Aren’t We All “Flat-earthers”?

by | Jan 27, 2021 | Formation, Reflections, Systemic change | 1 comment

Who, me? No way!

There is no doubt in my mind that the earth is a globe revolving in space! So how could I be a “flat-earther”? Flat-earthers, on the basis of their limited experience, believed we could fall off the edges of the earth.

First some Wikipedia facts about “flat-earthers.”

Many  today believe that European scholars and educated people during the Middle Ages believed the Earth to be flat rather than spherical. However, there is clear documentation that the idea of a spherical Earth comes from the ancient Greeks (5th century BC).

There does seem to be a delightful irony that we who think we are not “flat- earthers” still believe that spherical earth is a modern insight.

So, who are you calling a “flat-earther”?

In a sense we all are flat-earthers

Most of us can not see beyond the boundaries of our experience. At any given point in our lives, we have trouble imagining something we have never experienced.  Horseless buggies? No way!

Think for a moment.  We spend most of our lives overcoming the latest version of the boundaries of our experience.

In our earliest hours and days, we thought we were the center of our universe. Then we became aware we depended on giants called Mom and Dad. The world was what we could see from our cribs. Our world was assumed to be like the world we experienced in our homes.

Then came the perilous journey of learning that there was a bigger world out there where people looked at things differently. For some, it came as a shock to learn that people came in different colors and dressed differently than their “tribe”. (I thought that everyone had German-speaking aunts and uncles.) For many today it comes as a shock that there was once a time without cell phones or the internet. They assumed that people always lived the way we did.

Now think for a moment about the mental images of two different children with different experiences. Each knows little of the other’s world.

Children who grow up with a “worm’s eye” view of poverty and excluded from the green lawns of “gated communities,” construct a vision of reality based on what they experienced as normal, attainable.

The opposite is also true. Those who have never experienced growing up in poverty have very little clue about the realities faced by those who do.

Neither has any idea of “how the other half lives.” They just see the “other.” Yet we proclaim we are brothers and sisters in spite of not knowing each other.

Enter Jesus who calls us to change our way of thinking

Jesus’ message called us to expand our horizons beyond the limited vision of what we know. He asked us to imagine one another as God sees us. The story of the Good Samaritan dramatically images a different world, a world where we care not only for those we know but those we don’t know and may even be our enemies. I strongly encourage you to read Pope Francis as he unpacks the story in his most recent encyclical (Paragraphs 56-86).

Jesus uses the story to remind us that each person is good. In fact, instead of passing by the stranger as the trash to be thrown away, we will be judged by how well we care for the wounded among us without forgetting that we ourselves are among the wounded. The wounds are just different.

Jesus comes among us and cares for each and every one of us, figuratively washing our feet with his blood of suffering. He calls on us to “Do this in memory of me.”

In this time of deep divisions, Pope Francis repeatedly calls us to develop a “culture of encounter” to go beyond the limitations of our experience. (He uses the concept 49 times in his encyclical!)

Vincent learned to see beyond the borders of his experience

Vincent turned the church upside down… following Jesus. He put the poor on top, with the rest of us in service and support, being evangelized by them and evangelizing them.

In his eyes, no one was trash or “other.” (I have written elsewhere how he expanded the zip codes of his ministry.)

I think that is the deeper ministry that countless members of the Vincentian Family have offered beyond just material goods. They have helped people to see their value in the eyes of God and that they can and should dream dreams of a world bigger than their immediate experiences.

How has Jesus expanded the limitations of my experience?

1 Comment

  1. Ross

    Thanks, John, for, unflaggingly challenging us “flat-earthers.”

    And the “worm’s eye,” along with Jesus’ call “to change our way of thinking,” reminds me of St. Vincent’s urging that we avoid being like the snails that would prefer to shut themselves in their shells (SV.EN XII:81).