Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Seeing straight from the bottom up

We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled, in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and action.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Would that this "we" included us! Well, where did Bonhoeffer and his companions learn this? Certainly from Jesus, who declared in Matthew 25 that he comes to us in the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned. If we don't see him there, hear him there, serve him there, we miss him altogether. And in that case, we will not see things as they are. This is our window to reality.

If the Bible is right, the top-down view must be wrong, the view of those who know in the world, because they look from on high, and not from below, as Jesus does. No wonder it's hard for a rich man to get into the kingdom of heaven. He can't even see it, because he looks at everything from the wrong vantage point.

George Orwell made the same point in Down and Out in Paris and London. It's from the bottom up that you know a city, how it really works. As Abraham Heschel said in The Prophets, the people of this world see Ahab's ivory palace and see beauty; the prophets see oppression and iniquity. You see what things in the world truly are when you look up from below, just as you see some important things about the car which the seller may not remember to tell you when you crawl underneath and look up.

So with all the other problems when we want the place of honor and the praise of men, grabbing the place of honor sentences us to stupidity and hallucination. Let's take the Bible's advice to seek the Lord where he may be found, the place of worldly dishonor, where the world always consigns truth - God the outcast, with all the other outcasts (Hebrews 13:10-15).

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