. For Dale Dieterich, what he “saw” in the field below passed through the filters of his Kansas farm life experience. His knowledge of farming caused him to see the field in a way that a Brooklyn-born pilot probably would not have.

A botanist sees layers of veiled wonder in a leaf. A structural engineer perceives deep mysteries in a spider web. Have you ever wondered what a lawyer knows about you from the way you make eye contact, shake hands and sit?

Many years ago (in simpler times), a small town banker told me, “When a man asks me for a loan, I tell him I’ll get back to him. Then, I drive by his place; I can tell if he’s a good risk just by looking at his home and his land.” Do you think that banker may have seen the property differently than you would?

I often remind myself that what I see is extremely limited and myopic. Because of the limitations of my own “filters,” I simply do not see the whole story. If we could remember that, do you think we might listen and learn more and be a little slower to act or speak?

What do you see in your relationships?

A few months ago, I read the news story about Adnan and Sana Klaric’s marriage. This Bosnian couple had apparently hit some major disappointment in marriage. So, unbeknown to the other, they each sought relief by going online to indulge in a very secretive, but only “virtual,” affair. Soon, however, the river of their passion surged over the banks of cyberspace. Each agreed to meet his/her secret lover in person.

Incredibly, when Sana and Adnan arrived for their “date,” they found their mysterious amorous partner was . . . Adnan and Sana. Adnan said, “I still find it hard to believe that Sweetie (Sana’s online name), who wrote such wonderful things, is actually the same woman I married and who has not said a nice word to me for years.”

According to the report, they are divorcing.

Obviously, they didn’t see their online connection as a confirmation of what they originally saw in each other. The moment of their face-to-face meeting could have been a revelation; they could have seen that the one they each fell in love with was still “in there.”

Do you think the man or woman you first loved 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago could still be buried deep inside? Are the bundles of secrets and possibilities still shimmering below the surface? Do you remember the beautiful depths of laughter, intelligence, sensuality and spirit that first drew you to him or her?

Could you find the “new eyes” necessary for a journey of rediscovery? Does this also apply to the other family and friend relationships in your life?

How do you view your Health?

Most of us are probably too obsessive about our physical health. After all, our culture bombards us with sensual images of youth, steel muscles, perfect skin and voluptuous female forms.

But, there are deeper springs of real life.

The late former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said, “Getting cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.” He explained that it brought him closer to his wife and children and the preciousness of each day. I think Tony Snow could see more clearly than many of us do.

Much of what we see and value about physical wellbeing flows from our cultural images of health and beauty. But, do you think perhaps God sees human health in a different way? To Him, train wrecks, Alzheimer’s, disgrace, jail and even death can be display windows which reveal the sheer brilliance of His creativity, redemption, love and grace.

In his classic poem “If,” Rudyard Kipling wrote,

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same…

So much of what we define as “success” or “failure” is an imposter. In the larger scope of life, the crises are generally what give us a better, fuller and even more interesting life. And, what we describe as “success” is very often just raging consumerism.

How do you see your environment?

We are all spiritual beings, living for a while on earth. So, I’m always fascinated by how people, institutions and communities relate to their actual earth space.

So, I found the story of Cornerstone Church in Simi Valley, Calif. to be riveting.

Like many churches, they filled up their existing space and made plans to expand. But, unlike many churches, their blueprints “include no foyer space or coffee bars, no windows or doors and no walls or roof.” They are building a massive outdoor amphitheater.[1]

Incredibly, a church will be doing what Jesus did: preaching to thousands of people scattered over the ground.

How did they “see” that?

Today’s architectural and religious assumptions would naturally ignore the 2000-year-old pattern of Christ. We just assume we must have eye-catching design, future technologies and environmentally-safe and earthquake-resistant construction. But, here was a church which “saw” through the illusions and returned to a more pure and simple relationship to their space.

Their unique vision also extends to the poor. Because they are building in this way, they plan to invest heavily in the people and needs of their community.
                                      

Many scientists believe technology and stress are changing the way we walk through life. What if we unplugged from the “time savers” and “improvements?” What if we backed up, took a deep breath, and walked a little slower through life? Do you think we might begin to see with new eyes?

Next, let’s consider the way we see government and politics.


Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@mac.com). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.



[1] Mark Bergin, “Sermons in the Sun,” World Magazine (July 26/August 2, 2008) p. 35


Politics and Government

New Eyes Series

Politics & Government

The city council of a Midwestern town announced the date for the long-awaited and controversial meeting. The council would consider the constitutionality of beginning its sessions with prayer. When that night arrived, the chamber was packed with politically-active Christians.

After the loud and spirited debate, the council moved on to other issues: parks, schools, street repairs and benevolent programs. Immediately, there was a thundering stampede for the exits. The obvious conclusion: many Christians are interested in religious symbolism, but not the hard work of building community.

Few issues reveal our “eye sight” like government and politics. Everything we do flows from the way we see authority.

Which Government Do You See?

When the Bible speaks of the “kingdom” of God, it means the realm of God’s authority; “kingdom” is a synonym for “government.”

Because many Christians are so focused on civil government, they completely miss the greater power and reach of God’s dominion. That causes them to walk in a sense of overwrought responsibility. And, that leads to fear, anger and antagonism toward perceived threats.

That is simply not a biblical posture.

Consider the story of a Syrian king’s attempt to capture Elisha (whom he obviously regarded as a representative of God’s government). One morning at dawn, Elisha’s servant walked outside and saw that their camp was completely encircled by the Syrian army. Clearly disturbed and afraid, he quickly woke Elisha with this alarming news.

The old prophet rolled over and essentially said to the young man, “So what? Our army is larger and stronger than theirs.” And, then Elisha (probably as he turned to go back to sleep) said to God, “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see.” Instantly, the servant saw that the surrounding mountains were full of awesome military forces – made of flames![1]

That blazing army was very real and it had been there the whole time. It was not a convenient apparition. Perhaps Elisha saw it often. At the very least, he knew that God’s government was infinitely larger and more powerful than any political realm on earth.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, Paul referred to Jesus being revealed with his fiery angels. What does it tell you about God’s government that the personnel and hardware components of His military are, apparently, in continuous fireball?

Beyond Reaction

Elisha walked in the clear confidence of superior strength. When we really “see” the reality of God’s boundless authority, we will walk on the earth in strength and courage – not arrogance or audacity – toward all the lesser realms.

But, when we feel threatened by political power centers and social issues, we become reactionary and dangerously antagonistic. Many fall in battle simply because of their pointless hostility and foolish aggression.

Again, consider the saga of Elisha and the Syrian army. After wisely gaining the military advantage, he dealt gently with the soldiers themselves. He also spared their lives and released them to go back to their own king and country.

Because he could clearly “see” the competing realms of authority and their respective strengths, he was free to think rationally and objectively (even ignoring the famous precedents for killing everyone).

Elisha seemed more interested in building long-term stability and peace of Israel than he was in striking a reactionary blow “for God.”

When we see a God too small, we see a world too threatening. Conversely, great strength and confidence release great grace.

Builders and Destroyers

The ancient prophet Zechariah once described a struggle between the “horns” and the “craftsmen.”[2] The horns (think: wild bulls) snort, ripple their muscles and paw the ground. They bellow and impale victims on their horns and toss them around. Their purpose is simply to terrify, disrupt and scatter.

The bulls are subdued, not by bigger bulls and not by matadors, but by craftsmen. These artisans, perhaps carpenters, eventually drive the bulls away through the quiet and steady rhythms of wisdom and excellence; quality trumps decibels and commotion.

Zechariah could see the sound and fury which agitate and destabilize society as well as the consistent, often unnoticed, craftsmanship which forges community.

Let me be clear: I believe Christian believers should work for the issues, the causes and even the political races which they care about.

But, that work should be carried out in confidence in God and grace toward all. People are not our enemies. When I worked in Washington, D.C., I knew several Democrats and Republicans who were deeply committed Christians. They could passionately argue their positions in the Senate and House chambers (sometimes even against each other), and then get together with those same “adversaries” for meals, ball games and Bible studies.

Shouldn’t we all work to maintain that kind of integrity and peace with everyone? Should that include those who stand in opposition to what we believe?

Sadly, too much of Christian culture is now just another corral of “horns” in our very polarized and raucous society. Christians are so often reduced to gaudy and loud components of the combat which is so riveting on television (that’s why football and other sports work so well on TV). Media reps call Christian leaders for statements or interviews and they fall right into their framework, their technology and their marketing strategy.

Yes, of course, Christian values are threatened today. And, yes, we should be courageous in standing for what we cherish. But, perhaps the best response to the encroachment is not anger and reaction, but rather serious and long-term craftsmanship.

After all, the prophet Isaiah said of the coming Christ, “He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.[3]

How Do You See Politics?

What do you see in, assume about and expect from politics?

Do you believe political parties are mills of truth? Can righteousness be enforced through government and politics? Should we enter political battles in order to protect God?

Politics has never been about truth or righteousness; it is about compromise and consensus. At best, it is only the means by which conflicting positions are zippered into some kind of governmental policy or process.

For that reason, shouldn’t our investment in political action be carried out with our eyes on the prize of our higher and nobler calling?

The more we clearly see the real issues and the real power, the more we will be free to walk through politics and government as “secret agents” of another government. We will come into a better understanding of our job as “equal opportunity subversives” – helping men and women, young and old, liberals and conservatives, capitalists and communists and members of every “tribe, tongue, people, and nation”[4] to find joyful sanctuary in God’s government.

If we can get our vision corrected, then we can pass through the great churning debates of our time with a compelling and majestic mission of reconciliation.

Life's higher call always precede and outlast politics.

We can all respond to the call – even in the midst of presidential campaigns.


Ed Chinn is an organizational consultant and freelance writer from Fort Worth, Texas (edchinn@mac.com). His work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Washington Post, OpinionJournal.com, and the Fort Worth Star Telegram.



[1] II Kings 6: 8 - 23

[2] Zechariah 1: 18 - 21

[3] Isaiah 42:2

[4] Revelation 5:9