Perspectives and the Guy With the Violin
In the underground—the subway system of London—a lone man, dressed meanly, and without eye contact, while sitting on a chair, plays the violin as commuters and shoppers rush by. Very few stop to listen, and while the open violin case on the floor is a clear invitation for donations, even fewer drop a coin or bill into the case. At the end of the artist’s shift, there is about thirty pounds, or around forty-five dollars, perhaps the equivalent of what a job should pay for an hour of work.
Likely a number of symbols or signals communicated unwelcomed messages: the location and setting of the musician, the dress, the open violin case, all would suggest someone just trying to get by.
But here the perspective of nearly everyone would be wrong. For the man they rushed by was one of the premier violin soloists of Europe—from Belgium actually—who had just played before a packed house in a great symphony hall the night before and for a great sum of money.
In the United States 14% of the population is over six feet tall. But among Fortune 500 CEO’s, 60% are above six feet tall. A light tan trench coat will get you past the receptionist more often than a dark blue one. A blue suit will have a stronger impact than a green.
Are we aware of our perceptions, and do we embrace that much of what they are is learned? And why does that matter? It matters because we often equate our perceptions with truth. It matters when we see Jesus touching the lepers, or calling “ignorant and unlearned men” to be His disciples, or conversing with the Samaritan woman at the well, or illustrating kindness by using the story of the “good Samaritan,” or reminding people that the faith of a Roman Centurion exceeds that of all Israel, or by amazing everyone including Zacchaeus, the tax collector, when He said He would be going to his home in the evening, or by welcoming the woman who had sinned much as she bathed His feet in her tears.
Perhaps one of the most significant things in my recent journey is the work of the Lord to make the source of my perspectives visible. This is sometimes good and sometimes not so good. But the truth will set us free, and the more aware of the source of my perspectives the clearer my path to my Lord’s perspectives.
For the invisibility of my perspectives gives them power to injure. One of the great Bible commentators of the 17th and 18th centuries was Matthew Henry, from Wales and England. Though he died at the age of 51, he had completed his six volume commentary on the Bible still in use today. He was addressing the New Testament passage on not showing favorites. The New Testament example given suggests that as people come into a gathering those of wealth and fame are wrongly given the best seats while the poor and common are given the less desirable seats. The passage is right in front of Henry, but in his comments, he extols the virtues of the passage and then suggests that this passage does not contradict the class-conscious practice of putting poor and servants elsewhere in the setting while giving the gentry the best seats. All this when, in fact, this is exactly what this passage is challenging. We have a good, godly, and gifted man, apparently unaware of the sources and implications of his own perspectives. I say this with no historical reprimand, but to show how invisible the sources of our perspectives can be, and to suggest that I am regularly startled when I find the courage to dig down at the sources of some—I say some—of my perspectives.
An example as I conclude. I grew up in a home with flawed parents, yet neither I nor my brother ever doubted our parents’ love, and we always knew we could go home, no matter what evil befell either of us. This colors how I look at life—knowing that life always had a safety net in a family and even extended family who loved me and could be trusted to act on that love. In contrast, I have been burdened this past year, as I heard of the unbelievable and discouraging statistics of despair and shipwreck of many foster children who age out of the system without much of a safety net to help them navigate finances, education, relationships, and life-purpose. How different their perspective of people and culture and hope must often look compared to mine.