POSTED ON MAY 18, 2011:
Beneath the Surface
True change happens on deeper levels
People can change. The profession in which I profess is built upon this belief. But is it true? Are human beings capable of authentic, transformational change at their innermost core?
I am an avid reader of Christian history and literature and I continually find myself in theological discussions with groups and individuals. After nearly two decades of engaging in Christian dialogue, I have begun to feel a bit like the author of Ecclesiastes who said, "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
Let me clarify that I certainly have a lot more to learn. One of my lifetime goals is to be a lifetime learner. Most of what I learn, however, only builds upon my deeply embedded worldview. It is rare that anyone or any idea forces me to come to terms with a true epistemological bombshell. In other words, what I believe about the human and the divine, the earthly and otherworldly, physics and metaphysics are challenged infrequently. My most fundamental assumptions about existence are unlikely to change. While I am constantly in a process of learning new things, like facts, stories, and methodologies; my worldview is strongly embedded.
Some have compared the idea of worldview to a lens, or a set of glasses through which a person interprets the world around them. Each of us see our existence from our own unique point of view, and no two worldviews are the same. So, when it seems like there is "nothing new under the sun," your worldview is one thing that is original and unprecedented. Like your fingerprint it's never duplicated.
Perhaps this is the reason that we have all likely said the following once if not several times: "Sometimes I feel like no one understands me." I'm not sure it's possible to completely understand another person's worldview. I'm not saying this is a good thing, I'm just saying that's the way it is. Any good communicator understands such futility, because every communicator bears the responsibility of sending verbal and non-verbal messages that are meaningful to those who receive them; and some people are just darn near impossible to figure out.
Because a person's worldview is firmly entrenched, many people have a hard time understanding why people of faith are convinced that they should proselytize others to their point of view. Can a person truly be "converted"? And if so, does true conversion happen only on the surface or does it penetrate a person's worldview? For true transformational change to occur, the latter must be true. When I recount my own story, I certainly believe the lens through which I view life has been altered for the better.
My friend tells the story of a Cherokee Indian who was visiting a friend in New York City. As they walked along a busy sidewalk, the Cherokee said, "I hear a cricket." His friend said, "You can't possibly hear a cricket. It's the middle of the lunch hour and people are buzzing all around us. There are taxis and cars honking their horns and street performers and there is no way you could possibly hear a cricket." The Cherokee said, simply, "I hear a cricket."
As they walked down to the end of the street and were set to cross at a light, the Cherokee walked over to a cement planter behind a bush, scattered some leaves within, and found the cricket. His friend was stunned and said, "I don't believe it." The old Cherokee said, "Watch this." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of change -- quarters, nickels, dimes, and pennies. He threw them up into the air and, as the change came down and began to ping on the pavement, every head within a block turned to look. The Cherokee looked at his friend and said, "There is no difference between my ears and your ears. It all depends on what you have trained yourself to listen for."
When we communicate with people, we are dealing with more than present circumstances. We are contending with their worldview, which includes the breadth of a person's interpretations of knowledge, cognitive and sensory experience, and feelings. We are probably also contending with the effects of their last meal. Effective communication requires attempting to get behind someone else's "worldview glasses" in order to discern how messages might be received.
Many people who attempt to proselytize others towards their own religious beliefs fail at this very point. In my opinion, no religion, including Christianity, is immune to this problem. Rather than trying to understand another person or group's point of view in order to communicate more effectively, many religious people are determined to make everyone else put on the same worldview glasses. In reality, that's not how it works. While a person may be able to change the lens on their own worldview glasses, they will never be able to put on someone else's fully.
It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul sought to connect with each person on their own level. He said, "Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings" (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).
Each person sees the world through a different lens. Our Creator is the only one who can truly get behind the lenses of others. When we learn to respect the position of others; when we are willing to accept them and meet them where they are; we can begin to earn their attention.
-(Eric Costanzo is Minister of Community Ministries and Teaching Pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa)
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