Vision as Perspective

“Vision as Introspection: Changing Our Perspective,” Susan Ryder


Matthew 20:1-16
Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

One Hundred and Eighty Degrees Federico Moramarco
Have you considered the possibility
that everything you believe is wrong,
not merely off a bit, but totally wrong,
nothing like things as they really are?
If you’ve done this, you know how durably fragile
those phantoms we hold in our heads are
those wisps of thought that people die and kill for,
betray lovers for, give up lifelong friendships for.
If you’ve not done this, you probably don’t understand this poem,
or think it’s not even a poem, but a bit of opaque nonsense,
occupying too much of your day’s time,
so you probably should stop reading it here, now.
But if you’ve arrived at this line,
maybe, just maybe, you’re open to that possibility,
the possibility of being absolutely completely wrong,
about everything that matters.
How different the world seems then:
everyone who was your enemy is your friend,
everything you hated, you now love,
and everything you love slips through your fingers like sand.

Carl Jung
Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.

Most of us like things to be a certain way – we are fond of routines, and find reassurance in the familiar.  We like our coffee with cream and a pinch of sugar, lunch at a certain time, the pens in one drawer of our desk and stamps in another, and Brian Williams to update us on the news before we go to sleep. We appreciate a certain order to our lives. We also have expectations for how things operate in the world around us – if we drive below or near the speed limit we expect not to get a ticket. If we pay our bills on time, we assume we will not hear from creditors. We count on the grocery story to have enough milk and bread for us to stock up on in advance of a winter storm, and for meteorologists to be wrong about the weather as often as they get it right.

Certainly there are good reasons for routine and order – they help keep society moving forward and the rule of law obeyed for the most part. Having things a certain way in our homes and out in the world is comforting, as well as productive. We know where to find a pen when we need it, or a stamp, without having to hunt around for them. Organization is our friend! But of course there are also ways in which doing things the same way we always have done them can become counterproductive. So every once it a while it helps to remind ourselves that world won’t end if we have English Breakfast tea one morning instead of coffee, or skip lunch and have an early dinner, or let Seth Meyers lull us to sleep instead of Brian. A change in routine keeps us on our toes, opens us up to new things, expands our horizons, and keeps us from falling into the same old ruts. The trick is finding the balance between honoring familiar routines and trying something new, and that’s where introspection can help us consider a change in perspective, or how we see things.

There is not just one right way to look at something, and we are well served by cultivating flexibility in our perspectives. Jesus certainly professed that idea. Everything is turned upside down in the commonwealth of God, he told his followers, and in order to be part of it, you need to change your perspective; to see things differently. If you don’t, you will be frustrated like those day laborers in the story from Matthew, whose expectations were challenged when the landowner paid everyone who worked for him the same amount, no matter how many or few hours they worked. Those who worked only a couple of hours were delighted, I’m sure, to receive a full day’s pay – but those aren’t the ones we hear from. The ones who worked all day complained to the landowner, asserting it wasn’t fair that their wages were equal when they worked longer and during the hottest part of the day. And it wasn’t fair, if you go by normal standards of employment. The guys who worked all day should have received more money than the guys who only worked part of the day. But as the landowner points out, they were given the agreed upon wage for their work – they received what they were expecting. So what’s it to them if he chose to be generous to the other workers?

Jesus closes the parable with the line that turns everything on its head – the first will be last and the last will be first. It’s similar to other things Jesus said. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. To save your life you must lose it. Give everything away to the poor and then you can follow me. Turn the other cheek. Jesus was all about confronting societal norms and offering a new way of seeing things, challenging our perspective, shifting our worldview. Imagine if those workers had celebrated with the other workers instead of begrudging them their good fortune? How much better might they have felt at the end of a long day’s work if they’d been able to shift their perspective from sour grapes to magnanimity, from grumbling about to rejoicing over a beer together? What would it look like for us to be able to intentionally shift our notion of winner and loser, foreground and background?

Valerie Kuar is young filmmaker, writer, and mother who holds degrees in theology and law, and who became an activist 17 years ago when her uncle was murdered in a hate crime right after 9-11. He was a Sikh, whose turban was a symbol of his faith, his devotion to a religion of nonviolence and peace, but which confused his killer into believing he was Muslim (as if that would make killing him okay). Valerie became an activist after his death. Among her activities included work within her own family, finding a way to bring her cousins face-to-face with their father’s murderer in prison, to hear him tell his own tragic story, and to offer him forgiveness. The day after the election, Valerie wrote “A Sikh Prayer for America on November 9, 2016” that gets at what I’m talking about.

In our tears and agony, we hold our children close and confront the truth: The future is dark.

But my faith dares me to ask:

What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb?

What if our America is not dead but a country still waiting to be born? What if the story of America is one long labor?

What if all the mothers who came before us, who survived genocide and occupation, slavery and Jim Crow, racism and xenophobia and Islamophobia, political oppression and sexual assault, are standing behind us now, whispering in our ear: You are brave? What if this is our Great Contraction before we birth a new future?

Remember the wisdom of the midwife: “Breathe,” she says. Then: “Push.”

Now it is time to breathe. But soon it will be time to push; soon it will be time to fight for those we love: Muslim father, Sikh son, trans daughter, indigenous brother, immigrant sister, white worker, the poor and forgotten, and all the ones who cast their vote out of resentment and fear.

Let us make an oath to fight for the soul of America with Revolutionary Love.

We must fight and live and love with revolutionary love.

Valerie’s questions in November 2016 still apply two years later: What if this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb? What if this is a moment that beckons us not toward despair but toward an unprecedented conjuring of resilient imagination and radiant clarity? What if this is a moment now, in our country and our lives, not for resignation and regression, but for rebooting, recalculating our own capacity, as a people, for courage, commitment, collaboration? What a lifesaving change of perspective that could be!

These aren’t really political questions, though of course they play out in political ways. These are spiritual, moral questions, asked in the way prophets of old would come into town saying, “Yes, I see how bad things are here. I see the terrible circumstances under which some people are living: the poverty, the racism, the hateful walls. I see the disdain for affordable healthcare, housing, and education, alongside a tax system that clearly has a preference for the rich. I see the plundering of water and land. I see the world as it is, but I also see something else. I see the world as it could be, the world as it should be, as it will be, if you will only commit to it, submit to your vision for justice, freedom, equity, compassion.” I think all the women who ran for office last year are a perfect example of that shift in perspective – instead of wallowing in the election results, they decided to be part of the change they wanted to see. Or turning grief from children gunned down at school into Moms Demand Action and March for our Lives.

Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat of Spirituality and Practice website remind us that the spiritual practice of vision “encompasses the discovery of fresh insights about the way things are and the cultivation of different outlooks on what can be. It is how we find our own wisdom and align ourselves with the Spirit.” As we turn things over to you for a few moments, consider a time you looked at something with new eyes, or perceived something different – a time you had a perspective shift because you made an intentional choice to see things in a new way.