“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I bid every one among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith God has assigned.”
My friends, I need an attitude adjustment.
And not just the kind an acquaintance of mine used to refer to when she had come home after a rough day and would say, “I need an attitude adjustment—pour me a drink.”
No, I need a much more drastic overhaul than that.
In fact, what I need is nothing less than a new mind, a bigger mind—along with new eyes and new ears.
Because, you see, my little ordinary mind is so helplessly inadequate, limited, fettered, constricted.
I need to understand my neighbor, the world, and myself in an utterly new way, and frankly my ordinary mind is just not up to it.
For one thing, my little ordinary mind is so hung up on like-mindedness.
Yes, unfortunately my natural, ordinary mind operates strictly within the groove of like-mindedness.
That is, my ordinary mind has this fatal flaw—it is addicted to only seeking out friends and companions who are similar to me.
My natural mind has a strong gravitational pull toward those who I hit it off with from the start, who prefer the same kind of food, music, and night out that I do—
Who laugh at the same jokes, who share my politics and world view, in short, those who agree with me and reinforce my prejudices—whose temperaments are simpatico with mine—
But really it’s worse than this—
The worst part is that with my little ordinary mind I tend to judge others’ value according to whether or not they serve my interests—
Whether they are helpful and responsive to me—
Whether they further my aspirations—
Whether they bolster my own sometimes shaky sense of personal significance—whether they console and comfort me—whether they alleviate my anxieties—
No doubt about it—the natural mode of my ordinary mind is self-interest.
So, sad to say, my opinion of my neighbor is terribly skewed by my own rigid like-mindedness and relentless self-interest.
I guess a lot of it has to do with my very limited tolerance of difference.
For the truth of the matter is that with my ordinary little mind my tolerance of the differences that others present to me is pretty skimpy—actually shamefully ungenerous.
Indeed I sometimes catch myself zeroing in on some almost microscopic difference in someone’s demeanor or attitude and becoming downright picky about it.
And when our judgment is thoroughly driven by self-interest, it can create an interesting double standard—one set of rules for ourselves and another set of rules for others.
It’s like that Calvin and Hobbes cartoon in which the two of them are walking in the woods and Calvin says to his tiger friend, “I don’t believe in ethics any more. As far as I’m concerned, the ends justify the means. Get what you can while the getting’s good—that’s what I say! Might makes right! The winners write the history books! It’s a dog-eat-dog world, so I’ll do whatever I have to, and let others argue about whether it’s right or not.”
Suddenly Hobbes pushes him from behind and sends him sprawling into a mud puddle—as Calvin raises up his mud-splattered head, he asks Hobbes, “Why’d you do that?!”
Hobbes says, “You were in my way. Now you’re not. The ends justify the means.”
At which point Calvin yells, “I didn’t mean for everyone, you dolt! Just me!”
So what it comes down to is that I need the new mind the apostle Paul speaks of in today’s epistle—a big mind that can see beyond the scope of my myopic self-interest, that can grasp that we are all members one of another, that the well-being of others is inseparable from my own, that what’s good for me and injurious to others is not really good for me.
I need this big mind that, according to Paul, the Spirit is ever wanting to bring forth in us, this big mind that realizes and appreciates my kinship with those whose differences trouble and disturb me.
Almost every voluntary organization I can think of—lodges, sororities, garden and travel clubs, service groups—are based on the on the notion of like-mindedness—similar people with similar interests.
Well, this parish is a laboratory for a bold experiment that really attempts to defy the odds—we’re trying to find out if it’s possible for us as a community to regard the differences of others as more of an invitation to enrichment than a threat or source of discomfort and alienation.
We’re trying to find out if we really believe this creed we recite every service that proclaims God as the ultimate birth parent of us all—
We’re trying to find out if we believe that every one of us is fashioned by the same Creator Spirit who delights and glories in diversity and who hides a different treasure in each of us.
We’re trying to find out if the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth can give us a big enough mind to discern the treasures, the divine gifts, hidden in others, hidden in those whose differences have thrown us and made us distinctly uncomfortable.
How much richer we would be if we had a big enough gospel mind to discern and appreciate the treasures in others hidden behind differences that offend us!
The apostle Paul seems to suggest that each of us has a God-given treasure that no one else has and that will never be seen again.
But our particular treasure has a way of getting smudged and tarnished either because we misuse it or we bury it or maybe we don’t even know we have it and it gets stale and musty.
And what can refurbish and polish up our smudged treasure more than anything so that it becomes lustrous, new, and serviceable is to meet someone with a big gospel mind who forgivingly endorses us.
And really we can do this for each other if we permit the Spirit to grow a big enough, forgiving gospel mind in us—we can help one another recover and reclaim our smudged treasures.
Here’s a homework assignment for cultivating a big gospel mind.
Go to some public gathering place, such as Riverscape in Dayton when they’re having an outdoor concert, where you’re sure to run into differences that you will find challenging and unnerving, even appalling.
And then just notice the diverse sorts and conditions of people scattered about, especially those who strike you as most peculiar or eccentric or different, the very people you are least likely to have dealings with.
For example, the 50 something lady with the too tight slacks, the smeared blue eye shadow, and bleached, teased helmet hair who is talking and laughing too loudly about the series of male companions she’s had—or the middle-aged fellow with the Mohawk haircut and tattoos all over his face who’s swilling a Miller Lite—or the muscular, shirtless young man with long, curly hair who always sits off by himself staring into the distance, sometimes carrying on a solitary conversation, occasionally getting up to do some Tai Chi routine, sometimes going across the street to rifle through the Engineers Club trash can.
And then consider the possibility that each of these individuals has a treasure, a one of a kind divine gift, that if he or she could give it and you could receive it, would enhance and enrich you remarkably.
The Rev. Robert Dwight
Christ Episcopal Church, Dayton, OH