24 May, 2017

A Batty Post

I have a thing about bats.  The symbol of darkness and death, they fly about in dimly lit skies and lurk in the dark corners of attics and barns. They have beady eyes and fangs that threaten to bite.  They look like flying mice.  They eat dirty bugs and leave behind fungus- and bacteria- laden waste that makes humans sick. They reek of evil and Halloween.  And I heard once that they might get caught in my hair, bite me, or give me rabies. Bats are to be avoided and kept away from my space at all times!  I was taught this as a child and it surely hasn’t changed.  Please don’t tell me otherwise.

I have a thing about bats. I don’t see them unless I look for them, but every night they make my life better by eating thousands of insects.  If I sit quietly at dusk, I can see them flitting about in the darkening sky, quietly calling into the night and gliding as they locate their prey by echo location.  If I listen closely, I can hear their chirpy calls.  If I watch carefully, I can follow them back to their nesting place where their young wait to nurse or to be fed some of the evenings catch.  But I have to look, listen, watch, and wait; and by looking, listening, watching, and waiting – seeking to understand – I find the good these creatures provide for me. By seeking out information and getting to know these creatures, I’ve learned that they rarely carry rabies and even more rarely would bite a person because they are so very afraid of us.  By seeking to understand, I come to a completely different image of bats -- and even an appreciation for them.  I don’t want to find one in my living room, but I will still watch them from a distance with awe and wonder.

We live in a culture that does not seek understanding, struggles to listen to differing ideas, and jumps to conclusions based upon hearsay and “fake news.” In our culture, people get their information from social media rather than personal investigation and seeking to understand.  

We are a culture of fast food and easy answers that allow us to make fast, black-and-white decisions.  We are lucky enough to have the resources to provide ourselves with walls between us and those who are different, have different ideas or traditions, or live without means.  

We can and do so isolate ourselves in echo chambers where we only see and hear the ideas and persuasions that match our own. We feel threatened by what we don’t understand, and there is so much we don’t understand. 

When we isolate ourselves in echo chambers, we silence ourselves from the sources of understanding. Rather than dig for truth, we hear only those things that confirm and justify our fears, and bring us the comfort of feeling right. 

Understanding – and the looking, listening, watching, and waiting required to understand – becomes something we avoid in so that we can remain safely walled within our comfort zones.

Jesus had a habit of breaking down barricaded comfort zones:

  •  “You have heard it said…..but I say to you….”  (repeated 5 times in Matthew 5:21-43)
  • “turn the other cheek, give them your cloak also, love your enemies….”
  • "When it is evening, you say, 'It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' "And in the morning, 'There will be a storm today, for the sky is red and threatening.' Do you know how to discern the appearance of the sky, but cannot discern the signs of the times? (Matthew 16)
  • “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:42)
  • “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! …. Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things….” (Luke 24:25, 27)

H. Richard Niebuhr (Christ and Culture, 1951) wrote that faith is a way of seeing the whole of existence in which we live and move and have our being. He pointed out that we can see things through any of three lenses.  Seen through the lens that the world is against us and hostile to us, we fear we’re all going to die and respond by seeking security to protect ourselves from the all-devouring powers.  Seen through the lens that the world is indifferent to us, we seek out systems that give us meaning and purpose, and we focus on our own well being.  But seen through the lens of world that is gracious, nourishing, and supportive of life, we recognize that this world has brought us into existence and continues to nourish us and we respond with a posture of faith and trust. 

And so, I encourage you to reread those first two paragraphs about bats.  Through which approach do you see life as supportive, gracious, and nourishing?  Read again the scriptures above.  Through which lens was Jesus seeing the world? 

We are called by Christ to live our lives with our eyes wide open, our ears fully engaged, and our minds wondering and expanding in knowledge, faith, and love because God is a the founder of grace, maker of life, and the one who nourishes us on this journey through life.