On December last year I attended a service of scripture and music created for the Advent season. The music was powerful in content as well as splendidly presented. The lessons were thoughtfully chosen and intelligently read.
We were sitting with friends, one of whom was a member of the parish and the other a Jew. I became aware that content of the service, especially the readings from the prophets but also some of the hymns, would sound very different to that person than they do to me. About the same time I was choosing some books from the new “Church’s Teaching Series,” educational material for adults produced by the Episcopal Church USA. The series is well-written and thorough, a successor to a series of 50 years ago which had been very influential in shaping my thought as a young student. But I was choosing not for myself, but for a theological student in a country very different from the United States or Canada. I realized that some of these volumes were very culturally conditioned, and though they dealt with themes that are of the essence of the faith, some of them would not be of much use outside North America.
I began to reflect on how easy it is for us to assume that our experiences, and even more our interpretation of experiences, are universally applicable. And this is especially so for those of us who belong to majorities, whether those are majorities of number or of power.
And then a text from a Bible study led me much closer to the heart of the matter. Paul, writing to the Christians at Philippi, said: “Let each of you look not to your interests, but to the interests of others; let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” I thought of the way I actually speak with Jesus in prayer. That conversation is grounded in the assumption that he knows and understands me through and through, better even than I understand myself.
So if I am challenged to have the mind of Christ in my relations with others, then I obviously have to take more seriously my imitation of his mind. I remember a conference years ago where I was asked something which required me to consider some matter from the point of view of a particular minority. I began my response with the observation that I might not be the best person to ask because within our society, I belonged to every majority going – male, adult, white, married, English-speaking, and more. A member of the group with a physical disability challenged me to add that I was able-bodied. This was a membership of a majority I had not even thought of.
The psalmist, in two places, sings of idols who have eyes but do not see and ears but do not hear. For many of us, our principal idol is ourselves, and we can echo the psalmist’s words about that idol, as well as all the others. To be liberated from that particular idolatry, and the blindness, deafness and insensibility it engenders in us, requires, as the old adage reminds us, eternal vigilance. Michael Peers is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.