Some Ideas For Moving Beyond Me-Centered Thinking - Vince Brackett
My reflections on the Democratic Presidential Primary debates
So I’ve mentioned a couple times on Sundays here lately that I’m closely following the Democratic Presidential Primary, and that I’m particularly interested in the debate on ::healthcare policy::
My wife and I for a period of time years ago lived below America’s annual income poverty line and so we received health insurance through government-sponsored medicaid during that time, and the experience of unclear instructions and expectations, and of endless bureaucracy and red tape was overwhelming for us — we were never sure if we were talking to the private insurance company that the government pays on our behalf, or if we were talking to a government employee, or who was responsible for what, or who had the power to do what, or who we had to call for any given question or issue.
And that’s as two native english speaking college graduates who have never had to worry for a day about not being taken seriously because of the color of our skin or the way we talk! We couldn’t imagine what that process must be like for people whose first language is not English, or who are less familiar with American Legal documents, or who don’t get the benefit of the doubt from people simply for having white skin and a midwestern white accent.
So, especially after that experience, I’ve become passionate about every person having access to affordable healthcare, regardless of their employment status or citizenship status or current health or the money they have in the bank, and I’m passionate that that access is made clear and obvious, and threats to clarity and access are anticipated so individuals never feel like “going to a doctor or hospital is just not worth it.”
All to say: I’m trying to follow as closely as I can what the all the presidential candidates are saying about healthcare policy.
And I have a takeaway, but it isn’t about one proposed healthcare policy or plan over another; it’s about the discussion itself…
It seems to me that the only question politicians are able to imagine any potential voter, like me or you, asking is: ::“how does this affect me?”::
ALL of the discussion of the different candidate’s healthcare plans revolves around the assumption that: if there is even a hint that some tax or cost for Average Americans will go up under your plan, that’s a death sentence to your campaign; it would be the worst thing ever for a candidate, and voters won’t be able to listen to you anymore — because all that matters to voters is “how does what you’re saying affect me?” All that matters to voters is: “Show me the money!”
So you, as a candidate, should avoid even the hint of this topic like the plague - just pivot away if it comes up. Change the subject!
Something about this just doesn’t seem right to me.
I may be too optimistic about humanity here (or I may just be proving what a terrible politician I personally would be) but I think there is something deep in all people that longs for a different argument to be made.
I think, in our heart of hearts, people long for our leaders to move beyond the “how does the world affect me?” arguments, and to make a bigger argument. Like: ::“what kind of world do we want to live in?”:: I think we long for our leaders to cast an actually inspiring vision, right?
To NOT cynically ask us, “how much are you willing to concede and still be happy?” but INSTEAD to try to awaken our hearts and ask “how much are you willing to sacrifice for what you believe in?”
::Is there not something in us all that is drawn to bigger-than-us vision?:: Is there not something in each of us pushing us further than “life as I experience it” — pushing the boundaries of our moral imaginations to expand?
Well, I have a spiritual take for us this morning on this.
Read with me from the ::Gospel of Luke, chapter 19.::
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
::Zacchaeus:: is, to me, a picture of the way that inside us all — even someone you’d least expect, as the passage clearly indicates Zacchaeus was — that inside us all is a longing to be called to a bigger-than-us vision.
The Biblical tradition calls this ::the image of God inside us:: — “In the image of God, God created them, male and female, God created them.” — That’s what it means to be human, according to the Bible’s foundational story in Genesis: a bit of the goodness and character of God has been placed in every human being — plenty of other things reside in us too that are not the goodness and character of God, to be sure… yes, granted… but also the image of God.
And, to me, one of the most compelling suggestions in the New Testament of the Bible is that encounter with Jesus activates that image of God inside us — the best, most considerate of others, most self-sacrificial parts inside us come alive as we interact with Jesus.
“Jesus is the exact representation of God’s being and character,” is the way one New Testament writer puts it.
This is what I think happens with Zacchaeus.
It’s as if the more time we spend with Jesus, the more, ::through a sort of spiritual osmosis from Jesus to us::, that goodness and character of God placed inside us expands and is easier to access and act out of. And somewhere along the line if we keep spending time with Jesus we find ourselves more naturally asking bigger-than-us questions than me-centered questions. “What kind of world do I want to live in?” and not just “how does the world affect me?”
I wonder if the prospect of living less out of a me-centered headspace and more out of a bigger vision grabs you?
If so, a ::couple specific ideas on spending time with Jesus come to mind for me.::
First, persistent prayer
::Let me tell you what I mean...::
One way I personally struggle to move beyond a me-centered headspace is that I nurse a lot of resentment inside — that particularly concentrated form of anger that only foments when we shove our hurts down long enough that we’re pretend they’re not there? that’s resentment!
And it doesn’t work, no matter how much we try to pretend on the surface. Burying hurts with resentment doesn’t make them go away, it mostly just acts as a particularly potent extinguisher of the image of God inside us — if you want to make it hard for yourself to move beyond me-centered thinking, let me tell you, resentment does the trick!
Because everything comes back to me and my experience when I’m resentful! It is impossible, in that place, to ask a bigger-than-me question like “what kind of world do I want to live in?” — because my answer is like: I want to live in a world where so-and-so apologizes to me!… OR ELSE!… REVENGE!
Well, something I was once told in therapy has really stuck with me when it comes to resentment.
Now my therapist was not a part of a faith-based practice, and I mention that because it is part of why what she said stood out to me so much. She said in all her years of practice she’d yet to see evidence that there is a good, working strategy for killing resentment... except for people who are open to prayer. Prayer was, honestly, the only thing she’d ever seen work to kill resentment — persistent, everyday, multiple times a day (even when you’re not feeling like it’s accomplishing anything) prayer — that your heart would soften and change.
That was fascinating to me. She explained that she thinks it’s because everything just becomes so me-focused and my-hurt-focused inside when you’re resentful that it’s too difficult to manage for yourself. You need a third party, like a God who you believe has something better for you, to be invited in to help you sort it out. She told me that when she works with other clients who struggle with resentment but who are anti-faith, she doesn’t say this, but she sees a hard road ahead of them.
But, for me, during my time with this therapist, that meant there was a strategy I could try — exactly what she said: persistent, everyday, multiple times a day, even when I’m not feeling like it’s accomplishing anything prayer — that my heart would soften and change toward the people I was feeling resentful toward. A long obedience in the same direction.
And so I did this. Anytime I would notice myself feeling resentful, I would say a 2-second prayer: Jesus, change my heart… If it came back 5 minutes later, another 2-second prayer: Jesus, soften me heart. Help me forgive. As I’m trying to fall asleep, the resentment feelings come back, again, another 2-second prayer: Jesus, change me heart. Help me to want to move on from this. Help me let go...
At one point, I was praying this way, this often, dozens of these 2-second prayers throughout the day, for basically a whole month around one specific resentment I was feeling. And my therapists words of “even when you’re not feeling like it’s accomplishing anything” were ringing very true — if I took a snapshot of any of those hundreds of 2-second prayers, I would have seen nothing significant in any of them.
After that month of praying this way, I eventually stopped — to be totally honest it was because some different stresses in life had risen up and were now demanding precedence in my prayer life —
But then, one day, I don’t even know how much later after that month of 2-second prayers, totally unaccountably to me (I actually didn’t even notice it in the moment, I realized it later in the day) I found myself in a random moment feeling compassion for this person I had been carrying so much resentment toward.
And when I noticed it I was like: Wait! What is that? What is this foreign feeling? I was like WALL-E in the Pixar movie trying to speak: Com-pass-ion? This is different. I actually like this… Where did this come from?
I think it was the spiritual osmosis from Jesus thing — I didn’t feeling like anything was happening. But something was happening.
I’m convinced now! Persistence in prayer (even just dozens of 2-second prayers everyday about the same thing) is a way we can keep ourselves in Jesus’ company so that that spiritual osmosis thing can happen and the image of God in us expands, and me-centered thinking shrinks.
Second, read the Gospel of Luke
::My second idea:: for us this morning, if it grabs anyone, is to read the Gospel of Luke — where the story of Zacchaeus we read comes from.
For my next several talks here at BLV, I’m going to be taking us to different passages from Luke, so reading it on your own will be a good primer for us as we engage it here on Sundays.
And the reason we’re going to be looking at Luke is because, in his Gospel in particular — of the four different gospel biographies of Jesus that kick off the New Testament of the Bible — Luke’s Jesus calls out to readers with that bigger-than-us vision that I long for our world leaders to appeal to today —
“What kind of world do I want to live in?” — “What kind of world do I want our children to live in?” — And not just “how does the world affect me?”
::A few interesting things about Luke along these lines that may pique your interest:::
- Luke is focused especially on the ::stories and experiences of the marginalized.:: So, for example, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus’ sermon on the mount is recorded: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” In Luke, it is just “Blessed are the poor.” Luke is not encouraging us to be creative with our definition of “poor” — he wants to talk about the literal poor.
Or, another example, in the Matthew story of Jesus’ birth, the first people the angels appear to are the wise and important Magi, whereas in Luke, the first people the angels appear to are shepherds (at the bottom of the social totem pole)
- Luke goes out of his way to ::elevate women:: rather than men. Jesus’ lineage is traced through his mother in Luke, whereas it is traced through his father in Matthew.
The first major theological statement in Luke comes through the words of Mary, the mother of Jesus — in the Magnificat.
In Luke’s Gospel, a group of specific women are the first to see Jesus after his resurrection. In the other resurrection accounts, it is a crowd of people.
- And finally, Luke highlights ::cross-cultural interactions with non-Jews::. Since Jesus was Jewish culturally this is significant. 1st Century Judaism had a great deal of understandably isolationist tendencies due to the way the Jewish people had been so oppressed throughout their history.
But Luke’s Jesus really pushes the oppressed Jewish culture to NOT turn around and use their victim-ness as a weapon, to NOT resort themselves to demeaning those different from them.
So maybe those points of grab you? Or get you started?
If so, read the Gospel of Luke with us over the next couple months or so, or more specifically: read the Gospel of Luke with an eye toward the question “what kind of world do I want to live in?”
This also, just reading the Gospels, is a way to spend time with Jesus and allow for that spiritual osmosis thing to happen, expanding the image of God in us, and shrinking the influence of me-centered thinking.
Here’s hoping ::one or both of these ideas, persistent prayer or reading the Gospel of Luke,:: feel helpful to you.
For now, I’d love to pray for us…