Part 1 – Bad Vision
One of the wonderful perks of teaching at a boarding school, besides the lads themselves, is that said lads must go home from time to time, occasionally for gloriously extended periods, usually a few days after we’ve both hit each others’ last nerve.
Finding myself with a boatload of quiet and too much of March to manage, the weather broke clear on Saturday: a decidedly good day to see what Cardigan looked like after the latest nor’easter.
I seemed to be the only one not wearing snowshoes, and the reason soon became clear. The trail, though lightly tread, had not caught up with the dumps and flurries of the previous few days and was not packed down.
Walking in microspikes was work.
I had forgotten my contacts at my non-Cardigan residence, so I had decided to wear my old pair of glasses, the wobbly ones held together by packing tape.
Hiking in glasses can sometimes be a challenge, and this day was no different. The combination of the crisp air and my sweaty forehead fogged the lenses until, weary of taking them off every few minutes to clear away the condensation, I finally gave up and stowed them in my pocket.
It was as if the world contracted to the small square of real estate around my feet. I could sweat with abandon, stare at the snow under my boots, see only the things I might reach out and touch with a trekking pole.
I think sometimes it is hard not to see the world this way.
I know I would like to think that I try to picture what it might be like for another person, their situation, their perspective, but the truth is, my hallowed little halo is home and it’s hard to envision otherwise.
Jesus warned of this danger.
The Pharisees, those ancient goody two-shoes, thought that because they studied and kept the law, their spiritual vision was 20-20. But Jesus saw their pride and selfishness when they could not see it themselves; in fact, He often saved his most scathing words for those who should have known better, but had such trouble seeing.
Hypocrites! Brood of vipers! Whitewashed tombs! Mt. 23:13-37 Mt. 12:33-37
What must they have thought to be called out so publicly?
Jesus exhorts us to love our neighbor as ourselves, Mk. 12:30-31 to bear one another’s burdens. Gal. 6:1-2
This was the story of the Good Samaritan.
Jesus asked the people who had just heard Him tell a story of a man beaten by robbers, ignored by the first two passers-by, then saved by a dreaded Samaritan: “Who was the injured man’s neighbor?” Of course, all who hear this story now are unable to respond with anything but “The one who had mercy on him.” Lk. 10:25-37
So what was it about the two men who crossed the road to avoid helping the injured man? One was a priest, the other a Levite, religious agents who ought to have known better.
Was it that they could not SEE him as their neighbor?
Was it simply a case of bad vision?
Part 2 – Bad Dog
There were many people on the mountain that day, although honestly I couldn’t see any of them very well.
After reaching the summit and helping two fellows who had gotten turned around and were heading down the wrong trail, I took photos until my phone froze and started back down myself.
As I was humming along – downhill is so much easier – a dog came bounding up the trail.
The man running behind him called out “He’s friendly” just as the canine leapt on me with muddy paws and nipped my arm.
“He just likes to jump,” the man yelled as he ran toward us.
“But I don’t like to be jumped on,” I grumbled, moving aside to let him pass.
Could it be that our singular definitions of “friendly” did not align? It appeared to be so as he glowered at me and huffed up the hill.
But there it was again: another case of bad vision.
Part 3 – Bad Neighbor
Because the snow was so thick on the mountain that morning, one thing I noticed was the contrast in color between the orange blazes and the muted whites and greys of the surrounding world.
Hard to get lost on a trail marked so clearly.
And yet, this week I wandered off course and discovered a blind spot in my recent behavior that caused injury to another.
Social media can be a dangerous platform, and I had used it in a way that neither lifted this person’s burden nor demonstrated loving another as myself.
Repentance sometimes gets a bad rap in today’s feel-good society.
And yet, I was wrecked by the depth of my own inner bad-neighborly-ness, the utter cold black of my pulpy heart, because here is my confession: I knew what I was doing, but I did it anyway.
I lied to myself about motive, but really I had acted like a modern day Pharisee, an unmerciful Levite, the owner of a bad dog.
Listen to this stunning promise: If we boast that we have no sin, we’re only fooling ourselves and are strangers to the truth. But if we freely admit our sins when his light uncovers them, he will be faithful to forgive us every time. God is just to forgive us our sins because of Christ, and he will continue to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)
I’m here to tell you it’s messy work.
It’s hard to find your way back when you’ve stumbled off the right trail, especially if you try to do it in your own strength.
Jesus knew this.
When His disciples asked Him to teach them how to pray, He challenged them to ask the Father: Forgive our sins as we ourselves release forgiveness to those who have wronged us. And rescue us every time we face tribulations. (Luke 11:4)
Repentance is just a fancy word that means “to turn around” or “to face a new direction.”
Just like those two men heading down the wrong trail, we can turn around, I can, and get back on track, but we must be willing to offer the same unconditional forgiveness that we ask for ourselves.
But I’m thankful for the bright orange signposts of His word, thankful for how it helps us to see, thankful that it’s never too late.
Another storm is on its way.
There have been so many.
Remove my broken glasses, Father, and help me to see.