A Clear Vision
There aren’t many things I remember from individual college lectures. There are even a few classes I barely remember taking. And while they all helped me grow in learning how to think critically, some of them impacted me more than others.
The class where Dr. Jack Presseau took us on a field trip to the funeral home so we could be prepared for ministry in that setting was creepy but invaluable. Because of that experience, I believe I am better equipped to help families navigate that time when often they are too numb or too distraught, and for that I am grateful. And the day spent there still makes a great story to this day!
Dr. Prater recognizing I had a learning disability and helping me get accommodations so I could learn and thrive as a student will never be forgotten. He spent time with me to be sure I knew I could be a great writer if I took the time to work and understand how my brain worked. He also said Einstein had a learning disability – and while I am certainly no Einstein, his words gave me hope. Between the skills I learned from PC, a proofreader I found (who later became my wife), and the advent of spelling and grammar check, I earned a degree from PC and a couple more after that.
There are other things that come to mind but what was hands down the best single lecture I ever heard in a classroom setting was from Dr. David Gillespie in Neville Hall in the Fall of 1992. The topic was the need for political parties and organizations and nations and faiths to have vision. He continually referenced the Old Testament—especially the words from Proverbs: “Where there is no vision the people perish.”
Within the first five minutes, I set down my pencil and became lost in the moment. I was mesmerized. It was something between a coach’s pregame speech, a protest rally address and a sermon. I left that class inspired. That lecture about “when a person or group has no vision, they perish” sticks with me to this day.
Of course, the difficulty is actually to do this. To both find a vision and stay focused on it is tough. Finding it is hard enough, but then keeping your eyes on the prize is even more difficult. It’s true for individuals and groups and churches. Even when we think we are on the right path, if we aren’t careful things can get blurry, leaving us to wander into the wilderness. Or perhaps we stop trusting our own vision and follow someone or something else. It can happen so gradually we forget what we were supposed to be doing without realizing it.
I guess what made me think of this was a doctor’s appointment I had recently. For about the last year I have had a leash wrapped around my neck—my reading glasses. At first I needed them at night when I was tired, but gradually they became a necessity I carried with me 24-7. I got a strap for them to go around my neck, though I kept a pair at my desk and on the pulpit. I’d even turn around and go home to get them if I realized I forgot them (until my wife hid a pair in the glove compartment). I changed my phone settings to bigger type. My sermons increased in pages because I needed larger print.
What I didn’t do was stop and think “Is this the best I can do? Or could someone—perhaps an optometrist—help my sight become clearer?” That perhaps if my stubbornness or pride would step aside, I might have a clearer view of everything.
Well last week I went to the eye doctor and reluctantly told him what was going on. Actually, I think he figured it out on his own with this eye chart thing he has in the exam room. The upshot is I’m now in new contacts and seeing things I hadn’t seen…without reading glasses! It simply took admitting I had a need, accepting I could not fix it on my own, and then asking an expert for help. When I did that suddenly my vision was clearer. I no longer needed to worry I’d poison my family with the wrong ingredient in dinner because I couldn’t see what I was doing! Or that I might miss a street sign because that vision was off too!
I think this process of admitting we need help with our lives and asking God to help give us clarity is what discernment is all about. And if I understand the text, the writer of Proverbs is encouraging us to seek clarity so we will live life abundantly rather than squandering the gifts we have been given.
None of this is easy. My vision changes both physically and in my sense of calling. Sometimes it’s clear, but sometimes I really have to work on it and ask for help. The same is true for churches. Visions and missions change because the world changes.
Years ago, at my Dad’s first church I remember the Presbyterian Women gathered each quarter to cut old bed sheets and use these wooden contraptions to roll them into bandages to send overseas. My job as the preacher’s kid was to tie them with string and put them in the box for shipping. (Bet you didn’t know I was an honorary member of the PW.) While it was a good mission project for the time—for numerous reasons, including the fact my 11-year-old hands might have been less than sanitary, that time has passed and there are new mission challenges before us today.
Just as once upon a time, almost everyone’s vision took them to be church members. Nothing competed with Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. Today the church competes with lots of other visions. And while it certainly makes things arduous in a sense, our option is to either ignore it and lose focus so that even reading glasses won’t help, or can seek an authentic vision of service in the name of Christ.
And while I can’t give you specifics of that vision, I have a place to start. I read it again this week in my personal study time. (And while it wasn’t my memory of Dr. Gillespie’s lecture, I know he would approve.)
“Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”
Luke 4:16-19 NIV
Not a bad place for you and I and the church to start.