How do we decide what’s worth our time? Is NASCAR worth your time? Pro football? College basketball? Is Duke worth your time? North Carolina? The ACC? How do you determine what you care about? What you love? What’s worth your time and what isn’t? How do you decide? How do you know?
Some of us fly to Nova Scotia to drive around taking photographs. How do we know that’s the thing to do? Some of us sit on the beach and read. Some of us listen to opera and watch ballet. How do we know we should do that instead of branding cattle or blowing glass or working on lawn mower engines? How do we know?
How do we decide who, okay, whom, to listen to? Put John McCain and Barak Obama before us. What sets them apart? What moves us toward one, away from the other? Who is right for the country, the world? Who is wrong? What makes us think so, how do we know?
My variety of Christianity is different from other versions. You are here and not somewhere else. What makes you think this is the place to be? What brings you to say “Yes” to what I say and “No” to what others have said, and are saying? How do you know?
Oh, you know. We just know what we know. We know what we like and don’t like, what strikes a cord, what rings true, what stirs something within, what vibrates within our frequency range, what speaks to us, what’s on the beam and what’s off it. We know “Yes!” and “No!” We know what’s right for us, and what’s wrong. We know what fits and what doesn’t. We know what we believe and what we don’t believe. And yet, there is such a thing as mass hypnosis, and mob mentality, and Group Think, and cultural automatons. The question is, how do we know? And, how do we change our mind? How valid is what we think we know, and how do we evaluate its validity?
These questions open the door into Left Brain, Right Brain areas of exploration and the area of Personality Type. ESTJ’s know in a way that is fundamentally different from INFP’s. Just looking at us, you would never guess how different we are. But we process experience in radically different ways. There is no way the gospel, or anything, can be presented to all of us in a way that makes sense to each of us.
We have our own way of knowing, of experiencing, of perceiving and understanding the world. Our challenge is to find an atmosphere, an environment, that understands and respects these differences, and allows each of us the privilege of our own point of view without trying to wrestle any of us out of our way of seeing into someone else’s way of seeing. What we need is a place that helps us make sense of our lives and find our way to that which is valuable and worth our time—without taking from us the responsibility of doing the work ourselves.
How things are—in the sense of what things mean to us and what part they play in our lives—is always a function of how we understand things to be. The facts which govern our lives are themselves governed by our understanding of them, by our perception of them. The position of the sun, for instance, changes in the sky over the course of the seasons according to the earth’s rotation and orbit around the sun, but the meaning of the sun’s shift in position has changed over time as our understanding of the principles governing that shift in position has changed. The meaning of any fact changes as our perception of the fact, our way of viewing/seeing the fact, changes.
How should we see? How should we understand things? How should we perceive things? How should our perceptions govern the facts which govern our lives? Who is to say? There is no one who knows how to know. We all have to figure it out together.
There is a photographic principle that applies here. It goes like this: It takes all of us to see all there is to see, but then we turn around, or come back tomorrow, and see something else. No one photographer, and no group of photographers, has the capacity to see it all. It takes us all to see it all, and even then we don’t see it all. This is the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. It is the story of our lives.
We need one another to expand our perspective and deepen our understanding of life and what it means to be alive. We have to talk to one another about our view of things, about how things seem to be to us, about what seems to be important and what seems to be possible and what our response to the experience of life needs to be. We do not figure these matters out on our own. We do not know how things are and what we should do about it on our own. We have to talk it over—all of it—to have a chance at responding appropriately to what is being asked of us, offered to us, in the time of our living.
The fallacy of the guru, the illusion cast by the idea of the master, is that there is one who knows. The truth is that we all know together. All of us together know more, know better, see more clearly, than any one of us alone. This is the foundation of the Presbyterian approach to faith, and truth, and life. It takes us all. No one of us knows more than all of us together know. No one of us sees more, or sees better, than all of us together see. The weakness of the Presbyterian approach is the ease with which we substitute what they knew, what they saw, for what we know, what we see. This is to give them the position of guru, of master. But a group of people is no more of a guru than a single guru, no more of a master than a single master, and we cannot give them—whether they be the Reformers, or the Patriarchs, or the Westminster Divines, or the Saints, or the Pillars of the Church, or even the Prophets and the Apostles—the position of Authoritative Seer/Knower of All Truth, the Dispenser of True Wisdom.
This is not to say that there is no such thing as timeless validity and value. It is to say that the timeless validity and value of such things as grace, compassion, peace, kindness, justice, generosity and the like is to be uncovered, recognized, and affirmed in the living of our own lives, and not declared to be so because someone else said so. The value of love is known in loving and being loved, not in being told to believe that love is valuable. The experience of life—and critical reflection on that experience—opens us to the truth of that experience, which is often more than words can say.
What we know when we know is the value of those old qualities that have been esteemed through the ages, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-discipline, and all those other attributes that have been the foundation of life for all of us forever. The foundation of life is how we treat one another. It is the spirit we engender in our life together. It is what we bring forth in our way of living with each other. We create what is worthy and good by the quality of our relationships with other people. Life is a corporate creation.
Life is not about buying, spending, amassing and consuming. It is not about career tracks and life time achievement awards. It is about how we treat one another. It is about who we are—who we show ourselves to be—in relationship with each other. We are all children who need the caring presence of the right kind of parent. And we are all people with the potential and recurring opportunity to be the right kind of parent.
We never out-live the need for comfort and consolation. We are always the child with the skinned knee needing to be nestled in the restorative wonder of gentle grace, kind words, soothing care. When we bring the loving manner of the right kind of parent to life in our relationships, we supply all that is necessary for life in the world.
The challenge, the call, is to receive one another well. Divisiveness is the result of a lack of grace. Our failure to be gracious is the cause of much suffering. If we win, we have to be gracious in victory. If we lose, we have to be gracious in defeat. To live well in relationship, we have to be gracious with one another, and kind. To live well, we must receive one another well and provide caring, supportive presence to one another in dealing with what comes our way.
The meaning of life is to live well in this sense. Our influence out-lives us. The impact of our living is the impact we have on one another for good or for ill. The meaning of life is to be a source of good in the moment of our living. The things that must be passed along from generation to generation are the wonderful old values that have always served as the true ground of civilization: grace, mercy and peace, love, joy, justice, goodness, kindness, gentleness and truth, etc. We live well when we bring these qualities to life in our lives and in the lives of one another.
And this gets us back to where we came in. We are different people with different perspectives and different views of what is right, and good, and needs to be done. So, we talk it out in an atmosphere that is conducive to hearing what the others are saying, that respects and honors what others say. We create life by the quality of our living together. Life is not about what we acquire, or achieve, or accomplish, or amass for ourselves. It is not about having, getting, or forcing our way, but about finding the way together. We do that by listening carefully and closely to what each other is saying, and allowing the sharing of perspectives to expand the way everyone sees and deepen the awareness—and, hence, the vitality, the life force—of all who are a part of the conversation.