26 August 2007

You See What You Expect To See

There's a great scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry is being given a tour of Snape's memories in the stone Pensieve, and the following lines caught my attention:

Snape was pacing up and down in front of Dumbledore.

"- mediocre, arrogant as his father, a determined rule-breaker, delighted to find himself famous, attention-seeking and impertinent -"

"You see what you expect to see, Severus," said Dumbledore, without raising his eyes from a copy of Transfiguration Today. "Other teachers report that the boy is modest, likable, and reasonably talented. Personally, I find him an engaging child." (The Deathly Hallows 679)

Dumbledore is exactly right. You see what you expect to see. I've recognized that in myself, recently, especially during and after the LCMS Convention. And I've certainly taken note of the same tendency in others, as well. If you expect the worst, you're likely to find it. And if you're determined to see only the best, you're likely to put a positive spin on everything, or to overlook the bad. What is most difficult is a balanced, fair and objective assessment. As soon as you start to tip in one direction or the other, it's as though all your marbles spill over to that side.

By Tuesday of the Convention, I was feeling pretty melancholy about the whole thing, weary and down-in-the-mouth. As often happens to me when I give way to that demeanor, I found myself getting irritated about every little thing, imagining the worst about everything and everyone around me, and sinking further and further into my own little pity party. The fact of the matter is that one of my temptations and weaknesses in life is to withdraw into myself when I am beleaguered and downcast; which is exactly the wrong thing to do, anytime really, but especially at such a point. I know that Satan works overtime to bring me into despair, and I too easily head down that path, all the more readily when I drift off on my own. Thankfully, as I've gotten older, I've come to recognize this tendency in myself for the sinful proclivity that it is, so that I am better able to identify it and deliberately resist the urge to crawl into a cave.

Well, in the midst of the Convention I didn't have much choice in the matter, anyway. I was there as a delegate, and so I was obliged to be at my post each day, even if pushing the buttons on my little electronic keypad was beginning to feel rather pointless by Tuesday evening. What difference did it make? "Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I'll eat some worms." And of course, with that kind of attitude, it was almost inevitable that I'd be sour about anything and everything that happened. I'm not sure that I would have been able to pull myself out of that funk, if not for the fraternal conversation and consolation of the brethren.

When you're surrounded by a huge crowd of strangers, it's easy enough to be left alone, and to feel yourself all alone. Yet, within that crowd were men who know me and care about me, and who care about Christ and His Church and His Gospel, who made a point of reaching out to me with friendship and fraternal encouragement. There were several of these brothers, in particular, who made all the difference in the world to me at that point. They were realistic and serious about what was happening, and concerned about what was yet to come, but they were not despairing or downhearted. Maybe it was partly a case of youthful optimism, but I rather think it was mainly a case of lighthearted joy in the forgiveness and freedom of the Gospel. It is true, after all, that God is still God, and Christ is the Lord of His Church in heaven and on earth, and the Spirit intercedes for us in our weakness, always crying out the "Kyrie! Eleison" of faith.

What struck me was not simply the way in which my friends and brothers in Christ were able, by their kindness and collegiality, to cheer my spirit and lift my countenace (remarkably so), but also the difference it made in my whole perspective on the Convention. It was partly their take on things, their level-headed evaluation of the good, the bad and the ugly, and their realistic assessment of the big picture. That helped me to step back and reconsider things without the ugly predisposition to interpret everything as a doom-and-gloom disaster in the making. But more than that, it also invited me to do, for them and for others, what I am called to do as a Christian and as a Minister of the Word of Christ, namely, to speak the truth in love; to admonish, correct and exhort, but also to forgive those who trespasses against me; to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me; to defend my neighbor, speak well of him, and to put the best construction on everything; and, in all of this, to confess the faith: not in spite of the Cross, but precisely in, with and under the Cross. Not only is this a healthier attitude; it is the right thing to do. If it seems foolish and naive, so be it; the foolishness of God is wiser than man. Christ also suffered once for all, the just for the unjust, not reviling those who reviled Him, but turning the cheek and commending Himself to the Father, and baring His back to the scourges I have deserved, and bearing my sins in His own body on the Cross, and becoming the curse of sin and death, so that I am judged righteous for His sake, and not for any merit or worthiness in me.

I'm not happy about much of what happened at the Convention. I'm even more unhappy about a number of things that should have happened but didn't. And I have serious concerns about various things that may yet happen as a consequence of decisions that were made this summer, such as the prospect of a complete restructuring of synodical polity and governance. But for all of that, I believe there were also some positive things that happened, including some rather significant decisions. And there were indications of hope for the future, potential improvements in our life together under the cross and in our confession of Christ and His Gospel. I am resisting the urge to lose sight of the good on account of the bad. It isn't all black or white, all or nothing. In particular, I will not presume to read hearts, to judge motivations, or to assume the worst about my neighbor. I am given to confess the Word of God, to speak the Law and the Gospel, and to deal with my brother (as well as my enemy) in the charity of Christ, who demonstrates His love for me in this, that while I was yet His mortal enemy, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death upon the Cross, in order to reconcile me, a sinner, to the Father.

Of course, the LCMS "Daily Prophet" is proclaiming "Peace, peace," while the Quibbler is warning of Nargles in the woodwork and Crumple-Horned Snorkack conspiracies at every hand. It troubles me, though, when I encounter reports on the Convention that seem determined to read the most negative possible interpretation into everything that happened, to impugn motivations, and to predict nothing but catastrophe in the future. I'm all in favor of sober judgment, but I worry that such persistent pessimism is but a fine line away from faithless unbelief. You see what you expect to see, and if you expect only the worst, than the worst is all that you will discern. Not the Cross, in which the joy of Christ is set before us, but self-pitying morbidity, which is far more likely to end in the suicidal despair of a Saul or a Judas than the repentance and boldness of those holy Apostles and sainted martyrs, Peter and Paul, who rejoiced to be counted worthy to share the sufferings of Christ.

I'm going to continue to urge that everyone participate in the polity and processes of our Synod, and contribute as much as possible to the studies and conferences and whatever else there may be coming down the pike. Let's all do what we are given to do, and avoid doing what we are not given to do, and trust Christ, and pray, and confess, and give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good (though we are not) and His mercy endures forever. But if there is an interest in making predictions about the future, I fully expect that the current administration will continue to gather more and more centralized power unto itself. That's been the trend for the past thirty or forty years, so far as I can tell, irrespective of who's in office. And just when anyone thinks that he has gotten for himself the power to establish a kingdom on earth, the Lord will punish sin with sin, and he who lives by the sword will die by the sword. For the same Lord who raises up Assyria to discipline Israel, raises up Babylon to discipline Assyria, and Persia to discipline Babylon, and Greece, and Rome, and all the might of man is but a fly-swatter in His hand. The Lord chastens whom He loves. He also heals. He puts to death, and He makes alive. It is better to suffer for the sake of Christ than as evildoers, but, in all of our suffering, let each and all of us repent.

At the same time that Snape was complaining about Harry, because he saw in him exactly what he expected to see, Harry was harboring his own suspicions about Snape, which he never did let go until he discovered the truth at the last. There was a lot of baggage between them, and their personalities clashed, and they could never have been chums, but they were wrong about each other. Neither of them was perfect, but neither of them was altogether evil, wicked, mean and nasty. They were sometimes motivated by less than the purest of motives, yet they consistently and bravely chose to take courageous action on behalf of good and noble causes, even at great personal cost. They are fictional characters, but there is an honest example for us in Harry Potter and Severus Snape.

You see what you expect to see. So fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, where He ever lives to make intercession for us before the Father in heaven. Fix your eyes on Jesus; by faith see only Him, who is your righteousness and holiness, your strength and your song, because He is your great Salvation; and in holy love, see Him also in your neighbor.


David said...

Pastor Stuckwisch, I appreciate your blog (and always your appearances on Issues Etc.). And I just had to come out of 'lurk' mode to say the reference to the LCMS "Daily Prophet" and "Quibbler" is just TOO perfect! I love it!

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks, David. I appreciate your kind words, and I'm glad that you enjoy my rambling out-loud thoughts. I also have to confess that I really enjoyed referring to the Daily Prophet and the Quibbler.

Come out of lurk mode anytime!

CPA said...

I loved that too!