Over the past weeks we’ve been thinking about the way we believe. This means not only examining the content of our beliefs, but also the attitude with which we hold them. Not just what we believe, but how we believe.
Last week Richard Rohr was the guest on Rob Bell’s “Robcast,” and the conversation was all kinds of brilliant. During the discussion, Fr. Richard made a comment that really resonated with this series and with how I’m coming to see the role of a pastor/teacher/leader.
Rohr says, “A good teacher teaches people how to see, not what to see.”
People tend to look to the leader (the pastor in a church context) to provide the what, the content for their belief system. And, often, pastors are all too willing to oblige. When people listen to you and arrange their belief systems and lives around what you say it can be thrilling, even addicting. That kind of power, and the way it fuels the ego, is tempting, to say the least. In a world that’s so uncertain, people often want to be told what to believe, because it’s reassuring. Or seems to be.
A healthy spirituality, however, cannot be imposed on us by someone else. It comes from experience, both of God and the ways our journeys shape and transform us. Healthy spirituality is much more organic than the pre-fabricated, one-size fits all commodity that we tend to create in institutionalized religion. To be sure, religion can be and is a healthy component for many. Yet, too often we begin to depend on the institution to tell us what to think, what to see.
The task for those of us in leadership-whether pastors or teachers or parents-is to teach those who are entrusted to our care how to see, not what to see. “How” involves practices that help us become aware of God, aware of our belovedness, and aware of our potential to do good in the world. This is counter to the initial impulse we have as leaders, whatever the role, which is to not only give people the how, but the what. And if we are buying what we’re selling this is well intended. We believe we have a true and good way to see God, the world, and any number of important issues. Yet, our calling is not to simply impose this onto others. Effective beliefs are discovered through a person’s own journey and experience. Our calling, then, is to encourage the journey.
Teaching people how to see, how to open their eyes to the God who is right here and now, is what we’ve been given to do. Controlling what they see, how they end up interpreting their experiences or the Bible, is not something we can do. And if we could, we would be stunting their growth, hijacking their transformational process, and offering them something that will not serve them well.
What does it look like to teach people “how” to see?