Better vision in the body of Christ

How good is your vision? Someone with 20/20 vision is considered to have 100 percent visual efficiency. That is to say, such a person standing 20 feet away from an object sees that object how a visually 100 percent efficient person would see it from 20 feet away. Those with poor eyesight have a higher second number. A person with 20/40 vision has 85 percent visual acuity and must stand at 20 feet to see what someone with normal vision can see standing at 40 feet away. Vision of 20/40 in at least one eye is required to pass a driving test in the United States. Vision of 20/200 or worse is the legal definition of blindness.

Those with a smaller second number see better than average. I have had good vision all my life and for distance, my vision is 20/15. It means that at 20 feet, I can see what others must move up to 15 feet away to see. As kids, I invariably won the license plate and road sign alphabet games we played when we traveled.

With my naturally good eyesight, you can imagine my distress a few years ago when the words in my Greek Bible and the text on my PDA started looking fuzzy. Soon I had reading glasses at the office, stashed all over the house and in the car glove box. It seemed I could never find a pair though, when I needed them. I had developed “short arm syndrome” or presbyopia. Literally, presby means “old man” and opia, vision–old man vision. Presbyopia is a normal process that happens to everyone as the lens of the eye becomes less flexible and the ability to focus sharply for near vision is lost.

Happily, I learned about monovision, a single contact lens that adjusts one eye for near objects. A contact lens for reading is placed on the non-dominant eye, and if one is lucky, the brain will adapt. Monovision can also be achieved with laser surgery, but one should be older when the presbyopia finally stabilizes to have it performed. Like handedness, we all favor one or the other eye, and that is what gives us depth perception or binocular vision. The dominant eye is the one used to focus a camera or aim with to shoot an arrow. With monovision, the dominant or master eye is used for distance vision and the non-dominant or slave eye is then focused for near to intermediate vision. It took a few weeks for my brain to rewire itself, and, until I could adjust, I had to drive with one eye shut, and walk down stairs like an old lady, because my depth perception was off.

Organizational presbyopia

Organizations can also develop presbyopia. With experience comes the ability to see the big picture better, true. But as organizations age, they too can lose sight of important details. IBM was ambushed by Apple which was co-founded by Steve Jobs, barely in his twenties; and Steve Wozniak, who was just five years older. IBM focused on mainframes and ignored the trend toward a market for personal computers. IBM was encumbered by layers of bureaucracy that insulated decision-makers from current information about consumer trends. Its overhead and tradition resulted in a sluggish organization that was costly to manage and slow to respond to cultural and consumer shifts.

The Adventist Church needs both older people and young people. It needs young people because they see what is of relevance to their generation. They have fresh, creative ideas. And the church needs eyes that are blue, brown, single-lidded, and double-lidded–many eyes, all the better to see with. Different age, cultural, and ethnic groups see those specific details relevant to that group. Genetic diversity is the best insurance for the survival of biological organisms in an uncertain world. It is also critical to vitality as a church that is able to adapt to varying environments and challenges.

Homogeneity in the church contributes to smoother interpersonal relations but inhibits the ability to adapt in creative, culturally appropriate ways to a diverse world. Young eyes help us see that we must meet today’s challenges in new ways and not with yesterday’s methods. The pith helmet worn well by Albert Schweitzer and other missionaries of yesteryear is wholly ill-suited for the challenge of the postmodernist, urban jungle of this century.

The near and distant vision

The church can also benefit from corrective glasses and this, I propose, is our theology, succinctly encapsulated in our name: Seventh-day Adventist. The book of Ecclesiastes wrestles with whether near or distant vision is dominant. To improve one’s perspective, the Teacher advises pondering funerals not feasts, crying rather than laughter, and above all, remembering that in the end, we are accountable to God for our choices (Ecclesiastes 7:1-3). At the same time, the Teacher counsels immersing oneself in the joys of daily life: work, families and even our meals.

I visited Pacific Union College in California this spring. The bright yellow rapeseed was blooming in the vineyards, and cherry trees were a frothy pink. Despite pricey restaurants and hotels, thousands of people go to Napa Valley for its beauty, wine-tasting, fine dining, pampering at spas and five-star hotels, and to shop for artwork or other luxury items. I asked the college Sabbath school class how they live in the beautiful Napa Valley, the very lap of Bacchus–the Greek god of wine–as Seventh-day Adventists who believe in the second advent of Christ. One person quipped, “All this and heaven too!”

We can have both: joy today and joy in the hereafter–and the Sabbath mediates the two. It invites us to leave the dailyness of our lives to celebrate the bounty and beauty of creation. Because the Sabbath is part of the recurring pattern of life that centers on the here and now, the Sabbath is the near vision that attends to the ordinary joys of daily life, itself a part of the weekly cycle. The Sabbath provides a vista from which we can enjoy creation, others, and our Creator.

The second part of our name, Adventist, looks beyond the weekly cycle to a definite future event that will end the dailyness of our lives as we now know them to be. This aspect of our theology–the long view–is what gives depth and definition to our daily routines of eating, sleeping, working, and living in relationship to others and this world. The larger view of a great controversy between God and Satan, which will end evil and death itself, is what gives us binocular vision. It enables us to see the close at hand even better.

It is easy for the ordinary and the immediate to dominate our entire attention. To have the right perspective, one needs to see the near-at-hand as framed by the bigger picture. Depth-perception and binocular vision is needed to successfully navigate the routine as well as the big decisions like what career to choose and whom to marry, the right degree of cultural adaptation and contextualization in evangelism, when to take a stand on social issues such as war, poverty, or AIDS, and what our portfolio of ministries should be as a church today. None of this is easy to see, which is why clear vision is so essential.

“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it,” wrote Paul (1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV). That body benefits from eyes that are young, old, and different shaped and colored, to creatively respond to the near, the culturally specific, and the contemporary issues of our day. Like corrective lenses, vision is further sharpened by sound theology that gives us binocular vision. And like the man born blind, we need for Jesus to touch our eyes so that our sight may be whole and we see everything clearly as we should.

Lisa M. Beardsley (Ph.D., University of Hawai’i at Manoa) is an Associate Director of Education at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and is the chief editor elect of College and University Dialogue. Her mailing address: 12501 Old Columbia Pike; Silver Spring, Maryland 20904; U.S.A.