Thursday, September 08, 2005

The Forest, Not the Trees

Do you see the forest? No, not the trees but the forest?

Sometimes we stand too close and can't get a perspective to see the obvious.

Let me illustrate with an example.

Often people will read the Bible and disect each verse, ponder each phrase and investigate each word. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this approach or that it's never appropriate. But, sometimes we miss the message when we do this.

Matthew 25:31-46 tells of the separation of the sheep and the goats. We could approach this historically and talk about the value of the animals at the time Jesus spoke the words, their care and use and other historical issues related to the story.

We could approach this as a representation of a future event -- a future judgement -- something that will happen in the distant future.

I prefer to ask the question "What is the message for me?" I live today so the historical and future approaches hold some interest but are not at the heart of my question. "What is the message for me today?"

The message I receive is that 'who' I am is more important than 'what I do' and more important than religious ritual.

Let me explain. Jesus doesn't say those who are 'blessed' are those who participated in religious observances. There's no mention of prayer, tithing, fasting, or attendance.

Jesus says the 'blessed' are those who took compassionate action -- action that came from within -- from who they were. It was a natural thing. The 'blessed' cannot see suffering and not be moved to action. This action was not done out of a sense of obligation. The 'blessed' do not carry a list of commandments. The 'blessed' do not do what is politically correct. The 'blessed' see people hurting and they do something to relieve the hurt.

So, the question for me -- the forest I see -- is "Have I become a person of empathy, compassion and action?"

Another important question for me is "Is this consistent with other truth that I have learned?"

The Bible speaks of a 'new birth'. I find this consistent with the Jesus's story about the separtion of the sheep and goats. The 'blessed' are those who have experienced a 'new birth'. They have been seized, transformed, made new by the Spirit that Jesus exhibited. The are not concerned with religious trappings. They have become new people who see hurt and jump to action.

So, the question I must ask myself -- the great panorama of a forest that I see -- is not "What have I done?" or "What I am doing" but it is "Who am I?", "Am I a person of compassion and empathy and action".

Try reading and observing the world this way. Back up and take a new perspective and look at the horizon. Let the message come to you in a grand panorama.

Want to give it a try? Read the story of Jonah. Stop! Don't get caught up on the whale -- or was it a fish. Don't ask the old question of which it was. Don't as the question of could Jonah have survived. Don't ask the question of could it have swallowed Jonah. These are the trees. Instead, look for the forest. The forest that I see is a forest about racial hatred, blind political loyalty and subborness that leads to our own harm.

I wonder what forest you will see.


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