The View from a Point
I knew that it was true but never thought of saying it this way.
In a brilliant sermon on the relationship between faith and science, Roger Scholtz made the simple observation that a “point of view” is the “view” from a “point.” Change the “point” from which you are looking, and it changes the “view” of what you see. (You can watch the sermon here.) It’s a simple principle that applies to everything from personal convictions to global conflicts.
The global case in point, of course, is the reaction to the horrific terrorist attack on a satirical French magazine which prior to the attack had less than 50,000 readers. That’s not exactly what we could call a major publication. From our Western point of view, millions of people marching through Paris was an expression of support for the freedom to print outrageously offensive cartoons which lampooned religious and political leaders.
I celebrate freedom of the press, though I wouldn’t purchase a copy of “Charlie Hebdo.” Looking at its past covers on the Internet reminded me of Paul’s words, “I have the freedom to do anything, but not everything is helpful.” (I Corinthians 6:12) A friend in the news and communications business made a helpful comparison when he said, “The best reason not to burn the flag is because we can.” That’s my “point of view.”
But change the point and you get a different view. For faithful Muslims, the cartoons are a sacrilegious attack on the core of their faith that would make the Fox-manufactured “War on Christmas” look like small change. Some of us remember the outrage from faithful Christians over the infamous “Piss Christ.” It was a photograph of a crucifix in a jar of the artist’s urine. From the artist’s point of view it was a work of art. For the faithful it was a vulgar insult on our faith.
I’m not suggesting that there is any justification for the deadly violence of radical extremists. Because I do not want Christianity to be defined by the Ku Klux Klan, I refuse to define all of Islam by the terrorists. But if you change the “point” from which you see things, you can begin to understand the “view” of people in some parts of the Islamic world, particularly in light of the history of conflict going all the way back to the Crusades and our recent wars in the Middle East. The result is a frighteningly complex and deeply conflicted world.
A Jesus Point of View
But the questions become even more complicated for people who claim to be followers of Christ.
- What does it mean to see the world from Jesus’ point of view?
- What if Jesus is, in the words of T. S. Eliot, “the still-point of a turning world”?
- What difference does it make to view the world from the still-point of the Sermon on the Mount?
- What if our still-point is the cross, which Paul said is foolishness to the world? (I Corinthians 1:18-25)
- How does Jesus change our point of view?
It made the difference for Martin Luther King, Jr. He taught us Jesus’ way of nonviolence and the people who were left bloody and beaten on the Edmond Pettis Bridge in Selma showed us just how different the view is when we look from Jesus’ point of view.
Amid all the complexity and fear of this conflicted time, one thing seems clear to me. If Jesus is the still-point from which we view the world, there is no room for vicious satire or vitriolic, broad-brush attacks on Islam which only pour more oil on the flames. While still affirming our deepest values, we are called to be the agents of God’s reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18-19) who bear witness to Jesus’ way of love and peace.
If that sounds difficult, it is. To the world, it sounds downright foolish. But for those who believe in the cross and resurrection, it is the foolishness by which this world will ultimately be saved. “The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Corinthians 1:25)
Christians do not say, “Je sues Charlie.” As foolish as it sounds, we are called to live so that our lives say, “Je sues Jésus.”
We just received the first copies of “A Disciple’s Heart.” It reclaims John Wesley’s teaching on “Christian perfection” as the way we continue to grow into a life that is centering in loving God and loving others. Order your copy today!
Grace and peace,