Much to be learned from different perspectives

Published 1:28 am Saturday, September 17, 2016



This past Tuesday, I met with our women’s organization for the Bible Study. The offer me the privilege of leading the first and last lesson of each year’s study. I am grateful for the opportunity to be with them, but do not want to overstay my welcome by leading more lessons than those. The inadvertent outcome of teaching more than that would be the silencing of other voices and perspectives. We are enriched by listening to more than one person speaking.

Which is a bit of what their study is about. They are taking a look at Jesus from the perspective of the gospels, other New Testament writings, and from writings that stand outside the world of Christian scripture.

As I was preparing for and leading the study, I was reminded by the study’s author of how easy it is to convince ourselves that we know everything there is to know about a topic; and how important it is to step back from time to time and remember we don’t know everything and can benefit from someone else’s perspective and insight.

I told them about a story I had read in the last few years about a mountain climbing guide. The guide had lived his entire life near a mountain and had spent much of his life guiding people as they climbed the mountain. When he set out with some climbers one day, he realized that they were taking a route that would bring them to the far side of the mountain. When they arrived at the starting point of the climb, he stood and stared at the face of the mountain with a look of wonder in his eyes.

They climbers asked the guide why he was standing there so noticeably awestruck by what he was seeing. They figured the mountain was old news to him.

The guide told them that while he had lived in the presence of the mountain his whole life, he had never seen it from the side now in front of him.

I find that a helpful lesson about the importance of not taking for granted the possibility that God may speak to us in new and exciting and refreshing ways each time we come to the study of scripture. The trick is to look at it as if we have never seen it before and let God’s Word speak to us afresh.

The late singer and songwriter Harry Chapin had a song about a little boy in art class. The teacher told the class to draw pictures of flowers. So he began to draw flowers all over the page using every color he could find in his box of markers.

When the teacher saw his work, she was aghast and told him to start over because “flowers are red, young man, and green leaves are green; there’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have been seen.”

Well, if you know the music of Harry Chapin, you know the teacher manages to drum the creativity out of the boy until he draws flowers in neat little rows, with green stems and red blooms. But you also know that the little boy eventually meets a new art teacher who shares the perspective the boy had before his creative spirit was squelched. And she said to the little boy, “There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in the flowers, let’s use every one.”

When we can only see what we have always seen, or been told we should see, we often miss what is really out there. Learning to see anew is a delicate task, but an essential one for a living faith.


Bob Madsen is pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Andalusia.