Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Choosing the right lens


Recently, I read an article that suggested environmentalism should be a lens through which people view the world rather than treated as one of many issues that warrant attention and action (Nathan Empsall, “Connecting the environment and the church”). The rationale for arguing that environmentalism should be a lens is that basically everything (or almost everything) a person does affects the environment.

An environmentally responsible approach to life entails asking, “How will this action affect the environment?” Sometimes the answer is easy: throwing away trash creates unsightly litter and inappropriately disposes of waste material; walking avoids creating greenhouse gases internal combustion engines produce; eating less meat supports a food chain that harms the environment less; etc.

Often, however, the answer is less obvious. Is the environmental harm of an electric car or of a gasoline powered car greater when one considers (1) the manufacture of the vehicle and all of its parts, (2) the generation of electricity to operate the vehicle or the production of gas to operate the car, and (3) the environmental impact of eventually disposing of the vehicle? Few if any of us can knowledgably answer such a complicated, comprehensive question.

In general, the familiar mantra of reducing, reusing and recycling provides a convenient heuristic for learning to see the world through an environmental lens.

The article prompted some further musings about the importance of having the right lens or lenses through which to view creation, other people, and life itself. The image of a lens resonates with me because having the correct prescription for the lenses through which I see the world is essential if I am to enjoy clear, accurate vision.

Similarly, the ongoing journey of becoming a Christian is more about learning to view the world as Jesus saw it than about ontological change, i.e., becoming a Christian is not about a changing a person’s being but altering a person’s way of living and seeing the world. Illustratively, Jesus taught his disciples to see each person the disciples encountered as an individual who was worthy of dignity and respect.

Like Jesus, I must learn to see the difference between condemning evil and not condemning the person who commits an evil deed. For example, this means welcoming back into the community the person released from prison by helping that person find a decent place to live, a job that pays enough for the person to pay his/her bills, and embracing the person as a valued member of God’s family.

Like Jesus, I must learn to see myself as a member of a larger community, a community that begins locally with my fellow Christians and that extends to embrace all creation. Consequently, I must change the narrative of my life from self-centered to communal. This means, among other things, changing the narrative about paying taxes from avoidance/minimizing (what President Trump advocates, belittling those who willingly pay taxes) to viewing taxes (as economist John Kenneth Galbraith saw taxes) as an opportunity and responsibility to pay for civilization and its benefits.

Like Jesus, I must dare to believe that, in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s memorable image, the arc of history is long but bends irreversibly and inevitably toward justice. Thus, Christians who look through the lens of Jesus at the world act in ways that affirm justice will eventually prevail. We begin even today to beat swords into plowshares by spending more on the most vulnerable and needy instead of supporting defense budgets that exceed Defense Department requests.

What is the lens or lenses through which you see yourself and the world?

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