Saturday, January 23, 2016

The view through the wrong end of the spyglass

main road that runs right through the middle of Microsoft campus is a busy, congested area. People are usually in a hurry to get somewhere else, and they don't have much patience for pedestrians, cyclists, or drivers who don't act the way they expect. So I do understand why the driver behind me got hugely exasperated when, one afternoon in early spring, I inexplicably slowed and then stopped my car on the road. He yelled, honked aggressively, then swerved around me to pass on the left -- and only then could he see the mother duck and the long line of ducklings crossing the road in front of my car. He too came to a stop to let the ducklings cross, waving a sheepish apology in my direction. I didn't blame him for his actions; how could he know, from his vantage point, why I had stopped the car?

A few years ago we had a houseguest who came to church with us. During the administration of the Sacrament (aka the Lord's Supper), the deacons -- boys ages 12-13 who pass the Sacrament bread and water to the congregation as part of their priesthood duties -- usually go through the chapel in an orderly fashion, pew by pew, making sure every member has an opportunity to partake. However, our guest became visibly perplexed as he watched one particular deacon wander around the chapel, apparently giving his tray of Sacrament bread to people totally at random. After the meeting, our guest discreetly asked us about it, wanting to know if this boy was mentally askew or something. And we started giggling, because we knew that particular deacon's responsibility was to seek out people in our congregation with celiac disease -- there are several -- and bring them the tray containing pieces of gluten-free Sacrament bread. Since they don't all sit together, nor do they always sit in the same place, he has to wander around the chapel looking for people until he's found everyone who needs him. His actions had never seemed strange to us, because we knew what he was doing and why.

Last Sunday I attended the first meeting of a local interfaith group called Standing Together, composed of Christians, Jews, Muslims and anyone else with an interest in how religious belief works in modern life. There was a panel discussion about democratic values and what constituted righteous actions among the major religions. In the small group discussions that followed, someone brought up a question that's being asked with increasing frequency in the United States: if Muslims believe in peace and justice and living in harmony with their non-Muslim neighbors, why do they not speak out against their extremist co-religionists who engage in acts of terrorism? And someone in our small group, a Muslim woman from Montana, replied softly but emphatically, "But we do speak out against them. All the time. It's just that the media has no interest in reporting on that."

I can't speak for anyone else, but I've reached the conclusion that I see the world around me imperfectly -- whether it's through the tiny peephole of my own limited experiences, or because I've been encouraged to view it through the wrong end of the spyglass by someone looking to push an agenda. And at least for me, the only cure for this pinhole myopia is triangulation -- making an active effort to see things from at least one more angle by talking and listening to people who see the world differently. I may not always agree with their views, but the process helps me discover the route they took to get there, and that gives me reasons to think a little more deeply about what I believe and why.

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