What follows is my September chapel talk to the students and faculty at the Midway campus (grades 3-12) as the school year set sail. Each year I anchor my writing and speaking in the community around a central theme. This year’s theme is “perspective.” The talk below, based on John 6: 35-44, challenged our community members to reflect on their aspirations for the year and their perspective on self. Could they see more in themselves or would they allow their own self-doubt and the cynicism of others to narrow their perspectives on how they might grow and evolve this school year?
So I begin today with a photo taken by one Gianni Sarcone.
The basics of the image are evident: an outdoor scene; it’s a mall lined by trees. In the distance you can see a domed building. A structure – resembling the Eiffel Tower – arcs over a pedestrian in the foreground holding an umbrella. If you look more closely, you might discern moisture on the pavement and note that the person in the center is holding an umbrella. I wonder, though, whether you see anything else?
Perhaps the photo’s title helps: “The Other Face of Paris.”
Can you see the face? Notice how a dry spot of pavement forms the pursed lips of the mouth and the round of the chin. The shadow of the umbrella makes a nose of sorts and the person the nose’s bridge. If you stare hard at the shadowing of the trees, it makes for two eyes – sometimes I see them as closed, other times as open; who knows? The arcing gray sky constitutes the forehead.
I love illusions like these. You have likely seen them before – is that a duck or maybe a rabbit?
Why is this photo of a wall an internet meme? Because people have spent hours looking at it…unable to see the cigar stuck between the bricks.
Besides providing amusement, these photos also exemplify vividly how it’s possible for two of us to look at the same thing and see it differently. We each bring a unique perspective to the world. Our background, education, and age are just a few of the many factors that shape the way we view ourselves and how we experience our relationships with the people, places, and circumstances we encounter. Depending on our perspective it is even possible that we miss something right in front of us. We can struggle to recognize that there is more to something or to someone than first meets the eye.
When I come to speak with you in chapel this year, you will hear this word a lot: PERSPECTIVE.
Those of you who have tuned in during my homilies the last nine years know I like using such an annual theme. We have explored being remarkable (you seniors were in fourth grade); the infamous #success campaign (during your 8th grade year); and last year’s quest: the hero’s journey. Using the theme, the scripture reading and our ParishLeads framework, I endeavor to promote reflection about how we might be the people of impact I know each of us can be.
Today, I want to talk about the perspective we have of ourselves – your “self-perspective” one might call it.
After all, we are at the beginning of a journey: the new school year. Anytime we prepare to start something – be it a new school year, a next level of scouts, an advanced level our religious studies or music lessons – it should be natural to ask: where am I as this new chapter begins? And, how might the journey to come help me become a better version of myself?
In our reading today, we see Jesus nearing the end of a journey of His own. Jesus spent roughly three years, most believe between his 30th to 33rd birthdays, teaching by parable and miracle. Early in John 6, Jesus has performed a miracle most of us know well: He multiplied a handful of fish and loaves of bread to feed thousands of people.
Today’s verse picks up just after this miracle. Crowds are increasingly curious about this young, revolutionary teacher. Their perspective? That Jesus is “just” another prophet sent by God, as Moses had been. Just as you may have struggled to see the face embedded within the “Other Face of Paris,” the Israelites could not see past Jesus’ earthly form. Scripture tells us their doubt came in the form of murmurs:
“Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
To the crowds, Jesus was one of them. They could not envision him as the Son of God on earth, the one who would die for their sins and, in so doing, deliver them to eternal life.
As for Jesus’ self-perspective, listen again to what He said:
“I am the bread of life.”
“I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me.”
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day.”
Jesus didn’t murmur this under His breath. He did not say “I might be” the bread of life or “it would be nice to be the bread of life” or “I hope to be the bread of life.” He declared it with clarity and boldness, even as those around Him murmured in doubt in a way that reflected their narrow perspectives on Him.
Do you want to accomplish something meaningful this year?
Then a lesson lies within the photo I showed you, Jesus’ declaration, and the murmuring of the crowd: See more to be more.
To be more you have to lift your head – from your phone, your shyness, or your doubt – and see more in yourself, just as we came to see the face in the photo or both a rabbit and a duck in the sketch when we looked harder.
Place you gaze on something. Focus on it. Make it something that matters to you, and declare your intention with the same certainty that Jesus asserted that he was the bread of life. Be more consistent with your commitment to studies; express gratitude daily; climb a mountain; write a song. Whatever it is you dare to see in front of you, commit to making it real – something you can see, touch, and feel.
Well, for one, listen to the stern direction Jesus gave the crowd: stop murmuring
Jesus answered and said to them, “Stop murmuring* among yourselves.”
The murmur is the chatter in our heads that tells us we can’t be what we see; that chastises ourselves after we make a mistake; that fills us with worry that the game or the test or the project idea is not going to work as we think. Stop murmuring negatively to yourself.
The murmur is also the doubt or displeasure you perceive in the voices and eyes of others.
If we listen to what others murmur, our “self-perspective” will be narrow, not broad. It will be limited, not expansive. Don’t allow the doubts of others to blur your vision for who you aspire to become.
In these opening weeks of school, look up and out ahead – toward May when this school year ends. Look carefully. Fix your eyes on who you aspire to be. Declare your vision and move toward it with might and energy and confidence. See more so that you can be and become more.