We are coming to that time on the calendar where many will attempt to summarize what happened in the year 2016. Great effort will be made to encapsulate the year in a single word. Introspection will not be one of them.
Offenses were everywhere this year. Donald Trump is an offensive, racist bully. Hillary Clinton is a power obsessed liar. Traumatized students need “safe places” to escape from whatever phobic person or group threatens them. Earlier this fall a teacher at a Vancouver private school was forced to apologize to a student and then was fired for “triggering” the student. The offence? The teacher stated in a law class that while he did not personally support abortion that it was not unlawful and therefore all citizens must respect the law regardless of their personal beliefs. It seems that sexuality, gender, religion, politics, money or pipelines offend people and heaven help you if you challenge the popular opinion on climate change.
What all of these examples and many more illustrate is a growing obsession on the other, specifically the enemy-other. The problem is with that person or that group who will hurt me or destroy the world. “They” are the problem. The finger must be clearly pointed in “their” direction and “they” must be outed at all costs. The entire focus is outward, towards the problem.
Jesus had some wise and provocative words that apply here:
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:42
This is a wonderful word picture of introspection, which is defined as a reflective looking inward or an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings. This is much more than not judging others, which is how most people use this well-known statement from Jesus. It is a discipline and posturing of a thinking process or even an orientation, if that word can be repurposed. Paul’s statement in his letter to the church at Corinth “taking captive every thought” is an example of this perspective.
People that think this way are constantly asking themselves questions like:
“Did I hear correctly?”
“Have I checked multiple sources to ensure I have a complete perspective?”
“Am I bringing my own preconceptions into this situation?”
“Has that person or group actually harmed me/others or am I just perceiving a possibility of harm?”
Notice that the orientation of these questions is inward rather than outward. To return to the word picture, have a good look around to locate the plank so it can be removed from you own eye before going after the “enemy-other”. As a side note, notice that Jesus did not say not to remove the speck in another’s eye, just deal with yourself first before dealing with the other. (another post for another day)
Think about some of the most significant, lengthy and moving interactions between Jesus and those that came to him with questions. The rich, young ruler was a frustrated person who was seeking the answers to finding eternal life (Luke 18:18). His opening question was “What must I do…” His entire orientation through the conversation was inward and focused on what he could do. Similarly, the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3) was deeply personal and lengthy. The healing of the centurion’s servant and Jairus’ daughter are other examples of deeply introspective people coming to Jesus for help and engaging and holding the His attention. There seems to be something about people who are willing to look at themselves honestly and fully that seizes the attention of the Master in a good way. This is not self-pity but rather a humble and honest assessment by the individual of the truth of their situation and their need for help.
Contrast this with the attitude and speech of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Teacher’s of the Law. They were constantly finger pointing either at Jesus or his followers and trying to find fault. In fact, they resisted and were quite indignant whenever Jesus turned the conversation back to them and held up a mirror. Their posture was completely void of introspection. They seemed incapable of fathoming even the tiniest possibility that they could be part of the problem. Of course it was not unique to Jesus’ enemies but often true of his closest friends. Asking Jesus if they should call down fire on their enemies, arguing over who would sit at his right and left hand, shooing children away from approaching him. Many times Jesus would snap them back to reality by saying things like:
“You don’t know what kind of spirit you are.” Luke 9:55
Notice that he redirected their attention back to themselves and away from the perceived problem with the enemy-other. Introspection. It is the very beginning of spiritual growth and progress. We can’t repent without it. Reconciliation is impossible without a clear understanding of our part in a relationship. How can I see you if I can’t see me?
In closing, let’s go back to 2016. It seems like there is almost a complete absence of introspection in almost every one of the most pressing issues of our day. Even the tiniest speck of consideration that I may be part of the problem. That my beliefs, prejudices or thin skin may be worth re-examining. That my actions or speech or that of the group I belong to may have something to do with the actions of speech of the enemy-other.
Ironically, this lack of introspection is coming at a time when narcissism and selfishness are at an all time high. While our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat generation are constantly saying “Look at me!” it would appear that we are the most incapable of looking at ourselves in a humble and honest way.
Perhaps Michael Jackson’s words are even more appropriate in 2016 than they were back in 1987 when he released Man in the Mirror. Have a listen and try some healthy introspection. Time to change our ways.