Sermon for Sunday, June 13, 2021 || Proper 6B || 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10,14-17
In the two years since my sabbatical, I’ve thought a lot about the concept of perspective. Whose stories have I added to my own to widen my perspective of the world? What sources do I trust to provide me with information to deepen my awareness? How often do I encounter points of view that differ from mine and allow them to challenge and expand me?
In two of our readings today, we see that part of the life of faith is the capacity to change our points of few. About Jesse’s eldest son, God says to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” And Paul speaks about being caught up in the life of Christ: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.”
The life of faith propels us to stretch our points of view and to find ourselves in God’s ever-expansive perspective. This runs counter to the ways of the world, which teach us to hold tight to viewpoints until those viewpoints become hardwired into our identities, warping us around them. Our self worth becomes wholly tied to the points of view with which we armor ourselves. Thus we defend our narrow perspectives at all costs instead of trying to expand them. When we allow the armor of our points of view to define us completely, there is no room for expansion. Without room for expansion, how will we grow? We’ll be like potted plants that have outgrown their confines and have nowhere for their roots to dig.
After nearly twenty straight years of school from elementary through my graduate program, I spent several years not really gaining any new input. I didn’t read much besides fluff, and after a while, I realized my knowledge was getting stale. I was running over all the same tracks in my mind, never blazing any new trails. So I began reading again, and soon my brain started coming back to life. In recent years, my reading has taken me down so many tracks that I had never before considered. Sometimes the cognitive dissonance I felt reading about experiences so different from mine physically hurt – but it was the good kind of hurt, like after a vigorous workout. With each new book, each new conversation, each new encounter, I could see my perspective growing. I tried to let go of the unexamined truths to which I clung, and with my hands open I could now grasp deeper truths that were not new, but were new to me.
We can train ourselves to be open to new points of view. There are myriad ways to gain the capacity to enlarge our perspectives. We can read and study like I just mentioned. We can expose ourselves to different cultures through travel and film. We can begin a contemplative practice that quiets us down and allows our inner space to grow more expansive. No matter how we go about expanding our points of view, such work is part of the life of faith, and we are walking the way of Jesus as we do it.
I’d like to share one practice with you this morning. I know writing isn’t for everyone, but I’m still going to invite you to try it. Many of you know that I’m a novelist. There are many difficult parts of the novel-writing process: moving from premise to plot, writing both something and about something, and of course, the middle. The middle third of a novel is so hard to write. Those items are all big, broad strokes that you have to keep in mind during the writing process. But they don’t necessarily live at the top of your brain in the moment by moment activity of putting words on the page. You know what does?
Point of view. Perspective.
My novels all have multiple “POV characters” (point of view characters); that is, characters through whom the reader lives the story. Chapter by chapter, section by section, the point of view (POV) shifts from one character to the next and back again. Because I have chosen to tell my stories in this manner, I am constrained by what the POV character knows and does not know. Also, POV characters need to have enough personality and distinctiveness that the reader knows which one the narrator is with at any given moment.
Writing in this manner allows me to explore the perspectives of many characters throughout each novel. In my second fantasy novel, The Halfling Contagion (which is about a pandemic (I wrote it in 2017)), the villain is one of the POV characters. Writing him was a real challenge, but one I savored because I got to know him. I had to understand him or else he would have been a pretty wooden bad guy.
Writing several POV characters in a single novel is great practice for holding multiple perspectives in tension within myself. If my characters can view an event from multiple angles, then I should be able to, as well. My novel writing, then, is practice for the life skill of expanding my own perspective by encountering those of others.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, I’d encourage you to give it a try. Not a whole novel – just write a scene between two characters. Write it twice, once from each perspective, and see how this practice trains you to hold multiple points of view in creative tension. Write both sides of a couple’s standard fight. Write how fans of both sports teams are watching a game. Think back to a Christmas morning in your childhood and write about it from the points of view of everyone present. This is a rich exercise that I commend to you.
I am convinced that one of the secrets to a meaningful life is seeking out perspectives that are different from our own and learning from them. Such a practice leads to personal growth, empathy for people once considered the “other,” and a more peaceful and just society. As you interrogate your own experience, take note of the standard sources of your knowledge. What perspectives are missing? What can you read, what can you watch, who can you talk to in order to expand your point of view?
Once you begin engaging this work, your brain and your heart will hurt from time to time. These are growing pains. Don’t let your cognitive dissonance propel you back into the ignorance of willful narrowness. Rather, push through to the expansive vista of greater perspective on the other side. This is the work of the life of faith because, as we follow Jesus, God invites us deeper and deeper into God’s way of seeing things. And God’s perspective is the most expansive one of all.