No Red Ink on the Vision Test

As a boy in elementary school, I would sometimes tussle with other boys. Generally we would not hurt each other, but sometimes it would result in a visit to the nurse’s office. During one such incident, my head hit against a cement wall. It hurt some, but I felt I was fine; however, the teacher did not believe me, but who would argue with a teacher that was allowing you to go to the nurse’s office and miss some of class(as we were just coming in from recess)? The nurse examined me and asked questions. I was determined to be fine, diagnosis “boy.”

The last question posed during the nurse’s examination was, “Are you seeing double?” My response worried her, as I stated, “No more than usual.” I was seeing double often while reading and I just trained and strained myself to read both images simultaneously. The nurse, concerned and curious, did some tests and discovered what I thought was normal: I saw double. What I also remember about her is she did not make me feel stupid for thinking that seeing double was normal, and she did not make me nervous about this situation.

I went to the optometrist, and I must say that was an exciting experience. It was explained to me that everyone has a focal point in which when you get closer to the eyes, one will see double, but generally it is centimeters from the nose, not an arm’s length. This doctor prescribed intense exercises. I had various contraptions and ditto papers and spent one to two hours a day strengthening my eyes, so my focal point would be in a normal range. I was committed because reading, which I greatly enjoy, was much easier with only one image.

I share this anecdote to emphasize the importance of knowing vision in the church.  We in the church world use this term often, and it is not easily defined as it is different for each ministry and congregation, while also being part of God’s Vision.  I assume that there is an importance of vision, for it is what drives a congregation and/or ministry in the direction of God.  We know that it is not simple to find a vision, but it is just as important to realize when your ministry has lost or been burdened with poor vision. Just as I believed seeing double was normal, many churches and ministries keep going, not realizing they would have a difficult time reading the bottom line on the metaphorical eye chart.

For many, the reality of finances brings a congregation to the metaphorical optometrist.  However, I want to share the story of a local food bank I was involved with this past year that closed.  The bank had been serving the community for 30 years, but the original vision of helping people between applying for food stamps and receiving them is now outdated.  Other food banks had taken form over the past decade serving the community more efficiently and in greater numbers.   The food bank needed a new vision of how to utilize their resources.  For various reasons the need of a new vision was not taken up by the board and the volunteers, until the vote that closed the bank.  Even a year before, a vote keeping it open (by one vote) didn’t get enough people realizing the need of a vision.  However, this ministry did not lack resources.  We had enough food, especially canned corn (not sure why so much corn), and we could have continued for 15 years without raising anymore funds, at the level of help we were providing, give or take a couple of years.

My point is that vision has nothing to do with finances.

We need to not wait until it is reflected by red ink.

My question is what is, or can be, our metaphorical eye chart?  (comment away)


8 thoughts on “No Red Ink on the Vision Test

  1. I think one “red” on the chart is when people are leaving and no one is joining to replace them. It is one thing for numbers to stay the same, it’s an entirely different thing for numbers to be going down year after year. One might think that the vision of hospitality in this case needs serious attention, especially the question about who feels welcome, who doesn’t, and why. This is obviously a question for church with the big C, but not exclusive to that…

  2. How timely. We are beginning a visioning process here at our church. The old vision is about 5 years old, but it is about 20 pages long, and difficult to follow. It also was before either of us (the two clergy) were here. There has been a lot of transition in the church with members leaving and new members coming, so it is time to figure out why we are here and what God is calling us to do. And it is not because of any budgetary reason. We did just finish an all church study of Unbinding Your Heart by Martha Grace Reese, and that hopefully will shape the discussions.

    • My last church family did a Lenten study of Unbinding Your Heart. It was a powerful resource. About 50% of the church joined small groups to do the study. I wish we had 100% attendance!! It was a wonderful process for the congregation I call my church family. (I’m no longer there due to geographical location. And dangit: I miss that church family so much!)

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  4. J.C. you give us something interesting to think about—what is our eye chart? The question, as I hear it is not asking what is our vision, but what can we look at that will tell us a little about how we currently see and experience the world/church and from that knowledge begin to question what we might do to find a meaningful vision.

    Finding an eye chart is not an easy venture, for most every eye chart has been developed by the privileged and comfortable to define what is normal. Therefore, even though we keep looking at different eye charts, they all tell us the same thing, if our landscape and culture sees double when observing the chart, then our landscape and culture is abnormal. Leading to a belief there is, for instance, only one right culture, one theology, one sexual orientation, one way to be congregational, and one approach to be church. Such eye charts encourage us walk away from our creative being and culture and conform to and become someone else’s normal.

    Before visioning, it seems to me, we must first learn what really lies behind the big E at the top of the chart. For reading LEPD at line 4 is meaningless if we don’t understand the big E has led us down a path to believe capital letters, developed in a privileged capital letter culture, matter. In which case, the lower-case culture we/I may live in is not only not normal but also wrong. Only after attaining a more truthful accounting for the big E can we begin to restructure the eye chart to reflect a broader understanding of normal. However, we do well to understand restructuring the chart is risky, for it bucks the comfortable structure behind the big E and it calls us to question what we have come to believe is normal. But if that risk is taken, perhaps we might come upon a vision that will enhance the wellbeing of our children’s children.

    • David,
      I agree, and thus I do not think the eye chart is universal. What I often observe is ministries only look at the “bottom line” not on the chart but in finances before they even think of checking their vision. Yet I do believe that we have to be aware that how the idea of vision is framed is generally by privileged people, and if we do not question that (capital E) we will return to this issue again and again. We need to find what is right for each congregation while thinking of the entire world, and it may not be comfortable. As I had reflected here:
      You are correct that we must be aware of the influences that continue to push a type of “normal” and while double vision is not something to let continue for a person, it may be what works for one ministry.

      Thanks for your response.

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